Paraguay – (Bribery & no fuel)

Posted by on May 20, 2012 in The Wild | 0 comments

Paraguay – (Bribery & no fuel)

I would have liked to travel further north from Rio but I wanted to see Iguazu Falls and then travel up through Paraguay and Bolivia. The waterfall is so large that you can see it from both Brazil and Argentina. In my opinion one must see the falls from both sides.

Iguazu Falls

Brazil to put the size in perspective and from Argentina to get up close. 2 days later we headed into Paraguay. The border crossing was hot and hectic. As we approached, local men chased us yelling either for us to buy something from them or to assist getting the bikes across the border for a fee. We have never had any problems with authorities. We only know minimal Spanish but enough to get by and we plan to study on route. There is a huge difference between the cost of living and because of this reason many Brazilians travel across the border to buy products and physically carry them back. We crossed the Friendship Bridge and I questioned why it had been given that

Brazil/Paraguay boarder crossing

name.

With our paperwork in hand we headed for the capital of Paraguay, Asuncion. It’s one of the least developed countries regarding tourism. The scenery looked like we were travelling through Eastern Europe. Once we reached the capital we found a hostel and meet a German traveler named Noah who explained that the owner is never around and simply pick a bed for the night. When we eventually met the owner she explained that our motorbikes are not safe chained together out the front of the hostel so she suggested we move them to her family home. I guess we must have been lucky for them to still be there in the morning. Noah had befriended some locals so we had a great few nights spending time with them. It was at this time we learnt that nothing happens fast in South America. We went around to the Hostel owner’s house at 9am only to find the house locked and nobody home. We sent an email and received a reply explaining she will be back in a few hours. 7 hours later she arrived. Still determined to leave that day we headed off at 4pm. It was my decision, a decision I would later regret. On the outskirts of the city we passed a check point but the military were only stopping traffic heading into the city.  There were only a few towns along the 600 kms highway that intersects the country from south to north. Our fuel was running low and we had not seen a petrol station for atleast 80 kms. I questioned whether to press on and take the gamble or to turn around. As a full moon replaced the sun that disappeared over the horizon, I wished we had turned around. I calculated that if we didn’t turn around now we would not have enough petrol to reach the last gasoline station we saw. Felling like a dog with it´s tail between his legs, we turned around. With our speed reduced to 80 kms an hour we cruised backed towards the capital. Again like many moments on this trip, it felt like we were riding on a different planet. The full moon was shinning so bright that we could turn off our lights and still see, there was no house or street lights. Nobody was around. ¨Put put put bleh…..¨ my bike ran out of petrol. Luckily I had 1 litre of spare petrol that should last me another 30kms. As we approached check point I felt relived, maybe they could spare some fuel. I hit the kill switched, turned off my engine and rolled up to the safety cones that blocked the road. 4 Police men appeared, one taking a stance in front as if to prevent us from twisting the throttle and just riding on. ¨Document gringo¨, he demanded. I looked at one of the police men that had a stern look on his face. He moved his jacket in such a way to reveal his gun. We handed over our temporary import document.  The men gathered together and one shook his head as if he was a teacher reading a forged absentee note. We then supplied our ownership papers and other supporting documents. They then demanded to see our passport. It was a document that never left my side and naturally in this situation I was hesitant to hand it over. He took both our passports and I looked at Dale, raised my eyebrows and gave out a slight smile as if to say……¨were screwed¨. I got a feeling that it was a procedure they had pre-rehearsed in the event a foreign passed through. ¨No international stamp¨, he claimed. I knew this was just an excuse to ask for a bribe. I explained that I am an Australian tourist and the only requirement is a tourist visa which was stamped in my passport and all other documentation was in my folder. Regardless he had my passport and the only way I was getting it back was to pay. I reached into my bag and slipped the equivalent of $20 into his hand. This was more than enough and he handed my passport back. We jumped back on our bikes as the police officers smiled. So in summary, we stayed in the same city that night, was forced to pay a bribe, ran out of petrol and didn’t travel any distance forwards. Although it was not a productive day in a geographical or financial sense, we learnt a few lessons for our future travels north.

The next day we were up early and headed north again. No police at the checkpoint as we drove past but to be honest I was prepared to just hold the throttle on and speed past. The scenery didn’t change much as he headed further north. A few pot holes became gravel, gravel became dirt. Atleast it killed the boredom of the ride. We filled our bikes at a service station and noticed that the service attendants where watching footage of European football clubs.  It was the day of the champions league final and we were still had 3 hours to make it to the next town 320 kilometers away. Even then we were not sure if we could find a venue to watch the game but we pressed on.

 

When we arrived in Filadelphia we were surprised to see 2 local men wearing Bayhen Munich jerseys. I said to Dale “somewhere has to be playing the game”. We pulled up to the only hotel in town, the car park was full. Instead of being greeted with “Hola”, we heard “Guten Tag”. As we looked around we noticed that the guests were all German.   We later discovered that Germans had migrated here after world war 2. I wondered was it there choice to leave Germany. It was now a community of German farmers. We sat there that day in the hotel lobby watching the European Champions League final with a crowd of Germans. From a tourists perspective there wasn’t much to see in Paraguay and unfortunately for us it wasn’t the last time we would be forced to pay a bribe. 40 kms from the Bolivian boarder we saw some traffic cones blocking the road. It was a too similar situation to the last check point so we decided to not stop and just ride straight through. As we approached 2 men dressed in military clothes stepped out into the middle of the road and gestured us to stop.  We were escorted into their bunker like building, I wasn’t giving in easy this time. I showed a photocopy of my passport but he demanded to see the original. He flicked through it a few times as if to suggest something was missing. “No exit stamp”. He claimed. I didn’t believe that I had exited Paraguay yet. He explained that we should have received a stamp 80km back from where we came. We were low on petrol by this stage and knew we didn’t have enough for the return trip. They wanted the equivalent of $80. I explained we only have $10.  Both Dale and I run fake wallets for situations like this. We just have loose change and the equivalent of $10 inside. 30 minutes passed and nothing progressed. Eventually he swiped the money off the table and through our passports in our lap. Perseverance had worked.

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