The bumpy road to Asuncion
It was supposed to be a simple 330km to Asuncion, along one straight road from Ciudad del Este which cuts Paraguay in half. How wrong we were, for we hadn’t anticipated the bumps.
Generally, the road is in good condition with a hard shoulder. For long stretches along the shoulder though, there are speed bumps every 100m, which throw the bike in the air with a bang, bang, bump. It was these bumps which were to bite us.
On Thursday, we hit some particularly big ones, but the bikes handled well and we thought nothing of it. Only when we stopped for a break in San Jose did we realise that Paddy was missing a back pannier.
It had been 30km since the last town, and we hadn’t noticed having or not having it since. We had no idea where it might have come off and couldn’t believe we hadn’t seen it. Normally if a bag comes off it’s obvious.
Paddy cycled 5km back, but there was no sign of the bag. He then went with a helpful local in a car, stopping at police stops and garages to ask along the route. They all remembered seeing us pass, but couldn’t confirm how many bags we had.
The feeling was gut-wrenching. All Paddy’s clothes were in the bag – his waterproofs, down jacket, his off-the-bike wear. All he had left were the filthy clothes he’d been cycling in for three days. What made it worse was thinking how long we’d spent picking out each piece of kit that was in the bag, and now it was gone. If we were five months in it perhaps wouldn’t have felt so bad, but just five weeks down and some of the kit not even used, it stung.
We are assuming somebody spotted it and took it home. It’s upsetting that it wasn’t returned to us as we’re pretty obvious on the road and easy to find. But Paraguay is South America’s second poorest country and we had passed through some poor rural areas, so I don’t imagine returning it would be the finder’s first reaction.
After a night of dreaming about clothes, bags and roads we set off for a long push to Asuncion, the previous day’s events still on our mind. The bumps in the road continued and the cycling was made more difficult by a heavy downpour, that saw us hiding under a tree being squawked at by a guard-dog parrot.
Back on the road, about 75km before Asuncion, the hard-shoulder turned into wet, red dirt. This was where the curse of the bumps struck again.
Coming down a long hill, past truck stops and roadside chipperia stalls the hard-shoulder ended suddenly in a big, rain-filled hole. I needed to get onto the road, but the lip onto it was quite high so needed to be approached by the right angle and speed.
I didn’t manage either.
The bike seemed to make it, then wobbled and spun, whipping me around and clattering me to the ground. Body first and then a wack to the head that hurt even with the helmet on.
Paddy helped me off the road and we soon had a crowd of locals, all looking very concerned. The police took us to the station and sat us down to recover. I was incredibly lucky that apart from a few bruises and grazes, a bit of a headache and whiplash to my neck, I was fine. I think Paddy, who was behind me and had seen it all, had more of a shock than me.
We were able to carry on to Asuncion after about half an hour, the desire to rest overtaken by the want to get this ‘bad luck’ road over and done with. It was a hot, sweaty and dirty ride into Paraguay’s capital city, but we were pleased by the room the traffic gave us.
It’s unfair, however, to make out we didn’t enjoy pedalling to Asuncion. At times the scenery was beautiful and the people we met have been brilliant. We were flagged down by people wanting to stop to talk to us and chatted in our unique Spanglish to friendly people in the towns. We even met a Colombian cyclist, Edgar, heading to the tip of Argentina. He amazed us as he only had one bag with him. We hope he has more luck with luggage than us.
For now, we’re in Asuncion resting up for a few days to let the bruises settle down and find a new wardrobe for Paddy. We’ve also managed some sight-seeing of this intriguing city, where wealth and poverty are displayed hand-in-hand.
We plan to leave on Monday morning to cycle down to Encarnacion in the South East of Paraguay. Hopefully there won’t be any more bumps in the road and we will have smooth cycling from now on.