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|BOLIVIA BORDER TO FILADELPHIA, PARAGUAY|
|JULY 31, 2006 • MONDAY
We hit a very nasty section of road. We were told that there was pavement from Ibibobo to the border, but based on the other 10 days of our drive on dirt roads that link actual cities, we doubted what we had heard. The false hope stemmed from the fact that there was a new road being built which was being paved (about 1″ of asphalt on the road bed), in places. What we actually got to drive on was the SERVICE ROAD, or trail beside the new road. You know you are not on a good road when you have to drive on the “desvio” detour, more than you actually get to drive on the road. It was absolutely horrible!!! The sandy, dusty, talc particles were 12+” deep in places. It was rough with ruts underneath that. We drove with 1 tire in the center to knock down the mound so Mel could get through behind us without dragging her bum. (It has been newly repaired in Potosi after being damaged in shipment.)
Mel did get stuck in the soft stuff once, and had to be towed by Mog through it. She just high-centered. Nothing was hurt. By this time, we had opted to jump the bank up to the new road bed and drive on it. There were trees and piles of dirt blocking it every once in a while which we either had to drive around, or completely exit this path and go on the desvio.
Ibibobo this morning, where we get stamped out of Bolivia, then on to the border at Puestro Sucre, Bolivia, then no-mans land, then Fort Infante Rivarola, Paraguay. No real problems.
AUGUST 1, 2006 TUESDAY
Drive on horrible dirt roads all day. Sandy, dusty, powdery stuff is 12″-18″ deep in some places. If this is a taste of Paraguay roads, we are in for a tough haul. Everyone is ready for good roads, well maybe not Mog. Mog likes the “adventure” of the journey. Asphalt is “boring” to Mog. Mel on the other hand could not got to good road soon enough. She is tired of dodging the deep stuff and wondering if she will make it through.
FUNNY CB TALK:
MOG – It looks like someone has dropped a red make-up bag out of their locker. (locker is British for storage compartment.)
MEL – Oh, that’s me. Me locker must have popped open again.
K-9 – A locker is a funny place to keep your make-up bag, Mel. Why do you keep it there?
MEL – I don’t keep me make-up bag there. It is a bag of water fittings.
(Remember, it was K-9 that asked Mel why she kept her bird book in the fridge when we heard that it had gotten covered in yogurt!)
We have started seeing a few pretty birds. I had been calling these flocks of brilliant green birds, parrots, but Mo corrected me in that they are a green parakeet, but a large parakeet. The difference is that the ones we are seeing have a few royal blue feathers at the ends of their wings. They are spectacular. They never fly around in singles, but always 6 to 12 of them. When the sun hits them just right, WOW!!
When we were stopped (trying to figure out which dirt path to take), I went on a nature hike. (Not really any other kind of hike to take here), and found a pretty snail shell. It is about 4 inches long, white with a pink edging. For right now, I am keeping it. If I run out of space, I may have to pitch it later, but I really like it. Finding it here means that during rainy season this place must be very wet.
The vegetation is fairly tropical with small palms and philodendrons growing everywhere. I have not seen any orchids yet. In fact, there are not many colored blooms at all. I bet that all changes when there is rain.
We have seen thousand of birds nests, made out of THORN branches. Seems strange that a parent would want to build a nest where the tiny chicks would be surrounded by so many sharp pointy thorns. Bet that hurts! I guess it probably keeps out some kind of predator.
Starting outside of Tarija, we started seeing what I thought were bird nests made of wool in some trees in the distance. Once we got closer, we could see that it was just a large seed pod with cottony white seeds about the size of an orange. The trees though were quite spectacular. Their trunk bulges out like a balloon. My guess was that they use their trunks to store water for the dry season, like a bulbophylum orchid. It is called the bottle tree, but I read the name, and can’t remember it right now. I will look it back up and try to get it in here before I send this.
AUGUST 2, 2006 WEDNESDAY
Kolob leads today. We had only been driving about an hour or two when we see it in the distance. We cannot believe our eyes. Is it true? Wait, wait, Yes, IT IS REAL BLACK ASPHALT!!! We have not seen it since Potosi on July 20. Mick is so excited that he gets out and kisses the asphalt. (That is REALLY excited. He said that Mel was so very happy now!)
This asphalt is Highway 9 at Estancia La Patria (nothing more than a police check point where they look at our trucks and give us the thumbs up).
