It might not seem that difficult, but riding 6 to 9 hours per day under searing, sunny heat (102f today) on mercilessly repetitive hills, hundreds of feet up and down (I have an altimeter on my bike) is really getting to us. We rode only 40 miles today. Mind you, it was a late start for us, 7:30am out the door, and we did visit one of the 7 wonders of the modern world before riding off, but still it was only 40 miles!?.
That Wonder? First clue: what’s the largest thing built by man in the 20th century? On the border of Brazil and Paraguay? How about a picture?
That’s the Itapu Binacional Dam, I have the polo shirt to prove it. This dam is 7km long and generates 90% of the electricity in Paraguay and 25% of Brazil’s, the equivalent of 58 million barrels of oil per year. (That’s alot.)
It’s on the Parana River, which is more “blessed” than the Yangteze, so even after the Three Gorges Dam is complete, this will still be the largest power generator on the planet. And in front of it there’s a tile, mosaic mural story wall which starts out with nature, some construction (including explosions), some more building and then, for reasons we have yet to fathom, ends up with a graphic representation of us riding up and down those hills.
Is it a dam bike or a damn bike? Who knows? Is it Dalton or me?
After the tour we went back to the **** Bourbon Hotel and Resort, picked up our bikes, and with limited enthusiasm drove back across the bridge over the Parana River into godforsaken Paraguay. If you haven’t checked out the history of this country, you should. They lost 75% of their male population in the war of the Triple Alliance (Paraguay vs. Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay) at the end of the 19th century (conscripted all males over 10 years old who fought to the death at the end with nothing more than machetes and farm implements), then things turned for the worse. Chaos still reigns here in many ways at the turn of the 21st century.
We got back on the bikes just a bit past the higher activity part of Ciudad del Este after exchanging some money. I took pictures of a couple of street vendors.
You have to give the decent people of this country credit for trying. A few kilometers past the river we were back in the countryside and you notice a couple of immediate differences between Paraguay and Brazil.
a) the roads in Paraguay are lined with animals. Chickens, cows, oxen, sheep. I don’t know why, but preferred grazing is an animal staked right next to the road. Sometimes they escape and make a break for it.
b) F’ed up shoulders: Again, for reasons beyond us, they put speed bumps every 60 to 100 feet along the shoulders, forever. This makes for dangerous riding as we weave in and out of traffic.
c) Rural Entrepreneurs: Whereas Brazil and Argentina are 90% urban, Paraguay is still 50% rural. All the farmers have side street businesses. You can buy almost anything riding by – food, oil, furniture, charcoal. More on this tomorrow.
d) Working Animals: We must have passed by 100 horse or ox drawn carts today, plus innumerable underpowered motorcycles.
And we did ride by one glorious patch of sunflowers (only one) and Eduardo took advantage of the opportunity.
Blinded by our own sweat and almost unable to stand up on the pedals anymore to make it up yet another , yet another, yet another hill, we bailed out to the comfort and convenience of Eduardo. We might have gone many miles to the next city, but we found a small town, a couple of blocks on one side of the 2 lane Paraguayan interstate highway, with a little hotel.
The town’s name is literally “Doctor Jaun Eulogio Estigarriba” and it actually had three little hotels. Two were used by truck drivers for trysts, and the third, the Germania, didn’t permit short term stays, so we stayed there. The Germania had only one temperature of water, and the sheets were thinner than any fabric that ever touched my body, but it was clean and neat. We took a pre-dinner appitzer break in the field next to the place.
We ate at the Brazilian barbeque style Aalf restaurant across the street, under lots of bright white fluorescent lights, then went back to the field to chat with the night manager, Carlos who has spent his whole life in this town.
Carlos told us (in translation via Eduardo) that legend has it that after the War of the Triple Alliance there was only one man left alive in Paraguay. Everyone today is his descendent. Not unlike our current urban legends…
On to Asuncion tomorrow!