19. Off the beaten track - Paraguay!

I recently arrived in Ecuador and will be posting a new blog
(on Bolivia) when I reach Cuenca, in a few days from now.

Departing Posadas, a comfortable day's ride from there was the Mate factory town of Santo Pipo and Manon's mother who lived there had previously invited me to stay knowing I'd be passing by.
Managing the 88 kilometres by mid-afternoon upon arrival to the house I was soon invited in to the family's swimming pool, proving a great way to unwind after the hot ride!
With just two more days of riding along greenery lined roads and making use of campsites along the way I soon arrive at the town of Porto Iguazu.
Wandering around the town at night with some other travellers we visit a viewing point where the River Iguazo merges with the even mightier River Parana, a rather key political-boundary as on the left is Paraguay, whilst the right Brazil...certainly no more of Argentina remaining! 
The following day I'm coach-bound for the short ride to Iguazu Falls. The waterfall is actually the world's largest waterfall system. Numerous islands along the 2.7-kilometre-long edge divide the falls into many separate waterfalls and cataracts, varying between 60 to 82 metres high. The number of these smaller waterfalls fluctuates from 150 to 300, depending on the water level. Approximately half of the river's flow falls into a long and narrow chasm called the Devil's Throat, being U-shaped, 82 by 150 by 700 metres. 
Legend has it that a deity planned to marry a beautiful woman named Naipí, who fled with her mortal lover Tarobá in a canoe. In a rage, the deity sliced the river, creating the waterfalls and condemning the lovers to an eternal fall.

