Jumping the River Paraguay

November 2017

The big city. Asunción. It turns out to be a good choice. There where bus drivers drink térére while driving, watching their clientage wrestling out of the bus.

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The clientage, women in often too tight black pantaloons, struggling on sledge heels or stiletto’s, the bus driver watching their big round bottoms, uncomfortably pressed in a high amount of stretchy fabric.

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When I lay in bed, I do so with karaoke in the background, the switch of the old air-conditioning on. Opening the door on the first floor is hitting a wall of warm air, thick as a woolen blanket laid out in the sun for a whole day.done02-PicsArt_11-14-07.35.50

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City life suddenly appeals to me. There are no hordes of mosquitoes, sticking to my dusty, sunburned skin applied with a gummy sun-factor 60.

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City life appeals, yet the food variety I am able to take with me is not impressive.

City life has WiFi, which has me download many Viking episodes on Netflix. Walking around Asunción on a Sunday is wading through a ghost town, except for a drugs addict who tries robbing me. I quickly overpower the young woman, missing only a Viking sword to chop of her head.

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City life feels sleepy, that is, if you think away the rushing office people, dressed in black and black. No greater opposite than the immensely artistic murals, which have me hunt through the city to find more and more.

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I changed my winter gear for 40 degrees heat clothes, and needed new shoes for the pair that washed away in the flood

Cycling out of the city, crossing the river, leaving the last houses built along the road, 45 kilometer away from Asunción, I ask permission to sleep at a military cartel (which I have fond memories of). The third torment that day splashes over me and I want to be dry and a bit more comfortable than sloshing through camp in wetlands.

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When I set off I am soon between vertical arising birds of prey, waiting patiently along the road. Tropical birds hover above me, sounds are close and never-ceasing. 

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Nature is mostly soppy wetlands, drenched with mosquitoes who attack you as soon as you stop cycling. Unasked for they stick to you while peddling off. Asking permission to enter the vast lands at an estancia is hard as their gates are closed and their farms far off. Trespassing has me bouncing against thickets of bush impenetrable.

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I see a chance to camp at a river, unload all my gear, cross the fence and load the bicycle again on the other side of the fence, to find a family living on the banks of the river. Their tent is set up with black plastic sheets, laundry hangs out in the humid sticky mosquito infested air. I assume they are indigenous Indians, and turn. I ponder and stand, spraying more anti-mosquito stuff on me, which clings to the dirt and sunscreen. I remember how the indigenous Indians made me feel the first time I was in Paraguay, and I decide to turn, and go back tackling the fence.done2018-15-07-22-32-40

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Instead I sleep the night at a police station. The man in charge tells me the people living at the banks of the river are not indigenous Indians but hunter-fisher people. Just as I am a few minutes later: donned with a bamboo rod, a bucket and meat as bait I go fishing. I am elated when I catch my first fish. I scream out of excitement when I swing the fish in one backlash behind me, less so when I need to pull back the hook. I feel sorry for the fish and rather chop its head off than hurting this tiny creature. But I don’t have a knife, neither do I have a net to catch my second, much bigger fish. And it splashes back in the river, which has me swear and scream and jump of excitement again. The dogs at the other side of the river watch me in surprise.

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‘It’s a piranha, but very small one. Do you want to prepare this small fish? It has hardly any meat’, says the cook, whom I promised to bring enough fish back for all of us. I decide to give it to Kisha, the mother cat, when she finally bites the life out of it, in one almighty seize with her teeth, I am relieved.

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I cycle days of 100 kilometers again. After torments the heat will swell, and this is accompanied by southern winds pushing me north. From now on it will become hotter and more humid each day, until a torment cool things down. The wind pushing me is nice, but it’ll lead to suffocating, sweaty, annoying temperatures. I wish for air-conditioning, hotel city life but all I can do is changing the screen photo on my notebook to a Patagonian snowy landscape.

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Shadow will do, but there is not much to find along the road.

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The first turn off to an unpaved road is the one I take, the exact same road I took over a year ago, the General Diaz road. Cycling here is heavenly as there is hardly any traffic, I know where to fetch water and even a great camp spot is etched in my mind.

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However, 3 months further into the year as I was here previous year makes cycling a lot harder, it’s not only the suffocating summer humidity, the mosquitoes are now sticking to me also when I cycle hard. To stand quiet for a photo is being bombed by them, just as I was stiffened by the ice-cold in Patagonia when I took off my gloves to settle for a picture.

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I know these lands are all about agriculture but it doesn’t show much of it. The lands appear bountiful wild, lush and impossible to find a place to camp into it. Thorns bigger than my hand doesn’t only make it harder to camp for me, the density of all sort of prickly branches does so too.

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One day I accidentally carried a tarantula for 48 kilometers with me. I’d seen it fled away while breaking up camp, apparently it had run into the handlebar bag. Next night when I see something big crawling over the mesh door, I am only happy it is on the outside, and not in. To be sure, I shine a head torch. Rather surprised with something bordering revulsion I see the creature is actually in my tent! I get out, thinking what to do, when the tarantula crawls back into its safety basket, my handlebar bag, which makes it a lot easier for me.

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The few trucks that pass me are usually live meat transport, cows. I wish for the South American folks to understand that meat is not necessary to keep a human body alive and working properly. Most Paraguayans are overweighted too, some blame the intake of too much wild boar meat.

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And sure I feel a fool for my over-activity at these high temperatures, ploughing through burned palm groves, spraying an excessive amount of expensive bug-spray, trying to develop lots of smoke with my hobo stove while several strategically placed spirals of anti mosquito incense burns, as if I were practicing witchcraft. While the locals know that doing nothing, being still, is the answer to heat and plagues of insects. I know that too, but cycling isn’t about that.

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When I was in Asunción the Optimus Nova stove stopped working (naughtily, I use the stove to prepare coffee or chai in the bathroom), and cycling on in a rainy season through damp wetlands, I could not rely on building fires solely. I made a hobo stove. See here how I did that (thank you hotel manager, Jack of all trades and Heike, who gave me some tips back when I was in the Atacama desert). 

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