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Published: April 10th 2015
So, here I am now in Santa Cruz in Bolivia since 7 days and all I have done is rest. I can honestly say that the last two weeks were very interesting as I nearly met the Grim Reaper in person. You might think that this is an exaggeration, but believe me it is not! More to that later and lets continue where I finished off on the last update.
After visiting the Jesuits ruins in Encarnacion and my arrival in Asunción there was really not much to do. I only spent another day in Asunción as it was my third time there and, while it is a pleasant city, there is really not much to do. So I just sat back and made my plans for the next 4 weeks. My plan was to go to Bolivia and from there to Peru and Ecuador. To reach Bolivia I had to take a bus through the famous Chaco, one of the last frontiers in South America. This area is so remote that in 2010 there was a tribe of Indians discovered by accident that had never been in contact with people from the outside. Within Chaco there are also some
remote Mennonite communities that I wanted to visit.
Thus one morning at 6 am I took the bus from Asunción to Filadelfia in what was supposed to be a 7 hour trip that regressed into a 9 hour trip. As I mentioned before the buses in Paraguay are not the best and there are no seat reservations so it is first in, best dressed. I should note i like my window seats. Since I am the tall gringo most people here are somehow afraid to sit beside me so most of the time I have a row for myself. Not that I mind this as I have some pretty long legs to accommodate.
On the bus I met two elderly women that where born in Filadelfia and it was very interesting to listen to them about the history of the Mennonites and their settlement in the Chaco area. The only problem was that the Mennonites are a pretty religious mob and one of the woman tried to tell me how good the zombie Jesus(of whom was invented by the Romans) is and that I am obviously searching for something and she knows that it is this “God”(tablets?) that
I will find. Now don’t get me wrong I like to talk about religion and stuff like that, but being hammered for nearly 6 hours straight was even for me a bit much to bear so I was happy when I left the bus in Filadelfia.
Once I stepped off the bus it was like in a bad C graded spaghetti western movie; this town was empty, sunburned and dusty as hell. OK, it was a Saturday that I arrived, so nothing is happening in any small town in South America on a Saturday. But this was just surreal. Except for a couple of Indians there was not a soul on the street and not one shop open. I arrived at my hostel and it took ages until somebody showed up to check me in…..
After I checked in I thought to take a stroll around down to see what it is all about and I can tell you that it was a very short walk. Filadelfia had about 10 000 inhabitants and 2 500 of them are Mennonites. Now Mennonites are Anabaptists from German extraction who began arriving in this area in the late 1920. Before that
they came from Russia and fled the communist regime in three waves, 1928, 1930 and 1932. Originally they were to journey to Canada to join their brethren, but the Canadian government at the time stopped them to immigrate when they were all in Germany awaiting the ship to bring them to Canada. It is an interesting note here for all how the nation-state can divide the future of a people.
Nonetheless, the Paraguayan government, as they needed settlers in the Chaco, stepped in and offered them free passage which the Mennonites gladly took. Well if they would have known the environment they were about to settle they would have thought twice about it. The Chaco at that time was a disputed area between Bolivia and Paraguay because it was thought that there was a lot of oil and gas reserves (so nothing has really changed in all that time when it involves such resources). Since most of the Chaco belonged to Paraguay but hardly any people lived in it, the government offered to settle the Mennonites in the area not out of humanitarian reasons, but to prove it was occupied by people.
Can you imagine, arriving from
the cold areas from Russia and a couple of months later you are in one of the hottest, hostile and driest areas in South America? Totally brutal. To top it all off Bolivia and Paraguay went to war in 1932 to 1936 over the Chaco and Filadelfia was at the front of that war. Over 30 000 Paraguayans and over 50 000 Bolivians died in that area over nothing.
Now I have been in the German towns in Brazil like Blumenau and you can see on the architecture that they were built by German people, but not so in Filadelfia. The houses and structures were like in every other town in Paraguay. As one man told me later it is because the Mennonites, while speaking German, have really nothing to do with the German culture. They were for hundreds of years living in Russia and all what they were interested at was their religion and not culture.
In Filadelfia you find some very small, but neat, museums that explain pretty much the history of the town and people. The museum staff are more than happy to explain everything and show you around. Again it struck me on how
harsh it must have been for the people to arrive here where there was absolutely nothing- but the harsh environment. From this they built a thriving community that supplies most of the milk products into Paraguay. Nice….
