‘It’s a dangerous route, the road is narrow’, ‘there are wild animals’, ‘not so many people live there’, ‘it’s too hot’, ‘many mosquito’s’, ‘the distance between houses is big’, ‘it’s a jungle, nothing is there, boring route’.
That sounds much better than what I have seen so far. I am totally in for it!
I have stocked up with tins of tuna fish, sugared tomato paste, artificially colored pasta and reggianito granulated cheese full of coloring and conservatives; that’ll nurture me. The route has no food to offer, except in native settlements and estancia’s, hopefully not too far off the road.
I leave Concepción by passing the huge bridge above the Rio Paraguay. On top of the bridge, curved like a bow, I can see far above ground level and the earth looks unspoiled and dense with palm trees and low foliage. It seems pretty natural to me.
A bird leans on the wind, passing by a few centimeters away, I see its tiny feet and knowing about their lightness makes me feel instantly where I belong. I feel whole and feel a sensation similar as when I crossed the Sahara. I am going into a vast area of land where I have to depend on my own much of the time. One car has passed me since I am on the bridge, where I am for some time, admiring the immensity.
Finally, the route is quiet. I see no houses, but a cowboy traditionally dressed, he watches me in awe as much as I watch him. The road stretches in a long flat, simmering surface where motorbikes are fewer, yet their load heavier. The earth has become white, the settlements of the different communities exist of trash, plastic, bamboo trunks and dried leaves. And still, everything is fenced off.
The road stretches along endlessly, a silver sea of glimmer at it’s never reaching end. Birds of prey pick away fresh roadkill, making a hole into the body to start eating. I pass a few estancia’s and they are far removed from the road, but luckily there is a kind of guarding-shack where I get water.
Local people, the indigena, live in huts where cars and motorbikes are haphazardly parked. It looks like a nomadic camp, but stationary. There is no logic to it. It looks dirty. I wonder how they earn an income. A few people have a shop and while I buy an unnatural orange Fanta alike fizzy drink, a woman who’s drunk and dancing comes over and grabs the fake Fanta to have some sips.
Another girl sits watching her, a big white headphone on her head and dressed as a hip musician. Now I can’t communicate at all as people speaks Guarani only. I am curious to the people who live in those communities.
As for me, I am soon exhausted: the temperature has reached a 43 degrees. Sweat is pouring through my blouse as soon as I come to a halt. I seem not to keep up with hydrating myself and after that funky Fanta I start burping and losing my energy altogether.
Still everything is fenced. Although I am curious, I don’t feel at ease with the indigena’s, so I choose a burned down piece of land covered by trees and just enough foliage right along the fence.
My thoughts about injustice while cycling
There are 17 native ethnic groups but only 1.7% is fully indigenous, most live in the Chaco, where land is cheap to buy, but not for the indigenous. The president himself bought large parts of the north. Actually, over 80% of the land is owned by just 1% of the population.
And did the earth from the bridge look unspoiled, most is used as either palm groves or grazing fields, though it all looks natural.
I meet with a native man; he beckons me over when I started cycling not long after breakfast. Since I carry a certain amount of water and food, and I need to use my energies for cycling instead of trying to speak with someone whose language isn’t Spanish either. But I am so interested in their situation that I do take out quite some time. Only when the man keeps repeating his suffering, blaming the president, soaks in pity, and even becomes agitated, I leave.
It is not that I can’t handle negativity, but I do not like self-pity and blaming. He tells me his children don’t have shoes, he doesn’t have work and lives for 35 years along the road where he hasn’t got access to running water. Shoes can be made out of shredded truck tires and food can be grown since the man has access to a well. The television that runs on free electricity probably shows the man richness from another Paraguay. Unfortunately, the television doesn’t show the man how to learn to grow food. He receives child-care and of what I’ve heard he should have received a brick house too. Unfortunately, he prefers to drink alcohol instead of saving money for shoes for his children. Yet, he is a man born with the congenital skills to survive in the harsh, arid Chaco. He may have known about the effects of plants, the properties of herbs, the way of animals. He knew how to spot wild in the wilderness, he may have known how to weave a basket from reeds. He might have known how to make bracelets from deer hooves and feathered necklaces with an intricate knotting technique. This man believed perhaps in a different reality and might have been truly spiritual.
Now, fences have enclosed him. His lifestyle is fully dejected.
