How to Sell Your Car in Paraguay and (Barely) Live to Tell About
This story is actually taken verbatim from an e-mail I wrote to my friend Alex Provan in late spring of 2006, from Buenos Aires. I’d just finished a massive road trip that had begun in Brooklyn nearly a year earlier, one which had taken myself and two friends through all of Central and South America. Once in BA, the two of them had flown home, but I’d stuck around to try and work on a novel and sell the car, a 1994 Ford Explorer XLT which we’d named “El Diablo Grande”.
After a few months unsuccessfully trying to offload the car through legal and semi-legal channels in BA, it became clear that the only way to make it work would be to drive to Paraguay, which was then (and probably still is) South America’s clearinghouse for black market goods. I was living at the time on the edge of La Boca, with a middle-aged guy from San Francisco called Greg, a Lonely Planet photog and editor of the tourist website buenosaires-argentina.com. The Paraguay trip was mainly his idea, and he acted as my navigator, co-pilot and chief enabler.
As with anything I’ve written in in the past, I cringe as I read over the prose now. And the editor in me wants to cut a swath through it with a machete. Not that I think it’s bad; more so that it’s just kind of hackneyed and embarrassing and it’s fairly clear that I was on a lot of drugs when I wrote it. But against my better judgement, I’m posting it as is – I like it better as a snapshot in time than as a refined piece of writing.
Here I am back in BA, in la casa de Greg Rodin, which is what passes for home for the next 48 hours. Most of my shit is here; we just got back from an exhausting roadtrip to Paraguay, and I’m drinking tea with Greg’s lady friend Marina while he listens to Simple Twist of Fate and searches the internet for ridiculous domain names to buy. Eldiablogrande.com, it appears is available.
Speaking of El DG… he’s gone, sold to a country doctor in a town called Campo Nueve, 100 miles from Ciudad Del Este in the Paraguayan countryside. Finding a buyer was a quilombo, but once found the process was fairly straight-forward. Possibly because Paraguay has no laws and possibly because out of desperation I had dropped the asking price from 4 grand to 1200 bucks. As I stood by the side of the road, and the new dueno, whose name was Adolfo drove off in my, MY car, I looked up and a giant white sign stood over the road proclaiming in biblical verse that adulterers, thieves, fornicators, and all manner of ns would soon be cast down into hell fire. Well, I thought, now that the devil doesn’t have my back, guess I’m fucked. I got on the bus with a beer and my pathetic plastic bag of possessions and my 1200 bucks in my sock and headed back to Ciudad Del Este.
That night Greg and I balled out at some club in Brazil, which was fun until we couldn’t pay our bar bill by virtue of buying bottles of Dewars for some group of gangsters while not having any Brazilian money, and then had to fight the bouncers and wound up busting out like seven credit cards, six of which didn’t work in order just to cover the shit. I woke up around 8 am in our hotel room sobbing. It was really really strange. I had no idea why. It was like I felt all the sadness in the world all at once. I imagine its kind of what you feel like when your pregnant or having your period or something. But it felt nice, the sadness. Maybe it had something to do with the car, and the journey,and everything coming to an end. I don’t know. I just know that it was the strangest thing.
The trip to Ciudad Del Este was fraught with danger, excitement and stupidity. We made the snap decision to leave Saturday night; Greg bought whole shit load of blow and a bottle of whiskey and off we went. An hour outside the city, coked to the gills, I realized I’d forgot my passport. Back we went. We had to. I went through his entire apartment and couldn’t find the fucking thing and so I sat at his kitchen table, totally disconsolate, but also manic from the coke, drinking Seagrams whiskey and getting up every 5 minutes to look frantically in places I’d alrady looked before. Look said Greg, there are 2 choices: you can get in the car and go check the places you’ve been today and see if you left it at any of them, or we can sit here and get shitfaced and later on I’m taking you to the puterillo and getting you a whore. Fine I said. Then I went to the gas station on 9 de Julio and there was my passport. By now it was like 930. we were supposed to meet Edd and Co. in Rosario, 330 km away. Four rails later and we were off.
Doing blow while driving is a bad idea, not only because it wears off and makes you even tireder then you were and then you have to do more, but because doing more is a difficult exercise when your driving a car. You cant even do key bumps because the keys are stuck in the ignition. It requires steady hands and teamwork between driver and passenger. That or you can pull off the road, which is what we did once, and I was coked to my eyeballs when we came across a pair of tractor trailers jackknifed in the highway.
We were the first car on the scene. The driver of one of the trucks was mashed into the windshield. He was unconsious and covered with blood. I was tweaking. We got out of the car and I was about to light a cigarette with shaking hands when the driver of the other truck came running up to us screaming Go! Go! Go! Go! and waving his arms. Go! he said. NAFTA!! Which means gasoline. I looked down and saw that the road was wet, and one of the trucks was a tanker and it smelled like diesel fuel. I was wearing a a brown suit. We got back in the car and drove about 50 feet back up the road, which is when I finally had my cigarette. We offered our flashlight and flares and cellphone, which was about all we could do, and then we drove away on the grass median, keeping well away from the tanker that looked like it would explode at any minute.
My hands had stopped shaking by the time we got to Rosario, but my heart was still racing, possibility because my body was full of uppers. Gnarls dude! said Greg. He’s in his forties. Can you believe that dude! He says dude a lot. In fact, after a few days he started to remind me a little of John Goodman’s character in The Big Lebowski. We drank heavily with Edd, Luke and an Italian and a British bird. We got back to the hotel around 5 and I was ready to pass out but those fuckers wanted poker and who was I to pass. We played till 7, I lost 25 pesos and woke up around noon, at which point the first stages of sleep deprivation had begun to set it.
