Only the three bus guys and I were continuing on the journey to Asunción the next day (Saturday). We planned to get up at 6am and head out, but with Paraguay time I don’t think I actually got on the bus until 7:30am when the sun was up a bit higher in the sky. There was lots of pomp and circumstance with our departure, we drove through town honking the horn and waving at every house we passed, and then we stopped. Right at the edge of town. Because although the road had dried pretty well inside the town, it was still a muddy mess outside of town. I think that first run on the bus was all of 10 minutes.
I made myself comfortable on the bus anticipating that we would probably be stuck there for an hour or two waiting for the sun to dry out the road. The conductor and the mechanic got off and walked back into town to hang out with the guys at the military post. The driver was telling me about their further fishing expeditions in the night and showed me all the piranhas and catfish they caught. Then he wanted to show me the giant sausages of frozen horse meat they’d brought with them. The conductor came back to the bus with some unidentified meat in a plastic bag, which turned out to be rabbit, and started rearranging their cooler to make room for it inside. He decided to hang the piranhas up on the bus to dry out while we were waiting.
The smell was awful, so I figured it would be best to go with them back up the road to the military post where the carnival of unusual meats continued. They were really excited about a yacare that they’d caught the night before, and we were going to watch the military guys skin it.
While I was watching them skin the yacare, two of the bus guys were at the river fishing for even more piranhas.
Once they had enough meat (can a Paraguayan ever have enough meat?), they took a brief terere break and then we headed back to the bus with their spoils. The road was looking sufficiently dry to them, so we were on our way. That is, until we got stuck 7 more times. The road was especially ugly when we went through the marshy areas. We spent a lot of time digging out and laying down plants only to get stuck again 100m further on.
Eventually we hit drier road and made progress. We stopped at a small restaurant near the second toll booth for lunch break around 2pm. This restaurant was also without electricity since the rain earlier in the week. Any time another car came down the road in the opposite direction we asked them what things looked like further on, and it seemed like things were looking up from here. A woman and her son joined the roster of passengers at the restaurant and we took off again making good time. And then we popped a tire.
It took us a really, really long time to change the tire because the spare tire wouldn’t fit properly. So they had to rearrange the back tires and move one of them up to the front, and then replace that tire with the spare. These guys must have been exhausted.
When we arrived at the next rest stop on the route, some interesting things happened. Firstly, the bus ran over the tail of a snake, and it was still alive!
Secondly, it appeared as though the road from there onwards had been closed by the police control station. Having mastered the art of zen, I paid the potential road closure no mind and went into the store to talk about the snake and eat an empanada. Things eventually sorted themselves out and the road was open.
Thirdly, I had a really interesting conversation with the store owner. After giving my usual spiel about what I was doing in the Chaco and what my project is about, the store owner talked about how tuberculosis is a big problem in the Chaco. He then commented that it probably had something to do with the tendency of the Indians to share utensils, and he said this as he was enjoying a terere break with the bus guys and he was passing the guampa (terere cup) and bombilla (like a metal straw) to the next person in the circle to share… I’m always amazed by the disconnect between words and actions.
We picked up one more passenger at this stop and soon came to the TransChaco highway and CELL PHONE SIGNALS! I sent some text messages out to let people know I was alive and on my way to Asunción. The sun was just setting as we pulled onto the highway.
We stopped in Pozo Colorado to get the bus’ tire fixed at the gomeria (tire repair/sales store) and get some more empanadas and drinks. We were there for at least a half hour, maybe longer. The conductor estimated that we would get to Asunción at 11:30pm.
This next part of the story is perhaps TMI (too much information), but it’s part of the fieldwork experience, so here it is: About half an hour after our stop in Pozo I began to feel unwell. Curse you empanadas! Not wanting to delay our arrival any further, I told my cramping intestines to simmer down. They didn’t listen. An hour later, very much embarrassed, I asked the conductor if we could have a bathroom break. A few minutes after passing the next town there was an extra lane of asphalt on the side of the road to allow people to pull out, and the area was littered with toilet paper. I’ve done the bathroom at the side of the road thing before, but usually one walks into the bushes to take care of business. Here the grass was very tall and everything was mud, and if I went down the bank to find some more privacy I might not get back up. Not quite sure what I should do here, I turned around and asked the driver where I should go. Just go behind the bus, he said. Okay, I’ll just try to pretend I don’t have an audience. I went to the back of the bus and found a spot relatively obscured, and just as I went to lower my pants, a snake moved in the grass. !!! Concerned that there might be more snakes in the grass, I hesitated; but my intestines would not hesitate. So I reassured myself that the snake was probably long gone and has better things to do than bite me on the butt. A vehicle passing in the opposite direction probably got a nice, pale full moon in it’s headlights.
Indignity endured, I got back on the bus and we continued on our way. 10 minutes later, I discovered that my cell phone was no longer in my pants pockets or jacket. Oh no, I thought, is it lying in a pile of feces at the side of the highway?! I searched everywhere I could think of twice. Suspecting that it was probably futile to do so, I got out my handheld GPS and marked our current location so that I could re-find my rest stop some other time. While I was doing this, the mechanic turned on the inside lights in the bus to look for something in the back. In the faint light, I saw a squarish object sliding up at the front of the bus. A cell phone? Yes! Mine? Yes! Thank goodness. I probably dropped it in my rush to get off the bus.
We eventually pulled into Asunción just before 1 am (11:30pm? I think not). From there I had to take a taxi to the downtown area where I was staying. I’m a landmark person, not a road person, so I had asked the taxi driver if he knew the big notable building that was across the street from my destination. He said yes, of course. We drove for about 5 minutes, and then we stopped at his taxi stop (taxis in Asunción have designated ‘stops’ where they wait in between fares). He then had a lengthy conversation with three other taxi drivers about where I was going. It seems he didn’t really know the landmark. Sigh.
In any case, I arrived safe and sound at 1:30am Sunday!