The road less paved.

Karen and I had spent two days at the San Rafael National Park (designate),

Yes, Caroline, the world needs more benches...

and during our stay there, we changed our Paraguay plan to include visiting two towns that are known for their embroidery and weaving work, Yataity and Carapegua. Neither of them had any camping in their respective towns, so we had looked at our Paraguay tourist information booklet and decided to camp in Independencia, another German colony town in Paraguay. Independencia was founded in 1919 by German soldiers after WWI.

Destination known, we pulled out our “maps” to determine the best way to get there. We currently possess 4 “maps” of Paraguay:

  1. Our GPS. Unfortunately Daniel, as the GPS is called, has no clue when it comes to Paraguay. As far as Daniel is concerned, we have spent most of our time in Paraguay off road.
  2. The Avis Paraguay road map. A serious piece of crap, which we had paid real money, US $4, at a gas station for. Useless.
  3. The aforementioned Paraguay tourist booklet. In many ways, this is a great booklet and it does a fantastic job of highlighting anything, and I do mean absolutely anything, which could be of interest to a tourist, however as a road map, it is not very easy to use.
  4. The Paraguay birding one page brochure; a brochure has a map which points out where there is good birding. I kid you not: this is the best Paraguay road map that we have.

There were two basic choices of how to get to Independencia: i) the very long, fully paved way; or ii) the much shorter way, which did include a non-paved stretch of roughly 100km.

The executive summary of this tale is: no matter what, always take the paved route. It doesn’t matter if the paved route is 3 times longer, take the paved route.

Living in the US, we have forgotten what a non-paved road can look like. On Sunday we drove to the San Rafael National Park (designate). The last 26km of this road were un-paved road, listed as being of the third category. Basically, this means a 1 ½ lane red-dirt road. It had rained quite strongly on Friday, but we didn’t give this much thought before driving to San Rafael. We had asked the host of the campground we were staying at, and he said, after a glance at our truck, that the road into San Rafael should be fine.

Even though this was a day and a half after the rain, the road was incredibly slick; the mud was like ice. And there was a lot of mud. We spent the full 26 km in four wheel drive, and we would not have made it in a two wheel drive car. By the time we got to San Rafael, our tires were covered in a 1.5 inch thick smear of mud.

The picture does not do the mud justice.

I can categorically state if it rains for a few days in a row, nothing but a tracked vehicle, e.g a tank, will make it in to San Rafael. And I would have doubts even about the tracked vehicles.

But, in order to get to San Rafael, this was the only choice. To get to Independencia, we had choices.

We asked our host at San Rafael about taking the non-paved short cut to get to Independencia. He said, after a glance at our truck, that the non-paved road had been improved in the last few years, and that the views were beautiful.

We also stopped for coffee in a small town, Maria Auxiliadora, which lies right before the turn off to the un-paved road. Here, we asked the owner of the coffee shop and her friend about the un-paved road. The owner started to state some very minor concerns, but then her friend took over the conversation, and after a glance at our truck, stated that the road is fine and muy linda.

We averaged less than 30 km, 18 mph, over the 100 km of this road. And we were shaking and bouncing the whole time.

Kudos to GMC for building a great truck, and Outfitter for building a great camper; they were taking a beating. Btw, this was not a minor road, this road is marked as being of the second category in Paraguay.

Yes, our host at San Rafael was correct: parts of the road had been improved recently, and had been “cobble stoned”.

Cobble stone. Note the stylish Swedish clogs.

And other parts had been turned into a separated lane road:

Btw, there are cows in the median.

And new road signs had been added:

Serious road sign.

But some parts were just terrible. You don’t need a four wheel drive vehicle to drive down this road, but you do need decent ground clearance and a very rugged vehicle. Oh, the road was dry. If it had rained, forget about a two wheel drive, and it had been raining for more than two days, forget about a four wheel drive.

As we were driving down the road, Karen and I looked at each other and said in unison: “Always take the paved route”. We also developed a better way of asking questions, and a check list for qualifying the advice we get from people on road conditions.

A friend of ours, Rex, had pointed out that no one in South America wants to admit that a) they do not know, or b) you may be screwing up. And c) they are very friendly and really want to help.

So, here’s our advice on how to get better road advice:

  1. Never pose the question as: “We intend to drive down this route, do you think this is OK?”.  The friendly folks in Paraguay do not want to have to say: “You are an idiot. Why would you ever want to do that?” Instead, they will say things along the line of: “The views are beautiful along that road”.Instead pose the question as: “If you had to get to point X in the least amount of time, which way would you go?”
  2. During the questioning, try to ask the following questions in a polite way:
    1. Have you ever driven a car
    2. Have you driven a car in the past say 2 years
    3. Have you ever driven down this particular road
    4. In the last year
    5. Were you driving a tractor, or a tracked vehicle
    6. If your son or daughter absolutely had to get to the hospital in the next three hours or he/she would die, is this the road you would choose
    7. When you say “good road”, do you understand that this to us means a freeway. Fully paved. With separated lanes. A minimum of two lanes in each direction. Where we can set our cruise control to 75 mph, and then only have to steer once every 5 minutes or so.
  3. If, during the discussion period, the helpful bystander glances at your car prior to answering the question about the road condition: the road will suck.
  4. If the expression “The views are beautiful”, or anything similar, is used: the road will suck. (The views are beautiful along any road in Paraguay.)

Ah well. As it turns out, the views really were beautiful, we weren’t in any rush, we had a nice lunch in Tavai. And life is good.

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4 thoughts on “The road less paved.

  1. Karen & Henrik,

    Thanks for your updates. I really enjoy reading your posts and escaping from my “world” to yours!

    Barb Estes

  2. Hello,

    If you happen to go through San Ignacio, Misiones, stop by the “San Ignacio Country Club” which has camping, a swimming pool, and is also a small bed and breakfast. It is at the turn-off to Santa Maria, just south of San Ignacio on the highway.

    The owner is my “Paraguayan Sister.” I lived with her and her family from 1986-88 while in the Peace Corps.

    I am a friend of Ruth Hund, who sent me the link to your blog. Have a great trip!

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