It’s a risk having a name similar to some eleses. Even if we don’t mean to, sometimes sub-consciously, and often consciously, we compare and contrast. What might Uruguay and Paraguay have in common I wonder? We don’t idly consider what Uruguay and Chile might have in common.
I fear for the ‘stans. How little Tajiki… must feel always playing second fiddle to the overbearing Kazak… anyway Borat has set that country’s tourist board back 20 years so it can’t be too big for its boots. Incidentally, the ‘stans are now the must see destination for any self-respecting adventure motorcyclist. Just saying.
No, Paraguay and Uruguay share nothing in common but a few letters. It was my hairiest border crossing yet. Yet somehow I fear still tame compared with what’s to come the further north I get. Not that it was dangerous, just a bit bloody crazy. Street hawkers and money changers hustling for your gringo pesos whilst I’m trying to figure out which queue I’m supposed to join. Turns out none of those – “you get your papers stamped 100 metres further down the road mate”. Course you do. Turns out, by a far too strict and earnest young woman keen to show just how by the book she can play it to impress her overweight, greasy palmed head honcho, crack sweating in the plastic chair nearby. “I need to tell you something important… you do realise this is a serious document and you must leave the country with your bike within three months. My signature is on that form too”. “Err OK I’ll make sure I do then”.
Turns out that was the easy start to my day on the road towards Ascuncion, capital of Paraguay. Immediately over the border I hunted a cashpoint to get hold of some “grannies”… or something like that. Not today Mr Dinn, your card is no good here. These are not the currency you are looking for. So empty handed I progress, figuring that the petrol stations must accept cards and I can try another cashpoint when I get to Ascuncion. Good plan! Sort of. Petrol station happily takes card, and it works. Then out of nowhere the dreaded “peaje” sign shouting at me. Now I’m really stuffed, they don’t take card and I’ve nothing but Argentine money, I’ll have to offer that. But wait! What’s this? A cheeky little “moto” lane on the far right… no charge to you two-wheelers… bonus! Why can’t they all be like this? Throughout the journey I’ve been stung for tolls ranging from 10p (yes 10p) to about £2. As it turns out the free moto policy is because even the toll roads are a death trap for two-wheelers in Paraguay. Massive unexpected potholes and roads that have melted under the weight of trucks leaving a left burm and a right burm. Pick one and stick to it because you can’t move safely in your lane.
Then the rain starts. At first it’s welcome relief from the stifling 30+ humidity but not for long. The rain drops soon appear to be the size of golf balls and it’s torrential. For one hour, two hours, three hours. Twenty foot visibility reduces the queue of traffic to 30mph and hazard lights. Some just pull over to wait it out, I push on. Helmet visor a cascade, not clearing at all, Brand New Heavies on the headphones keeping me calm. Then the lightning, lots of lightning. Forked bolts hitting the ground less than a mile away.. raindrops on roses… Then passing through villages, storm drains overwhelmed, rivers flowing through traffic junctions water up to my footpegs. Of course through it all, Bumble chugging away handling it all with complete composure keeping me safe (ish). It wasn’t that bad really, a pretty tough experience but good practice for the rainstorms ahead I imagine.
So to Ascuncion. I’ve read mixed reports but decided to see for myself, I’m glad I did, it’s the best policy really. It’s a strange place really, apologies for the lack of photos in this post but there really isn’t much worth photographing I’m afraid. I’d read that Paraguay has a reputation of being “open for business”. What this means I suspect is that rich western interests are welcome to build a block of yuppie flats or a designer shopping centre provided the envelope is fat enough and finds its way into the right hands. It has the whiff of tax dodging Andorra. Problem is that the surge in luxury in the embassy district doesn’t include fixing the massive potholes or crumbling pavements. Squalid shanty shacks hovered over by shiny towerblocks. I’m in the shiny block, it’s uncomfortable. Every block fortified by a reinforced steel perimeter and far too clean cut for this country security uniforms. Armed security. My mid-range shiny block could only afford police style batons but the more up-market ones can afford Glock 19s. I’ve always been apposed to routinely arming the police in the UK for a number of reasons. Largest among them is when an armed officer explained to me that even with all the training they do, day in day out, whenever there is a “live fire” incident on the streets 2 out of every 6 shots misses the intended target and goes sailing off down the street somewhere. I shudder to think what the private security stats might be.
It’s not Paraguay’s fault, the regular people are just grafting the same as everyone else I’ve come across. They are not being helped and the tiny proportion of “have’s” get to buy a new Range Rover to park in their underground garage. On top of that, the suffocating 35+, high humidity, kept me indoors far too much and it was a relief to head south back into Argentina.