Forgive me for failing to break up the story plane. We ate a leisurely lunch and were on the road by 4. We debated whether we should do the rest of the coke pronto, or save it until it was dark and we had been on the road for 10 hours and really needed it. After some debate, drug logic won out: do it if you have it. So we did it. And it was great until it wore off, which wasn’t that much later. After that it was red bull and coke (a cola) and packs and packs of cigarettes, trying to make it the 700 or so KM to Corrientes before I fell asleep and drove off the dark two lane road or into the path of an onrushing semi.
We had two CD’s: The Life Pursuit by Belle and Sebastian, and OHNo by Ok Go. Both of these got old very quickly. And so we talked. Greg can talk,especially with a little blow in him, but I was grateful, because it was the only thing that kept me awake. We got to Corrientes in the dead of night and find a hotel. I was dead.Cracked out does not even begin to describe my state. There was a casino next door to the hotel. I was still wearing my suit, which I had slept in. There was really no choice.
When we rolled in we must have looked beyond crackhead. We ordered Chivas onice and did so in such a manner so as to cause the bartender to fall into convulsions of laughter for the next five minutes. I ordered the second when he brought the first,ignoring the 11 peso price tag. If ever someone needed a drink, it was me, then.
Then came the blackjack table, which was a blur. All I remember was that I was upa bunch, then I lost everything, that I wanted to marry the dealer, that Greg, ever Big Lebowski-ish, ordered white russians that came out as milkshakes, and that everyone at the table laughed their asses off at everything I did. I must have been a fucking sight tobehold. At one point the adorably cute dealer gave me a 16, against her Jack. Dame mas Gasolina! I said. This apparently means ‘fuck me harder’ or something. But she gave me a five. Its been the highlight of my blackjack career so far. We made it in by 6. Four more hours of sleep and we were back on the road.
Posadas was another 300 KM. We picked up two 19 year old hitchhikers on the road. We gave them some candy, like the perverts we were. One was hot, one was OK. When we got to Posadas we sent them off to class, numbers exchanged and went to the Paraguayan consulate for our visas. This took 3 hours. It was getting dark and we went down to the riverfront for pina coladas and to plot our next move.
We can get to Ciudad del Este today I said. Lets stay and party with these girls said Greg. Fine I said. We got a fly hotel. We want to impress these bitches Greg said. The nap I was hoping for lasted less than an hour. We supplied ourselves with whiskey and called the two, Daniela and Analia. Analia was a model or so she claimed. Regarless she was cute. We did it up, from whiskey in the room, to pool at some pool hall where there was a crowd of 30 intently watching an air hockey match, to some disco where we were four of about 8 people. Somehow Analia and I would up passing an ice cube back and forth between our mouths and after that it was sort of on.
We piled into some dudes rickety car, and they dropped the two of us on a bench by the river. We kissed for nuff time, and she kept saying: against the rules, every time I put my hand on her tits, or ass, or anywhere else. Which was fine. I was pretty content to make out by the river. At some point though we headed back up the hill, and linked with the rest of our group, and as we headed to the hotel at around 6am she whispered to me no more rules. Word, thought I, but it wasn’t happening. Too many people in the room, and Greg coked up and telling me dude, this is it, this guy knows a German called The Puma, he gets rid ofanything, he’ll get rid of the car right now, lets do it man, its time. Strike while the irons hot dude. Fuck it, I thought. Sleep deprived, pussy deprived, not really in my right mind or any mind at all, the sun by this time was up and so we said fuck it and went off to find the Puma. Analia said call me, and we all left.
I was pretty sure the guy was bullshitting. We went driving around the town for an hour looking unsuccessfully for more coke, and finally we went and found the Puma, who actually did exist and actually was German, but who actually couldn’t help us. Go across the river, to Paraguay, my man Juan Carlos. He’ll hook you up.
Paraguayan customs officials are the worlds greatest. I had to go into a back room with them to deal with the car papers. I was worried, since after all we were traveling in Ghost Car, sans license plates and I had the look of someone who hadn’t slept in three days, which I hadn’t. But they were muy amable, and all the wanted to do was talk about how much they loved Chicago. The band not the city. We sat in a back room fucking off and playing computer solitaire, while one guy showed everyone his vacation pictures and we listened to Chicago mad loud. They were amazing. One guy kept saying “effay V ee” over and over again and until I realized he was trying to say “FBI”.FBI! I said. He was so excited. “See-ah” was his next one, and by that time I had him figured. “CIA!” These guys were too much. They were loving seeing an American. We fucked off until they finally finished my papers, and then we went off to see Juan Carlos.
He had nothing for us. He brought over all his boys, they all looked at the car, and they all shook their heads. This was to be something I would get used to; the reaction of almost every single of the 50 or so car dealers I went to in Encarnacion and Ciudad del Este. God it sucked. Apparently they get their cars new, either from the free trade zone in Chile or stolen from Brazil. So why would they want some old american beat up piece of shit? Plus the governor had changed the laws a year ago making it impossible to counterfeit papers on cars built before 1996. By the time we had been in Ciudad Del Este for two days I was desperate.
The city itself was dirty, ugly, and a complete whirlpool of illicit cheap crap to buy. Imagine Tijuana on steroids without border controls. I was beat when I got there, and beat after three days of plying the used car lots, and when I finally got an offer from the brother of the partner of a fat bald dealer named San Jorge, I was more than willing to drive 100 miles out to Campo 9 and hand the keys over the guy, a country docter. There were mad Mennonites around. The sign said I was going to hell.
The next day we got on a first class bus. I toook two diazepams and didn’t wake up until 6 am, when they started playing the most incredible smooth jazz argentine fusion wake up song I’ve ever heard. I swear, ill never find this song but if I do ill be the happiest fucker alive. My trip is over. I’ll never drive again.