I cycle on, my mind deeply troubled. It has me thinking however.
Ignorance needs one fool
Who is to blame?
The man who wants power? The man who thinks power is attractive? He who want better for his country? Or better for himself? Can you blame him who is surrounded by corruption? Can you blame him when he is raised by parent’s wealthy and accustomed being the best? The best, no matter how. Honesty is for fools.
Can you blame the city man his norms and values against people without his norms and values? Others are stupid, you are not.
Is it important for a city man with power to worry about life where he gains no benefits from? Where no economic message derives from, not for his country, not for him.
Can you blame the man who has acquired many a hectare of earth, maybe through hard work, corruption or luck, to avoid other people using it?
Can you blame the man who want to protect what is his?
Can you blame the man who desires to have a business that runs well in his country?
That other man, who lives against the boundaries where now cows are grazing, can you blame him for wanting that too. A seemingly easy and rich lifestyle.
He is a native but his kingdom is small. He is seen as a minority, and less he is.
Today this man is possessed with a television and electricity, to observe the debts the man with power feasts on.
Can you blame this man his lethargy? Can you convict him his ignorance? He’s just doing as his father taught him, who himself had to deal with the fall of his way of living. Because the fences of the man with power and luck touched the man his limitless boundary.
Can you blame alcohol if you only got two choices: lean on self-pity or transcending it?
Can you blame the missing of a stepping stone? Can you blame the president? Can you rule a country with a double moral? And for how long?
Is it progress? Evolution? Inevitable.
To me it seems insight is born from knowing the flip side and it’s understanding of it. To meet both sides of the story and to gather consciousness in more than the egoistical part alone; means not giving but creating chances. This kind of creating chances is often based on self-interest too, just as choosing for your own rights is. Sometimes it seems as a destruction, an indication of self, though it is an enrichment in the longer run.
So, the indigena may complain, righteously, that they have no running water, their children no shoes, lousy schools, no land and no work. He may live for as long as he exists along the road and government may assist him as long as the ruling president lives. I am not a president and I have no longing to be one, not even in my own created world, but wouldn’t it make sense to teach the indigena how to toil the soil, how to cultivate crops and how to play with profit. This would be a nice example of self-interest for a bigger economy in the long run. A fatter wallet in the pocket of president.
I cycle on, thinking of injustice. Had I figured out India in my head, now this!
Birds of prey and vultures drag freshly died foxes off the road. Others fly over low with live rats in their beaks. White egrets sit together in groups and fly away when they spot me, a wave of white spreading before my eyes. The giant jabiru robs me from my breath but not from an unexpectedly loud yell… not a smart move if I want to photograph this enormous white bird. The pink colored spoonbill catches my attention too and what’s more? I don’t know what moves around at night in camp but I have gathered enough confidence and knowledge that animals are not searching for me. They walk, jog and tiptoe around my tent.
The Chaco has an abundance of wildlife.
Well, the photos speak for themselves. Amongst them a raccoon, foxes, crocodile, anteaters, eagle, lizard and snakes, some of which poisonous.
The sounds coming from the dense lush green jungle along the route sounds like a perfect acoustic theatre, they’re round, hollow and clear resonances of shrieks of birds. I feel like watching National Geographic. Fish in natural ponds bite into the air while birds wade through, indecisive on which plate of deliciousness to choose.
Now I am off the grid estancia’s have their own telephone masts. I pass the lifeless bodies of giant snakes and I fall from one amazement into the other. At the end of each day I am exhausted of natural impressions.
Nature in front of the fences is dense, without clearings to set up camp, I choose an estancia mentioned on the map. It’s right along the road, so I climb the fence and walk over to where I see people. When I get closer it seems those people are extremely shy. It seems they are walking away from me, hiding behind the wall.
I am well aware that trotting into someone’s territory might pull the trigger of one of the abundance of pistols, guns and hunting rifles. So I make clear I have their attention and am without ill intention.
The two women half seeking refuge behind the wall are indigena and I understand they are cautious, so I try to ease my natural excited character. I ask for a place to camp outside the fence. I make drawings to make myself more clear. They agree.
In awe because of the contradiction earlier on this route, I wonder how these indigena run a farm? The self-pitying man I met earlier said ‘we can work for an estancia but the payment is low.’ Isn’t a low payment better than no payment?
