Foz - FozParaguay, Argentina and Brazil, a way around and back from the tri-border.
We met up in Foz do Iguaçu a day before the start of our ride. As we came from different parts of the country and also from overseas, we needed this extra time to organize our bags and bikes: there were five fixies, one single-speed and one gravel. We left the next day, a little bit late, and crossed the Ponte da Amizade (The border between Brazil and Paraguay) heading towards Asunción in the punishing sun with a lot of wind. Those were the weather conditions throughout the entire trip, two weeks without a single drop of rain.
It took us three days to complete the first stage of the trip and get to Asunción, a nearly 400 km long path with considerable altitude gain. As we would do for most of the trip, these two nights we slept in churches, what turned out to be a great way to get shelter and a cold bath in small towns. In the churches we had a roof under which we could cook dinner and comfortably fit our sleeping bags and pads for a good night’s sleep. The first church we stopped by was under renovation, but we found the priest sitting at a table in the garden dressed only in shorts and he soon let us stay in a room where eventual pilgrims sleep in. There we found about twelve rather dusty bunk beds, showers and a nice garden where we could hang.
At the second church, where we arrived after a day of intense pedaling and eating only a breakfast-lunch on the side of the road, a nun helped us. She must have felt sorry to see our tired faces and immediately called the priest, who gave permission for us to stay at a large empty room. There was a school next to this church, so when we woke up the next day we found ourselves surrounded by children wanting to talk and to know what we were doing there. Some kids got on our bikes and the teacher scolded them for it. Then, we left for the busy capital: good road, a lot of ups and downs, warm weather and many stops to rest and keep the group close to each other.
Having finally arrived in town, we went looking for a place to eat something cheap and where to spend the night. After dusk, we still walked for a while downtown to see the city, and to have a drink.
We didn’t get up so early the next day. As we stayed in a hostel with comfy beds, and had gone to bed later, we allowed ourselves to sleep in. Well-rested, well-fed, and well-organized we headed towards the south of Paraguay, bordering the Paraguay river. After facing a few kilometers with an intense flow of cars and trucks exiting the city, we entered a quieter route that had a very damaged asphalt at the beginning, and where there was still a small flow of trucks from the industrial area. Further on we got to a part of the road with perfect asphalt. It was perfect for cycling for a long time, despite the scorching heat and the lack of a place to rest, until, with 25 km left to reach the city of Alberdi, the asphalt was over. In its place, a very bumpy and filled with machinery dirt road appeared, as the road was still under construction. It was the worst part of the trip and it took us much longer than expected to reach the city entrance.
Our initial idea was just to pass through Alberdi and take the ferry to Formosa, on the Argentine side, but it turned out that the ferry had already closed, so we went to look for shelter in the city’s church. There we met Father César, a brazilian priest who rides his bike everywhere. He welcomed us very warmly, offering us a room at the back of the church to stay in and letting each of us take a shower in his little house while we divided into shifts to make dinner. He went so far as to helping us cross the border the next day. Father César was in an excellent mood all the time, he told us several stories of the city, such as that there, firefighters work more removing the water that overflows from the river in the rainy season than actually putting out fires. He would also tell us some stories and jokes that were much funnier because we didn’t expect to hear such things from a priest, for example the reason why he couldn’t eat peanuts and that whenever someone did him a favor, he said “May God pay you”, because he had no money. The entire city loves him and so do we.
After we did the ferry crossing and saw the structural and economic difference across the border, we had a substantial breakfast and left Formosa. From there, the road was monotonous, with infinite straights, very few places to stop and have a drink, a lot of headwind and practically no road shoulder on our way, which made everything more difficult. We spent two whole days traveling like this on Ruta 11, and between those days we slept in a horrible place with a lot of noise from animals and insects, but we still had fun. At a certain point on the second day, we decided to take a shortcut and ended up in a creepy little dirt road where we saw piles of bones from different animals like oxen, vultures and giant pigs, a lot of garbage and small shacks, until we took the shortcut of the shortcut and returned to the main road, Ruta 16, that led us to Corrientes. Right in the entrance of Corrientes there is a giant bridge that ends at a beach of the Paraná river. We settled in a hostel, and still had time to take a good walk downtown and on the park, which was very busy because of some festivity.
That day we started to rethink the route initially planned because the path wasn’t so attractive, and we decided to return to the Paraguayan side through the Yacyreta dam. We didn’t know if it was allowed to cross the border by the dam, and we spent a lot of time discussing our options while cooking a pot of rice with lentils over a wood fire in yet another church where they let us stay overnight. Eventually we decided to try our luck and see what would happen: we got barred. You can only cross the border by the dam if you are driving a car. Trucks, motorcycles, pedestrians and cyclists are strictly prohibited to cross. After a long time waiting and trying, we got a ride from a hydroelectric plant worker in his pickup, so we quickly got our passports stamped, fitted our bikes in the back of the car, and squeezed ourselves together (don’t ask me how!) in the seats.
