The Achievable Dream 5-part series - the definitive guide on DVD for planning your motorcycle adventure. Get Ready! covers planning, paperwork, medical and many other topics! "Inspirational and Awesome!" See the trailer here!
Gear Up! is a 2-DVD set, 6 hours! Which bike is right for me? How do I prepare the bike? What stuff do I need - riding gear, clothing, camping gear, first aid kit, tires, maps and GPS? What don't I need? How do I pack it all in? Lots of opinions from over 150 travellers! "This DVD will save you a fortune!"See the trailer here!
So you've done it - got inspired, planned your trip, packed your stuff and you're on the road! This section is about staying healthy, happy and secure on your motorcycle adventure. And crossing borders, war zones or oceans!
On the Road! is 5.5 hours of the tips and advice you need to cross borders, break down language barriers, overcome culture shock, ship the bike and deal with breakdowns and emergencies."Just makes me want to pack up and go!" See the trailer here!
Tire Changing!Grant demystifies the black art of Tire Changing and Repair to help you STAY on the road! "Very informative and practical." See the trailer here!
Ladies on the Loose! For the first time ever, a motorcycle travel DVD made for women, by women! These intrepid women share their tips to help you plan your own motorcycle adventure. They also answer the women-only questions, and entertain you with amazing tales from the road! Presented by Lois Pryce, veteran solo traveller through South America and Africa and author of 'Lois on the Loose', and 'Red Tape and White Knuckles.'
"It has me all fired up to go out on my own adventure!" See the trailer here!
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Horizons Unlimited presents!
Achievable Dream The definitive guide to planning your motorcycle adventure! This insanely ambitious 2-year project has produced an informative and entertaining 5-part, 18 hour DVD series. "The ultimate round the world rider's how-to DVD!" MCN UK.
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Ride TalesAn easy way to post your ride reports, whether it's a weekend ride or around the world.
Please make the first words of the title WHERE the ride is.
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The Adventure Begins... Adventure on a Triumph Tiger
See the video
OK, this is basically a cheesy advertisement for Icon, but this 30 minute short film features some amazing motorcycle riding on Triumph Tigers. My adventures are not nearly as extreme as those shown in this film. Although I do not think these guys were stopping to take photos.
The Adventure Begins... Sucre...La Ciudad Blanca (Sucre... The White City)
Sucre is known as La Ciudad Blanca or The White City. The nickname was bestowed upon the city because many of the colonial style houses and structures are painted white. I took a walk around the city and this is what I saw.
Colonial style villa
The Government of Chuquisaca building
Iglesia de Santo Domingo
Plaza 25 de Mayo
Vendor selling popcorn
Arches of the Basilica de San Francisco
Basilica de San Francisco
As I approached the Basilica de San Francisco there was some sort of commotion.
It appeared that a wedding had just taken place. The bride and groom are at the very back of this photo.
It was very festive... with heaps of confetti being tossed in the air.
Colorful and covered in confetti.
As the festivities ended, the people poured out into the street.
As I continued on exploring the city I came across this... a zebra.
It was actually a dancing zebra that was directing traffic and assisting pedestrians to cross the street. I learned later that the zebras are part of a youth program to help street kids with education and job training. The motorist, pedestrians and tourists all seemed to love the assistance.
The Adventure Begins... Repair of Gaerne G Adventure Motorcycle Boots
As I have chronicled earlier on my website (post 1, 2, 3). I have been wearing the Gaerne G Adventure Motorcycle Boots during my adventure. I have worn them from Austin to Antarctica. The boots have been through quite a bit... riding, trekking, casual wear... exactly like adventure boots should be worn. I like the design, fit, comfort and utility of the boots. But three months into my travels, during some heavy rain in Panama, the boots showed the first signs that they were not waterproof. I had been treating the boots with creams, polishes and Sno-Seal. However now, the situation had worsened. The boots are definitely not waterproof and some of the leather had started to crack. I met another motorcyclist with the same boots... and the same problem. It looks like this is not an isolated situation with the Gaerne G Adventure boots.
Many months ago, I wrote to Revzilla, the online retailer from which I bought the boots, and to Gaerne, the manufacturer, to inquire if they could repair or replace the boots. Neither offered a viable alternative. So now nine months into my travels, I had to make a decision. Continue traveling with the non waterproof boots, buy some new boots, or try to repair the boots through my own means.
I opted for the last choice.
I took the boots to a zapateria (shoe repair store) near the mercado negro (black market). The cobbler said that the boots would be ready in three days. After three days, I returned to the store and the cobbler had not started working on the boots. I explained to him that the boots were my only shoes other than my sandals and that I needed the boots as soon as possible. So, I reclaimed my boots and searched for another zapateria.