Now I mentioned at the start of this update that I had some rally bad health problems in the weeks before I arrived in Filadelfia and it all converged in this town. When I was taking a bus about 10 days before from Asunción to Ciudad del Este I must have caught a bug as I was coughing all the time and breathing became difficult. As I am not a doctor-runner I thought it was just a cold or something of that nature. However it soon developed, that in Filadelfia I went to the hospital and saw a doctor. They made a quick check up, put me on some oxygen, gave me some tablets, a clap on the shoulder and send me on the way. I was feeling a bit better so I didn’t think much about it and arranged my way to Bolivia. What a mistake that was….
From Filadelfia I had to take a bus to Mariscal Estigarribia, the
official border town in Paraguay but still about 200 km away from the real border. When I arrived the bus stopped northwest of the town and I had to walk to the immigration office which was about 1 km away. What a walk it was; my breathing was so bad that I had to stop every 100 meters to rest and just catch air. I felt like shit. Finally, when I arrived at the immigration office, I was told that the bus to Bolivia will leave at 4 am in the morning. Outrageously for US$20 I was informed I could sleep in a room beside the office . I was in no condition to argue and tried to sleep, but it was impossible. When the bus arrived at 5.30 am in the morning I was lucky that I had a seat beside a fellow from Estonia, Mark, and he was in many ways my savior.
The trip on the Chaco highway was pretty terrible. The roads, if you can call them roads, are sealed but mainly are potholes connected by tar. The 200 km took about 8 hours and the bus broke down repeatedly. The heat was unbearable and
the landscape was just dry and hostile. Here I was unable to breath. Just to give you an idea on how I felt during the following; take a deep breath and don’t breath out, than take another one; and then try a third one. Well I was on the third one all the time. At times I was in a panic stage as I really didn’t know what to do; here I was in the middle of nowhere and had this condition. To top it all off I ran out of water and they was nothing on the bus….. When we arrived at the Bolivian border the first thing I did was get water so I could get some fluid into me.
I arrived at 1 am in the morning in Santa Cruz and by then my condition was so bad that I could not lift my backpack or walk 10 meters. Mark, who has just met me 20 hours before, helped me with the backpack and we made it to the hostel. There I was placed into a tent and I don’t blame them as by then I was unable to move, white as a ghost and coughing
like made. I just lay there until morning and I can tell you that my thoughts were not the best ones for I have never felt like this before. I thought I was about to die.
Luckily the owner of the hostel was a German and when he heard about my condition he drove me to a lung specialist who immediately did all sorts of blood tests and X-Rays on me. I was given 4 different injections that morning, a whole pharmacy of tablets and other medicines. When we returned that afternoon the doctor said that I was very lucky that I didn’t die on that trip as I had a severe bronchitis infection that had made the way into the lungs and the lungs had fluid in them.
So here I am now since the last 6 days and all what I saw from Santa Cruz is the lung specialist, the hospital where I get my daily injections and my tent. The tent is actually very nice and I did not bother anyone with my condition. The first 3 days after my arrival I made sleep my only occupation. That was how troubled my body was! I
am progressing and I can tell you that I feel like a very lucky man. Lucky because I met Mark on the bus who helped me, Thomas, the owner of the hostel, who brought me to the specialist (also driving me around like a private taxi to all the places I have to go) and that I ended up here in Santa Cruz, which has one of the best hospitals in the South Americas. Wolfgang, a good friend of mine from long ago in Deutschland and a pharmacist, told me that the doctors here were not stuffing around and “were blasting from all cannons” with the application of medication. He also confirmed that I could have easily died on that trip.
So that is all for now. I will spend another 3 days here and when the doctors give me the all clear I will get back on the road. The lessons I have learned is to never ignore health problems again; I might think I am bullet proof but, alas, I am still a humble Germanic. All should note that travelling in areas like this makes it possible for one to pick up bacteria which are far from
The last two day were actually very good and my health is improving. After diagnosing exactly what bacteria I have I was given the right antibiotic and I am on the mend now. Today was the first day I ventured into town and visited the markets. This reminded me why I love traveling so much; the colors, noises, people, smells, etc. It is a great world we are living in. Love it.
As for people commenting to me that traveling in areas like this is dangerous and why the hell am I doing this I have the following to say. It doesn’t matter where you are and what you do, life is always a challenge. If one wants to live a protected and safe life you are doomed to do nothing at all. And then you get a heart attack…. The bacteria I picked up I could have picked up in Australia or Europe as well. It doesn’t matter where one is, there is always some sort of danger lurking around and if one is not careful, accidents and diseases can happen. Such is life. So I will continue to do what I do and just be
a bit more careful, as much as I can.
Thanks for reading to the end again and as usual, please leave some comments. Wherever you are, have a good time and enjoy life to the fullest; you never know when it will end.
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