The Trans-Chaco Highway

(continuer en français) – Last updated: January 3, 2021

From Asunción to Bolivia, the road crosses the entire northern part of Paraguay for 520 miles, 835 kilometres. The road traced in 1961 was for a long time an impassable quagmire during the rains, its reputation of infernal road was forged during this period, it has not yet completely disappeared. In the early 2000s, the road was gradually paved. However, the subgrade is insufficient to support the weight of the many trucks on the route, and the surface layer is also too thin to withstand the traffic for long.

Despite constant repairs, the pavement surface disintegrates quickly, alternating the few recently repaired parts that are in good condition with those in various states of disrepair, making driving difficult and the journey time unpredictable. On this long trip, Filadelfia is the only real city with all the services.

Although the number of people in the region is sparse, traffic is relatively steady. It is the only road to reach Bolivia, and in especially Santa Cruz, the large Bolivian economic city whose attractiveness extends beyond the borders.

When the next supermarket is 250 miles, 400 kilometres, away:

As a result of the absence of urban centres, servicing is unreliable. In several places rough workshops try to take advantage of this situation by offering their services, especially in the area of punctures.

The roadside is dotted with small memorials that seem to be the site of a fatal accident.

The Chaco

The Chaco War opposed Paraguay and Bolivia from 1932 to 1935. During several territorial conflicts in the 19th century, both countries had seen large chunks of their territories taken away by their more powerful neighbours. The semi-desert Chaco then became a patriotic challenge for each of them and a means of compensating for previous territorial losses. Paraguay was victorious after very deadly battles in an inhospitable region. However, peace was not signed until 2009.

The region is located in the north of Paraguay and covers 60% of the territory but accounts for only 10% of the population. The semi-arid climate complicates its valorisation. Aware of the strategic stakes involved, Paraguay is however striving to accentuate its presence, the Trans-Chaco Highway being the most obvious feature.

Cactus and bottle trees show two opposite nature’s strategies for adapting to water scarcity, one is content with little while the other stores when possible, giving it a strange silhouette.

Although sparsely populated, the Chaco is seeing human activity increasing.

Water management is critical to the growth of agricultural activity. Unfortunately, this is done through uncontrolled deforestation, causing the original forest to disappear in order to install industrial crops or cattle breeding, replicating the Brazilian model. This allows significant exports, the benefits of which cannot be seen in terms of infrastructure or for the local population.

The Trans-Chaco’s crossing of this agricultural area is not always without consequences. For example, there are cattle carcasses on the side of the road or slash-and-burn farming that is not always well controlled and threaten traffic.

Along the Trans-Chaco Highway, fincas and estancias, more or less large farms, show their gateways then and there. A few humble dwellings can be spotted from the road. Imagine the isolation of those less well off, far from the only road that can be driven on.

The Pa’i Puku Centre was founded in 1965 by a Belgian missionary to provide education for children from isolated farms in the Chaco. Because of the distances involved, the pupils are also provided with boarding facilities for part of the year.

Tourism, especially ecotourism, is tending to grow but still lacks quality infrastructure, Filadelfia being an exception. However the curiosity of many travellers pushes them towards the Chaco still a little enigmatic, especially towards the Trans-Chaco Highway whose reputation of infernal road does not yet belong entirely to the past.

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    • This is serious shopping 🙂 It’s a difficult road through a difficult region. There’s a little thrill of adventure even if it has to be put into perspective but it feels good to get off the beaten track.

      Liked by 1 person

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