The park entrance had throngs of people awaiting for the gates to open but once they did all seemed to operate efficiently. Meeting a Korean girl on the coach that drove us there, Kiki Lee and I were soon aboard the open sided train that shuttles visitors to the park's centre.
With several routes to walk we choose our first and start walking.
The labyrinth of paths wound through thick greenery, occasional park benches with raccoons hoovering dropped food, various birds hovering around for crumbs they've missed, small monkeys observing from the above branches. Turtles next to pools of water lazily lapping up the early morning sun whilst alligators trawl around the still murky waters instantly snapping at anything that's thrown in - a real haven of animals!
Walking closer to the main fall's we pass smaller ones that seep through occasional cracked rocks, meandering through the greenery. Raised metal walkways lead over and across the water leading us closer and closer, a plume of misty spray that's generated from the descending water clearly denotes the main fall...along with the obvious roaring noise!
Half way down the main fall a path leads to a jetty that protrudes close (enough!) to the water, the rip-roaring noise was a powerful emotion but to see this amount of water plummeting was absolutely amazing, my 'deviation' to get here now seemed justified!
The falls pass an estimated 1,700 cubic metres of water per second but in 1982 and 1992 this became a raging torrent of 39,000!!..washing away whole islands and much of the walkways (parts of the old ones can still be seen twisted) whilst from one extreme to the other the 1978 draught almost dried up the falls!
Not usually one for tour 'extras' I decide to pay for a ride on the boat. Fitted with life-jackets we board the huge double outboard-engine'd fibreglass dingy-like vessel The captain first gets close to fall and then backs away, circling around the other side, by then we were wet just from the misty spray....but after doubling back from his 'tease' were coaxed into cheering him closer by his microphone'd colleague at the front and soon we're under the falls and get ab-so-lutely drenched..I think even the available rain-macks would have offered little protection!
The pot-of-gold at the end of this rainbow being most certainly what was creating the rainbow in the first place!
- - -
To reach Paraguay I could either take a ferry across the river or nip through Brazil making use of the Friendship Bridge that crosses the river. Having been advised against using the ferry as it docks at an apparent crime-vulnerable suburb of Paraguay's Ciudad del Este city I decide on the bridge crossing. Literally in Brazil for less than an hour I'm soon weaving through thick traffic toward the bridge. Called the Friendship Bridge as it allows Brazilians into Paraguay without immigration clearance thanks - on Paraguay's behalf - due to it being significantly cheaper than Brazil so as such over recent years Ciudad del Este shopping mal count has boomed! The bridge itself was just totally manic with cars and the dividing line awash with mopeds in both directions...it was a rat-run - dodging mopeds from both directions with no option whatsoever of taking a photo!.. a sigh of relief as I exit the bridge and - myself staying in Paraguay - firstly need to get an entry stamp.
Ahhhh!! The city was as manic as the bridge! A melting post of madness, billboards and signs everywhere advertising 'China Shopping', bla-bla shopping mal here, bla-bla shopping mal there, traffic left right and centre, traffic-police blowing their whistles, roadside market stall sellers shouting out about there goods, more signs, more traffic, more noise!! Ahhhhhh!! get me out of here!! I needed only one thing, some local currency and bloody quick as I couldn't take much more of it! In search of a bank/ATM I'm just directed around in circles, surrendering to the city's madness I press the escape button and hit the road hopeful that an ATM would surface somewhere! As I near the city's edge it starts to quieten down (a relative term!) and I manage to find an ATM - with cash withdrawn I couldn't pedal fast enough and soon am out of sight of my introduction to Paraguay.
Due to its central location in South America, it is sometimes referred to as Corazón de Sudamérica ("Heart of South America"). Paraguay is one of the two landlocked countries outside Africa and Eurasia (Afro Eurasia) [the other is neighbouring Bolivia], and is the smallest of the two.
The Indigenous Guarani had been living in Paraguay for at least a millennium before the Spanish conquered the territory in the 16th century. Spanish settlers and Jesuit Mission introduced Christianity and Spanish culture to the region. Paraguay was a peripheral colony of the Spanish Empire, with few urban centers and settlers.
The country's currency is the Guarani (Gs) with about 7,081 to the pound. Prices on food is considerably cheaper than Argentina and Chile...a welcomed change! This is the national flag:
The weather, the road, traffic and scenery was very similar to that of Argentina - the only noticeable difference being I was now cycling westward. Towns were nicely spaced apart which gave me reasonable distances to ride out the kilometres.
The first night I free-camped at a petrol station but with the second day's weather changing to grey clouds and heavy showers I take advantage of the country's lower prices and use a hotel that night, just 8000 Guarani (£11), Argentine campsite prices!!
An unwelcomed similarity from Argentina was the hard-shouldered tarmac 'sleeping policeman' strips. Spaced every 100 metres or so apart I could never understand there purpose. The road itself was only just wide enough for passing vehicles so with lorries in both directions I had no choice but to stay on the narrow hard-shoulder but these nasty strips had to be rode around, at times becoming quite dangerous.
The third night, preferring a campsite I stumble across a rather strange place. Seeing the signs for camping I cross the road to the driveway, as I get closer I see the fenced-off area containing a small swimming pool along with a multicoloured brightly-painted shipping container modified into a kitchen/bar and toilet facilities whilst on the opposite side were several blue teepee style tents containing a double mattress. Having never slept in a teepee it was certainly welcomed accommodation.
The following morning after just 55 kilometres I reach the WarmShower's host's flat in the capital Asuncion. Natalia and Sebastian can be seen on my Host's page.
Natalia is an editor at the the country’s main newspaper with the main office just down the road from their flat. Prearranging to initially meet there we then walk to their flat to meet her boyfriend Sebastian Invited out for lunch we visit a trendy popular Japanese restaurant for some scrumptious food! After we visit the city’s railway station museum. The British designed and built their relatively short rail infrastructure (376 kilometres) back in 1861 although it's use declined in the 1970's and 80's whereby it ceased operation. On display were various castings and engine parts with Rugby, Wolverhampton and Newcastle cast upon them - being so far from home it struck a rather rare sense of pride for my country.
As an avid cyclist Sebastian was part of a group that were lobbying for the old railway line to be converted into a cycle route, certainly great use for it and a great way to help promote cycling.
With my bike’s front tyre side-wall recently showing a gradual increasing bulge now was the time to replace it before the inevitable POP in the middle of nowhere! With Sebastian not working that afternoon he gladly lead me around the city’s maze of traffic-riddled roads from bike shop to bike shop in search of a tyre that suited my needs. Most of the shops sold the knobbly folding tyres, not really suitable for touring due to their high rolling resistance and secondly - or rather primarily! - lack of puncture protection that a folding tyre typically gives. Eventually we find a shop - the closest one! - that had a descent looking tyre that surpassed my minimum requirements!! (To this day [in Lima] it’s now done 3878 Kilometres without any pu4c7ur3s! [don’t tempt fate by saying the word!!])

