Life of Hardin in Paraguay

Laugh as you travel through life with Josh Hardin.

Location: Spring Hill, TN, United States

Josh Hardin began writing in high school and published his first novel when he was twenty-two. He won an EPPIE award for his mystery novel "The Pride of Peacock." His non-fiction work includes "The Prayer of Faith", a book aimed at making personal prayers both powerful and effective. He has traveled widely and taught a summer philosophy course at the International University in Vienna. Hardin grew up in Tennessee and moved to Paraguay in 2006. He moved back to Tennessee in 2008.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Life of Hardin Vol. IV, No. 9

Where the Streets are Lined with Copper

I found a coin on the sidewalk the other day. It was worth about a dime. I leaped into the air and kicked my heels together. You may think that amount of celebration was unwarranted. At home, in the States, finding a penny or even a nickel is not a rare occurrence. Most people won’t bother to stoop down for anything smaller than a Sacagawea dollar (probably not for that, either). I once spent a day at a theme park with my head down looking for coins. My sister-in-law scoffed and wouldn’t pick a thing up until she found a five dollar bill beneath the balloon squirt. I have often been known to scrounge the pavement at Sonic for that extra eighteen cents change on my slushie and come up far in the black. Wal-Mart paves their parking lots with Lincoln’s likeness. Most people walk over these coins without a glance. You can tell much about the economy of a country by the people’s disdain for engravings of former presidents. So yes, I would be quite foolish to invite my friends over to celebrate the discovery of a lost coin.

Not, however, in Paraguay. Coins are magic. Paper money is wadded and torn and disintegrated in the sweaty palms of a hundred people. Coins, however, contain power in their metal. They brighten days. They bring smiles. They are cherished above all other monies. The boy who raps on your car window at the stoplight may not have eaten for two days. Give him a coin and his pout disappears. He turns cartwheels in front of your car. Pay for your groceries with a hundred and you are frowned at. If you don’t have the coins to equal the change needed, you are spat upon. If you supply exact change, the managers rise up and called you blessed.

My wife once took three dollars worth of coins to pay for a new mop. She poured the coins on the counter. The other cashiers ran over and gazed wide-eyed and opened mouth at the pile of treasure. They gave my wife a laurel crown to wear. I once tried the same thing at a Fred’s. The purple-haired lady glared at me over her spectacles and had me kicked out the door. They tossed the coins into the parking lot.

Paraguayans will part with coins for nothing. If they were made of gold they would not be treated with more reverence. I have counted the church collection many times, in the States and in Paraguay. At home there are always stacks and stacks of quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies. People enjoy tossing them in the plate and hearing them clatter in the silence. Not once have I counted a coin in a Paraguayan collection. Not one time.

I bought a Coke at a gas station here once. The girl handed me two bills and two pieces of candy--those hard, strange fruit flavored candies that everyone buys for Halloween and no one eats. I stared at them in the palm of my hand.

“What’s this?” I asked. “I’m supposed to get change.”

She smiled at me, as a mother might smile at a child’s question. “Why don’t you just take the candy instead?”

I could not get her to part with my coins.

In the States, the streets are lined with copper. Here they are not. So, I found a coin on the sidewalk the other day. It was worth about a dime. I leaped into the air and kicked my heels together. I had never found one before. I expect to find no more. You will excuse me if I celebrate.

Life of Hardin Vol. IV, No. 8

Rules of the Road

Should you ever travel to Paraguay, you need to know a little about the available means of transportation and the rules by which they abide. The city of Asunción lacks a subway system, but has extensive bus lines that roam just about everywhere. These might not be the first choice, however, if one is not already familiar with the city. They make no regular stops, and the drivers assume you will hop on and hop off during the slow moments.

Taxis are also available to the general public. Unlike other South American countries, these have fare meters so that one does not haggle with the cabbies. But taxis are more like roller coasters than a viable means of transport. They thrill you with a wild ride, but you might also lose your lunch afterwards.

The more adventurous visitor might enjoy driving a rented car. If so, it will be helpful to have a basic understanding of the traffic laws, a selection of which I here provide, translated from the Asunción Driver’s Manual.

Section I. The Basic Rule.

1.1 All male drivers must ignore oncoming traffic and crane their heads to watch any woman pedestrian, regardless of her attractiveness, so long as she is clad in spandex.

1.1.a All women pedestrians must be clad in spandex.

Section IV. Regarding General Traffic Rules

4.1 You may pass at any time.

4.5 If a line of cars is stopped at a red light and you are last, you must pass to the front of the line and stop at an angle in the intersection.

4.6 You may ignore the lines on the road.

4.9 You must sound your horn in an angry manner at any vehicle in front of you at a red light that does not move one (1) second before the light turns green.

4.9.a The third car in line must follow the horn sounding of the second car.

4.9.b The fourth car in line must follow the horn sounding of the third car. Etc.

4.12 You may park anywhere you wish, so long as you turn on your hazard lights.

4.14 Speed limit signs need not be obeyed. They are in place merely as suggestions. However, these precautions are in place to regulate the speed of traffic.

