Okay, my camera was stolen yesterday. I’ve been robbed three times already. There, I said it. And yes, I’m being careful.
Now that the bad news is out of the way, this trip is incredible! Anybody who has ever thought about bicycle touring, especially abroad, should do it and/or think about joining me. Bring at least 4 cameras.
Here’s the lowdown:
On Friday, January 16th I said goodbye to Austin, a Peace Corps friend I travelled to Argentina with. He went to Buenos Aires to meet up with his brother and I stayed in Posadas that night. First things first, I bought a chip so my phone would work in Argentina. Then, with hours to spare before sunset, I toured the streets asking respectable-looking people if they knew anybody who might want to host a gringo, and as usual I got a lot of “I guess you can stay with us if you want.” I exchanged numbers with these folks to secure a plans B, C, D, etc. and then made my way to a few churches where there are often people more eager to host me. This would become my routine, along with police stations and fire stations. At a huge Catholic Church downtown I met a laid back, smoker, bearded male receptionist who invited me to stay with him and his roommates without hesitation and with a big smile. Great! So I stayed with them Friday night, glad to get my bike off the Posadas streets. I mentioned the fact that the receptionist smokes because in just one day crossing from Paraguay to Argentina I noticed a huge increase in smokers. In Argentina, employees often smoke while working in stores, for example.
Businesses in Posadas stayed open LATE. I was at an internet cafe until 1 a.m. and as I wandered back to the Catholic house I could see restaurants and small corner shops were still open. That night I slept like a babe under the stars in my tent in the backyard. The tent is a great mosquito net; I even prefer it to a bed in an unairconditioned house.
Early Saturday morning I woke up, drank mate with my friends and hit the road. On the way out I hit up a bike shop, finally found some chain lube (there was none in Paraguay and I didn’t bring any to South America thinking it would be easy to find), and a few other odds and ends.
The ride out of Posadas was exciting for me. For one, it was my first ride away from the Paraguayan border, knowing I wouldn’t be back. I would miss Paraguay for sure, but at the same time I finally felt like I was really leaving home even though I had been on the road a month or so. Along Ruta 12 outside I saw a few young student-types thumbing their way west. I stopped and asked a group where they were headed. Ituzaingo, they said. It’s a party destination during the summer, with river beaches and crowded clubs. Ituzaingo was already my intended destination for the day, 85 kilometers away. Not much to say about the ride before arriving at Ituzaingo. Flat. Pine and Eucalyptus. Pastures with cows grazing. A sign for Jesuit ruins 45 kilometers down a dirt road. Fruit stands here and there. And it was hot.
Ituzaingo is a small touristy town on the banks of the Rio Paraná, and is home to a new, gigantic, nearly completed dam, Jasyreta (moon country) between Argentina and Paraguay. I asked around for a place to say, investigated some campsites, and then decided on the fire station, where I pitched camp in safe, fenced-in spot among friendly volunteer firefighters that offered me dinner and route advice. I took a bike ride to the beach, snapped a photo, showered, and then took a siesta before the fiesta. I woke up at about 9 p.m. and followed the crowds. In Ituzaingo the meeting spot for hundreds of partiers is a small gas station in the middle of town. From there you meet people over beers, pack into new friends’ cars, and drive a few kilometers outside of town to a gigantic nightclub where the drink of choice is Coke and Fernet. The party ends (for them) when the sun rises, or later. The party ended for me when people started to fight and I realized it was already 5 a.m.
I slept in until 9 a.m., woke up sweating, and forced myself to get on the bike. Sunday morning was difficult riding but being on the bike was definitely better than laying in the tent as the summer sun heated up South America. I was tired. Fortunately the day took it easy on me; clouds moved in and I enjoyed some light sprinkles and cool breezes.
It has been beautiful watching civilization fade away behind me. Each town I pass through seems to get smaller and smaller. Sunday night I stayed in a small village (Villa Olivari, which was not on my map) reminiscent of my Peace Corps site in Paraguay. Plan B was camping in the grass near a guard station by a forest, plan C was camping behind the police station. Plan A became a genuinely nice family that forced me to stay in a bed in their extra bedroom. I accepted. We chatted over Sprite, I took a siesta, then they invited me to a birthday party at their 27 year old son’s house. His hobby is making recycled beautiful wine glasses (copas) from glass bottles. He gave me one to pay forward to the next family I stay with. And as we ate cake and the kids took turns blowing out the candle, we brainstormed and decided one of the goals of Ride for the Trees should be paying environmental gifts forward, like a chain of environmental gifts along the route from one community to the next. (I write this now in Corrientes, where I have already presented the glass to the Castelo family. They LOVED it and have promised me a plant to take to the next family.)
I had no idea what Monday had in store for me. Partly cloudy skies, flat roads, 100 kilometers to the next town. Little did I know there were Africanized bees in the area. I don’t remember much else from the day. I remember seeing dead crocodiles and live snakes. I remember a tailwind, and an idea to use my red hammock as a sail. And then I heard buzzing.