My visit to Paraguay was not the best timed. Its former dictatorship ruling had only ended in 1989 but unfortunately present political issues appear like its ugly-head is trying to re-surface. As a newspaper editor Natalia certainly had her work cut out although I was still kindly accommodated and invited for a tour around the newspaper office, radio and print-press meeting some of her colleagues.
With the peoples relatively new-found freedom of expression demonstrations were not unheard of and on the second day a large crowd of farmers had walked through the streets waving large banners, something to do with gaining more rights and fairer pay.
The hospitality I received  in Asuncion was without a doubt excellent!..a nice room to sleep in, excellent food, shown around the city and introduced to other people whilst during the day left to my own for my on-line chores.
On my last night I was advised to stay indoors, or at least away from the city’s parliamentary area. With dictatorship’s feared return, riots had been planned and riots there were...sometimes this is the only way to communicate with a government who's members heads are so far up their own arse they just don’t hear the people through conventional manners! Walking through the centre on my following morning’s departure I witnessed how the public tension had been released, culminating in over-turned burnt cars, government building windows smashed and rooms set on fire, glass and other rubbish scattered across the streets.

My next section would lead me through part of the Gran Chaco region - a sparesly populated, hot and semi-arid lowland natural region of the Rio de la Plata basin divided among western Bolivia, Paraguay, northern Argentina and a portion of the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul. Natalia and Sebastian forewarned me of this huge area, said to be one of the hottest and driest areas of south America. Paraguay’s rarely visited by backpackers, let alone cyclists, so as such finding other’s experiences and information on line about this area was really limited, that appealed to me as the sort of adventure I was after, off the beaten track into the unknown! Satellite images in Google-Earth almost contradicted what I’d been told about the place, greenery appeared in abundance and large areas of wet-lands, that suppressed any concerns I’d initially had about it - time to ride!
Out through the maze of streets I eventually arrive at the bridge across thee Paraguay River. The next main town would be Filadelfia - 500 kilometres away so I load-up on a few extra supplies in the town of Villa Hayes. After there the traffic dropped right off to almost nothing, the road became mine, a l-o-n-g straight road with just occasional farms dotted along it - almost identical to the Argentine Chaco region.
Turned away from my first two attempts at farm-camping I press on and third-time-lucky - after 136 kilometres - I’m welcomed and was allowed to pitch within a mosquito-netted side-awning next to the farm house, the farmer then leaving me to my own. Dinner cooked, washed, bed.
The following day was much the same - greenery in abundance with a fortunate light covering of clouds that reduced the sun’s intensity. My map indicated a few petrol stations through the Gran Chaco region and one of them was pure delight! Along with a bottle of Cola I devoured big cake, yogurt and coffee..this was turning out to be a doddle!! Again with little to stop me after a satisfying 146 kilometres I reach the  junction-town of Pozo Colorado, making use of a hospidaje (like a motel), Filladelfia would soon be under my wheels!
“Woof Woof Woof Hello!!, I’m the dog next door to your hospidaje, I’m always smiling and just love a good fuss”
The next day provided even more clouds and after just twenty kilometres the heavens opened, soon I was wet but with my desire to maintain the big days I pressed on, at sixty seven kilometres I stop for another petrol-station break / shelter. Two burger n’ coffee’s later it’s still drizzly and I’m tempted by a hospidaje sign but ‘Mr Kilometres’ said ‘No!’. In the afternoon the rain stopped so gladly remove my rain-gear..much to the joy of the bloody day-time mosquito's!! By late afternoon the rain started just as I reached a small village with a corrugated-shelter fronting a static fast-food caravan. It looked rarely used and with a small running-water sink around the back ticked all the boxes for camping. Firstly cooking dinner then washing up, as dusk fell it was clear no one was opening up here and with just an occasional car passing road-noise was negligible so I set my tent. The shelter even had a switched light that worked and was even able to dry a few damp clothes by tying my washing-line string across the vertical post’s, airing them through the night, what a perfect end to another good day’s ride of 136 kilometres.
