Week 5: On the Slow Road

I’m on a boat. Somewhere between Asunción and Concepción on the Rio Paraguay. The sun is shining, but the wind is cooling enough not to let me sweat. I’m lying in the nose of the Cacique II, a small boat that transports mainly locals and their cargo. All kind of stuff. A motorbike and a fridge are fixed on the roof of the ‘hut’ that covers about third of the boat’s length and separates the nose from the main area. In the hut you can find food and vegetables and the main passengers-area is full of ordinary suitcases, boxes, a TV-set and living chicken in handbags. Our cabin is above this area and behind the steering-cabin. I spent most of the day here in front, far enough away from the motor and most of the people, reading and writing, listening to music and ‘talking’ to the two little Paraguayan boys that joined me after a while. You will hear more about them later… And, of course, watching the landscape along the river.


Flora and I had sandwiches for lunch, I slept an hour or two (remember we got up at 4.30) in the cabin and we talked more with the two little boys. I now know their names, Manuel (12) and Selino (11), they are both really amused by my not speaking Spanish and fascinated by my electronic gimmicks. The older one, Manuel, offered me some of his food, for we are ‘amigos’ now, and sang and danced to the music of my iPod. Thanks to Erasmus I found some Spanish ska-punk for him. He also went on a Photo-Safari  with my camera (I will attribute the photos to him), what is great because he has no scruple taking full-frontals of all the people here. We watched a spectacular sunset, the golden ball coloring the completely empty river in a deep orange. After the sun was gone I thought everything was over, until I looked back and saw the whole surface of the river still orange. Only where the boat broke waves it was striped, orange on top and dark-blue at the bottom of the waves. Incredible.

Too bad, I lost my favorite spot in the nose of the boat. After Manuel and his brother were told two times not to go there he followed me once more. The captain, watching us from the steering-cabin, took off his belt, crossed the boat and, I was lying out-stretched on the floor, smacked poor Manuel twice on the bottom shouting at him to leave that place. Then he told me not to go there anymore. Manuel recovered fast, probably before me, and right now grins over my shoulder from his grand-parents hammock in the main passengers’ area.

The Cacique is one of two boats going this route (leaves every Wednesday morning from Asunción, the second one goes every 15 days). According to the mechanic the river is not deep enough for bigger boats. It seems to be the sole connection to a number of little villages (or even just single houses). Every now and then little paddle-boats meet us in the middle of the river, bring and take cargo and people before going back to the shore, sometimes our dinghy gets stuff and only two or three times the Cacique docked.

The next morning

Evening and night went by fast. In the main passengers’ area Manuel’s grandfather played on the guitar, forcing everyone to get closer together. The sound of the diesel-engine is incredible down there. We bought some hotdogs for lunch and after talking for a while went to bed pretty early. In the morning we got up at six to watch the sun rise over the river and were told we would be in Concepción in about four or five hours. Reading next to the steering cabin Manuel and Selino joined us again. Manuel continues to try to talk to me, despite my lack of Spanish giving him a hard time. Now and then Flora translates pieces. At one point she burst out in laughter, after Manuel saying something with his head on my shoulder. If I am to trust her (and I’ve no reason not to), he asked me to be his boyfriend, which, coming from a 12-year-old boy, made me a little uncomfortable, I have to admit. I reminded him of his girlfriend Andrea (he had told me about her the day before). However, in two or three hours we are to leave the boat in Concepción while Manuel’s family is staying for another day going further up north.

All in all this trip is great, way more comfortable than the bus, we can walk around, go to the toilet at any time and if you can afford a cabin sleeping is great to. I adjusted to the continuous sound of the engine in no time and slept perfectly well. Flora said she hoped the trip would last longer than just 24 hours.


Flora’s wish became true. Before noon some part of the steering broke down (or ‘melted’) and we had to anchor. Haven’t moved since then. The parts to replace the broken ones are on their way. On land and nobody seems to know when they will be here. That means we are stuck. Estimated time of arrival in Concepción: Midnight. If the part arrives now.


It didn’t arrive. We haven’t moved for ten hours now. Surprisingly enough we don’t care… well, more surprising in my case than in Flora’s (she is a boat-fanatic). Our food is gone but we bought lunch and dinner on board. More hotdogs and a burger. I was lying in the sun all day and caught a little burn. Everyone else was hiding in the shadows, it was amazingly hot, and Manuel permanently showed me where I could have some shadow. He wouldn´t understand why I would prefer lying in the sun. I can’t imagine this trip in the summer.

By now Manuel has taken pictures of all the passengers and the whole crew. He is using my camera like a pro. The captain is losing up more and more, he just passed me in shorts and a white undershirt. He even had some friendly-interested words for me and Flora in the afternoon.

I love this trip. At the moment I’m lying in the hammock of Manuel’s family. He and Flora are singing to her MP3-player and Selino is playing with mine. They are really playing with that thing, not just listening to the music. First Manuel changed the language to Japanese (try to change that back) and then returned it to me with a screen-lock I didn’t even know existed. It asked me for a four-digit-code. I randomly entered some numbers and, believe it or not, guessed the right one after a couple of tries. A few minutes ago Selino came with the same problem. The only problem we have, there is no water left we could buy. Have to drink coke instead.

The next morning (5.30 am)

We just arrived in Concepción. We started moving again while we were sleeping and a few seconds ago Flora jumped out of the bed and raced outside. And really, we are in Concepción. The trip took 47 instead of 24 hours and we enjoyed every minute of it.

That’s it, we’re leaving the boat.

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1 Response to Week 5: On the Slow Road

  1. Luli says:

    You are a very good writer! and your stories are very nice and funny!!
    See you soon in BA !!!

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