Wednesday, July 31

A little on signs from Rob Brezney

Astrologer Rob Brezsney posted the below on his Facebook today, he and Tarnas echo my feelings on the topic of reading signs.

"In his book "Cosmos and Psyche," Richard Tarnas says the planets don't emit invisible forces that shape our destinies as if we were puppets. Rather, they are symbols of the unfolding evolutionary pattern. Just as clocks tell time but don't create it, the heavenly bodies show us the big picture but don't cause it. 

Quoting Greek philosopher Plotinus, Tarnas writes, "The stars are like letters that inscribe themselves at every moment in the sky. Everything in the world is full of signs. All events are coordinated. All things depend on each other. Everything breathes together." So it's not just the distant globes whose movements and relationships serve as divinatory clues. If you're sufficiently attuned to the gestalt of creation and pay close enough attention to its unfolding details, you can read the current mood of the universe in the arrangement of red onions in the grocery store bin or the fluttering of sunlight and shadow on the mimosa tree or the scatter of soap suds in your sink after you've finished washing the dishes. 

Can you do it? Discern the signature of creation at this or any other perfect moment? Peer into the secret heart of the collective unconscious? Guess what the Goddess is thinking? Hint: You will have to switch on a dormant capacity, transforming your imagination from a mere fantasy-generator into an organ of perception."

Although Matthew and I made many serendipitous and interesting connections during the trip, I didn't broach the subject of signs directly on many occasions. Its not something that comes up in the first few conversations one has with a new acquaintance! However, I read many signs of our own making, ranging from those which are new to me (birds flying), spontaneous (the presence of a puppy in a tarot reader's room) or my tried and true favorites (gusts of wind upon arriving at a place, direct manifestations of previously stated desires, coincidences). Its still such a new thing for me though, that sometimes I forget to pay attention to them, and I'm a ways off from being able to call upon them rather than just hope they happen.

Traveling definitely provides an accelerated stream of critical decisions, so I had a lot more opportunity to test theories with omens than I would in 'normal' life. There are a two main questions, but essentially the format is the following:

- the timing that make the sign relevant to the action in question

- what the sign consists of and how it guides optimal action

I have found that signs tend not to be 'good' or 'bad' but they say 'yes' or 'no' to an action. For example, a small boy presenting me with a puppy named Doggy when I entered the Tarot reader's shop was a sign (to me, perhaps not to anyone else :) that I should indeed speak with the reader and have a reading done. It turned out to be a rather dark reading, so although the sign was friendly and the said 'yes', the outcome was more of an important lesson than some great success. In other words, if I had been able to see the future, I might have said no to the reading, which would have meant I missed out on some useful, yet difficult, information.

I suppose the important part to clarify is that reading omens is essentially asking the universe for its opinion on your plans. The opinions of the universe can be totally unrelated to one's own opinion of the outcome of the action - but at least we can rest assured that it will be the most useful possible outcome according to a neutral third party.

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(taken at Barrio De Retiro)

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Monday, July 29

subte placa

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"subte plaque"
(taken at Estación Avenida de Mayo [Línea C])

This is sitting in a subway station in Buenos Aires. It's a union's wish that bad shit doesn't happen again to its members.

Saturday, July 27

tiffy giffy

Tiff flew out last night. Matt stays for another week.
We went to Buenos Aires for a few days and then Tiff flew home. Matt's off to Tigre for the week! Turns out we found a tiger after all.

Tuesday, July 23

clouds over Trinidad

Al Campo

Although Matthew didn't think it was all that important, I really wanted to see the village he stayed at when he was in Paraguay in 2001. I liked the idea of being in a rural farm town (el campo), of seeing a place that was familiar (at least to one of us) and the adventure of trying to find place and people who were off the map.

We hopped on a bus out of Encarnación to Yaguarón ('big dog' in Guaraní), the closest town to the turn off for Curupayty, see our map below:

Monday, July 22

TripAdvisor & Kiva

We made friends with the families who owned the hostel/hotel we stayed at in CdE, so we agreed to write them reviews on TripAdvisor. For some reason I had never thought to do this before, but I had a great time making a little TripAdvisor profile and writing up some short reviews. Then I got the coolest present ever: a $25 Kiva gift card to give to an entrepreneur in Paraguay. ¡Que fabuloso!

