Mother of Cities

She is a city where explorers once said farewell to familiarity and headed into the vast unknown. She is a city that marked the end of a tamed world and the beginning of the wild, the entrance into the “Great Province of the Indies,” as this area was called.

Imagine it: you are called to be a settler and explorer here in the time when maps are literally blank and survival of the fittest isn’t a cliche. The last place of civilization you may ever see is the “Mother of Cities,” know today as Asunción, Paraguay.

This spirit of exploration and adventure is hidden deep within Asunción. It’s so hidden, in fact, that I didn’t believe the importance of this place while I was there. But this tiny capital of a poor nation is one of the oldest cities in South America and was once a critical hold for Spain. The “Mother of Cities” was famous for all the souls who departed from her in search of a new start, but the full name of this capital city is perhaps just as noteworthy: Nuestra Señora Santa María de la Asunción.

But these days she doesn’t quite live up to the grandeur of her names. Once the center of a large Spanish colonial province that included parts of Brazil and Argentina, Asunción and the nation of Paraguay suffered what has befallen other countries of the continent: rebellion, war, political turmoil, foreign occupation, military dictatorship and a continued struggle with poverty. 

Even still, she is not without her charms.

Leafy parks dot the capital and the traces of colonial buildings beckon from many corners (you will have to look past some graffiti to see it). Sunsets along the Bay of Asunción are well worth the stroll, and the restaurant scene is growing. But my favorite stop was at Mercado 4, the city’s market that, like many others I have seen, offers a smattering of goods from trendy shoes to unidentifiable meat, where ancient herbs are as valued as modern electronics. In Mercado 4 the butchered fish draws prowling cats and their hungry (and very creepy) stares, while baby chicks, ducks and mice await their fate in cages perched on piles of books and crates. These kinds of markets are often the best look into a culture and here was no different. Though the "Mother of Cities" may not have the same commanding presence as she once did in South America, you can still find her spirit of adventure tucked in somewhere between the fake iPhones and the yerba mate.

 

If you go, consider these restaurants:

Taberna Española - My favorite place we ate! This was a paella-lover’s heaven, and the sangria was excellent.

Lo de Osvaldo - A football-themed, sophisticated pub with a fun outdoor eating area and great cuts of meat. 

Talleyrand (Centro location) - Good for a quiet, delicious meal and a decent bottle of wine. We were the only ones in the place, but the service was nice and the steak divine.

Bar San Roque - This restaurant has a good ranking on Trip Advisor but for me it fell a little short of the romantic atmosphere expectations (probably because of the awful Jackie Chan movie dubbed in Spanish that was playing in the corner). But it would still be a good stop for an afternoon treat or coffee.

Medialunas Calentitas  - Friends introduced to this chain (with only three locations!) and we thoroughly enjoyed their sweets and coffee.

904 - A wood fired oven pizza place across from the InterContinental Hotel with a pleasant outdoor courtyard. Good for after-dinner drinks, too.