We are told that immigration and customs is done at Mariscal Estigarribia, so we continue south, on the asphalt. Immigration, just look at our Paraguayan visas and stamp the passport. At aduana, customs, they want fill out a long form for each vehicle. No carnets were used. It seems that our ATA carnet is different than what the English have as a carnet de passage. They told us that we cannot get the same thing in America, but that theirs is more widely accepted than the ATA Carnet that we do have. Oh well, they did not want it anyway.
Lunch at an Italian restaurant, which we think was the only restaurant in town. It was very clean, so we opted to eat. This is usually how we decide if we eat or not. During lunch a big “bird” flew into a bush outside the screened-in porch where we were eating, making a horrible racket. Upon closer inspection, I informed everyone that our “bird” was actually a 6″ GRASSHOPPER. No one believed until it flew into the tree. I HAD to go get the camera! I have never seen a bug so big. Of course there is no scale in the pix, but I know how big it was!
Thankfully, our asphalt continues as we head toward the Mennonite area of Filadelphia. This makes our lead day easier, and our group a lot happier. We know we are getting close as we start to see tractors on the road pulling trailers of stuff. This is the first mechanized sign of farming we have seen for a long time. Mick is very excited about taking B&W pictures of the Mennonites doing their farm thing, wearing their typical clothes.
Filadelphia is supposed to have a “well stocked supermercado”, according to the guide books, so we intend to search it out. The town itself is quite a surprise. Where are the Mennonites? We see light skinned and all different colored hair people everywhere, but no Mennonites. The younger kids are all driving bright colored little motorcycles/scooters around town. There are so many it sounds and looks like a bunch of flies buzzing around. In the grocery store (which IS very well stocked), there were TALL people with blue eyes. The ladies had various hair styles, and every day dress from jeans, pants, and skirts. Men were in jeans with button shirts. It was not taking us long to figure out that these were a different sort of Mennonite than what we see at home.
It seems that these people we are seeing ARE Mennonites, but they are just a progressive community. If you did not know anything different, you would think that you were just in a small Midwest farm town. No horse and buggy, no suspendered pants and blue shirts, no hair in bonnets, just regular people. No great photographs, either!
The supermarket IS great! We find great lunchmeats, cheeses, fresh milk, and a fabulous fruit and veggie section. The meat is very safe looking, in coolers and being handled with people with plastic gloves and white aprons. Nice to not worry if you are going to get sick if you eat what you are buying! Michael’s best purchase is BROWN SUGAR. Who would have thought? While we were in the Andes we were having oatmeal with regular sugar. Michael loves oatmeal with BROWN sugar, so in every little town, every little market, he has been looking for it. He’s happy!
A German man tells Michael about a great restaurant, so we check it out with Stephen and Judy. We are seated at a clothed table (this is very important, the tablecloth, to the English people!), and shown the way to the “buffet” salad area. The German man must not have liked to eat because there was only salad, potato salad, tomato slices, cold slaw, spaghetti and mashed potatoes, and no menus to order anything else. We had decided to make the best of it when Michael came back from wherever he had been and announced that “we had hit the jackpot.” We must have looked very surprised, but he went on to explain that this was a “Rodizio” restaurant. I knew what that meant, a Brazilian steakhouse. It was delicious! The meats to go with the other stuff were grilling on a rotisserie outside. We had several kinds of beef, chicken, and sausage brought to our table on a 3 foot sword skewer. Then the meat was artfully carved off and placed on our plates. Great meal for about $6.
AUGUST 3, 2006 THURSDAY
Come back from museum to find that I do not have a “home.” Michael has taken Kolob to see about getting our leaking fuel tank repaired. We saw several repair shops as we came in town.
9am – Leave to visit Loma Plata, Mennonite Colony 21k east. Michael calls to say he found a repair shop and he will catch up with us. I ride over with Mel.
Visitor Center/Museum, we meet Walter, head of Tourism. We see a 20 minute film done for the 75 anniversary of the “Menno Colony.” Very informational!!! Visit the museum. The pictures look like those of the American Wild West.
Here is the long and short (mostly long) about the Mennonites here . . .
