By Bobby Neal Winters
The mortar and pestle pounding the maté sounded like horses’ hooves on cobble stones as we walked past the corner and crossed Avenida Estigarribia. We then turned and headed east.
This is our last full day. Tomorrow we began travel home. As my cousin Mary told me, "No hay lugar como el hogar." There is no place like home.
Asuncion downtown wakes slowly. This is the tropics, and the length of day and night vary only a little from season to season. We are still in winter, but the daily high is already in the 90s. At night it cools off a bit. At night you can move without the burning sun staring down at you. During the afternoon you retreat into the dark buildings with their high ceilings. At sundown, after six, you can emerge from protection and live again.
The morning is pleasant. There is a nice breeze and we try to stick to the north side of the street where the shade is. We are south of the equator and must adjust to our new reality.
Others do the same. And everywhere there are men with their guampas and bombillas drinking maté.
Maté is made of herbs and drunk in a tea. It is medicinal. It is ubiquitous. It is Paraguay.
We go to the sidewalk market around the Plaza to buy souvenirs. Jean gets a purse for herself and I get a mortar and pestle. We step out of the shade of the market and there is a teenage girl with a mortar and pestle crushing herbs into maté.
We walk past the fancy pharmacy with a large contingent of rent-a-cops and cross the street heading east. On the sidewalk in front of a fancy clothing store, there is a man sleeping in his own vomit on the sidewalk. No one seems to notice. No one seems concerned. None of the rent-a-cops are rousting him. Who is my neighbor?
We go on past.
We ultimately walk past him several times over the course of four hours.
We go to Plaza de Uruguayana and visit one of the bookstores there. We walk out the south side of the park and--of all things--there is a man with mortar and pestle grinding maté.
It is approaching noon now, we are getting hungry. We go seeking a place to get a lomito and succeed. It is good. It is a restaurant and so the lomito is not as good as the ones you get from street vendors who sell them. My rule of thumb is that if you are not a bit scared, then the lomito won't be as good.
We start back to the hotel and pass were the man had been sleeping. He is gone, but I know it's the right place because the vomit is still there.
We come back to the hotel, where the maté man is gone from his corner, retreated into the cool of some dark building.We do the same.