I found this zapateria down the street... Reparadora de Calzados Frobana. The cobbler was very nice and said that it would take two days to repair the boots. I left the boots with the cobbler... hoping for the best.
After two days, I returned. The cobbler had started working on the boots, but had not finished. He asked me to return later in the day.
Later in the day, I returned. The cobbler was still working on the boots and explained how difficult it was to work with the boots because of the hard leather and height of the boots. He asked me to return in the evening.
I decided not to return in the evening, to allow the cobbler more time. I returned the next day.
The boots were repaired! As we had discussed, he had sewn a patch of leather over the cracking crease and polished up the boots. He was going to charge me 70 Bolivianos (US$10) ... I tipped him an extra 20 Bolivianos. I thought that it was money well spent.
I was happy with the repair. I thought the repair looked amazingly good and fit the style of the boot. To add some water protection, I applied some seam sealer to all the stitches and seams.
Some times you just have to make it up along the way.
Thumbs down for Gaerne and Revilla.
Thumbs up for small businesses and craftsman that are masters at their trade!
The Adventure Begins... Tarabuco, Bolivia... Textiles, Pulmón and a Lucky Horseshoe
While staying in Sucre, I heard about the town of Tarabuco. The village is known for its beautiful weavings and for having a colorful Sunday market. Typically for the market day, thousands of indigenous people from the surrounding countryside descend on the town in traditional costumes.
At the hostel in which I was staying in Sucre, I met another motorcycle rider name Russell. We decided to take a little ride to Tarabuco to check it out.
It was a clear and cool day. We rode for about an hour through some rolling hill country. We reached Tarabuco around noon... lunch time.
We passed by the market and found this little outdoor food stand. Russell was hungry so he quickly sat down and ordered some rice and chicken, a safe bet. I walked around a bit and asked this lady what she had for sale. The first thing she mentioned was pulmón... then pollo (chicken), carne (beef), credo (pork). I was stuck on the first thing she mentioned... because pulmón translated into english is..... lung! Hmmmm... I had never heard of eating lung. I know that I had never eaten it myself. So.......................
I ordered a heaping portion of pulmón! It was cooked as a stew with some potatoes, beans, carrots, greens and spices. Looking at the stew, one could easily mistake the pulmón for beef or pork.
I took a taste of the potato first. It was good. The sauce was a little spicy, just the way I like it. Then, I found a piece of pulmon. I lifted it to my mouth...took it in.... and began to chew.
Not bad! It was a little soft and a little chewy. It had the consistency of a firm mushroom. I could not really tell if the pulmon had a distinct flavor. I think that it had absorbed most of the flavor of the sauce.
Overall, a very tasty meal.
OK, let's hope that I do not get sick later.
After eating lunch we took a stroll around the village. There was a lot of activity. People were transporting good, vendors were set up along the streets.
There were predominantly woven ponchos, bags and belts.
The artisans take colorful yard like this...
And weave it into amazing textiles like this.
As well I saw a few charangos, which are traditional Andean musical instruments with a sound somewhat similar to a ukulele. Typically made from the shell of an armadillo, thankfully these charangos were made of wood.
While in the market I came across another tourist from Europe. He exclaimed that he was disappointed in the market because the street venders were only interested in trying to sell him things. Hmmmm... I thought to myself for a moment.... then I mentioned to him... well this is a "market"... a place to buy and sell things. I understood what he meant, but thought that his comment was a bit odd.
As expected, there were a number of items made especially for tourists.
However, these dolls appeared to be more traditional and perhaps for other purposes.
Russell and I continued walking around, just taking in the local culture. Here are two gentlemen sitting inside the doorway of a store, just chatting and drinking one of the local concoctions.
If you wander around long enough in Tarabuco or get directions from a local, you might find the real local market.
Where they sell real chacos made from the tread of old tires.
They sell items in bulk....
like coca leaves (used for chewing, tea, medicine and occasionally other uses).
Stylish felt hats
Balms for all types of ailments.
Offerings for the Pachamama. The Pachamama has a special worship day called Martes de challa (Challa's Tuesday), when people bury food, throw candies, and burn incense.
In some cases, celebrants assist traditional priests, known as yatiris in Aymara, in performing ancient rites to bring good luck or the good will of the goddess.
This man dressed in a traditional outfit was buying grain by the bulk.
In this area of the market I did not see any tourists, just locals going about their regular routine of shopping.
As I was walking down the street this scene caught my eye. It was a blacksmith's shop. The natural light from the outside was casting light inside the workshop perfectly to highlight the anvil. The furnace was stoked, the craftsman's tools were hanging on the wall, and remnants of the man's work laid about the floor. It was a scene strait out of the 1800's.
