Wednesday, October 31, 2012

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.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

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 hospital
The pharmacy
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. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

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.

Ahhhh... El Chaco...Paraguay.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

James Bond 007 Rides Honda CRF250R in Skyfall

James Bond 007 rides a Honda CRF250R motorcycle in the new action and adventure film Skyfall.
In the opening sequence Bond rides the motorcycle through the streets and on the rooftops of the city of Istanbul, Turkey. In typical 007 style the chase segment is fast and furious.
The film supposedly used 25 of the Honda CRF250Rs in various configurations for the production of the scenes. The CRF250R is a dirt bike. The obvious modifications that the filmmakers made to the motorcycles for stylistic purposes for the film were to add headlights, taillights, signal lights, windscreens, hand guards and tank modifications. Honda does produce a dual sport version of the CRF250 which is called the Honda CRF250L
Here are some images of the motorcycles used during the production of the film.
Here is a video with the original storyboard (scetchings) for the motorcycle segment.

Here is a video of the behind-the-scenes making of the motorcycle segment.

And finally, here is a video of the promotional trailer for the film.

Motorcycles and movies... what could be better.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

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)
Another one.
Un Poco Mas (A little more)
Another one.
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 motorcycle 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.

I slept.

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.

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