Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Traversing the Chaco

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 31st December, 2010

On Wednesday evening, I got the bus from Filadelfia in northern Paraguay to Mariscal Estigarribia, the last inhabited place in the Chaco on the Paraguayan side of the border with Bolivia. It was pitch-dark by the time I was dropped off on a long, straight road and was advised by a passing soldier to carry on walking for another 500 metres. There I went into a customs post, at first seemingly deserted until I was greeted by an extremely affectionate (tame) wild boar or similar creature, which rushed up to me, licked my hand and then lay down on my feet and proceded to go to sleep. Its coat was too brstly to be able to stroke. One or two customs men — with pistols in thigh holsters — soon showed up, along with a couple of dogs, and for the next six hours, I waited for the connecting bus into Bolivia, all the while fighting off mosquitos and sleep as I tried to read a book. The bus duly arrived, late, at 5am, at which point all of its passengers were told to get off and go to the nearby Immigration Control to get passports stamped and ID cards verified, while the customs men gave the bus a thorough going over, inside and out — presumably looking for drugs. Eventually we were off and for the next 15 hours we clattered along, for the first few hours along a pot-holed, unsurfaced road, through the Bolivian entry point and on until we emerged from the so-called green desert of the Chaco — green because there are trees and grass, but very little water and what there is is too salty to support agriculture. Meanwhile, the Paraguayan bus driver, who had been on duty all the way from Asunción, bought himself a bag of coca leaves from the first Bolivian service station, while I settled for a cold beer. We eventually arrived at Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia’s largest city and economic stronghold, at 8pm last night, exactly 24 hours after I had started out. Alas, Bolivian bus drivers have all gone out on strike, in protest at fuel price hikes, so whether I’ll get to see any more of the country is another matter.

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