Thankfully the hard work of getting to Alberdi paid off as Julie proved a great hostess, showing me around and introducing me to plenty of people. She’s been in Alberdi for almost a year and so has a bit of a firmer idea of what she’s doing than Nora. She had made lots of amazing connections, and I was shown around to lots of them and got to hear about life in what somehow feels a little less isolated when you’re actually there, just because of it’s access across the river to Formosa. If it weren’t for that, things would be incredibly different and the need for pavement would be even stronger.
As well as the people I met, I also got to watch Julie give an English class. I’d hoped to see her Saturday class, but the crossing took too long, but thankfully she does one on Sundays too. I sat in the back and watched so I could give some feedback from my experience. The training I got in Japan and Korea was not great, but I at least had something. I passed on the name of the wonderful Marva Collins book, a fascinating story about an inspiring lady.
The water has been going down, but the road that leaves Alberdi to Asuncion is still closed and so to get out you have to take an hour long boat ride that goes down river, across some farmers fields and then down a stream until it gets to a dirt road access to the main route. I didn’t have long to wait to get a boat, a larger one, which fit both my bike and a motorbike, although it was long enough to enjoy some tereré with Guido a local who took a shine to me. The ride is quite ridiculous, just in terms of how closely you go past houses that even a couple of months after the worst of the rain are only just starting to peak out from below the water. It is improving enough that the boat got stuck on a farmer’s field, but that was easy and just involved one of the crew leaning over the edge to clip the wire.
A gregarious nature seems to help massively in the Peace Corps, but it doesn’t seem to be a necessity. I stopped by another community on the way up, to meet Julie’s friend Alicia. She’s been here the same amount of time, but it was interesting to see her different approach. Nora and Julie had seemed to be about talking to everyone in town, whereas Alicia was more about having her close group and that was enough. She seemed to be having a similar level of success as the others. I could have stayed longer, but I wanted to get up to Asunción where hopefully my two packages would be waiting – a new replacement rail made from a different material for the saddle, and I’d be finally getting my warrantied tent parts as they’d made their way down to Paraguay.
That being the case, I pushed on and got to the end of Ñeembucú. I knew it was the end of the province not because of a sign, but that’s where the pavement started as I entered the province of Central that surrounds the capital. Just after hitting the pavement I found a police station to stay at where I was warmly welcomed and shown where I could put my things without issue.
The next day it wasn’t too far from Asunción but the headwind was brutal, and I had no problem when José offered me a lift most of the way to town. He was 21 and reminded me of the machismo of Central America in the way he complained about his girlfriend of a year. Apparently she was banned from touching his phone, as she was quite a jealous type – possibly because of the countless number of ladies of all ages that he was telling me about.
My host for the first night in town would be Hannah, another Peace Corps lady, but as I got in around lunch and she was working until 6pm I had time to meet up with Joffre. He’s a Couchsurfer that had messaged me offering a place to stay when I’d been thinking of arriving with Gaz weeks earlier. We threw my bike in the back of the truck and he gave me a driving tour of Asunción, which included the first Paraguayan I’ve met that actually agrees with what I’d heard about the Guerra de la Triple Allianza saying that the view others have is because of the curriculum and desire to paint Francisco Solano López, the national hero, in a positive light. From what I’ve heard, that seems to be an interesting spin as the war dragged on for so long, well after they’d lost any slight chance of winning, and so many more Paraguayans were massacred. The war finally stopped when he was killed.
In the evening I met Phil and Jonny, two Geordie cyclists that are riding by bike too. They started in Colombia and have slowly been catching up with me. While I was in São Paulo for the start of the world cup, they were up in Manaus watching England v Italy. My convoluted route had helped us finally meet up, and it was really enjoyable to do so. Joffre came for the dinner too, which was held at the home of Lydia, the Peace Corps volunteer that made everything possible as far as meeting Nora, Julie and Alicia.
Joffre was really eager for me to stay at his place, so I moved over for the couple of nights more I stayed in Asunción. He’s not got a giant flat, but when Phil, Jonny and their friend Hayley were without a place to stay they came over too. It was good times, and we even went out for a photo shoot as Joffre’s friend loves to meet people and wanted to take our photos. Glorious times, and by the end of it all I picked up both of the packages. A great success.
I’m finishing this up about an hour before I leave to get a bus to Bolivia. It’s 750km to the border, and it passes through El Chacho, which is a large, flat plain with Mennonite communities and not much more. In the 750km there are 2-3 towns, the biggest being 20km off the road. With the rain in Bolivia starting at the end of October I’d rather spend a week in the Andes than riding through a large nothingness. There’s also Hyeonjung, she’s in Cusco now and we are going to meet up, probably in Sucre, where I’ll hopefully arrive on the 20th of September. She’s got a bike and is going to join me to ride around Bolivia, which is going to be great fun – but a big challenge. If I ride across El Chacho, she has to sit around in Peru waiting for another week, even though she’s done most things she wants to do. That’s just not fair on her, so the bus it is. It’s apparently horrible although on the upside I won’t be on it the WHOLE way to Santa Cruz. Hopefully only 15-16 hours, but Hayley came on it the other day and it took much longer than it should have.