Turning north onto the supercarretera from Ruta 7, the airstream blew the edge off the heat of the afternoon sun, I reflected on the enjoyable day and its variety that emerged from another step into the unknown and the unplanned. I’d coasted around Cuidad Del Este, killing time I would have called it in the past.
The Triple Frontier: there’s nothing to see apart from a couple of lookout points that look out over imaginary lines from a different direction, almost like the tale of “The King’s New Clothes” Man-made lines drawn on a map that exist in reality only by collective belief and then define which set of rules apply to which people that live on whichever side of the river. The trees and plants look the same. The bird that flies over my head across the river to Brazil has more freedom that we do. Where’s its passport? I take a photo over the river anyway. Invisible walls that are used to imprison ourselves using our own minds. It’s brilliant.
I realised I’d been daydreaming and couldn’t tell how long ~I’d been travelling or how far I’ve gone and pulled over to check the GPS. I’d passed it 8km back, quite a way considering the original distance was only 17km. I doubled back to an entrance with a sign the size I can’t believe I missed.
Two guards asked me for my permit. I didn’t understand what they wanted and handed them my passport so they phoned Juan at the visitor centre who instructed them to send me in. They point along the track. “7km,” they say.
I clipped my helmet to the rack and notice my hat and waterproofs have worked their way loose and escaped somewhere between here and Cuidad del Este. I rode ‘hatless’ along the track.
There had been rain recently, within the last day or two judging by the thin dry crust concealing the underlying slick and sticky terracotta. The clay coagulated on the tyres, eliminating what little grip I had and I slithered along the road trying to follow the dryest looking tyre tracks to stay upright.
I reached the reception within about twenty minutes or half an hour. The second set of guards asked me for the permit which I didn’t have. Juan came out of the visitor centre and waved them away. Apparently, the person who authorises the permits isn’t at the ITAIPU Reception where I should have visited first. I remember seeing their huge entrance a few km south of here.
The Parque is closed to visitors for the next two days. I felt fairly privileged and I wasn’t really expecting to gain entry so easily else I would have thought about buying some food on the way. With the guards on the gates and the long slick driveway, it was enough of a deterrent for going back out for groceries.
Plan B: was to ride to Hernandarias to a campsite there if I couldn’t enter Tati Yupi. Plan C: I’d been meaning to try a three day fast for a while so here was the perfect opportunity. Plenty of time, no food. Two birds, one stone and all that.
The staff left the office for the new year holiday and would be back in a couple of days. There was just me, a couple of guards on the gate and the drowned ghosts of the river Paraná. I was 7km from the road so could hear no traffic and there were no fireworks or boom boom music. Apart from food, the only thing I missed was somewhere comfortable to sit. Wooden benches were all there were. WiFi was out of range of the power sockets so a relay between the two sets of hard benches was necessary. I found it hard to concentrate, having no comfortable workspace.
I wandered down to the river, or lake such is the immensity of it. The thin line of the Itaipu dam protruding above the waterline gave a hint as to the impact of the building of the dam. The flooding of the river buried the most powerful waterfalls in the world making Iguazu the successor.
The water was lower than maximum revealing the sharp mussel shells on the dry beach of cracked mud. Enough to turn me back to the soft grassy bank from where I embarked barefoot to the water for a swim.
I’d done 24-hour fasts before but this experiment was different.
Day 1. Nothing to report. I’d done 24 hours before regularly. Edited some video and walked along the river Parana lagoon shore above ITAIPU Dam.
Day 2. Heavy limbs, listless, no energy for anything except reading, no capacity for study or thought. Forget blogging or video editing. Looking forward to forum reports of ‘feeling amazing Day 3.’ The consoling thought that I was now two thirds through and only a day to go.
Day 3. The ‘feeling amazing’ feeling never appeared. Heavy limbs, nausea, ‘never-again’ feeling, I was tempted to abandon the experiment, even so close to the end. A passing thunderstorm took the heat out of the day and made the tent bearable and helped me sleep through the day and night.