I chose Juan, who is using the funds for his poultry farm in Caaguazú, where we happened to have tried to get to today. We ended up in nearby San Pedro, but whatevs.

winter. whoda thought?

Thursday, July 11


Jumping on an westbound red-eye Nuestra Señora bus from CdE para recoger a Tiffany was a whole bunch of things, but it also seemed like the only thing to do. I had been comforted that Tiffany's first trip into Paraguay would be with a good friend (la Nina) who had been living in South America for the past year. But, as things go, the Andean pass a Mendoza had a snow storm, forcing the aforementioned sitch. Up until the last minute we weighed the pros of me staying in Ciudad del Este to continue whatever it was I was doing... 

(probably drinking tereré )

to the pros of seeing each other as soon as possible and, you know, the national capital and all. The latter one won out, por supuesto.

Asunción's "tourist train," revived after much consternation, is apparently again defunct.

Paraguay has many quirks, but this route between its two biggest cities is largely free of them. I arrived in a somnolent, Sunday Asunción; agreed bleary-eyed to the first offer of a taxi, but felt potent in my Spanish and bus-setter status as I was ferried across the suburbs to the airport. When I arrived, the previous day's arrivals were still on the screen, so I took advantage of the cellular companies much-touted free wi-fi, the airport's one bank of padded seats, and a little bit of tereré and settled in to wait for Tiffany while the airport woke up. 

We tested out the camera Tiffany had brought when we got to our hotel

We soon were walking though the ghostlike Sunday streets in search of food. Although Tiffany had her doubts, my choice was clear, the regular reunion point for author John Gimlette during his time in Asunción: Lido Bar. He mused historical one day while sitting under the sidewalk umbrellas in his book At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig,

It had occurred to me, whilst we were sitting in The Lido, that there was another figure on the Paraguayan landscape. He was everywhere. He was clustered at every crossroads. He was at the airport and on the bridge that led to Brazil. He nuzzled into his clones, making his bubble-gum pink rubber body squeak obscenely: the inflatable pig. He'd come from overseas and the citizens had received him, joylessly and yet, it seemed with fervour. 
Tiffany was freshly reading the book and exclaimed excitedly that the tomb of Francisco Solano Lopez (and several other significant leaders) was right across the street. We took out our chanchito (the only thing I had bought so far in the sprawling mall of CdE) and celebrated with a fotosesh. 

Nuestra chancita enfrente de la tomba de los "heroes"
Chanchito y Lopez Jr.

We're obviously not a fan of this asshat. Lopez Jr. was probably the worst thing to ever happen to Paraguay. But it felt like we had come full circle being able to view his tomb, as At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig (given to me by the aforementioned Nina, por casualidad). The catastrophic destruction and loss of life Paraguay suffered under his reign can still be felt palpably today. More on that later.

"Ahora podemos decir que hemos comido y aprechado de Lido Bar."

Monday, July 8

Touchdown Miami

Ok, so this post is just the rambling story, old school style, of my layover in Miami. However, I wanted to get something up here and this is what I got at the moment...

I was awakened by an excited squeak from one of the junior stewards:

“Flight attendants, prepare for landing!”

It seemed improbable that we could be so close so soon after I had curled up into my odd, unattached bulkhead seat at the front of economy class. However, I have come to blindly trust the announcements of the flight crew. Do they ever joke? It must be interesting to have such a serious job while buzzing through the skies and doing improbable things like pushing archaic, narrow metal carts through carpeted, light-rimmed channels only millimeters less narrow or pushing bags bursting at their seams into bins that permit absolutely no bursting. It all seems rather comical to me, but perhaps I am alone in that sentiment.

The airport was rather uneventful, but quite pleasant. Another crew announcement reminded me of the Admiral’s Club, its appropriateness for the fifteen hour layover I was about to enjoy, and that although I no longer had the fancy platinum status that permits entry, I had somehow ‘earned’ a voucher for a day pass from a social network I did nothing for except give up vast amounts of personal data. I slept for a few hours, took advantage of their complimentary beverages and headed out to town.

