About a year ago: having attracted a bacterial infection makes walking painful, not a very welcome happening now we, Geo, who became my husband and me, are replacing the hardworking Andreas and Elvira at Iparoma farm. Meanwhile the news reports about a missing Austrian man in Cerro Leon reach us, and Geo and I decide to go another little trip as soon as we are relieved from our tasks. Off to Cerro Leon!
Cerro Leon is the highest peak in Paraguay, with an altitude of barely 900 meter, it is the vastness of impregnable bush-land that stretches in three directions of this mountain.
Here are still people living we call ‘wild’, Indians who do not dress nor have matches to light a fire. These indigenous Indians do not want to have anything to do with us, so-called modern people. And here it is that an Austrian man has disappeared. He who was traveling in a Mercedes truck as his mobile home. Now he is being searched for by large groups of people.
Defensores del Chaco is the most North of Paraguay, the least inhabited. Vegetables and fruit do not flaunt, tarmac is never heard of and there are more wild animals to be seen than human counterfeits. There are a few national parks, and those we visit.
On my first cycle trip in these regions I wanted to cycle to the mountain Cerro Leon but the distances in combination with non-existence of resupplying my food-stack let me decide to skip this region.
Geo does a better job when it comes to preparing for an off-road trip than previous journey. With a new back tire, a new sprocket, a reinforced crate, and a new chain, we are prepped up with two kilo emergency peanuts, dry as the ground they’ve grown in. Many tins of sardines, tuna fish and some cans of corned beef are not the best items to look forward to but since we are limited in carry-on capacity, we need to seize down on luggage.
I leave my Therm-A-Rest mattress behind, depriving me from good night sleeps. Geo is not much better off with his hammock, so it’ll be terrible food and a lack of deep sleep.
Chaco is all about farms estancia’s, the region Defensores no less. Owners are not necessarily farmers, rather businessmen with hired locals keeping the farm thriving, and heaps of loan to help them. Some estancia’s fail and we get to sleep in one of them.
‘Do you have fuel?’ asks Geo a young, somewhat bored, beautiful lady at the gas station in La Patria. ‘Yes,’ she answers.
‘Are you open on a Sunday?’ ‘Yes, we are open from dusk till far after dawn every day,’ is the answer in Spanish.
But when Geo wants fuel she says: ‘There is no fuel because we have no electricity’.
Geo over-thinks the necessity to stock up on extra fuel while we eat one of the two choices of the menu in the Chaco: milanesa/
empanadas. When we see the gas station has electricity again, Geo returns. ‘Yes, we have electricity now, but we have no fuel’.
An example of often heard Paraguayan, if not South American style, answering.
Since the gas station did not have money to pay the delivery truck, we need to buy extra pricey fuel next door.
With our new batch of fuel we drive a 100 kilometer to Fortin Americano Pico where we are led into a direction, 120 kilometer further, only to realize we are back where we started: Mariscal Estigaribia. Disappointed and feeling stupid to have blindly followed advice of the military guys, we treat ourselves with one of the two choices of the menu in the Chaco: milanesa/
Traversing the same road back we have no other choice than to push on, as we can’t find a place to camp. A tiny piece without fences is our retreat, but not after we’d smacked to the hard mud surface.
Soft beach-like sand arena might look romantic, it’s a treacherous surface, no less for a motorbike than a bicycle.
Cycling is far more comfortable than sitting on the back of a motorbike. I feel that on a motorbike we push on some extra, simply because the motor will do the work for us. I always thought, when meeting a motorcyclist, they had an easy mode of travel. That their looks of exhaustion were sort of over-reactionary wriggles of hardship not coming anywhere near to what I experienced.
I experience stress on the back of a motorbike, perhaps more than on my own energized bicycle. On a bicycle I am depended on myself where now I am depended on a motor vehicle. If our Kenton breaks down, a choice of vehicle only bought by Paraguayans and Indians, because Mennonites don’t trust it’s capacity, we are hopelessly left to our own devices. Which is to say our feet.
There is stress because of the weather. The forecast predicted bone-dry conditions, essential for the tracks in a country where 1.3% of the annual budget is dedicated to road works.
There is stress for having lost the independence of traversing, I am now relying on Geo, on the total unbeknownst of the sand beneath the wheels. Sand making us wobbly, having us spin, letting us slip, and cling to the ground. In my sleep I dream of falling, slipping, wobbling and hitting the earth.
There is stress for not having my required time off, to embroider, to make chai, to read, to photograph, and to digest and reflect. It’s not Geo’s doing, but the eager wheels that are effortlessly being turned by a motor. We are actually much more in an adventure than when I am alone on my bicycle.
There is stress because my bottom hurts, a great discomfort seeps in the flesh around the sitting bones.
Yet, I do not want to replace the Kenton for my bicycle, as we are in places I could not go to on my own force. The bicycle-life was a life I loved but it had become something I could do with my eyes closed.
We ride on narrow private roads, closed by gates. Often we do not see other vehicles for over a 100 kilometer.
We see a boa constrictor, if we knew this then we would not have hung over so close…
And we meet with a cumbersome tapir, is he having a shot wound in his snout?
Someone allowed me to make a photograph closely.
But we both are running away from bees which are sucking the moist from our sweaty body’s, they creep into my shirt, sting me when I flatten them against my skin.
Once we have reached Cerro Leon National Park our camp spot is a hideous place littered with peels, cow bones, plastic wrappers, water bottles and corned-beef cans hung in trees. Not only the temperature is rising to an uncomfortable level, the atmosphere feels eerie, as if someone is hovering around me. This might be my lively imagination as there are daily searches going on for Willy, the Austrian guy missing.
We meet with Silvino, the head of the National Park Cerro Leon, who comes to this spot every day since Willy’s been missing. He climbs the hill, stands on the look out for smoke signals or vultures circling. He gives us 6 liter water and invites us for the next night.
Willy is said to have gone into the wild bush of Cerro Leon without a machete and deliberately holding back his plan: to walk on his own. When he stayed at the farm-hotel where we now work, he told Marilyn his orientation skills were good. I confess that we, white people, do not always listen well to advice of locals. Now he’s still out there, whether alive or not. Wild stories, from fallen victim to drugs barons and cannibalism by, though peaceful, nomadic Ayoreo Indians, to, equally highly unlikely, tiger or puma attacks. No one, not a dog, nor a Paraguayan, nor Mennonite, nor Austrian rescuer, nor the several teams of military, nor the praying of a pastor, nor the practice of casting out demons, nor socially integrated Ayoreo’s has found any sign of the man lost for a month now. (By the time you read this: he’s still missing. Rescue teams have stopped searching after 3 months.)
To be continued…