Foz do Iguacu, Brazil 13 Oct 06
Odometer 30,752 m 51,100 km

In 1965 the Brazilians built a bridge halfway across the mighty Rio Parana to the very edge of their territorial frontier. The Paraguayans responded in kind from the opposite riverbank, forever joining the two countries with a single span of arched concrete. Called the Ponte da Amizade, Puente de Amistad, or Friendship Bridge, depending on whose language you’re speaking, it alone now stands between me and freedom.

On either side of the river two cities have arisen from the jungle. In Brazil, where Portuguese is spoken, it’s Foz do Iguacu, the namesake of the nearby and most spectacular waterfalls in South America. In Paraguay, where Guarani and Spanish are spoken, it’s Ciudad del Este, the country’s eastern-most city. Both were featured in the recent Hollywood film
Miami Vice, wherein the two cities played themselves: notorious bases for black marketeers and ruthless drug lords.

I carefully chose this particular route out of Brazil because it’s the least guarded and most frenzied. Why? Because just upstream from the bridge lies
Itaipu, a jointly built hydroelectric dam that impounds the river dividing the two countries. It produces nearly all of Paraguay’s power and 20% of Brazil’s, so neither side can afford to alienate the other. Unofficially, both nations have agreed to looser immigration and customs enforcement at this particular border crossing for the sake of friendship, and 90+ terawatt-hours of annual renewable energy.
Itaipu hydroelectric dam, a joint venture between Brazil and Paraguay on the Rio Parana, just upstream from the Friendship Bridge.
But first, I had to get here...

Riding out of Rio de Janeiro in a light rain, I felt good to be back in the saddle after five months off, but I was growing increasingly paranoid. The police were everywhere, and an unusual bike like mine can sometimes attract unwanted attention. Remember from my
previous post--El Viento now officially belongs to the Brazilian government.

One false move and it’s game over.

With the threat of my bike’s seizure hanging over my head, I had to ride over 1000 miles just to reach the Paraguayan border. Despite plotting a course along lonely back roads to reduce the risk of encountering police, I rounded an otherwise nondescript bend and walked right into my worst nightmare: a random checkpoint.

There, the Federal Police had posted an unambiguous sign,
“Todos os Veiculos devem Parar" (All Vehicles Must Stop).

I had seconds to decide what to do. Off to my left appeared to be the only cop on duty, and he looked preoccupied with a trucker and his paperwork. I slowed down, but continued inching forward. He’s alone, I convinced myself as my heart pounded out the Brazilian national anthem, he won’t even notice I passed. I crawled ahead towards the cleats in the road--and gunned it.

Ten seconds later I was out of sight and sound. Though sweat still dripped from my brow and thoughts of incarceration danced through my head, I appeared to have dodged another bullet. Appeared, that is, until moments later when flashing red lights rapidly approached in my rear-view mirror.

As I downshifted and descended onto the shoulder of the road, my mind raced to find things to say, excuses to make, interference to run--all in Portuguese. The policeman deftly pulled ahead of me to block any possible escape. But instead of immediately getting out to accost me for running the checkpoint, as I had expected, he reached for his radio.
Hapless sailor aboard the ferry to nowhere.
I’m done, I thought, my odyssey has come to an ignoble end. Like so many clever crooks that are finally apprehended during routine traffic stops--my goose was cooked. In a matter of minutes the radio dispatcher will inform him that my plates are bad, and El Viento will belong to him.

But he hadn’t reached for the radio to call anyone. In fact, he grabbed his radio to answer someone! Within seconds he squealed his wheels spraying gravel all over me as he dashed in hot pursuit of who knows what. Apparently, there were bigger fish to fry.


To avoid any more close calls, I further altered my route. So much so, I got lost.

Swept into heavy city traffic in a grungy port town there was road construction ahead, no signs (as is typical in Latin America), and everyone was forced to turn right. With no other choice I went with the flow until I reached a toll taker. I thought it was odd to encounter a toll in the middle of the city, but I coughed up the cash and proceeded around the corner onto what appeared to be a rusty metal bridge.

All traffic came to a complete stop. A large-diameter rope was flung overhead. Then, what I thought was a bridge
disembarked. That’s right. I had unwittingly ridden onto a ferry.

From where we were departing, I did not know. And to where we were sailing--I hadn’t the foggiest idea.

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