We met the blacksmith. Russell was about to take a photo of the man, when the blacksmith interjected... he wanted money for a photo. There was an awkward pause. I do not think either us wanted to pay for a photo.
I reengaged the man. I said that I was interested in his workshop, because I had never seen a shop like his. He explained that he made mostly horseshoes and pick axes for agriculture use. He proudly showed me a few of his products. I said that I was interested in buying a horseshoe. He said that he would sell four for 40 Bolivianos. I said that I only wanted one. He looked puzzled. I think that typically anyone buying horseshoes for a horse would buy four or at least two. He said that he would sell me two for 20 Bolivianos. I said once again that I only wanted one and handed him 10 Bolivianos. He took my money, I took a horseshoe. We shook hands.
I then asked him if I could take a photo of him and his workshop. He stood proudly and said ok.
He then went into a demonstration of how he stoked the furnace to heat the steal. And, how he pounded the steel to form a shape. Amazing.
Here is a short 1 minute video with the master at work.
Russell and I walked around a little more. Then called it a day and rode back to Sucre.
There seems to be layers in life in Bolivia. Sometimes one just needs to slow down, wander, perhaps get lost to uncover the really good parts.
The Adventure Begins... Sure... I Am Always Willing To Help Out A Buddy
I introduced you to Russell in my previous post. We met in Sucre and took a nice little day trip to see a colorful market in Trabuco, Bolivia. It seems that Randall had gone "walkabout" in the mountain area outside of Sucre for a few days. He had returned to Sucre, but had lost his jacket somewhere out in the wilderness.
Well, I had been staying in Sucre for about two weeks, just seeing the sights and relaxing. I had seen and done just about everything that I wanted to do... and was ready to move on to the next destination.
Then Russell came up to me and asked if I wanted to go on another little ride. A mission to recover his jacket from the wilderness. I had already packed my bag and was ready to leave Sucre. But... I said, "Sure... I'm always willing to help out a buddy."
So I dropped my bag, filled up my tank, filled up my extra tank too... and we headed down the road.
Which after about an hour of riding turned into a winding dirt road. We would be heading through the Cordillera de los Frailes, a spectacular mountain range that runs through much of the western Chuquisaca and northern Potosí departments. We would hopefully pass by the dramatic Maragua Crater.
A...marks the village of Potolo. Russell thought that the jacket was close to Potolo. From google maps there was no road... heck, there was not even a dot to mark the village of Potolo. Sucre is on the right. The Maragua Crater is in the middle. From Sucre there was a road that headed north and west, but it ended after about 100 km (60 miles). From that point, it would be all dirt.
Fortunately, I had brought my gps with me and was tracking our route.
The road continued and wound through some beautiful mountain ranges.
We would capture these glances at mountains and valleys and vistas.
We rode for about 3 or 4 hours. There was no turning back... we were on a mission.
We finally arrived at the small one road town called Potolo.
Potolo was a village that mainly consisted of substance farming. There was one cafe in the town, but it was not open. We went to the one kiosk that was open and had lunch which consisted of crackers and a can of tuna.
From Potolo we headed deeper into the valley.
Russell said that he thought that we were close, so we rode along this embankment further into the valley.
This photo puts it into better perspective.
Yeah, I think we just need to follow this semi dry river bed to get to the jacket.
OK Russell, you lead and I'll follow. Off we went down the river. See video
Here is a short 30 second video of riding through the dry riverbed.
I could not complain because it was fun riding in the dirt with a riding partner. So many times I have had to ride through some sketchy areas alone. At least if we were to get lost, we would get lost together. We rode on...
Yeah, I think that it is down there. We will need to leave our bikes here and go down by foot.
Sure enough, the jacket was there. But it was just out of reach... on the other side of the canyon.
The canyon spanned from about 6 feet to about 100 feet. Russell went walkabout looking for a way to cross the canyon to the other side.
We eventually found a route that seemed approachable.
Russell just needed to climb this crevasse that was about 40 feet high, at a 60 degree angle, and consisted of loose shale. He did it.
Once he crossed the canyon, it was easy reaching the jacket.
Oh, and then he needed to jump across the canyon back to the other side. This was possible because the right side of the canyon was higher than the left side of the canyon. It still makes a pretty dramatic photo, don't you think?
OK, now it is mission accomplished. But we still needed to return to Sucre.
It was about a 3 to 4 hour ride back to Sucre.
We rode by much of the same beautiful scenery that we had passed by on our outbound route.
It was late in the afternoon. The sun eventually set and we had to ride in the dark for about 2 hours.
On one narrow stretch, a bus came hauling around a corner on the single lane road occupying most of the right of way. He pretty much ran me into the uphill side of the mountain. Luckily, we did not make contact and I was able to recover.
