People ask me the obvious: ‘Are you cycling to Bolivia?’, as this is the only border crossing. I reply: ‘No, I cycle to Filadelfia.’ With cycling to Filadelfia I am trapped. Cornered in a part of the world where is only one official way out. I have set the capital of the Chaco as my final destination, but one day I have to move on, and the only two, official, choices I have I both despise: crossing into Bolivia over a horrible road or turning back.
But being back in Mennonite community feels delightful. I am now not seen as a foreigner anymore but as one of them, although a face not personally known, and on average much browner skinned. I feel I am back in cold Europe, when I enter the air-conditioned cooperativa. But as soon as I step again through the automatic sliding doors I am in a tropical heat with also very dark indigenous faces surrounding me.
Marveling through the aisles of the supermarket is being greeted by the generation whose parents had to fulfill the request of the president; to make it a fruitful agricultural center. And so they did, 90 years later this is the center of diary and meat production for the whole of Paraguay and beyond.
When I passed a barrier, one which is the turn off to Mennonite communities, I am immediately recognized. This strikes me, as I’ve been here over a year ago. ‘You are the only one cycling here, no other tourist have passed,’ the guy tells me. Again, when I enter hotel Primavera in Hochstad, asking to pitch my tent, the guy says: ‘Of course, you were here last year too.’ Then, when the owner enters the restaurant she and I immediately recognize and embrace each other. She insist on paying for my breakfast, and when I come back I should stay at her house instead.
‘Where are you from?’ Daisy ask me in fluent English. She steps off her bicycle and walks up to me as if we are very good friends. After having had a one hour English chat with Paul, where I fumed off my anger about being lightly harassed by an indigenous man, I am now at the supermarket where I am going to resupply. ‘Let’s go together, and I pay everything for you,’ Daisy says. I tell her she does not need to, but she insist. I compromise and ask her to buy me just one thing as a present instead. She agree. But when we are at the cashier, she quickly arranged to pay for everything. ‘Because you are on the bicycle, no tourist ever comes here, and why should they, we live in the middle of nowhere, a hot desert. Just take it, and may God be with you at all times.’
This makes me feel stupefied. It is a warm blanket wrapped around my shoulders, just as all the curious people who look at me smilingly in full surprise, not only by the Mennonites, also the Paraguayans. They come up to me and want photo’s. They ride alongside me with their pickups and ask for my name, status and motive. When they ask whether I like Paraguay, I honestly say I do.
The indigenous man whom I talked about to Paul, he was slowly cycling in front of me, suddenly cycling much faster when I pass him. He then cycles alongside me happily, until he makes hand movements as if he want to give me pleasure at a spot he has no business with. In the hope that I don’t understand his mixture of Guarani and Spanish, I assure his hand movements instead. He correctly thinks I need clearer instructions so now he makes hand movements as if he wants to have sex with me. The man is old, utmost unattractive, not much teeth left (and those which are left are brown and pointy) and obviously no party for me whatsoever (that is, would there be some magical realization of his delirious mind).
As with many indigenous, it’s my conviction their mind works differently. As before when I was in Paraguay, I had several encounters with indigenous, and they surprisingly all wanted sex with me, old and older alike. The younger guys usually ignore me, either because they’re shy or do not like my kind. But the old, unattractive toothless granddad’s seem to be in for something which makes me very agitated.
I am not agitated over the fact that they are not attractive, but because of their stupidity. Their bluntness. Their different ways. They surely are not blind? In West Africa I was regularly asked for sex too, usually in a considerate manner, and never brusquely hand movements. In Iran it was oppression which made men do stupid things. And here, it might be the great difference in culture, or even in evolutionary development… For, who knows what they think, and come to think of it, I might be the stupid one: a woman alone cycling with big bags attached, for what?
I think I am too friendly for their usual interactions. From now on I just say ‘hello’ and move on. Hoping no indigenous one will enter my camp spot.