So we went on our way. We pedaled along the Paraná River until we reached the city of Coronel Bogado. The road was bad, had many holes and was a few meters below the level of the river. Right next to it there was a new lane that runs along the river’s edge, but unfortunately it wasn’t allowed to travel there. Somewhere along the way, we climbed the ravine to admire the view and rest, enjoying the immensity of the water, before arriving in the city where we immediately set out to look for the priest.
From Coronel Bogado we followed to the city of Encarnación, in a ride that was shorter than our average on the other days. In Encarnácion you have a beautiful view of Posadas on the other side of the river. Heading north, we took another ferry in Bella Vista and crossed to the Argentine side and, by chance, we met a couple of gauchos there who happened to be friends with Father César, from Alberdi. This encounter involuntarily facilitated the bureaucracy at the border, because the guards didn’t bother to search us in the middle of so much talk. We continued pedaling on Ruta 12 and then on Ruta 14.
In this part the road had great climbs and descents, and the landscape and vegetation was very beautiful. We spent one night in Jardim América in a church with a Polish priest who had been in charge of the city’s parish for fifteen years. In fact, this church had been our third attempt to find a place to stay overnight in Jardim América, as we had tried another church earlier, but this church’s priest, after a long wait on the phone - even though we were in front of his house - told us we couldn’t stay there, and later the firefighters offered us a bad place to camp. Fortunately we managed to find a nice place to spend the night after all.
After having a great breakfast offered to us by the Polish priest, and laughing a lot when we found his eggs all drawn with markers, we were interviewed about our trip by a friend of the priest who was from the local radio. The next city we stopped at was San Vicent, where we grabbed something to eat and found ourselves in the middle of the city’s birthday celebration, a big party with traditional music performances of harmonica and guitar. Everyone at the party was staring at us, as if we were aliens, and between the performances someone called us on the microphone to go up on the stage and talk about what we were doing there. Soon after, a gentleman named Vicente came to talk to us about our bikes. He said he loves riding his bike, we told him about the trip and he helped us get permission to sleep in the city’s sports center, which was very luxurious with nice clean bunk beds, as well as a giant bathroom.
We got out of bed early the other day, as usual, and made coffee. Ready to go, we said goodbye to our friend and headed off in direction of Dionísio Cerqueira, back in Brazil. We planned to slightly increase the route of the journey, have lunch in a buffet in Brazil and return to the Argentine side. We faced a few more pieces of dirt road on the way there, under a very hot sun, as always, and with few places to stop on the road, but with a good view to look at. We pedaled a lot. After sleeping a little and riding 30 km in Brazil, we returned with a full belly to the hermano’s side through the city of Santo Antônio and moved towards Foz do Iguaçu to complete the circle. The road there was pretty good and a little bit hilly.We arrived at Cabure, which is a small village surrounded by almost nothing and started to look for a place to sleep, because it was going to be pitch black soon, as there wasn’t any street lighting nearby.
We spotted a school and, before we even finished asking for shelter, the gatekeeper was already opening the gate to let us in. The school was in its final construction process, it had a room just for us, equipped with fans and mosquito nets on the windows. We cooked our dinner in wood fire and shared it with our pal, who later spent the night listening to rock on his radio, right next to us while we sleep.
During the entire tour, we slept in six churches, a sports gym, some hostels - which we paid to organize and sleep a little better, and finally we spent our last night in this school that was being built.
We woke up early on the last day already talking about how little it was missing for our trip to end. But before we got to the final destination, we entered in Foz do Iguaçu National Park’s territory. There, in the middle of the closed forest, we found a dirt road with lots of rocks and dry clay, since it hadn’t rained for weeks in the region. The few people we met on our way would always ask us about the jaguar that supposedly wandered around, but until now it hadn’t appeared. It took us all morning to cross the territory of the park, we had some flat tires, were running out of water with no place to replace it, but we remained motivated in the final stretch of our journey. We still tried to take a clandestine shortcut, going through the area of the falls, but so many cyclists in bretelles and helmets emerging from the forest caught the attention of the guards, who escorted us to the exit, that happened to be right where we had entered.
At the very end, we still had a good piece of asphalt with a flow of cars to cover, but we already could see the border. We passed customs quickly and still managed to get in a good mess with the police over our bikes, parked at the Duty Free Shop, before crossing the bridge and finally arriving in Foz do Iguaçu, where we explored the city a little and celebrated our success at a good buffet. Unsurprisingly, some guys ended up feeling sick from eating too much, after two weeks of eating anything we could grab on the road.