We both slept really well and were reluctant to get up, but we did. We used our remaining pesos to buy fuel and cooldrinks. The exit from Argentina was no hassle - we didn't even have to get out of our vehicle we simply drove in a queue up to a window and the guys asked for our paperwork, stamped our passports and we were done. In Brazil, we could have driven straight through, but obviously stopped and had our passports stamped. The town of Foz de Iguacu is much bigger than Puerto Iguazu. In fact, it was quite impressive, with all sorts of services, high-rise buildings, big shopping centres and streets festively decorated for Christmas.
The 'motorway' to the bridge across to Paraguay, was more like a car park, with everyone jostling for best position and squeezing into every available space (even if that meant bumping into the back of us - which someone did). Four teenagers also tried their hand at a bit of opportunistic thievery - one was talking to Michael trying to get him to buy something and the other three tried the Togo door behind me, which was locked and when I turned around and saw them they moved away quickly. We stopped at the beginning of the bridge and I got our passports stamped. We drove across the 'Friendship Bridge' which was absolutely heaving with cars, motorbike taxis and pedestrians. There is no control over people traffic across the border bridge and you are advised to have your documents stamped if you are staying for more than 24 hours.
The Paraguay side was a little trickier. My passport was stamped, no problem, but it turns out that Irish passport holders need visas (obtainable from the consulate back in Brazil for the small sum of US$70!) I read in the guide book that South African passport holders do not need visas so we thought we'd go back and try that, if they really said we couldn't get a visa at the border. The official took us into a lovely air-conditioned office off to the side and told us it wasn't possible to get a visa at the border. Then we explained that Michael has dual-citizenship and that SA passports don't need visas. He told us that it would only be possible to tamp the SA passport if we obtained an exit stamp in it first, from the Brazil side and he added that as SA passports need a visa for Brazil, that was unlikely! We discussed the option of a 5-day transit visa and he suggested he 'd ask his colleagues what the cost should be, but that they would try to make it less (yeah, yeah)! He came back with an offer of US$50. We said that was too expensive for 5 days and that we would try to get the passport exit stamped in Brazil.
I stayed with Nyathi while Michael walked back across the bridge with both passports. The Brazilian exit control agreed to stamp the SA passport, but only if Michael got an entrance stamp first! So he walked around to the opposite side and told the guy he was coming from Paraguay and he stamped it - no questions asked (fortunately). Then, he got the exit stamp and wandered back to the Paraguay side. They stamped it and Michael also did the Carnet de Passage because we figured Paraguay was a bit more more officious and having extra paper work couldn't harm!
The roads were pretty good and it seems the people are friendly with lots of them giving us the thumbs up when we drive past. In the rural areas there are lots of smaller homesteads set back about 50m from the road with the odd cow or horse grazing out front. Many of the people have chairs in shady trees in common areas in front of the houses and of course they all sit chatting and drinking mate.
We arrived in the outskirts of Asuncion at dusk. There was a vibrant and industrious feel to the town, but it reminded us more of Africa cities, than Argentine towns. Trying to find the Botanical Gardens campsite proved to be complicated and long winded. It wasn't shown on any of our maps and we had to keep stopping and asking directions from locals (who speak more quickly than Argentines and have a different lilt, which makes it very difficult to understand). We eventually arrived at the guardaparque's little hut at about 20h30. There campsite wasn't really functioning but we weren't too keen to use his facilities, which he kindly offered, so one of the watchmen showed us the campsite toilets and after he left we found a slightly shadier spot (for the morning heat) and with less of the ferocious ants, but unfortunately still hundreds of mozzies!
It was boiling hot still and we were sweating with the humidity so we had showers under our hose and dived up into the safety of the tent away from all the biting insects. We spent sometime killing what mozzies we could find in the tent and then fell asleep. At midnight Michael woke up to the sounds of voices outside - the watchmen were waking us up to tell to please come and park near their hut where it was much safer. We took their advice and Michael drove along while I checked the tent didn't bash into any low hanging trees - we thanked them for their concern and went back to sleep disturbed by biting insects all night!