Loma Plata was first founded in 1927 with about 2000 Mennonites who came there from Canada. They were originally from Russia, but escaped into Canada ahead of war. They had originally sent out an exploration expedition in to find a suitable place for them, freedom to: practice their religion, teach their religion in their schools, speak their German language, etc. In December, 1921, the expedition found this area of the Chaco (Eastern Paraguay), and struck a deal with the government to sell them large quantities of land, cheap. Mostly, the land is cheap because no one else wanted it. What the expedition did not know was that they had arrived during the “wet” season, where all was green and fertile looking. They did not know that for 5-6 months of the year, there is NO water. When the group arrived in 1927, they were disappointed to find that the Paraguayan government had not built the train into the area, nor had they surveyed the land, as they had promised. SO, for 16 months, the Mennonites were stuck in the port city of Puerto Casada, where they had arrived by riverboat. During this time they learned that to the native people, “manana” does not mean TOMORROW, it only means, NOT TODAY. When were they going to build the railroad? Manana. When were they going to survey the land? Manana. (They were going to be very busy people to do both on tomorrow.) Finally, with help of the Mennonites, the railroad got built and the land got surveyed, and they got settled. They quickly learned of the “dry” season. In fact, the next 2 or 3 years were some of the driest years ever for the Chaco. (Bet the people of the exploration expedition were not very popular.)
Today, there are about 4,000 people in both Loma Plata and in Filadelphia, each. Both are very prosperous communities. Their agricultural and cattle products are all done through a co-op. The co-op generates $160 million in revenue!!! Huge!!! The various Menno co-ops provide 70% of the milk production for the entire country of Paraguay. They have huge dairy system for production of milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, and very good chocolate milk. (They gave us a sample.) They export a large amount of butter to Russia. Their beef processing facility butchers 400 cows per day!!!!! Yes, per day!!! We were offered a tour of these facilities, but graciously declined. They looked (on the film), just like modern American, clean, sterile processing plants – gloves, masks, hair nets/hats, white uniforms. Very impressive! They also grow peanuts and cotton. Each person owns their own land, but I am unsure who owns the actual cattle. Maybe they are owned by the co-op and provide jobs to the people who care for them.
There is a modern hospital with 8 different specialized doctors, of all nationalities, and 50 nurses, with 75 beds. A nursing home is provided for the elderly. Their system of insurance is rather unique. As I can remember, here are the rates: $120 per person over 15 per year for health insurance, them max out of pocket is $500 should they need hospitalization. As Walter said, “No one can go broke from being sick here.” Then over 65 years is only $50 per year. They are self-insured for all insurances including vehicle and home. They have a “pension” fund, of sorts, but it has only been around for 8 years. When a person retires at 65, they are given an allotment, “that is adequate to live on.”
Quickly, to wrap this up . . . they do allow non-Mennonites into the cooperative. They have some indigenous members. The requirements are: live in the area for 2 years, while they watch you to see if you are a hard-worker; then write a letter to the board of the cooperative asking for membership; if accepted, must pay the dues, then you are in. They also provide some medical care for the Indigenous, but to what extent, it was unclear.
Filadelphia was founded a few years later by about 2000 Mennonites that came directly from Russia. Then a few years later, a third community was established by Mennonites from Poland. The Canadian Mennonites have dual citizenship. If they are born in Paraguay to Canadian Menno parents, they just have to live 2 years in Canada sometime before they are 25 to keep Canadian citizenship. Most do go to Canada, and most do return.
After a Churrasqueria lunch, we head back to Filadelphia to see how Mike is getting along with his tank repair. At 6:30 pm the tank is completed, tested, and filled. Kolob got a bath because when the guy loosened the tank to let it down, it dumped 2 inches of dirt on him. They thought best to wash it before they went any further. The bill for the 2-3 guys working on it from 9am to 6pm was about $60. He tipped both guys $20 because they got so dirty and worked so hard on it.
While I was waiting for my home to come back, I found a German bakery with REAL bread. It was almost as good as Grandma Martens, almost!
We had a great dinner at Hotel Florida. It was run by Germans, and the menu was German food. I had a small pitcher of the best LEMONADA that I have had yet. I don’t think I have told of my new favorite drink. It is like a Sonic Limeade, but without the 7-Up. It is purely fresh squeezed lime, water, and sugar. Yum, Yum! The wonderful thing is that a 1-1/2 quart pitcher in Bolivia was about 50 cents!!! Try to buy the limes for that! An older man asked me (in German), if I spoke German. I guess the blonde hair, blue eye thing fooled him! Dad, I would pass for a good Mennonite German here. I better make sure I’m in the truck when we leave tomorrow!!
|Continue to Paraguay in an Expedition Camper •
Filadelphia to Asuncion