Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Running in Paraguay

MMT recovery has been fun, and painless. After one week, I felt pretty much recovered, except for some toenail issues. Week 2 was spent running, doing a little yoga, windsurfing and hanging on the beach in Aruba. Great times. I was back in DC long enough to unpack and repack and departed for 12 days in Paraguay. Giddy is the only way to describe my first 24 hours back in Paraguay. I checked into my hotel (new and super chuchi--or upscale in paraguay-speak) and made a bee-line for the shopping mall next door, where I knew there to be a delightful chipa stand. I enjoyed a supper of chipa (traditional bread) and cocido (charred yerba tea with milk and sugar) that I'd been dreaming of for weeks. Ahhh...home.

I lived in Paraguay as a Peace Corps volunteer for 3+ years from '99 to '03. I've been back 4 times since then, and this is the first trip that I won't go visit my old PC site. It's a trek to get out there (12 hours on a bus), and I don't have the time or energy to make it this trip. I feel twangs of guilt, but Perla (host mom) and Gondra (community), have to know that I still love them. Here's a picture of my PC counterpart, Alejandro, and his family, hanging out in their yard drinking terere on my last visit.
Work travel has taken me to a lot of interesting places. I've always appreciated being a runner on the road. Unless I add on some vacation days or have the weekend to play tourist, I don't often have time to see much on a work trip besides the hotel and the office. However, morning runs at least give me a chance to explore a bit and see more of a place than I would otherwise. And I love to experience how different places wake up-- especially Paraguay. Even in Asuncion, it's still possible to hear chickens, smell cocido being brewed, and be passed by horse carts on the streets. Of course, there are countries where I choose not to run on the streets and that have forced me to familiarize myself with a treadmill. I'd run almost 20 years before I ever set foot on a treadmill. But the streets of Kabul or downtown Nairobi are not the most comfortable places to run and it's not always best to stick out as an obvious foreigner.

Luckily, I'm not always forced inside. And while I often run around the streets of whatever city I'm in, finding trails to run on--and ones where I feel safe running alone--is rare. However, on some occasions, I've had the opportunity to do some exploring, like my recent trip to Bolivia, where I had the chance to run 'El Choro Trek,' a ~35 mile route, popular with backpackers that starts at 16,000 feet and descends to around 3,000 feet, passing along Incan trails through the altiplano, and down through tropical forests. I'm not usually one to go for long solo runs in places I don't know, and without having much of an idea of how many miles the run is, how long the run might take, and how to get back home afterwards, but some adventures are too inviting to pass up.

And back to the present. I had forgotten just how bad air quality is in Asuncion. I slept in on Monday, so ended up at the gym on Monday night on the treadmill. I figured I could beat morning traffic on Tuesday and got up at 6 to run. Traffic was bad by 6:30, and while I enjoyed a run through some familiar neighborhoods, the intake of diesel fumes was annoying. I do remember that the year I lived in Asuncion and ran outside in the morning, I had a constant nasal drip. I got used to the fumes or can't remember really noticing them, but it couldn't have been healthy. I'm sticking to the gym most days this week--what can I say, I've gotten soft--I used to drink water directly from a cow pond--picture at left was my water source my first year in PC-- and run ihnaling exhaust fumes from decrepit buses. Alas, no longer.

The gyms in Paraguay are definitely a different scene than gyms in the US. I'm the only girl in shorts and maybe the only one sweating. I have enjoyed a couple of good speed workouts, and some hill training. A workout I did on Wednesday, which I started doing when my hand surgeon ordered me to stop running back in March after an MMT training run resulted in hand surgery, was to walk at 15 minute mile pace at a 15% grade. I did this on Wednesday for 30 minutes and my heart rate was between 180-200. Yowzers. It kinda kicked my ass. Hope to work up to an hour at that pace. Otherwise, just boring treadmill running, watching myself run for an hour or so through my reflection in the window in front of me, and passing the time by counting the number of passing cars vs. motorcycle on the street outside (85% cars/trucks, 15% motorcycles).
It's Friday night now, and I'm in bed with a head cold. I guess the combination of MMT, vacation, an all night flight to Paraguay, and chipa overload has done me in. I'm hoping to recover before my flight on Tuesday afternoon, as I have a history of fainting on airplanes when flying when congested. I tend to pass out from sharp pain, and the pressure builds up in my ears until I faint. Tomorrow I hope to get up early and head out to the park near the airport to run. It's not an exciting place to run--paved, flat trail--but the air is a bit clearer out there. Then I plan to spend the day getting pampered--massage, facial and shopping. This trip is turning into a down time for running, but that's not a bad thing, as long runs can wait until I'm back stateside again. While Paraguay is a favorite place of mine, it is not my favorite place to run.