We arrived into Sucre sometime after 8 o'clock. What a day!
The Adventure Begins... Exiting Bolivia...with Some Unexpected Stops
I had a great time in Sucre, but it was time to move on.
I was at point A (Sucre) and wanted to go to point B (El Chaco) in Paraguay. In general there is not much tourist information about Paraguay, and even less about El Chaco. El Chaco is a vast and isolated area in the north of Paraguay. I was not having much success finding reliable information about the border crossings, check points and roads to determine which would be the best route. There was even less information about places to stay, but I thought that I could figure that out once I arrived in Paraguay.
In Sucre, I asked a hotel owner and he did not know. I asked the tourist information office and they did not know. Finally, I stopped by the police station to find out which route the buses generally travel. I was told that one could cross in the north via Robore, but there was no check point. One could cross in the middle via Boyuibe, but there was no check point. The typical route that the buses take was via the city of Villamontes. It was the only route that had a reliable check point. This meant that I would have to travel south, then east, then north. Who's up for a little adventure?
And so I set off.
I rode through some majestic areas...mostly dirt roads... green mountains along the way.
After about 4 hours of riding, I came across this little obstacle.
I was not sure if the tree had fallen accidentally and the people were clearing the brush out of good will. Or if the man had cut down the tree for firewood and now was trying to clean up the mess. Either way, the tree was blocking the road and it was taking the group of three a long time to clear the obstacle. I was the only person on my side of the tree. There was a group of three or four cars on the other side of the tree. To hurry things along, I decided that I would help to clear the brush. I got off my bike and started moving the big branches. It turned out that my motorcycle gloves were functioning pretty nicely as work gloves. After about 30 minutes we had moved enough of the brush out of the way so that my motorcycle and other cars could pass. Funny thing, some of the drivers in the cars got out of their cars to watch, but none of the drivers helped to clear the tree.
I rode on.
I had starting riding at 8am in the morning and it was now about 7pm in the evening. It was starting to turn dark. It had been a full day of riding when I came upon a small village called Bourgue. At least I believe that was the name of the village. The village was so small that I have had trouble finding it on Google Maps. For some reason there was a check point. I pulled up to the check point and got off my bike. I asked the guard if there was any place in the village where I might be able to stay for the night and set up my tent. He directed me to next door to a little store with an enclosed yard. I walked around the corner to see what I could find out.
As in many small villages in Bolivia, the store was basically the front room of a house. There were a few odds and ends of basic neccesities...soap, matches, cooking oil. The owner appeared to be the lady of the house.
I was hungry, so I first glanced around to see if there was anything that looked appetizing. Glancing over the shelves there was not much - some chips, candy, canned food. The woman opened up a box and showed me a half butchered pig. I could tell that it was a pig because the head was still attached to the body. Looked interesting, but I said...no. She pointed to some eggs. I shook my head...no. Then she uncovered at a large bag filled with loaves of bread. I shook my head in approval. She also pointed at a can of sardines on the shelf. Bread and fish out of a can... it was starting to grow on me. I said that I would take three loaves of bread and a can of sardines. It seemed to make her happy that she was able to help me find something to eat.
I then asked the lady if there was anyplace where I might be able to stay and set up my tent. She said that I could stay in her yard. I pointed to a clearing in the dirt yard and inquired if it would be a good location. She said that I was welcome to set up my tent under her porch. I accepted the offer and said thank you. I then moved my motorcycle inside the yard and started to set up camp.
By this time it was completely dark. There was no moon out. There were no lights in the village.
I guess that it was a bit unusual to have a traveler visiting this area... let alone a guy on a motorcycle. I mean, why would anyone stop in this small village that lied along a dirt road in the middle of nowhere.
A crowd started to gather. There were old men, women, teens and some kids. It was hard to make out the expressions on the people's faces because it was so dark, but they seemed to be enjoying the experience of watching this extranjero (stranger) set up camp. Of course I got the usual questions... Where are you from? What are you doing here? Do you like Bolivia? Where are you going? How much did your motorcycle cost? How much did your tent cost? Are you Chinese?
When people ask me if I am Chinese I always share that I am ethnically Chinese, but that I was born in the United States... a Chino Americano. Some people get it, some people don't.
I asked the group, now numbering about 15 people, if they had even had ever seen an actual Chinese person. Most of the group said...no. There were three teens that raised their hands eagerly and said that they had seen Chinese people before. I asked them where. They said that they studied in Sucre and had seen Chinese tourists in the city. Cool, I pondered a bit.