Just waiting for the bus seemed very Miami. There was a skylight in the bus stand so you could see shining blue sky and soft fluffy clouds even while tolerating the throes of American public transportation.

I hopped off the bus at the first signs of South Beach. Everything was bright: bright white art deco hotels, bright green gently swaying palm trees, bright bikinis, bright tiny shirts and shorts covering up bright bikinis, that bright shining blue sky with its soft fluffy companions.
Within a block I saw a big sign atop one of the bright white art deco hotels: Maxine. It just begged for that sunshine to go away so it could show off its neon brightness. It looked abandoned to me, but I suppose that is just what neon looks like during the day because when I got closer I discovered this was an open-air diner of sorts. Having consumed approximately five glasses of ice tea and one cliff bar, with the hour approaching 2pm, I decided this was the place for me.

To my surprise the waitress was not surprised I was alone. I got a perfect seat on a large cabana with a trio of young (but not too young to be loud) men to my right and a couple surprisingly hands-on for being engaged in talk of their parents’ career paths to my left.

“Oh man, that looks good!” I cooed when the youngish men’s abundant meal of eggs in various croissant and benedict vessels arrived. “I didn’t even see the breakfast menu.”

“Yeah, this is the stuff right here.” They all nodded, proudly, as if I had offered that ultimate confirmation every restaurant orderer dreams of. They were polite enough to say mine looked good too, once it arrived. But it didn’t. It was a double cheeseburger with no bun and anyone who has seen any form of burger without a bun and not otherwise shielded by lettuce, knows it is like mistakenly seeing an aging aunt in the nude. Burgers are NOT meant to be nude.

To my dismay the youngish men asked the server for instructions on using the bus. All that work was in vain – they would not be able to take me out on their boat or show me the secret beach of spectacular beauty. They were only tourists. Oh well, at least now my belly will stick out painfully and help make me feel at home on the not secret beach of normal people.

As I walked I became increasingly aware of my inappropriate dress. Not only was I wearing muted blue, ivory and heather grey (no neon or gold to be seen), but I had multiple layers on both top and bottom (which kept my entire body fully insulated against the breeze in the 95 degree heat / 85% humidity) and, probably most offensively, except for my arms, all my skin was covered. Given that I was actually wearing a slip under my long dress, I managed to be probably the only female, of any age, within a hundred miles, whose upper thighs (or at least their outline) were not on display. Little did the public know, I was actually saving them from viewing my exceptionally pale skin, which, in large quantities, has a blinding quality. Although come to think of it, I would have blended into the art deco buildings perfectly.
I wandered through shops of stringy neon clothing and throngs of people wearing them towards the beach for what seemed like forever.

“Excuse me, miss, would you like a sample of face cream?” An eastern European girl with blonde dreads tied onto the top of her head shoved a small diamond-shaped packet into my hand.)

“Um…sure. Which way is the beach?”

She almost undiscernibly pointed back the way I came. “What do you use for your sunspots?”

Slightly offended, “I don’t know. Are you sure its that way?”

“Come inside, I want to show you something.” She started walking to the door of her shop, the Crystal Cream shop or something similarly Miami/bizarre.

“Oh, no, I need to get to the beach. Are you sure it’s that way?”

Now it was her turn to be offended. Her eyes said, no wonder you have so many sunspots and her mouth said, “Of course  I’m sure.” Both valid answers. Both not what I wanted to hear.


When I finally found it (within eyesight of my first, wrong, turn off the main drag), it was far more beautiful than I had imagined. Most definitely the most beautiful beach I had been to in the US (I have not been to Hawaii). I found a little spot nestled next to a group of beautiful Brazilian teenagers, an extremely tan aging couple and a trio of pale Spaniards. I had a few minutes of quiet before I was startled, “You getting a tan there?”

