Hola, amigos y lectores, desde Villamontes, Bolivia, a la casa de Claure! We’ve been warmly welcomed into the home of a Bolivian family in a surprising and absolutely fun way.
We were withdrawing Bolivian currency (Bolivianos) at the cajero in Villa Montes when we met Jose Antonio in the confusing Bolivian street. We must confess that we first got to know him with some reservation; we’re in a foreign country and our guard is high, but Jose Antonio and his son Horatio quickly helped us to overcome our fears with their unhesitating welcome. Their family has shared music, food, and conversation with us over the course of this afternoon, and we’ve been enriched by their sharing in countless ways.
It is from this place of comfort and safety, of feeling secure in the arms of God through the faces and hospitality of God’s human agents, that we write to you about our past few days.
After leaving Mariscal Estigarribia we encountered roads worse than any of us have seen in our lives. I, Matthew, being out of the country for the first time, was caught off-guard enough to let myself become angry, and for this I suffered. We encountered deep sand and I was distracted enough by my anger that I fell twice in the sand. Before falling twice, my front rack attachments broke off of my frame. We were able to jerry-rig an imperfect solution and continue on, I angrily so. My lesson over those difficult days of deep sand, washboard asfolto, and bikes being shaken to pieces, was not to let my anger and my frustration interfere with my ability to exist in the moment and absorb a given experience.
Arriving in Bolivia, where we’ve been welcomed into the Claure home, wasn’t exactly a treat. We spent a good chunk of time in Asuncion preparing for our border crossing, but this first was more challenging than any of us expected. We were told at the embajada in Asuncion that we should pass through migrations in Ibibobo, and after that pay for our visas here in Villamontes.
At Ibibobo we were surprised by a harsh and unwelcoming migrations officer who told us that without visas we could not pass, and that something was amiss with our paperwork so we should return to Asuncion. Upon closer inspection of our instructions, we found that we were, in fact, missing many of the requisite documents for entry. In a very confusing and frustrating exchange of words we first were encouraged to believe that we were unwelcome foreigners, but suddenly the officer changed his disposition to become friendly and welcoming. We were very disoriented, and surprised that when we asked what to do about our missing documents, he covered his eyes, zipped his lips, and said “no hay problema.” We paid five dollars extra apiece for our visas and went on our way.
Two nights later we were welcomed into the home of Gerhardt Braun, who without warning of our arrival welcomed us warmly and fed us richly. He shared with us about his historias, personal and communal, and invited us to share about our journey also. Surprisingly, and much to our relief, Gerhardt’s son and hired hand were able to weld replacement attachment-points to my bike within two hours of our arrival. Staying with the colonial Mennonites here in Villamontes made me homesick for Goshen and the smell of sweet grain, sweaty animals, and general farm aura. We are grateful for the Braun’s welcome and respuestos to our mechanical issues.
Hosts on our way have been a source of rest for both our bodies and our souls. When we find a place to stay and are seguros and bienvenidos at the house of some roadside angel, that is the time that I am able to rest fully and absorb my surroundings at ease. In Paraguay and Bolivia, es tranquilo. I am so grateful for those who have opened their lives and their hearts to us on our journey.
Another thing I’m grateful for which I swore to myself many times I’d tell you all about, I’ll tell you about now. I hang out with Mennonites who like to hate on the Estados Unidenses. That’s all well and good, when we’re harshing on imperialism, and wars, and the S.O.A., and immigration policy, and the whole host of other things the good old U.S. of A. sucks for doing (oh, and drone warfare, too). But (big old but, here) one certainly must be grateful for infrastructure. I love me some U.S. Forest Service roads. I love back roads, alleyways, and side-streets. They’re all better by orders of magnitude than the national highway we rode our bikes on in Paraguay. I’m so very grateful that we have functional infrastructure.
That’s all for now, folks.
Until another time (we’ll stop making guesses, now),
Matthew, on behalf of the Cyclists