I asked the group if they had ever eaten Chinese food. There was silence. Nobody responded. Then one lady asked me what was Chinese food. I tried my best to explain. I said that there are basic ingredients like chicken or beef, vegetables like carrots, onion, scallions, and that all the ingredients are cut up into small pieces then cooked together in a big pot called a wok. She said that it sounded like some of the food that they made. I said that the seasonings and flavors might be different. One lady was really curious and asked if I knew how to cook Chinese food. I said that I knew how to cook a few dishes. She asked if I could teach her. Without really thinking... I said yes.
Hmmmm... then I thought. Was she serious. I asked her if she was serious. She said that she really would like to learn. Hmmmm... I asked her... right now? She said that I could do it the following day. Well, I was not really planning to stay around this small town for much time. But, I was so overcome by the eagerness and openness of this small village that I said... okay.
I inquired if they had chicken... yes... rice... yes... onions... yes... carrots... yes... salt... yes... pepper... yes... oil... yes. And then I said we had all the ingredients, but usually I would use a sauce we call... soya (soy sauce). The lady said with great eagerness... we have soya! Wow, I knew that there were many places in Bolivia that had soy sauce, but I was surprised to that they would have it in this small village. We live in a global village.
We continued to talk while I set up my camp. But it was settled... I would teach the village how to prepare Chinese food the next day.
After setting up my camp, it was time to eat. The crowd sensed that I was about to eat, so it started to disperse. I proceeded to open the can of sardines and break the bread. There were still a few people hanging around watching me. I offered them some of my newly acquired sardines and bread. Two of the teens accepted my offer. So I shared my food and we had a nice little meal. I was glad that I had some people with which to share the sardines, because after a few bites, I knew that there was no way that I would be able to eat the whole can. Between the three of us, we eventually finished the food. Nothing went to waste.
Then it was time to go to sleep. I said good night to all my new friends and crawled into my tent.
The next morning I awoke. This is the house/store/yard where I had camped for the night.
I packed up my things and prepped my motorcycle.
Some of the townspeople were hanging around watching me. I asked them kind of half heartedly if they still wanted me to teach them how to cook Chinese food.
Yes! the ladies replied.
Okay, brunch would be served!
So I rattled off a list of the ingredients and asked them to compile them. I asked them how many people might be interested in cooking and eating. The one lady that was kind of the coordinator said... Oh, probably about 15.
Wow, 15 people. I have cooked for 8 to 10 people in my house before, but never 15. And I've always had all the proper ingredients, utensils and kitchen space. This was going to be interesting.
It took the group a little time to run around the village and gather all the ingredients. We moved to another house to do the cooking.
As I walked through the open courtyard and up to the house, I saw this scene. Two of the young girls had killed a chicken, boiled it to remove the feathers and were plucking the remaining feathers. It was probably the freshest chicken that I had ever cooked.
I then proceeded to show the group how to cut the vegetables and chicken into small pieces. They had all the basic ingredients and most of them had been grown right around the village. If you look closely you will even notice that they had a bottle of soy sauce. For some reason they had brought mayonnaise and catchup. I told them that those ingredients would not be necessary.
Also, a number of times they asked me if we would need any potatoes. I said... no. Potatoes are a staple food in Bolivia and are eaten with just about every meal. There are hundreds of varieties of potatoes that are grown in the country. Unfortunately, for this recipe we would not be using any potatoes.
After a little time, we had all the food prepped and we were ready to begin cooking.
I had never cooked Chinese food over an open fire. It was definitely a new experience. The heat was intense. I found it difficult to get close enough to the fire to stir fry the ingredients. Eventually, I turned over the responsibility of stirring the dish to one of the ladies.
In the end, it all worked out. We made a big pot full of chicken fried rice. I think that there were about 10 people that showed up to eat. They all said that they really enjoyed it. I do not know if they really enjoyed it or if they were just being polite. But... in the end... all the food was finished.
Here is the core group of women that I taught how to cook the meal. People that I have encountered along my way have been so willing to share their culture with me, it was nice to share a little bit of my culture with this community.
It was time to leave... so I said my good-byes.
I headed down the road.
I followed a dirt road, which followed alongside a river. I had been riding over a lot of rough roads in Bolivia. I heard a little rattling noise coming from my bike. I stopped to inspect it. I noticed that a spot weld that connects my rear rack and case to my motorcycle frame had separated. It was not a crucial mechanical weld, but it did support the weight of my rear case.
In the next town I passed called Monteagudo I sought out a soldidura (welder). I found this one man shop and explained the issue. He said that he could help me.
I backed my motorcycle into the shop. The welder went to work. The work was complete within 5 minutes. Simple roadside repair in Bolivia. It cost me $15 Bolivianos (US$2).
I rode on...traveled for about an hour... until I came across this fallen tree.
At this spot there was a crew with some heavy equipment moving the brush. It was all cleared in about 5 minutes.