Before I could see who was speaking I was already laughing. “Obviously not. I don’t really get tans.” It was the old, possibly homeless man who I left out of my earlier beach surrounds description. He had a pink plastic cup from a nearby hotel. It was filled with slices of an unidentifiable citrus fruit, a watery brown liquid and about a half inch of that silky fine Miami beach sand. He slurped at it occasionally, trudging back to his crumpled, yellowing yellow towel to refill it when our conversation lulled.

“Where are you from?”


“When did you get here?”

“6 O’clock this morning.”

“Oh, so you came straight here?”

“More or less, yes.” I was grinning.

“When do you leave?”

“At 11 o’clock tonight.”

“Well, that’s a short trip.” He almost slurred when he spoke, but it was tempered by the accent of someone long speaking a language, but never really caring much how it sounded.

“What’s your name?”


“Oh, like New York.”

“I was born there.” He nodded knowingly. “What’s yours?”


“That’s my grandfather’s name.” He nodded approvingly.

I’m not sure why, but I really liked making him laugh. It was a roaring hoot that recruited his whole body to join in; he almost spilled his cup of orange (or lemon) sandbeer every time.  So we kept talking.

I told him what I did and he said I should talk to Steve Jobs about saving Africa. He told me what he did and I finally understood why his hands were covered in flat, dark blisters and most fingers were losing their covers in sheets. He was a chemical engineer who seemed to have an eventful career, each of his stories was prefaced by, “I had gotten into the (fill in the blank) industry…” This was his intro for living in Simi Valley for a year, when the filler was nuclear, spending time in Texas, when the filler was oil, and landing in the Oakland airport once, when the filler was perfume. Now he had settled into cosmetics and explained that because I was good looking, I could start using anti-aging cream now and it would make sure I was beautiful for the rest of my life. This is as opposed to if I already had wrinkles, the creams can’t make those go away. “It’s all about prevention,” we agreed.

As we got into politics, his Southerness became achingly apparent. I had always thought it was just my family in Georgia who thought Obama was anti-American, but Eugene felt the same way. He said Dick Nixon was a good president, and Reagan. I asked about the Bushes. “Well they thought they could go into Iraq and do what they did in Afghanistan, but they messed it all up. They spent a lot of money on that, it wasn’t good for the country either.” We both laughed when he said ‘a lot of money’.

“Good presidents are hard to find,” we agreed.

After a while I began to fatigue. Actually I just really needed to use the bathroom and didn’t want to leave my things alone or even with Eugene. While he was kind and smart and up-to-date, he was also quite drunk, which nullifies any other abilities a potentially homeless stuff-minder candidate might have.  We shook hands, blisters and all, and he disappeared. I guessed into the ocean, as he left his stuff behind, no stuff-minder needed.

I meandered back to the airport, showered in the lounge and somehow managed to almost miss my flight talking to Matthew and trying to set up this blog to accept comments (which I still haven’t succeeded in doing). I heard them paging me from what seemed like miles down a huge, concrete passageway. Airports are so weird. I ran up and onto the flight – noting missionaries, Mennonites and ‘business’ men filling up the seats.

Saturday, July 6

Omens & Borders

For most of you, this won't be the first time your eyeballs have graced one of Tiffany's travel blogs. I use the word 'blog' reality I have been spewing rambling words onto blogger templates since my first trip to Chile & Argentina in 2007 and through all of my wanderings in the UKEurope on multiple occasionsIndia and the US (which I wrote and never published). I generally spill out a few hundred hurried, excited, nearly incoherent words for each location during the first half or so of the trip, forget to write the rest of the time and fail to reread or edit any of it.

Underlying my writing 'technique', a set of fairly engrained, heavily front-loaded travel pattens that are really to blame for this lack of structure or completion. I like to dream up some place to go based on a trail of wispy recommendations and coincidences, buy a flight and first night of lodging, pack lightly, and wing it. I can say with almost complete confidence that I have never stayed more than three nights in one place on any of my trips, even when I was deathly ill (Argentina and India) or in a place I was utterly in love with (hah, almost everywhere). I generally fuse together daily needs (eating, sleeping), curiosity (grown out of preconceived notions and fueled by my discoveries on the ground) and serendipities (chance encounters, loose introductions, unexpected events like the Dalai Lama's birthday or a flood) to move me from one place to the next. I have honed my technique and it has yet to fail me.