We spent a pleasant day in Asuncion doing shopping and having a bit of a wander around. I couldn't believe my ears when I heard someone speaking Afrikaans as they walked past us. We stopped and chatted to them for a while - they have settled on a farm here - it is a small world!
Electronics are incredibly inexpensive in Asuncion and we managed to find a new power-supply for the computer, some 2200mAhr rechargeable batteries and (unexpectedly) some really nice Salomon sandals.
We had a pleasant lunch with ice cold drinks and then we caught up on some emails in an internet cafe.
On the way out of Asuncion, we bought a 12V fan for the cab (which cost $8 or so, but wasn't of the finest quality. Michael got drenched by a sudden rainstorm as he came back to the car - it only rained for a few minutes, but it really bucketed down!
We left the city via a somewhat circuitous route, but eventually crossed the river on an impressive bridge and made our way into the Chaco. As the light was fading, we stopped at a small chacra and asked if we could sleep just outside their fence. The guy from the farm only spoke Guarani, so we played a bit of charades, smiled and he said it was no problem. There were hundreds of insects so I dived upstairs while Michael did some work on the computer downstairs and then when he came up he brought cooldrinks with him and I got some biscuits and cheese for us to snack on. We both read for a bit and then went off to sleep - with countless of the tiny, pinprick sized biting midges for company (the mosquito net is not fine enough to keep them out and it is just too hot to sleep with the canvas windows closed)!
We were up early. Michael wanted to check the the transmission oils and the new seals again, and I was, as usual, his trusty helper. The mosquitoes were out in force so I had trousers and a long-sleeved shirt on, with socks and sandals (sexy!!!) and Michael donned his overalls. But still, the mozzies bit Michael on his neck and hands (despite wearing repellent) and they bit me through my shirt - nasty, little bloodsuckers (creatures of the devil, as Michael called them).
As the seal is still leaking on the 6x6 output shaft, Michael took the propshaft out, leaving us with 6x4. After clearing everything away (except our 14mm ring-spanner, we annoyingly discovered later) we washed, said our goodbyes and were on the road just after eight.
The scenery was similar to that along the Pampas and Ibera marshes in Argentina. Loads of birdlife, but a whole lot hotter. We stopped off in a garage to get fuel and discovered we had a puncture. So we got the Gomeria guy to fix it. While we were waiting I met a really nice man , Egon, from the Mennonite colony in Filadelfia. He invited us to come and stay and have dinner with him and his family - what a pleasant surprise!
We got on our way, but Nyathi decided it was her day to misbehave. We had to clean out the fuel filter again as she was losing power, and then we discovered the puncture we had just had repaired wasn't repaired after all and the tyre was pretty flat - so we changed that too. Then she started losing power significantly so we stopped and Michael changed the fuel filter, checked the fuel lines for any problems and I made us some lunch with our slightly stale bread, very ripe cheese and some ham. After further investigation Michael found that the mechanical fuel pump was faulty. Not good - because that was one of the spare parts that Merlin Land Rover had knocked off our long wish-list of parts, and we really should have insisted at the time, as it is such basic spare to carry.
The heat was unbearable and even when I held an umbrella over us and the work in progress, we both continued to sweat profusely. After much discussion of what we should do, we agreed that Michael would clean and refit the pump and we would limp on to Filadelfia in the hope that because it was an organised community, we should be able to find a spare part, or at least a solution. Michael was grumbling about the fact that th pump is a sealed unit and can't be disassembled - he is sure it is just some dirt in the pump valve seats. Also, why is the fuel filter after the pump??? It is just asking for fuel pump trouble!
The going was very hot and slow and we only arrived at Egon and Elke's house at about 17h30, (four hour later than we were expected). They welcomed us into their home and we had cold water, cake and chatted. We both had wonderful showers and then we all went along to their community's Christmas evening where the choir sang carols, some children did performances and then we all ate an asado afterwards. It was lovely and it made me really miss being home with family and friends.