Day 4. The 72 hours finished late in the morning. I still felt weak and didn’t feel like cooking or eating but I cooked up the pasta and ate half of it. I had to exit Tati Yupi the following morning so I had a full day for recovery. It took an hour or two after eating before I started feeling better. Then I finished off the rest of the pasta and spent the rest of the day reading and finished a couple of half-read kindle books.
Day 5. I felt almost back to normal and happily packed and loaded the bike. I rode into Hernandarias to search for a ‘comedor’ for breakfast. The best I could find served a plate of a segment of sawn-off leg, rice and creamy sauce with a vegetable salsa plus a litre of apple juice and soya. It was the best they had, barring chips and coke. I could only finish a third of it. It looked like I’d just stirred it with my fork and left it but I was full and keen to go to the ITAIPU-Dam tour, just down the road. Evening meal was a small chicken lomito (shwarma wrap) with a couple of glasses of Mango juice. Starter size, but I was full.
Day 6. Breakfast at the Hummingbird Hostal was a jam sandwich, a cup of coffee and orange squash. Enough to see me through to Chicken burritos and Peach juice in the evening.
It was hard to tell if there was any benefit for the fasting. True, I felt good now but I didn’t really feel bad before. And how do you gauge a healthy immune system without the illnesses that reveal its weakness? It reminded me of the preventative Y2K work that was done in 1999 and bosses complaining about wasting the money on it since nothing bad seemed to happen when the year 2000 clicked over in the digital universe… As it was, I’d only been ill twice in the year I’d been here in South America. Once through dehydration and once as a side effect of the Yellow Fever jab: both self-inflicted.
Cheap; Solved the problem of arriving at Tati Yupi without food for four days; Cooler body temperature for sleeping in the hot climate; Constipation for 5 days (handy for being out and about later); No longer craved food; Gone off beer in favour of fruit juice; Smaller appetite; Smaller stomach; Broke lifelong conditioning for clearing my plate because “There are people starving in Africa”… i.e. less pressure to finish off a plate of food since I feel full sooner and finishing is a bigger stretch (literally); Feeling more energetic (2 days after); Feeling more contented for no identifiable reason (2 days after). Preference for more fresh food and less junk.
Limbs feel twice as heavy (Day 2 and 3); Bored; Depressed; Chronic discomfort standing, sitting or laying down; Unable to exercise; Unable to think or write; Chronic back-ache; Nausea; Unwilling to move; all these during the fast.
Have food ready for the end before you start. Luckily, I carry a jar of pasta sauce and bag of pasta in my kit for emergencies. Have someone close for support – it’s a hard haul on your own.
If you have a medical condition don’t do a three day fast without medical advice, as your blood sugar might go haywire. I made my own choice and accepted the risks I was aware of as well as any I wasn’t.
Have someone with you for support. If food is to hand it’s harder to resist the worst of it but have something prepared ready for completion. If there were crisps or ice-cream about I might have failed. The nearest store was 10km away and I had to pass two guard posts for the refuge to get there – enough incentive to stay put.
Drink lots of water even when you’re sick of it. It will help. I could have drunk more but often I didn’t care much during the lowest feeling moments. This is where moral support helps.
Would I do it again? In the same circumstances… only if I had a hammock or a comfortable bed… the discomfort of camping felt a lot worse during the fast… and facilities to make tea. I had developed a backache that was slow to fade afterwards.
Also, I’d look for a group for mutual support and a more controlled environment, like at a retreat. Plus, I might research it a bit more along the way.
The main thing was, I had survived New Year in peace and tranquillity, just what I wanted. I set foot into a new year, cleansed by a three day fast, poised to cross the Rio Paraná into Brazil.
Although the Itaipu dam destroyed one habitat, it also created a new one. Refugio Tati Yupi on the banks of the bloated Rio Paraná. A tranquil habitat that helps provide 90% of Paraguay’s electricity and 15% of Brazil’s. Clouds with Silver Linings. Even so, I take one last look over the water and spare a quiet moment for the silenced voices of the Seven Ghosts of the Guaira Falls