My parents have returned home to Iowa after a wonderful, soul-renewing 10 days with us in Paraguay. For part of that time, we journeyed northwest to the Chaco region of Paraguay. On the way back to Asunción, my dad dictated this reflection that I typed up from the backseat as we jerked and bumped along the pothole-filled Trans-Chaco Highway.
What I Learned in the Chaco: Part One
by Michael Brenneman
1. Getting there is difficult. The Trans-Chaco highway leads from Asunción to the Chaco. It’s the only road in and the only road out. To our planned destination of Filadelfia, it’s over 400 kilometers (for you non-world travelers that would be 248 miles) and not well maintained.
2. Don’t drive on the Trans-Chaco Highway at night if you’ve never driven on it before.
3. Don’t try to keep up with the trucks that are driving on the Trans-Chaco Highway at night if you’ve never driven on it before.
4. After blowing a tire on the Trans-Chaco Highway because you were driving at night on a road you’ve never driven before at a speed you shouldn’t have been driving (so now you are without a spare) drive more carefully than before. We made it only 15 kilometers (for you non-world travelers that is 9 miles) on our spare before crashing into a pothole that could have buried a small car, hence blowing the formerly spare tire and caving in its rim.
We know these facts because on the way out of the Chaco we stopped and took photos of the mighty potholes and measured the distance from one to the other.
5. If you do not follow these above four instructions, as we did not, try to end up near a hospital located out in the country which has no patients so the night orderly will be kind enough to take pity on you and give you a hospital room with beds so you can sleep for the night.
6. I learned that the people are very friendly and helpful. A truck driver and his passenger helped us put on the first spare and a neighbor living near the hospital drove Isaiah kilometers (for you non-world travelers that’s a measure of distance) in either direction looking for any gomería (a tire repair shop – a good business to have if you live on the Trans-Chaco Highway) open at 11:30 at night to repair blown tire #1. While Isaiah was gone and we jacked up the car and removed ruined tire #2, a van-load of men returning from a soccer game saw our plight and stopped to help. They even used their jack to help us put broken tire #2 back on when we learned there was no fixing tire #1 at all and we needed to limp into the nearby hospital driveway.
7. I also learned that the world is full of fortunate coincidences when we woke up in the hospital the next morning still not knowing quite what to do and the woman coming into work, upon hearing our story, told us that it was her husband who lent us the jack the night before. She then called him to come help us once again. The husband and his friend took our two broken tires to a gomería that they knew (luckily open despite it being a national holiday) and returned with one combined workable tire and helped us put it back on the car. In addition to reimbursing them for the cost of the repair, those two young men can now each be seen wearing a shirt of mine that I gave them out of gratitude.
8. When the gomería fixes the tire and points out that the other three tires have bulges on them, you do what he says and drive muy despacio (for you non-world travelers that means very slowly) especially if it’s many kilometers (please refer to the definition given in item #6) to get to the next gomería in Loma Plata.
9. I learned that even when situations seem desperate, they work out in the end as ours did when we made it safely to Loma Plata, found vacancy at a friendly hotel and a Mr. Theisan loaded us up with new tires for our journey around and then out of the Chaco. And that after a good 24 hours has passed, said situations turn into pretty great stories and lifelong memories.
It’s me again. I must say, my parents were incredible travelers. Even stranded in a foreign country on a strip of deserted highway in the pitch dark didn’t get their spirits down. And did we mention how freezing cold it was? Quite an adventure. To read about what we learned after finally arriving in the Chaco, check back Wednesday for Part Two of my dad’s reflections.