Ciudad del Este, Paraguay 15 Oct 06
Odometer 31,802 m 51,180 km

Four long days after departing Rio de Janeiro, and sailing from and to points unknown aboard the ferry to nowhere, I successfully limped my way into Foz do Iguacu and stashed my bike out of sight. I needed to recon the target. Atop the Friendship Bridge, that spindly expanse of concrete connecting Brazil to Paraguay, was a cacophonous blur of confusion that will force Dr. Stephen Hawking to rewrite the book on Chaos Theory. If the whir of activity and lack of law or order weren’t enough, there were city and state police stationed all along the route leading up to the bridge, and federal border guards at the kiosks on either side--all of whom I’d have to avoid.

Prior to getting here, I had been in touch via email with a fellow motorcycle traveler in Asuncion, Paraguay’s capital a full day’s ride to the south. I asked if he had any advice for a foreigner in desperate need of crossing the Friendship Bridge without being stopped. I explained that my bike’s import documents had expired, and that if I am stopped at the border the Brazilians will seize it. Patricio had three words of advice:
“Habla con Raul.”
Raul, as it turns out, is also a motociclista who lives just across the bridge in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay. He runs with a loosely federated gang of bikers known as the Nomadas. They all ride big cruiser bikes, mostly of Japanese and Chinese origin, with one notable exception. Julio, the group’s leader, rides a Harley-Davidson, one with with enough chrome and fringe to make any self-respecting Hell’s Angel weak-kneed with envy. The two of them, along with another big guy they called Baby, agreed to leave their homes in Paraguay and meet me in Brazil.

“We’ll be there in a couple of hours,” Raul promised.

Many hours later and long after I had given up on their assistance, the three of them showed up in a pick-up truck. It was 10:30 PM, but within minutes of meeting we began formulating a plan... When should we try to cross the border? How do we do it? How many guards are there? Where are they located? How can we best camouflage El Viento? What about getting my passport stamped out of Brazil and into Paraguay? And something they seemed to not want to discuss--what do we do if the plan goes south?

I was nervous. I didn’t know these guys from Adam. They might mean well, but it’s not their bike that’s at risk, nor will they be the one imprisoned if the plan fails. But the simple truth was, I had no other choice.

“We cross tonight,” Julio proclaimed, attempting to squash all further debate.

“Under cloak of darkness,” I inquired? “It may offer better cover from the border guards, but what about the criminals known to prowl the area at night?”

“Take it easy,” Julio confidently replied in broken English, “There are minus guards at night and they are more sleepier. There is less cars and trucks. We have better chance in the night than for the day.

The plan was simple. We would strip El Viento of all panniers and tank bags to attract less attention, driving the luggage over the bridge now, hidden in the back of Julio’s truck. The four of us would then return on their three bikes. With their Paraguayan license plates, a wave and a smile, none of the guards would notice the helmeted gringo riding shotgun on the way back.

The first crossing into Paraguay went as planned. We stashed all of my gear at Julio’s place in Ciudad del Este, picked up their bikes and set off again for Brazil. All was going smoothly.
Nomadas escort Jeremiah out of Ciudad del Este towards Asuncion, Paraguay.
Safely back to where I had stashed El Viento in Foz do Iguacu, we fired up our four bikes and went over our strategy one more time before the final critical crossing into Paraguay. Julio would ride first, revving his engine to make lots of noise and attract attention to his Harley, a motorcycle rarely seen in South America. I would follow a couple seconds behind, visor down to increase glare to hide my face. Raul and Baby would ride beside and behind, as close as necessary, always putting themselves between me and the police and guards along the route. Their interference would make my bike, and especially my American license plate, more difficult to see.

As predicted, there was far less traffic going over the bridge than there was earlier in the day. Though that meant fewer guards on duty, it also meant less confusion to distract them.

The moment of truth approached. Only 1,812 feet to freedom, I murmured to myself as I glanced down at my instruments to insure that El Viento was ready to rumble.

Julio burst ahead with his growling Hawg. The glassy-eyed guards, suddenly attentive, were instantly riveted. Perfect. I hesitated for one-second, then another, then twisted the throttle open to close the lead. Raul and Baby, right on cue, swarmed around me like worker bees protecting the queen as she moves from one hive to another.

In a flash, we were gone.

We traversed the international border midway across the bridge at midnight. At that moment--when the invisible line between fear and freedom was breached--everything seemed to slow down and go silent. The stars above outshone the street lamps. The river below cooled the breeze. I reached up to raise my face shield and laugh out loud. We were four strangers, bonded only by our love of the ride, racing through the night towards tomorrow.

Finally, the bridge gave way to a new city, a new country, a new language, and a new day. From above the roar of the bikes I could just hear Julio shout, “welcome to Paraguay.”

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