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.


  1. no comments in two years?? Glad l'm the 1st one then.
    l'm David and I'm from PY. l gotta say you're lucky officials didnt give you more trouble for a "gift". They must've been feeling unusually lazy.
    Going through el chaco can be dangerous as you must've realized. Fuel is definitely a concern, and water. When you mentioned you got water l home you meant lots of it.
    l'm glad you enjoyed the scenario. l myself am an adventure rider as well and have never been there. I find your blog very encouraging to do it one day. Time is the eternal problem.
    Wish you good roads my friend, wherever you are.

    1. Hi David, thanks for leaving the comment. I truly enjoyed riding in Paraguay. A beautiful country and friendly people.


Thanks for visiting my website and for leaving a comment. - Troy

Featured Post

Gift Guide for Outdoor People

Here's my gift guide for outdoor people. I've used and tested all of these products while hiking, camping, backpacking, fishing or ...