I rode on for another 3 or 4 hours to a town called Camiri where I stayed the night. I found an inexpensive hotel... ate a decent meal... and rested.
In the morning, I left Camiri and traveled for about 2 hours south to the town of Villamontes. In Villamontes I stopped for lunch.
With a full stomach, I headed east to the border of Paraguay.
Hello Im kevin from montevideo uruguay me and my father we travelled all across southamerica many times also we have a workshop I if want to visit there is no problem also we are offering bike storage in uruguay customs give you one year to leave the bike anything contact at firstname.lastname@example.org ride safely
Hello Im kevin from montevideo uruguay me and my father we travelled all across southamerica many times also we have a workshop I if want to visit there is no problem also we are offering bike storage in uruguay customs give you one year to leave the bike anything contact at email@example.com ride safely
Kevin, thanks for the info. I wish I was passing through Montevideo. Maybe sometime in the future.
The Adventure Begins... El Chaco, Paraguay...Lots to See in the Middle of Nowhere
From the town of Villamontes, Bolivia I traveled east along a dirt road. There was absolutely no traffic for miles and miles.
In the middle of nowhere I came across some motivational signs.
Sigue Adelante (Keep moving forward)
Un Poco Mas (A little more)
Llegaste! (You've arrived!) I was not exactly sure where I had arrived. There still was nothing around.
At another place along the road I came across this tree.
Someone had some paint and had some fun.
I continued on down the road to the border and finally arrived at the Bolivian immigration office.
It was a pretty small open air office. I was the only person crossing the border. Checking out of Bolivia was a snap... it took all of 2 minutes.
I rode a little further down the road to the integrated Bolivian/Paraguayan aduanas (customs) office. It was about 3pm and the office appeared deserted. I looked around a bit and found a travel trailer. I could see that someone was inside laying on a bed. I called to summon the person. Out of the trailer emerged the Bolivian immigration officer in a tank top, bermuda shorts and flip flops. I assumed that this was a pretty laid back post. He reviewed my documents and checked me out of the country. I then asked if he knew where the Paraguayan official might be. He pointed to a small house around the corner. I walked around the corner and up to the house and called out. Out of the house emerged the immigration officer. He was dressed casually, wearing a pull over shirt and jeans. He asked me to fill out a form and shortly thereafter he provided me my temporary driving permit for Paraguay. This was perhaps the most casual and remote customs office that I have passed through on my journey. Pretty nice.
The Paraguayan immigration office was not in the same area. From what I could gather I would need to travel about 90 miles (150 km) to a city called Mariscal to pass through immigration.
I rode on...
A little further down the road I came across a Paraguayan military checkpoint. There was one car behind me. The military officer asked for my passport and documents. I handed him my passport and temporary driving permit. The officer also gathered the same documents from the car behind me. He took both sets of our documents inside his office. A few minutes later he emerged from the office. He proceeded directly to the car behind me, returned their documents and waived them through.
I thought... uh oh... it was a bit odd that he would first give the car behind me their documents and waive them through. I was in the middle of nowhere... with nobody around. I had an intuition as to what was about to occur.
The officer approached me. With a friendly demeanor, he struck up a conversation. He started asking me about where I had traveled, where I was going, about my motorcycle. I answered all his question with a smile on my face and brief responses. He eventually came around to the question... do you have a gift for the military? Hmmm... a gift. I smiled and said that I really did not have anything that I did not need. It was the truth... I travel light. I said all that I had with me were my clothes and tools for my motorcycle. He smiled and inquired... nothing. I said with a smile... nothing. He looked me over and spotted a carabiner hanging on my pants. He said... how about that. I said... I need this to keep my keys. He smiled. With that I cranked on my motorcycle and said... estamos bien? He waved me on.
I rode on...
It started to turn dark. I arrived in a small town called San Pedro. It was basically an intersection with a few houses scattered about... and there was a police checkpoint.
Before the policeman could signal me to pull over. I signaled with my indicator lights and pulled up right in front of the officer. I turned off my engine, got off my bike and took off my helmet. I think that it surprised him to see a extranjero (foreigner). That is what I wanted to do. I wanted to manage the situation. Then I asked him if there was a hotel in the area. He said... no... not one where you would want to stay. I understood what he intended... the only hotel in this small town was a pay by the hour hotel. He asked me where I was going... I told him that I was going to the Parque Agripino Encino. He said that it was not too far down the road... maybe 10 miles (15 km) and to the right. He said go straight, then when you see the sign, turn right. We continued our conversation for a while. I asked him if the road was in good condition. He said that the road turned to dirt in about 100 yards (100 meters), but the dirt was compacted and in good condition. He said that the park was only about 30 to 45 minutes away.