Camp set up, the owner of the farm comes by to introduce himself. He’s riding a horse, arriving from the fields with 3 other horsemen behind him. He’s a Paraguayan, has 14.000 hectare of pasture and 4000 cows. Although he seems rich, I expect it is all bought by debt, and the place he’s living in is everything but fancy. While I set the surroundings, my own feet, the guy lines of the tent and the fuel bottle on fire, a brass bell is rung at the farmer’s place to indicate food is ready.
After 146 kilometers, heat and much headwind I reach Pozo Colorado. I do so at heaps of trash, while having collected my own for days. I pass huts made of trash and corrugated sheets. People wait for the NASA bus and stock up on food in the few stores. So do I, and am surprised to see the relaxedness of a woman flossing her teeth behind the cash register.
The center of this place is the roundabout with directions to Filadelfia, Asuncion and Concepción where I come from. I choose further emptiness towards Filadelfia but off the paved highway. I turn left, preferring the hard tracks of Camino General Diaz where I will take a right at a certain point.
Upon entering a check post, I am told there are no big wild animals here and as soon as I spot a good place I stop. I am tired and need rest. Unfortunately, I puncture my mattress so that will be my job for the evening.
The General Diaz route is 70 kilometers till the turnoff. Then it’s another 35 over tracks towards the first village. Water I find after 50 kilometers at Hugo’s place. The route is even more remote, there’s hardly any traffic. Luckily it is as flat as the Netherlands, but a hard wind makes it difficult to make progress. I don’t mind, I like Paraguay already so much I like to delay my stay. I do well with an average mileage of around 15 km/an hour.
Seeing a wooden dwelling right along the route is like seeing a mirage, although distances are short and there’s no real power needed for these tracks, I am happy. Here lives Hugo, his younger brother and some other men. Hugo is a beautiful young cowboy of 24 and takes care of 700 cows, a bunch of goats, feathered animals, two wild swine’s he captured in a too small enclosure. Hugo is happy to pose with his parrot, who’s knocked off his arm, crashed to the hard mud earth by the tough wind. I feel ashamed I wanted that photo… to make up I buy terrible artificial cookies and makes sure the dog gets his extra lollypop.
Just when it is getting dusky, having left the first stealthy spot because it felt not safe, I remind myself ‘something will show up and it will be an excellent spot’. I peddle and let my eyes wander and my mind make up quickly. Several spots would do but I peddle on until I see the best opportunity. I’m always depended on that little strip right along the road and in front of the fences, which is only a few meters.
There it is! An overgrown path leads towards a fence. My shins get stuck on thorns from agave and I gather more holes in my calves when I see an old unlocked fence and start banging through it, so no one will see me enter. Then I have reached the best spot available. A semi dry, low forest is all mine. Best of all, I have my very own fence! I decide to stay an extra day since I have enough water and food.
While temperatures were above 40 degrees (104 F.) a few days ago, the night reaches 2 degrees (35 F.). People wear down jackets, and so do I.
And there I am, in a forest I love so much, dry and gnarled old trees. Rapt veneration is what I often feel by observing the silence, in between the chatter of birds, the emptiness of this place, the absence of people. And sometimes a wild scream which I can’t place? I am truly delighted with the knowledge I am alone and no one will find me. This route has no public transportation, no one will take a stroll and the only companions I am aware off in camp are the curious birds. The jet black galaxy with its zillions of stars and a waning gibbous moon have me realize where I am on Earth. Exactly there where I wanted to be.
I can be total ecstatic when I spot big birds of prey attacking each other. Or when seeing a woman walking with her pig, which I need to stroke. The full authenticity of an old man dressed in sun bleached jeans, bended over his tiny radio run on solar power.
When I reach the next check post I stock up on water and see the first German alike faces.
White, somewhat moody faces who look at me like they have second thoughts. Maybe he can’t place me, like the Paraguayan check-post officer who greeted me with ‘signor’.
Then I am off towards Mennonite community. That’s a whole different lot! I guess that was how the indigenous felt too, back in the early ’30. With the coming of Mennonites into their existence they felt threatened and invaded. The Mennonites had chosen Paraguay in search for religious freedom, the possibility to own private property and the exemption from military service. In turn, Paraguay expected the economic development of the still untouched Dry Chaco.
Suddenly I am entering a sort of Dubai coming from the South coast of Iran.
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