May 2, 2006
I got up early this morning hoping to find Craig and/or get on the boat heading up the Rio Paraguay. My only idea to find Craig was to hope that he would email me first thing to let me know where he was. I found out that the boat leaves at 11:00, so I had a window of a few hours to get things straightened out.
Luckily a nearby Internet cafe was open when I got up, but I still hadn't received an email from Craig. I decided to walk to the river to get more info about the boat. On the way, I spotted a tall, skinny, white man with a big, bushy beard. There probably aren't too many people in a small town in the middle of Paraguay who would fit that condition.
Before we went to the ship, Craig and I got caught up on the last two-and-a-half months of traveling. He flew back to Ushuaia after the cruise and did some more trekking in Patagonia. Well, some trekking would be an understatement. At one point, he spent sixty straight nights in his tent. With the Patagonian winter coming on quickly, he headed to northern Argentina, spilling a pot of boiling water on his foot along the way. He got to Puerto Iguazu a few days before me, and I caught up by skipping Asunción yesterday. From what I hear, I didn't miss much. Now we are planning on traveling together through Paraguay and into Bolivia.
They began loading our boat at 10:00 this morning. It wasn't quite the same caliber as the Marco Polo; in fact, I think it used to be an old steam-engined paddle boat. It seemed like anything and everything was loaded onto the ship. There were plenty of the expected grain sacks, fruit, vegetables, and a few pigs, but also motorcycles, furniture, oil drums, and even a small, handmade boat. Combined with the 200 or so passengers, at times I didn't know how they'd have enough space for everything. However, Craig assured me that it was practically empty compared to the boat he road on for three days in Pakistan.
There were a few beds on board, but they all appeared to be rented out. I ended up buying a ticket that didn't include a bed for 90,000 guarani, or about $16 for the trip that should take about three days. Julio, the owner of the ship, is going to try to hook us up with some hammocks, though. I didn't bring any food along, but there appeared to be plenty available on the ship already. Craig and I wisely went in on a large ten-liter jug of purified water together.
The boat took off about an hour late, not too bad by Paraguayan standards. Craig and I found a place to sit on the deck and we slowly made our way up the river. Eventually, we were joined by Jan, from Germany, and Yvonne, from The Netherlands. They are both getting off the ship sometime tomorrow in the middle of the night on their way to Brazil. It was nice to have some other foreigners to talk to. Most of the rest of the passengers are Guarani-speaking natives, and they never seem to stop staring at us. I think a lot of them have never seen a gringo before in their lives. They seem to be friendly people; it's just taking some time to adjust to being stared at again after being in Argentina and Chile for so long.
All day long, we stopped at various little port towns to add and subtract a few things from the ship. It was clear that the weekly visit of the ship was the biggest attraction for the local townsfolk. Everywhere we stopped, dozens of people stopped and watched as their supplies for the week got offloaded. This region, known as the "chaco," is probably the most remote area of Paraguay, and most of the towns we stopped at are inaccessible by road. I wonder what kind of chaos would ensue if Julio decided to stop running his supply ship one week.
We watched a magnificent sunset and got to thinking about where we would sleep tonight. The hammocks we were assigned to were right next to the loud diesel engine of the ship, so we opted to sleep under the stars on the deck instead. This proved to be a problem, though, as we kept getting stepped on in the middle of the night by people offloading their gear at one of the ports. The good thing was that as people got off, there was suddenly a lot of space at the very front of the ship, so we found a new location for the rest of our trip that should be quiet and away from the main walking path.
The photo album for this entry is here.