Generally, in all the countries that I have visited, I have found the immigration, customs, police and military to be very helpful. I have never been taken advantage of. A lot of travelers and adventure motorcyclists complain about corrupt officials, but I have had nothing but positive experiences. I think that it helps to speak the language. Also, I think that it helps to control the situation and direct the conversation by asking them for assistance. It creates a situation in which they are in the role of a service provider. I have used this technique many times and it always seems to work out well.
I decided that I would ride on in the dark... on the dirt road... to find the park... to camp.
Before I set off into the wild, I stopped at the only open store/restaurant/bar in town. The proprietor said that she did not have any hot food, just dry goods. I looked over the shelves and picked up some water, crackers, a can of tuna and some oranges. The oranges were a score. This would be my food for the coming days.
With supplies in hand and a vague idea of where to go... I rode on... into the unknown.
I eventually came up to a sign that said Agripino Encio 80_ and a road on the right. It was just as the police officer had indicated. It was dark, but it appeared that there was a space after the numbers 80. It looked like a number or letter had been removed. I did not know how to interpret it. I just figured that I would ride down the road a little and soon find the park. I turned right and headed down the road.
I rode on. I started to have doubts. Did the sign indicate 80 meters or 800 meters or 8 kilometers or 80 kilometers. I did not see anything that resembled a park entrance at around 80 meters or 800 meters. But, why would they use 800 meters instead of 0.8 kilometers. The main road was hard packed dirt, but this side road was loose sand.
It was dark... it was late... it was sandy... it was the middle of El Chaco. My odometer displays miles not kilometers, so I convert everything in my head. My odometer indicated that I had ridden 214 miles since I last filled my tank with gas. Under good conditions, I could obtain 250 miles with a full tank of gas. Which meant ideally, I had about 35 miles of gas in my tank and 15 miles of gas in my spare tank. I decided that I would ride for 8 km, then turn back.
I knew that I had already traveled 15 km to the sign... 15 km plus 8 km would be 23 km. 23 km is equal to about 15 miles. Following? Thus, I could ride up to 15 miles, then turn around and ride 15 miles back if needed. That would equal 30 miles. Got it? Then, I would need to find a gas station to fill up with gas. I was doing this math in my mind while I was riding in the dark. I started to second guess myself. I ran the numbers again in my mind... yes... I should be okay.
I discovered that in El Chaco one can see a number of nocturnal animals while riding in the middle of nowhere. I saw some lizards, rodents, armadillos, foxes, an owl and some kind of pig like animal. I saw one small black cat. I thought that it was just a feral or domestic cat, but I later would learn that it might have been a Jaguarundi. Of course, I could not capture any of these animals in photos. As soon as I could see them in my headlight, they would dart back into the darkness.
I rode on... until I crossed 8 km... still no park. It had been tricky riding in the sand. I was tired. It was late. I had been riding all day and did not feel like riding further. I decided that I would find a place along the road and camp.
I found a spot along the road, set up my tent, and ate dinner... crackers and tuna and oranges. The road was only about 12 feet across (4 meters). I was a little concerned that a passing car or truck might hit me. I set up my motorcycle so that the reflectors on the body of my motorcycle would hopefully catch the eye of any driver.
At about 1am in the morning I heard an approaching car. I turned on my flashlight which illuminated my tent. It kind of worked like a giant glow balloon. The truck slowed down and passed by safely. That would be the only traffic for the entire night.
The next morning I woke up at about 6 am. This was my campsite.
I looked to the east and saw a wonderful sunrise.
I stood still... watched... listened... and breathed.
The Adventure Begins... Parque Nacional Teniente Agripino Enciso, Paraguay
After a night of roadside camping and the sun rising over my shoulder, I rode back down the dirt road retracing my tracks.
I made it back to the main road. I found the intersection where I had turned... and the sign for Parque Agripino Encino. And, I even found the park.
It appears that the sign was placed to mark the turn into the park. However, the entrance was 80 meters straight and then to the right. I thought to myself... why would they place the sign right before the dirt road... it was a mystery to me. When I arrived at the park I asked the park ranger this very question. He said that a number of people make the same mistake and turn right at the road. I asked why they do not move the sign to the other side of the intersection... it would solve the problem. He just shrugged his shoulders.
Happy that I had finally reached the park and officially in El Chaco, I went for a walk around the area.
What I discovered was that El Chaco does not have a lot of striking scenery like the Andes or extreme scenery like the Patagonia or wildlife like the Amazon.
But, there was a lot of very subtle elements to the area that made me pause. I had to look closely.
I would not call this beautiful, but interesting.
Cacti were common.
And uncommonly unique in their own way.
Some little things that I have never seen before.
Like this crazy tree with a thousand spikes up its trunk.
Like this tree with bark like curly locks.
