Since that first trip back last October, I’ve had the chance to return to my 2nd (3rd? 4th?) home in Asuncion twice. Once in May this year, and just recently again in June. We’ve begun another project, (not the big kahuna we’ve been working on for almost 2 years now, but a smaller scale project with big implications,) and I’ve had the chance to return to the other side of the equator for plenty of workshops and meetings.
Going back in May was rushed. I only had 8 days (including the 22 hours of travel on each end) and had a lot to accomplish in that time. It wasn’t enough. I barely had a chance to catch up on jet lag before I had to board the plane again.
This last trip in June was a slightly more breathable experience. I had a week and a half of time in Paraguay, with only 3 or 4 days filled with meetings. The rest was for slightly more relaxed work and seeing friends, and it also gave me the opportunity to go with my colleagues and friends on a field trip!
When living in Paraguay I had a chance to go to the Atlantic Forest for a week while we hosted workshops and talks at various schools, community centers, and indigenous communities teaching about the importance of protecting forest and sweet water (fresh, clean, drinkable water.) This time we would take a trip to another forest reserve where I had never been on the boarder of Brazil, Mbaracayu. Mbaracayu Reserve is one of the largest remaining intact portions of sub-tropical forest in Paraguay, protecting 66,284 hectares within the Atlantic Forest. They even have a school on the property to educate poor, local girls in agro-forestry and how to live in harmony with the environment.
For starters, Paraguay is going through an interesting political time at the moment, (I can go into that later in detail, however Paraguay recently voted out their President, Fernando Lugo,) and people in Asuncion were worried for our safety as we started on our journey from Asuncion to Mbaracayu as there were claimed to be campesino (peasant) uprisings directly on our path. Secondly, once you exit the city, the roads are no longer paved so you are completely reliant on changing weather to determine if you can make a trip successfully or not. It had been raining for a few days successfully, and many bridges were overtaken by flooding waters.
Despite these warnings and calls from loved ones to urge us otherwise, we set out on the road for higher waters, (haha, get it?) We made it all the way to Curupaty (the alleged set for the uprisings and upheaval) without so much as a glitch in our travels. All we saw were random police vehicles patrolling the area for misbehavior, none of which was found. We continued on our way without incident until the muddy roads looked a bit less convincing than they had earlier in our journey. Still, we forged ahead until the car refused to carry our weight uphill.
So then we all piled out of the car to allow it more freedom (and less weight) to climb the hill. And we thought we were safe enough standing to the side so the car could have no chance of slipping out or hitting us, and then we realized the mud couldn’t hold our weight up and one of us sank in and had to be rescued!
We continued on our journey a few kilometers more, and came to a point, just about 5 km from the reserve where we were headed, where we realized we would be in trouble, but decided to go for it anyway. Our 4×4 Mahindra could handle anything, no? No. It couldn’t. So we got caught in a massive amount of mud and had to call it quits for a while.
And then we had to walk to the nearest community, we were in an Ache Indigenous community that surrounds the forest reserve, and ask if they could help us get free from the mud. They showed up with shovels, panels of wood, and man power to try and help dig/push/set the car free.
Unsure of what the outcome would be (i.e. if they would actually be successful,) one colleague and I headed to another nearby community to ask if anyone had a tow truck, or at least a hitch that could help us out. We were pointed in the direction of the Brasileiro who was owned a lot of the land for production in the area. From all the stereotypes you hear about all these Brazilians (or Brasiguayos as they are referred to as locally,) moving into Paraguay to farm the land and make money, you expect to find a wealthy man with a giant beer gut. But really all we found was a glorified sleep trailer, which might have been worlds above the wood shacks some of the others were living in, but still put a few things into perspective for me on the topic. Even though he was a deforester and we could clearly see the recent cutting and burning of the land, he was friendly and helpful enough that we couldn’t, in that moment, hold it against him.
He hopped in his truck and invited us in, (us being my colleague, a young, shoeless, indigenous girl who had accompanied us to find the tractor, and me,) and we headed off in the direction of our trapped vehicle. Upon arrival we were relieved, and surprised, to find that the truck had been freed from the mud and was waiting patiently for us on the other side of the muddy abyss. It turns out we were eventually able to make contact with the reserve, despite terrible mobile signals in the campo, and they sent someone over with a truck to help us out. Turns out shovels and panels of wood aren’t what they used to be!
We thanked our Brazilian friend and then took the time to thank, and pose for photos with the indigenous children who had been excitedly watching the goings-on of our entrapment. And we gave them all our cookies.
So after a long 8 hours on the road, navigating small towns and broken streets and unnamed paths leading us in the right direction, we pulled up to the reserve in the pitch black night of winter…at 5:30 PM. We gratefully took off our mud-caked shoes and hopped in the shower for what would be a delicious home cooked meal in the main cabin where we were spending the night. We opened a couple bottles of wine and took a deep breath, we had made it to Mbaracayu at last!