Nonetheless, I hope this trip will be a little different. There are a few reasons, all of which were planted in me over the years and just sprouted thanks to my travel companion, the heart and soul behind this trip, Matthew (who may be writing some blogs on here himself).

Declaring an intention
I realize my travels have had no purpose outside of fulfilling my hunger, curiosity and need for serendipity. This is a shame - I have seen and done some interesting things and have done a terrible job (see above links) documenting it so that anyone other than myself can enjoy these experiences. So my first task on this trip is to attempt to make something out of my time. I don't really know what that something may be, but I would guess it will lay along the lines of a slightly more organized and pleasant to read blog.

Staying in one place
In my advanced age I have come to see the value of staying in one place (not that I have done it yet). Of diving into something and really getting to know it. Of being still, and possibly even quiet. My second task is then to stay (at least somewhat) stationary and learn a place for more than the amount of time it takes to eat, sleep, get oneself into some trouble, take some pictures and then upload them (aka 72 hours).

Choosing a focus
Third, while curiosity has been the driving force behind all of my trips, it has only been present in the abstract. I have never gone somewhere with the explicit task of learning or discovering something (other than food, which is unavoidable anyways). As I started to read about Paraguay, mostly just out of interest in Matthew's trip planning, I couldn't help but make those far-reaching connections that have so many times led me to far-reaching places. I have been studying the ways of Earth-based cultures since January of this year, mostly Yavapai and Hopi from Arizona, and Q'ero (an Incan community), and to my great delight Paraguay is the only country in the Americas that has a native tongue, Guarani, as an official language. Combined with a cursory knowledge of the history from The Mission (caution: heartbreak) and At The Tomb of the Inflatable Pig, I have the probably ridiculous idea that the native people here have a more intact culture than in most of the rest of our fair continent. For this task, I'm going to look into that.

Creating an outcome
In all areas of my life I am in a process of culling. This involves figuring out what I am good at, what I like and what I value - three paramount aspects of life that I spent too little time thinking about in the past. Next I focus on these things and begin to merge them. This includes starting a company to (not coincidentally) help people do the same thing in their professional lives, carefully choosing my social companions, location, food, activities, media, etc. with intention and heart. Because travel is one of those things I truly love (and am good at), I need to find a sustainable way to integrate it into my life, especially financially and philosophically. This task includes having a purpose to the trip - one that supports all other areas of my life and extends past the experience itself.

Now, to really understand how this all comes together, I need to explain Matthew's plans. He has manifested this trip and graciously invited me to join. So his structure, on which I am working, is as follows:

1. Intention: scouting. This is a trip to make connections with a place and its people.
2. Staying: the location of interest is Ciudad del Este, Paraguay (CdE), where we will stay for a month, unless otherwise directed by the people we meet.
3. Focus: the unique aspect of CdE is its borders - physical, social, political. He will study how they affect people, commerce and community.
4. Goal: to someday make a documentary on the subject.

As Matthew shared his plans with me, a series of interesting events occurred  The more I leaned towards going, the more frequent and more clear the signs were. I began to use them explicitly to make decisions, something I have learned about in my cultural studies this year. Given their role in my presence on the trip I have made them my focus for the trip. Bringing my four points together with Matthew's plans, I have the following mission: to learn about how people in Paraguay use omens and then to teach you about it via this blog.

So, there you have the full backstory. This is no spur of the moment vacation my friends! We have purpose. We have motive. We have intention. I hope you will join us, however digitally, on our journey. At least I know my mom will! Cue comment from Molly:

Thursday, July 4

A Rough Itinerary

- 7/5 8pm leave SFO
- 7/7 8am arrive Asuncion, Paraguay and meeting Nina
- 7/8 am travel to Ciudad del Este, Paraguay to meet Matthew
(exciting things happen)
- 7/25 1pm leave Iguazu Falls and arrive in Buenos Aires, Argentina
- 7/26 9pm leave Buenos Aires
- 7/27 9am arrive San Jose