And a birds nest made of thistles and thorns amongst the arms of a cactus.
The Adventure Begins... Filadelphia and Loma Plata, Paraguay... Habla Alemán?
From El Chaco I rode south.
The dirt road eventually turned into an asphalt road.
In the town of Mariscal stopped and checked in with the Paraguayan Migration (Immigration) to get my passport stamped. No worries, it was a quick and easy process.
As I was exiting the town I passed by this sign. Being from Texas, I had to check this out.
I located the restaurant and decide to take a break for lunch.
On the inside, the restaurant had this sign. The image on the left is the logo of my alma mater... The University of Texas at Austin. The image on the right is a classic logo of the Marlboro Man.
I met the owners of the restaurant. It turns out the owners were not from Texas at all. It was a married couple, the man was German and the woman was Thai. I asked them how they came up with the name and theme for the restaurant. They said that they used to live in Filadelphia, a town down the road, and bought the restaurant from another family. They moved the restaurant to Mariscal because they felt that there was to much competition in Filadelphia. Fair enough, I asked them what they had on the menu that was from Texas. The lady said that they hamburgers and spaghetti. Well, it was not quite the authentic Texas culinary experience that I was hoping for, but I wished them well.
I was actually traveling to the town of Filadelphia and the Mennonite colonies.
Filadelfia is the capital of Boquerón Department in the El Chaco. It is the centre of the Fernheim Colony. It is about a 5 hour drive from the capital of Asunción. The town of Filadelphia and this part of El Chaco had an interesting history.
Filadelfia was founded in 1930 by Mennonites who fled from the Soviet Union because of religious persecution. The journey to Paraguay was extremely difficult. Their destination, set aside by Paraguayan government decree, was completely undeveloped. Travel was exhausting: a steamboat was taken up the Paraguay River to Puerto Casado, from where a narrow gauge railway went 150 km (93 mi) west into the Chaco bush. From there it was a few more long days of travel by oxcart to their settlement area. Over decades, the Mennonites turned a dry and thistle covered area into fertile farmland.
The economic base of Fernheim is agriculture and processing of agricultural products. The most important products are cotton, peanuts, beef, milk and dairy products.
Filadelfia lay near the front of the Chaco War, but was little affected due to the pacifist beliefs and customs of the Mennonites.
Today the town has a city hall, museum, a library, a radio station and other structures. The colony's villages lie around Filadelfia, as do several native reserves, home to much of the area's native population, from the Chulupí, Lengua, Toba-Pilaga, Sanapaná and Ayoreo groups.
The elementary school
A park and playground
The houses tended to be rather large, to accommodate the families with numerous children, but were simple and utilitarian in design.
The center point for the whole town and community was the large and modern cooperative supermarket. It was like a compact Walmart selling everything from groceries to auto parts to agricultural products.
The colonial museam
An old clock housed at the museum.
An antique coffee grinder.
A telephone from the era.
I visited another town of the Mennonite colonies called Loma Plata. It was the first colony of Canadian immigrants in the region and was founded in 1927. It is an important urban and administrative center for the Cooperatives Menno. It is the base of the huge dairy cooperative known as Trebol. Supposedly this area produces something like 80% of the agricultural exports for the country of Paraguay.
There was another colonial museum in the town of Loma Plata.
A monument dedicated the founding of the colony
A museum with displays about the founding and struggle to develop the city.
A rustic colonial style house.
A basic horse drawn wagon form the good old days.
Rudimentary plows and farm instruments used by settlers.
One of the great things about the accommodation in the Mennonite colonies was they tended to serve nice German style buffet breakfasts.
Prior to visiting these Mennonite colonies I thought that the population would be 80% Indigenous and 20% German Mennonite. However, the population breakdown was probably a reverse of these percentages - with the larger percentage of the population being Mennonite.
The Adventure Begins... Central Chaco Lagoons...From a Bird's Eye Perspective.
I traveled south through an area known as the Central Chaco Lagoons.
Higher rainfall combined with improperly drained lowland soils lead to a somewhat swampy plain, sometimes known as Chaco Húmedo or Humid Chaco, with a more open savanna vegetation consisting of palm trees, quebracho trees and tropical high grass areas with a wealth of insects.
The area was rich with various types of birdlife. It was difficult to get close enough to the birds to take good photos. As soon as I stopped my motorcycle, the birds would fly to another location.
For serious bird watchers, in El Chaco, one can find Black-legged Seriema, Black-bodied Woodpecker, Chaco Owl, Quebracho Crested Tinamou, Crested Gallito and Spot-winged Falconet.
It looked like the surrounding environment was the perfect habitat for insects, reptiles and fish that could serve as a food source for all the birds. I just found it interesting how many different types of birds I saw within a short distance of riding.
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