Indigenous people are a great contrast with the Paraguayans, who may be introvert at first, but are a warm, very tranquil folk. The indigenous have a sad, horrible history of massacre and still are the underdogs, with much lesser chances to step out of the manner they lead their lives, if they would want to. With my very limited knowledge about indigenous I think they do not want to move on, nor to evolve, nor to follow the flow of a life going further away from what once was. unfortunately, many indigenous are forced to leave the lifestyle they had. And I can all understand that, except for holding up hands and expectations of others, although even that I understand, seen their situation which they have never asked for.
Ninety years ago, Germans, with a belief system originated 600 years ago in the Netherlands, fled the second world war and landed in the Paraguayan semi desert, some with a detour via Canada. This was untouched land, seen from a little airplane they saw nothing but green jungle.
Where nowadays tractors have air conditioning, a generation depended on artificial coolness, these lands were cultivated by hand, under the scorching sun, wild animals and indigenous moving around, and I think of the older generation when I cycle these mud roads, feeling the heat evaporating from the earth. Sure, they got financial help from abroad, but still, they have created an incredible legacy. Although I still do not wish to eat meat.
About 1000 years ago when agricultural revolution started to drive out the hunter-gather bands, they had to find new lands to roam. Nowadays there is hardly any free space left. Not only the Paraguayan, Mennonites and Brazilians have large pastures fenced off, the president of Paraguay has immense amounts of acres cleared and fenced off too. If there are still indigenous people living solely off the land, I haven’t heard a single person talking about them (except for the 8 truly ‘wild’ families in national park Cerro Leon. It is here where some months later an Austrian traveler get lost and is never heard about).
It takes many generations to adapt to a lifestyle which is acceptable by the overall inhabitants of a certain country. The question whether a particular group of people want to integrate into this, for them new standard, is not an option. This particular group of people who was used to hunt for turtles with an arrow, will now do this by taking a taxi cab, riding to the spot for hunting, and shoot many turtles in once, to eat them all the same evening, washed down with loads of beer.
The people who have adapt to a more western lifestyle may not condemn them, as once, those Western sort of people had to go through the same transition, or so I guess. And then I strongly believe that there is a difference in brain activity between inhabitants from different parts of the world. To me, many Africans are not like people from the Indian continent in ways of thinking and handling.
Cycling on the hard mud roads is pleasant. Hardly any traffic, nights are quiet and towns or settlements to buy supplies are evenly placed. Everything is, of course, fenced but relative easy to trespass. Indigenous don’t seem to roam around and this appease me, though grounds are littered with bullet sleeves. Knowing the weather forecast is being aware of rain coming soon. I hope for the best but get stuck in the afternoon. The sun dries the earth so quickly that I soon can continue.
The next day I am again aware of rain, and this time it might be much more. It turns out it will become a full-blown torrent with clouds hanging low for the next couple of days. I am cycling rapidly to outpace the darkness above me. Will I get stuck now, then I am truly in trouble. Believe me or not, within 5 minutes after I reach the tarmac of Ruta 9, the heavens let go of their liquid.
Before doing so a hard wind blows the sand up, then raindrops make it impossible to see further than 10 meters ahead and soon floods stream past my feet. Thanks to a bit of planning I am where I wanted to be, right in time. I can’t find a camp spot, unless I want to set up camp in government appointed indigenous housing programs.
And a day later I will arrive in Filadelfia. Where I will meet Marilyn and Gerd who hopefully need me as a Work Away worker. I need a break from cycling, to rearrange my thoughts, wants, besides photo’s and words. Cycling has had me occupied to such an extend I am tired of it.
1st entry in Mennonite community 2017, including background information about the Mennonites
2nd entry in Mennonite community 2017
Meet the Mennonites, a former update
Big thank you to Therm-A-Rest (for a replacement mattress), Juan (whose address I would pick up the parcel but where it was released from customs long after I left his place. He then send it free of costs to the next address I would go to) and Marilyn (where I received the parcel!). Thank you Ronald, Juan & Grace and Marilyn!