Monthly Archives: July 2012

Paraguay Calling: Part II

Since that first trip back last October, I’ve had the chance to return to my 2nd (3rd? 4th?) home in Asuncion twice. Once in May this year, and just recently again in June. We’ve begun another project, (not the big kahuna we’ve been working on for almost 2 years now, but a smaller scale project with big implications,) and I’ve had the chance to return to the other side of the equator for plenty of workshops and meetings.

Going back in May was rushed. I only had 8 days (including the 22 hours of travel on each end) and had a lot to accomplish in that time. It wasn’t enough. I barely had a chance to catch up on jet lag before I had to board the plane again.

This last trip in June was a slightly more breathable experience. I had a week and a half of time in Paraguay, with only 3 or 4 days filled with meetings. The rest was for slightly more relaxed work and seeing friends, and it also gave me the opportunity to go with my colleagues and friends on a field trip!

When living in Paraguay I had a chance to go to the Atlantic Forest for a week while we hosted workshops and talks at various schools, community centers, and indigenous communities teaching about the importance of protecting forest and sweet water (fresh, clean, drinkable water.) This time we would take a trip to another forest reserve where I had never been on the boarder of Brazil, Mbaracayu. Mbaracayu Reserve is one of the largest remaining intact portions of sub-tropical forest in Paraguay, protecting 66,284 hectares within the Atlantic Forest. They even have a school on the property to educate poor, local girls in agro-forestry and how to live in harmony with the environment.

For starters, Paraguay is going through an interesting political time at the moment, (I can go into that later in detail, however Paraguay recently voted out their President, Fernando Lugo,) and people in Asuncion were worried for our safety as we started on our journey from Asuncion to Mbaracayu as there were claimed to be campesino (peasant) uprisings directly on our path. Secondly, once you exit the city, the roads are no longer paved so you are completely reliant on changing weather to determine if you can make a trip successfully or not. It had been raining for a few days successfully, and many bridges were overtaken by flooding waters.

Despite these warnings and calls from loved ones to urge us otherwise, we set out on the road for higher waters, (haha, get it?) We made it all the way to Curupaty (the alleged set for the uprisings and upheaval) without so much as a glitch in our travels. All we saw were random police vehicles patrolling the area for misbehavior, none of which was found. We continued on our way without incident until the muddy roads looked a bit less convincing than they had earlier in our journey. Still, we forged ahead until the car refused to carry our weight uphill.

So then we all piled out of the car to allow it more freedom (and less weight) to climb the hill. And we thought we were safe enough standing to the side so the car could have no chance of slipping out or hitting us, and then we realized the mud couldn’t hold our weight up and one of us sank in and had to be rescued!

We continued on our journey a few kilometers more, and came to a point, just about 5 km from the reserve where we were headed, where we realized we would be in trouble, but decided to go for it anyway. Our 4×4 Mahindra could handle anything, no? No. It couldn’t. So we got caught in a massive amount of mud and had to call it quits for a while.

And then we had to walk to the nearest community, we were in an Ache Indigenous community that surrounds the forest reserve, and ask if they could help us get free from the mud. They showed up with shovels, panels of wood, and man power to try and help dig/push/set the car free.

Unsure of what the outcome would be (i.e. if they would actually be successful,) one colleague and I headed to another nearby community to ask if anyone had a tow truck, or at least a hitch that could help us out. We were pointed in the direction of the Brasileiro who was owned a lot of the land for production in the area. From all the stereotypes you hear about all these Brazilians (or Brasiguayos as they are referred to as locally,) moving into Paraguay to farm the land and make money, you expect to find a wealthy man with a giant beer gut. But really all we found was a glorified sleep trailer, which might have been worlds above the wood shacks some of the others were living in, but still put a few things into perspective for me on the topic. Even though he was a deforester and we could clearly see the recent cutting and burning of the land, he was friendly and helpful enough that we couldn’t, in that moment, hold it against him.

He hopped in his truck and invited us in, (us being my colleague, a young, shoeless, indigenous girl who had accompanied us to find the tractor, and me,) and we headed off in the direction of our trapped vehicle. Upon arrival we were relieved, and surprised, to find that the truck had been freed from the mud and was waiting patiently for us on the other side of the muddy abyss. It turns out we were eventually able to make contact with the reserve, despite terrible mobile signals in the campo, and they sent someone over with a truck to help us out. Turns out shovels and panels of wood aren’t what they used to be!

We thanked our Brazilian friend and then took the time to thank, and pose for photos with the indigenous children who had been excitedly watching the goings-on of our entrapment. And we gave them all our cookies.

So after a long 8 hours on the road, navigating small towns and broken streets and unnamed paths leading us in the right direction, we pulled up to the reserve in the pitch black night of winter…at 5:30 PM. We gratefully took off our mud-caked shoes and hopped in the shower for what would be a delicious home cooked meal in the main cabin where we were spending the night. We opened a couple bottles of wine and took a deep breath, we had made it to Mbaracayu at last!