We had a good night's sleep in an air-conditioned bedroom - bliss. The local garage did not have the pump we were looking for. He phoned around, but in the end he ordered it from Asuncion and it should arrive tomorrow morning. Besides, he had so many cars in his workshop today he said he would not be able to do our work until tomorrow anyway. We went to a big gomeria next door and they fixed our punctures (Michael overseeing) while I went to the bank and shops.
We went back to the house for a lovely lunch and then I did some laundry while Michael helped Egon with some flat tyres (we are the master tyre changers - after all). Michael went for the obligatory siesta while I finished the laundry, then I caught forty winks.
Elke took us to see an old colonial farm, but there was nobody there. We relaxed for the rest of the day, playing games with Christian and Anna, drinking afternoon terere (a cold version of mate) and doing bits and bobs around the house.
After dinner, Egon fetched a video from the local hotel/museum on the Mennonite colonies and brought it home for us to watch. It gave an interesting insight into their faith, beliefs and their migration and development over the years. There are approximately 1.3 million Mennonites in colonies around the world. The communities in the Chaco of Paraguay first arrived in 1927. Today there are about 10,000 Mennonites here and they have developed an impressive infrastructure producing large percentages of the Paraguay's meat, dairy and agricultural products. They speak German (the language of school instruction) and Castellano and some (thankfully Egon) speak English and other languages too.
We got to bed at about 23h30, in Nyathi, as Elke's family were arriving a little later from Porto Velho in Brazil.
We were up at 07h00. Michael went into town with Nyathi, while I stayed behind to do laundry and journal entries. It is much more pleasant today, not as hot, because it rained quite a bit yesterday.
We had lunch without Michael and afterwards Egon and the kids went to see how things were going. The pump from Asuncion was the wrong one so Michael suggested they fit a suitable electric pump instead. Michael decided that while he was waiting for them to find an fit a pump, he would fit the spare diff which Neville's 'expert Land Rover mechanic' in Cape Town had reassembled for us.
He had no sooner removed the diff from axle #3, and lifted the spare one into place, than he noticed that the pinion was quite stiff to turn. Suspicious, he pulled it back out and took it over to the work-bench to examine the work that Dave and Neville had done in Cape Town.
Dave's idea of assembling differential, it appears, is to simply put the parts together, and tighten the bolts a much as possible. Michael spent a few happy hours setting the pinion depth, the bearing preload, and the correct crown-wheel backlash. After it was all correct, he found that the pneumatic locking mechanism was leaking air, and it didn't seem to be an easy job to fix it.
So he repeated the entire set-up process on the diff he had just removed from Nyathi, and packed the leaking one back into its wooden storage box - it is perfectly serviceable as a spare, but without a locking capability. It took him another hour or so to refit the diff and half-shafts to Nyathi, by which time a second-hand electric fuel pump had been fitted by the garage mechanics. A long day's work, and $97 later, Nyathi was ready for travel again.
Meanwhile, while Michael was slaving away in the garage, I spent the afternoon doing the rest of the laundry and some shopping for supplies for tomorrow. I also visited Egon's father's estancia.
It was very interesting and I now know more about the different breeds of cattle than I ever had, including what makes a champion (they have the Paraguayan Champion bull and lots of previous title holders as part of their livestock), all of which looked pretty impressive to me.
I also took a photo of the interesting Bottle-trees that abound in the region.
We had a lovely dinner together with Elke's sister and brother-in-law (Dagmar and Herbert). We rounded off with delicious ice-cream and a look at some of our photos, and fell asleep in our tent in Nyathi well after midnight.
We were up before 07h00 and did everything we could to get ready before disturbing Elke and the family. They were still sleeping so we went into town to say goodbye to Egon, who was already at work. Then we filled up with fuel, bought ice and returned to the house to say our final farewell to the family.
The 100km to Mariscal Estigarribia was on a good road and we saw a gato monte (a wild mountain cat which looks exactly like a tiny leopard) racing across the road - a rare and lucky sighting. We spent our last Guaranis on beer and water and got a map and directions for the best route to Bolivia from the local shop owner. The road was sand, but not too bad until La Patria, where we turned west and headed for Infante Rivarola, the border "town". The road was quite muddy and rutted and we were pleased it hadn't been raining too much or else it would have been a whole lot trickier.