4.14.a Each road shall have no less than one (1) speed bump.

4.14.a.1 Each speed bump shall be painted to match the road surface. No speed bump shall have reflective of colored paint that might make it visible.

4.14.b Each road shall have no less that one (1) large pothole every fifty (50) meters or no less than ten (10) small potholes every fifty (50) meters.

4.14.b.1 All road crews, on completing the resurfacing of a road, will replace potholes where they found them.

4.16 All traffic signals and road signs (i.e. red lights, one way streets, yields, No U-Turns, etc.) must be obeyed at all times with the following exceptions:

1) You are in a hurry, or

2) You think you can get away with it.

4.16.a You may never turn right on red.

Section VII. Regarding Motorcycles.

7.1 Motorcycles, scooters, and other two-wheeled vehicles are exempt from all responsibility to obey traffic laws. They may drive on sidewalks, between cars, etc, but must meet this requirement: No two-wheeled vehicle may have an engine capable of speeds above 50 km/h (31 mph).

Section X. Regarding Pedestrians

10.1 Pedestrians may cross at any point on a street, regardless of crosswalk, provided they do not

1) Look either way, nor

2) Move faster than a stroll.

Section XII. Regarding Buses

12.1 Bus drivers may do what they want, when they want, at any time, including deciding whether and when to stop and pick up or drop off passengers.

My advice is this: stay in a tall hotel with a view. You can see everything you need to from there.

Life of Hardin Vol. IV, No. 7

A Walk in the Park

6:15 A.M.--Boarded a rented van with chauffer for a 10 hour round trip to Iguassu Falls. Me, my wife, two more women, and a man.

11:33 A.M.--Passed private gift shop just outside Iguassu National Park. Chauffer pointed it out. I wished I was driving.

11:48 A.M.--Purchased tickets and rode the park bus to the scenic trail.

12:05 P.M.--Turned corner on the trail and heard gasps as first time visitors spied the beginning of the falls through the jungle. Suppressed my own awe so as not to look like a tourist. Posed for pictures.

12:13 P.M.--Stopped to let everyone catch up. Posed for pictures.

12:18 P.M.--Stopped to let everyone catch up. Began to sweat under the collar. Posed for pictures.

12:30 P.M.--Stopped again. More pictures. Feet began to tingle.

12:35 P.M.--Walked out on catwalk in the spray of The Devil’s Throat. Largest and last of the falls, tourwise. Iguassu is the largest falls by volume in the world. Catwalk packed. Got soaked by spray. Saw four rainbows in the mist at bottom.

12:40 P.M.--Pictures. Ooh’s and Ahh’s.

12:50 P.M.--Waited while others stood and stared open mouthed at the roaring water. Tingle in feet turned to thousands of tiny knives. Happened to look down at the shallows beneath catwalk and saw hundreds of coins. Shined like gold in the sun. Had one leg over the rail. Stopped by my wife.

12:55 P.M--Took elevator to top. Everyone stopped to view falls from there. Toes numb. More pictures.

1:04 P.M.--Lunch.

1:30 P.M.--Stopped in gift shop. Wife and one of the women looked at stones for jewelry. Area around the falls rich with semi-precious stones.

1:50 P.M.--Got off bus at park entrance. Stopped at gift shop to look for stones. Gift shop has exact same things. Keychains that say “Cataratas do Iguacu.” Shirts that say “Cataratas do Iguacu.” Slabs of amethyst to hang on wall. Phony little trees with semi-precious stones tied on for leaves. Should have bought one and plucked a leaf each time my wife wanted a new ring. Feet numb.

2:21 P.M--Entered Parque de Aves, the bird park that features a “walk through the jungle exhibit” of birds from around the world. Felt like I was in a rainforest. Wanted to take shirt off but didn’t.

2:44 P.M.--Went into giant parrot cage, where you can actually touch any one of about fifty of the huge birds. Attacked by six parrots enraged by the sound of my wife’s digital camera. Ran for my life.

2:57 P.M.--Left exhibit. Went into the gift shop. More of same. Keychains with “Cataratas” on one side and “Parque de Aves” on the other. Carved masks. Amethyst slabs. Wife and other lady looked for jewelry again in the corner jewelry shop. I sat outside with a view through the window. They go in. They come out. I stand up. They go back in again. I sit down. Process repeated ad infinitum. I begin to yearn for the old days before gift shops when you could just break off a stalactite and go home.

3:49 P.M.--On the road again. Driver asks if we want to stop in the large gift shop. I close my eyes and pray.

3:52 P.M.--We pile out at the gift shop. It is twice the size, twice the price, twice the amount of the same stuff. Coasters that say “Cataratas.” Phony stone trees. A five foot slab of amethyst with a tag of $15,000 dollars. I can grow sugar crystals at home.

4:01 P.M.--A worker asks if I need help. I ask where they keep the cyanide. Feet feel like slabs of amethyst.

9:17 P.M.--Arrive back home. Totals: One hour, thirty one minutes sightseeing. One hour, thirty one minutes gift shopping.

9:20 P.M.--Sat down and used my one purchase: a foot roller.