Filadelfia was now only seventy five kilometres away so would be reached by mid-day, the clouds were still present but luckily the rain held back and I soon reached it.
Filadelfia was founded in 1930 by Russian Mennonites who fled from the Soviet Union. and they were originally from Germany, hence the German language. Fleeing [and] exiled for refusal to fight in the war - mainly due to their religious beliefs.
With the majority of them farmers, allowed to stay in Paraguay the governments deal was that they had to work alongside the indigenous people, exchanging farming practises between both sides thus everyone benefiting from the exponentially increased crop growth.
I certainly expected no-less from a German-based town whereby everything from the grid-road format to the supermarket was well organised. It was really strange to be slap-bang in the middle of South America and hearing everyone speaking German! The only sealed road was the main one through the town whilst all others were dirt roads and with all the recent rain had been carved up into a right ol’ mess that would have proved heaven for a pig!
 The museum proudly showed its history and the cooperation founded between the settlers and indigenous people. A well manicured garden surrounded the museum that inside displayed arts and crafts, farming methods and religious artifacts along with different types of hardwoods that grew within the Gran Chaco region. I could sense a rather proud colony of settlers.
The grey clouds delayed my departure but having made great progress reaching here it was no concern. My map showed the sealed road going no further from here but was reassured otherwise at the town’s tourism office.
I’d read about these trees, ‘Chorisia Insignis Palo Borracho’. Swelling as they absorb water during the rainy season to help them through the prolonged dry season. The town’s museum garden had several of them, covered in huge spikes - no doubt a protection system against foraging animals that may otherwise scour into their water source.
Passed Filadelfia I noticed the farms became fewer with increased distances between them. Maybe this was the Gran Chaco I’d be warned about, passing absolutely nothing all day and was after ninety four kilometres I reached the town of Marsical Estigarribia. Although the country’s border was 200 kilometres away I’d read that as there was no border patrol officers at the border one’s passport is exit-stamped here. Locating the immigration office I enquire about this and was informed otherwise. I was now in a quandary. Had the officer simply misunderstood my question? Hi-lighting my mode of transport and that if I arrive at the border to find she was wrong I’d need to come all the back here. I return later with a Google English-to-Spanish translation of my question but again she declares there is now border patrol officers there...fingers crossed eh?

The day after I’d planned to ride the 130km to La Patria but after twenty kilometres had a six kilometre rough unpaved section, then fifteen kilometres of road being re-surfaced followed by ten kilometres of hard-pack sand. As that ended just off the road was a small shop whilst behind that set-back a bit a gravel extraction company. With a covering of light fluffy clouds the mornings heat was intense, unsure of what road conditions lay ahead for the remaining seventy five kilometres to La Patria and what water sources there were, now only mid-day I decide to camp there. I passed away the hours talking to a few of the road-works truckers that called in and read my Kindle.
Dodging a few ‘sand pits’(!) in the road the next day there was little to mention, and after four hours I reach La Patria. Firstly grabbing a big burger from a cafe’ I then decide to use another hospidaje as the weather looked rather unpredictable.
With a ninety degree turning in Patria I was now on the final section of my Paraguay route. The final day’s morning was overcast with the uncertainty of rain again. The road was so quiet it was unreal, maybe a vehicle every half an hour or so. As the hours passed away and kilometres were ticked off I actually became bored! Long straight deserted roads with absolutely no ocular entertainment whatsoever, I declared this as the most boring road I’d ever ridden - on the planet!
The day’s pinnacle was arriving at the border whereby my doubts over it being manned or not were cast away as the new(ish) border-patrol office awaited my entrance.

Next up I'm back at the country I'd pre-planned 
before my rather big diversion, Bolivia!

- - -