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Paraguay Calling: Part I

Paraguay has called, once again. For those who don’t know my back story intimately, (as I won’t be so presumptuous to assume you do!) I spent 6 months volunteering for the WWF in Paraguay in 2010. It was a challenging time for me, filled with both the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows. I struggled to adjust to a new way of life in a third world country, particularly to the extreme poverty I wasn’t used to seeing and the children, cats, and dogs roaming the streets aimlessly in search of food or a kind soul. But I also made incredible friendships that will last a lifetime, greatly improved my Spanish, and learned that I could in fact survive in a new city on my own, (with a little help to guide the way, of course!)

My first trip back to Asuncion was about 10 months after I moved away, last October, 2011. I had been working on a proposal with my colleagues in our Paraguay office and we had just received approval to write the long proposal, (think 20  or so pages versus 5,) so I flew down for two weeks to work more closely with the team to develop our project plan.

I was nervous to go back at first. I wasn’t sure how I would feel now that I had been home for a few months and then moved to Germany. Would I still get along with my friends well? Would my Spanish be at least as good as when I left? Would I still understand the intricacies of our work as well as when I had lived there? Would my heart sink every time I saw a homeless dog crossing the street?

I arrived after 22 hours of travel a bit exhausted and somewhat flustered at my inability to move my tongue as fluidly as I would have liked, (I blame the months of German lessons for that one!) but after resting up for the day (and soaking in some sun at my hotel) I was prepared to take on the language, and my former home (albeit a temporary one.)

As for all of my other fears, they were nothing to worry about. What I learned more than anything was that you can always go home again. I fit right back in with my friends (with a strange Gringa/German accent, but still), the office welcomed me with open arms, and my memory of our project work and goals had nowhere near disappeared in my time away. I felt peaceful being there, without the same conflicts that had plagued me during my volunteership. I was in a new place, both physically and mentally, and could handle what was thrown at me.

Paraguay was a place I belonged, it had become a part of me.

…to be continued…

Happy 4th From Berlin!

I’m not at home to celebrate the 4th of July, once again (this is now the third year in a row, but I’m sure there were at least a handful more where I was out of country on this very patriotic day!) While I don’t tend to be the most patriotic of people, I am a fine example of a red-blooded New Yorker American (as I’m often told the minute I speak to someone and they ask where in the U.S. I’m from.)

So in honor of you, America, I am wearing Red, White, and Blue!

Now off to eat a burger and drink beer 🙂

Another Runner’s First – Rainy Days

So I recently celebrated an anniversary…well a couple really. My birthday just passed last week, 27 years (crazy!) And It has been two years since I first left New York for Paraguay. It’s also been about two years since I started this blog and, of course, since I started running!

Actually its quite crazy to think of all the firsts I’ve experienced in the last couple of years, in particular. Moving out of my NYC apartment, quitting my long-time job at an Advertising Agency, moving to South America to become a volunteer, following my passion to save animals, being offered full time employment by the WWF, moving to Germany, learning German, etc.

Nonetheless, life continues to be filled with first experiences. I guess that’s what keeps me going everyday, knowing I have yet to discover the undiscovered!

My most recent first was just the other day. I’ve been super motivated lately to keep get in shape and stay fit, and have been trying to stay as active as possible, whether it be biking to work everyday, running when I get home, high intensity weight and cardio exercises in my living room, (which I’m sure my neighbor downstairs must love!) or attending weight or spinning classes at the gym. So despite feeling utterly exhausted from all the traveling and socializing lately, I finally motivated myself to get out for a run around 9 pm the other night, to catch the last rays of sunshine, (did you know that in the Berlin summer the day stays light until about 10:30 PM?!) I reminded myself how good I would feel after a nice run, since I haven’t been able to fit much in the last week or two while I was traveling in Paraguay, and put on my Vibrams and workout gear and headed downstairs.

I exited my building only to discover that the (very uneven) cobblestones were wet. It had begun to rain. I literally stood on the edge of the doorway for a solid 3 minutes debating if I should just call it quits and head back inside and then remembered what someone had told me recently, “We aren’t made of sugar,” and said what the hell, I’m gonna get sweaty running anyway, might as well let some natural water mix in!

Fernando Mastrangelo’s Sculpture made of Sugar (a.k.a. my impression of what would happen to me if I ran in the rain)

So for the first time in my relatively short running career I opted to run in the rain. It may not sound like such a big accomplishment, but actually it felt very liberating! It was the first time I was able to see through the raindrops to the workout that lay beyond. Rather than assuming a summer must be filled with gorgeous outdoor runs, otherwise I’m doomed to the treadmill at my gym, I realized I can actually make due with inclement weather. It actually even made me reconsider my gym membership, (well for the summer at least!)

So in light of this personal achievement, here’s to another two years of firsts!