28 September 2013

Mass Transit - Part One

Perla's recent trip to Paraguay reminded me of my own little experience with Mass Transit there when we went last time. It was my first time in Paraguay and my first time venturing out alone there. 

A great majority of Paraguayans depend on a 'transit system' of 'colectivos' (SAY koh-lek-TEE-vohs).  I found this picture of one online but it really does not do the whole experience any justice. 

They are more than a colorful bus. 

They are a crowded, yet economical, hot yet convenient, method of very public transportation. A good description of a ride on a colectivo can be found in the second paragraph of this post. I went to the Super Seis to buy some food for the family. 

I knew I could do it. 

I went with my wife's cousin Julian. I love Julian. He is one of the most energetic, positive people I met in Paraguay. He is really going places. From the moment we got on the colectivo, Julian was announcing the arrival of his friend (me), the norteamericano! (The North American) 

Everyone was so impressed, or so Julian thought. I let him be. He was having a great time. When we got to the Super Seis in San Lorenzo, I bought Julian lunch. We sat and talked for a while.  We hung out in San Lorenzo. I did my food shopping and we headed back. 

The sun was setting and Julian asked me if I knew where to get off for my in-laws house. If he got off earlier, he could catch another colectivo to his house and he would get home quicker. I told him no problem. The bus could stop at the corner of their property and I knew I would recognize that. You have to pull the cord to stop the bus as there are no set stops.

Four words. It got dark fast. I thought I recognized the silohuette of my father-in-law standing by what could have been his front entrance, near what was possibly the corner where I definitely wanted to stop. But I wasn't sure. I figured since these colectivos run back and forth all day, I would just wait until we came back this way again and get off then.

Two words. Last stop. When the colectivo got to the 'depot', or the owners oversized yard, the driver looked at me, his sole passenger and asked in Spanish, "Where are you going?" I responded with the only familiar address I knew: Kilometro 21.

OK, so kilometro 21 is NOT an address, per se. It is actually a point on the main (paved) road (basically mile marker 21 on Route 1) where the gas station is. This is where you turn into the miles of back-country, cobblestone or dirt (or mud) roads which weave their way through the countryside. It apparently is NOT my in-laws address. 

Well, it's where we always mailed their letters and stuff. Come to find out that all the mail for all of these people living back here goes to one location; on the main road. They have to pick it up from there. 

If you are ever going to Paraguay, be sure and watch several early episodes of 'The Waltons' first. You will be better prepared.

So this kid (15?) gets on the bus. He and the driver speak to each other in Guarani. That's an indigenous langauge that I do not speak. I only speak castellano (spanish). He smiles at me knowingly. I have heard of the dangers of being out in these areas at night and I am not liking how things are panning out here. 

Another man gets on the bus. The kids speaks guarani to him. He laughs as he looks at me. 'Easy prey', I am thinking. I am really going to have to call on Jesus now. A woman gets on the bus. Everyone speaking guarani. Everyone laughing. 

OK, so now I have accepted the fact that I have become the butt of some early evening guarani joke, which will probably become folklore in later generations. She looks at me with concern. They speak some more. The bus driver waits for 2 more guys. He starts the bus. "OK", I think, "we're off." I won't miss the stop this time!

The woman explains to me in Spanish that this bus is no longer operating for the evening. The driver is taking some of the bus 'company' employees home for the night. One of the employees lives near kilometro 21 and he will be sure I get there safely. Whew!

I get off the bus with this guy and he asks me where my family lives. I tell him, kilometro 21. He looked very confused. We start walking. I explain to him where my 'familia' lives the best I can AND as it should be explained to any respectable Paraguayan. 

You see, they don't give directions in Paraguay like we do in the states. Try to follow along. As I said, I explain where my in-laws live: 

  • On the corner where the man has his property line dilineated with the half tires sticking out of the ground so people won't drive on his dirt; 
  • around the corner where the lady has a tienda with a TV in the front of her house and the other night when Paraguay beat Germany, everyone was watching in front of her store; 
  • it's three turns in from the church where they have the banner out front announcing all of the activities for semana santa; 
  • their names are Vicente and Felipa Ayala. 
"OH! I know where that is!", he says. 

Wait, what? Really?!

We keep walking. We pass the church that is three turns out from their house. Yep! walk right by it! I am pleading with him to recognize the church as I do. He insists that kilometro 21 is that way; past the church. Then we pass another place; a house to which my father-in-law and I walked so that I could check my email; they have internet, for a fee. "Wait!" I say. "I know this place." I explain my previous day's journey to him. He continues to insist that kilometro 21 is 'that way'.

We pass by several other familiar sights. I don't bother saying anything because we all know by now that kilometro 21 is that way.

I can now see 'kilometro 21'. It is well lit, there is a gas staion, some taxis, some people hanging around, loud music.  That is NOT my in-laws house! I thank him and walk the rest by myself.

It has been about 2 hours since I last saw Julian.

To be Continued...

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