The number 108
You will avoid any mention of the number "108" whenever you are in the company of Paraguayans.
The reason for this goes back to the days of the Dictature, when homosexuality was strongly frowned upon; then one day one of the newspapers outed a list of 108 names, all supposedly practicing homosexuals.
And since then, a "108" is understood to be a homosexual, a practice still opprobrious in ths mainly Roman Catholic country. To the point that when a new car registration system was put in place a few years back, with all cars getting new plate numbers, the first recipients of plates with "108" raised such a stink that the number was removed from use, and you will never see it in a Paraguayan car plate.
The empty quarter
"A quiet place"
The first time I went to Asuncion was after I had spent a hectic week working in the mega city of Sao Paulo, so I was looking forward to staying in a city that wasn't that busy. I got to Asuncion on a Saturday, but I did not expect be it to be that quiet.
As I arrived is the middle of the Southern summer, the streets were empty, and the sweltering heat everywhere. Asuncion was much smaller and more run down than all the other South American capitals that I have seen and it took me awhile to adapt to Asuncion's tranquility.
"Asuncion and surroundings"
I started exploring the city, one of the few people on the streets, and visited the main attractions easily within two hours. Most of Paraguay's other attractions, except for the huge Chaco, are all relatively close to Asuncion.
Eventually I started to enjoy the tranquility of Asuncion, people relaxing on park benches, with enough time to chat or sit at the banks of the Paraguay river
Paraguay is a strange country, vast, unkown, empty with a small population and a history of traumatic wars and absurd dictatorships. The people are extremely friendly, and there is a quiet and tranquil way in the hot and heavy air.
The people of Paraguay are a mix of Guarani Indians (Guarani is is still spoken by more than 40% of the population), Hispanic colons, as well as recent Japanese, German, Korean and Arab immigrants. Another interesting group are the german-speaking Mennonites, which after years of isolation now control 90% of Paraguay's dairy food market, and actively participate in the current government.
I have been to Paraguay a couple of times now, and really started to like it. I would have never thought I could find something interesting here when I came the first time. It is definitely not the first country that comes to mind when thinking about tourism in South America and it takes someone special to appreciate Paraguay.
A good read about Paraguay is 'The Honorary Consul' by Graham Greene, which illustrates nicely the strange charming effect that Paraguay can have on some people...like me!