The mozzies and biting fly/bee things were unbelievable. We were both answering nature's call in record time to minimise the number of bites we got, but because it was so incredibly hot, we were drinking loads, which didn't help! We had to drive with the windows open to try and keep cool, but when going slowly through deep mud holes or tricky ruts, we would frantically close the windows to stop the mosquitoes flying in in their tens and hundreds! We saw thousands of butterflies (the only insects around that I felt friendly toward) which were gathered at mud holes and scattered in a rainbow of greens, blues and yellows when we approached.
Then we came across a fast flowing river. No bridge and not looking too inviting to ford. Michael walked about midway and got wet beyond his waist while any part of him not under water was attacked by biting insects.
We decided we'd sit it out for a while to see if it subsided and if not, we'd have to backtrack! About an hour later two locals walked past and told us there was no way we could cross. The river had been high for a while now and there was an even worse one beyond that! Michael waded in with one of them again and the water came right up to his chest. We had to admit defeat and headed back toward La Patria. So much for Christmas in Bolivia! We spent our Christmas Eve cooped up in the sweltering cab, with our tinsel dangling above the windscreen, watching a DVD and eating tuna-mayo mix on dry bread.
'We wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year'. I had to sing this a number of times today to remind me what a special day it was!
It didn't start off too badly. We both phoned our families before we got going for the day, so that was a lovely start. We sang carols in the car while we backtracked and ate some chocolate - yummy. We got back to La Patria and were told the best route was back south via Mariscal Estigarribia and along the Picada 500 track. We got some ice for the cooler box and Michael had some Christmas cake while I had the leftover tuna and a few crackers.
Then the diesel pump began to lose power. We limped along for ages switching off the engine and coasting along to allow the fuel filter to fill up, then starting the engine and driving at a semi-decent speed, until it became inefficient and then after a few pit-stops Michael decided it would be better to check all the pipes for blockage or leaks. We were reluctant to be outside the vehicle in the sweltering heat with the myriad insects for company, but there was nothing we could do.
It was thoroughly awful. Definitely worse for Michael who often had both hands full and I had to be on insect swatting duty to stop him being bitten too badly. Even his being covered in diesel didn't deter the filthy little beasts! They were biting me though my trousers and long-sleeved top. They definitely don't read about how noxious all these insect repellents are. They might burn your skin, but the insects aren't deterred for long. I resorted to tying a dishtowel over my head because the little fly/bee ones love to crawl in your hair and then when they get stuck they buzz furiously and bite/sting you.
We ended up spending about three hours working on Nyathi, but it felt inordinately longer than that. We used the compressed air to clean out all the pipes, and removed the immobiliser device in case it was causing trouble. In doing so, Michael broke the T-piece that feeds diesel to the Eberspacher, so we won't have an engine pre-heater for a while - who cares?! We also took out the half-shafts from Axle #3, as the shaft splines have worn the splines in the drive flanges quite badly. 6x4 should be adequate, and it's only a 20 minute job to replace the shafts if we need 6x6.
Anyone watching us would have thought we'd escaped from a mental institution. Every now and again one of us would crack and scream at the insects, running about waving our hands and arms, smacking all of them that landed, no matter how much it hurt! When we stood still for more than 20 seconds we would have at least ten mosquitoes on us and about thirty fly/bee things buzzing about our heads and then there were also the minute little gnats ones that loved our feet most of all.
I managed to lift things I would never normally do on my own - spurred on by the thought of a swifter get away from the insect hell! We packed up and moved down the road a bit where we had a quick wash - each taking it in turn to keep the insects at bay.
We were both exhausted, didn't manage to call our friends for Christmas and were forced to eat (dryish) bread and crisps for dinner (even though we weren't hungry) because it was Larium night and we didn't want to take the pills on an empty stomach.
The only real saving grace was the beautiful sunset, which Michael braved the mosquitoes to photograph.