Warning: Pothole.

December 1, 2012

I daresay the majority of roads in Asuncion are unpaved and in antiquatedly miserable condition. Cobblestone is the number one car killer and potholes are commonplace facts of daily life. While generally unmarked, the jarring cavities that are particularly deep (and often not visible until one is right next to it) will occasionally be marked by vague found objects. I have seen kindling sticks, lush leafy branches, jagged pieces of metal resembling handmade crowbars, and even entire tree stumps shouting their warnings by casually sticking out in the middle of the road.

This is how my neighborhood has chosen to warn of the growing gap on my street:

IMAG0067WARNING WARNING. Hole.

IMAG0068Getting bigger with each passing day…

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Here in Paraguay, driving is a little crazy. There is not a whole lot of logic that goes into the layout of the streets, how they run, the condition in which they are maintained, which ones are one-way, etc. Speed bumps are rarely clarified and potholes never filled. On top of everything, the roads are filled with nutso drivers in aggressive sedans, dilapidated trucks, and always swerving buses.

But the worst by far, in my humble opinion, is the complete lack of street signs. I am pretty sure that I don’t know where I am at most given times. This obviously makes getting anywhere new a gimantic (J Schell said this to me the other day during our conversation about beards) task. Giving directions is also pretty fun.

Case in point: refer to the map drawn above. F made this croquis to get B and I up to the lookout in Lambaré. It is not drawn to scale, but otherwise very accurate. And also hilarious. Notice the general lack of street names versus the detailed drawings of key landmarks for our traveling convenience (ahem, necessity). My favorite is the little blob of a donkey statue so meticulously sketched in.

I scoff-laughed initially but later realized how essential it was to ensuring our eventual arrival. We missed an overpass or two at one point, and had to turn around when we found ourselves lost in the land of oil rigs. We may have also nearly died seventy-eight times, but in the end, we finally struck upon the pedestal of the donkey, which, as depicted, was literally in the middle of a terribly awkward intersection. We discovered the lookout shortly thereafter. Whew.

To say I felt like an accomplished driver after that day is the understatement of the year. As my reward though, we had the entire lookout to ourselves. Oh yeeahh.

Winners.

[Check out Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t already.]

Finally picking up where I left off…

The morning after that epic day of nothingness, F and I drove all the way to Fernando de la Mora Sur to yet another police station. We were not holding our breaths, but the visit was still worth a shot.

We walked into a decrepit and bare bones room. Four uniformed officers were seated around a desk with the local Asuncion newspaper laying open. In the centerfold was a voluptuous girl clad in nothing more than a white thong. Forcing attention away from their beloved was an inconvenient chore that communicated clearly. All the officers stared at us with annoyed expressions as we inquired about filing a denuncio. Finally, one huffily stood up and with the angst and attitude of a hormonal teenager, escorted us to another prison cell room.

As we waited for someone–anyone–to get their act together, we sweltered. I made 100% sure my chair was drenched by the time we left (and shuddered to think how many others had done the same before me). In any case, another police officer entered with a composition notebook under his arm. He sat down and then requested I narrate what happened.

Five words in, he held up his hand and told me to slow the h-e-double hockey sticks down. I then realized he was painstakingly transcribing everything by hand. His handwriting was quite neat, but honest to goodness, it took him 40 seconds to write each LETTER. Omg. I crossed my eyes at Forest and resigned myself to the reality that I would be inhabiting that chair for the next seven hours, if not the entire evening and then some.

Fast forward through repeated reenacted scenarios, the officer’s thirty-minute search for a map(!), and eight reminders that he had spelled my name wrong (despite the fact that my passport was right in front of him and all he had to do was copy verbatim), we at long last held a one-page, handwritten report documented on ever professional notebook paper. I requested a few more notes be added (like the fact that the other guy fled the scene…) and then sealed it with my signature.

The composition book was taken to yet another room adorned only with a row of seats and an antique computer. I had a slinking suspicion it wasn’t there as decoration. I was given a torn piece of scrap paper with a report numeral and a phone number, and was informed my report would be ready on Monday (we filed on Friday). But I was also instructed to call ahead to double-check the report status.

I called every day for three weeks straight, and every day they told me, “No, senorita, it’s not ready yet. But maybe this afternoon…” I eventually lost patience and went a little verbally crazy on the phone. The voice on the other line immediately promised to personally see that the report would be ready for me by the afternoon.

The cynic in me waited another few days before venturing to pick up the report (turns out, all they needed to do was type it up! aslkj;al). I almost died seven times driving there. Of course, upon my return, nobody knew what was going on or where to direct me, so I wandered from room to room in the police station, praying I wouldn’t get shot. I found the place that had given me the slip and took a seat amidst all the people crowding the desk of the one working employee.

Naturally, I chose the one camouflaged broken chair and after several embarrassing minutes of flailing limbs and consecutive massive heart attacks (as if everyone was not already scrutinizing the young Chinese girl in the police station), I gave up my desire to sit and wait. The slowly developing Paraguayan instinct in me pushed me to pounce on an officer trying to exit the room, and forced her to attend to me, preparing to throw down should I be informed that my report was not yet ready.

But miracles of miracles, it actually was (processed just that morning)! The officer sandwiched one of those ghetto carbon sheets between two sheets of blank paper, and after a twenty minute battle, my report came screaming out of a printer that I swear was twice my age. It was crooked and barely legible, but behold, it was a denuncio in the flesh.

I still had to wait another day to submit the report to the insurance agency (they are only open until 1pm), and yet another week and a half for the auto shop to complete its body work on the car. But after many dead ends, headaches, and multitudes of inefficiency, I can officially wash my hands of this situation.

Oy.

Hot stuff.

[A continuation from Part 1.]

My boss F tells me to meet him at the police station under the bridge to file a denuncio (police report) to cover myself. He gives me “directions:” drive on the road that heads towards the big bridge then turn right and then left after a little bit. Street signs are rare here, so giving directions is a unique experience and following them even more fun. I cannot picture the route in my head at all, so I drive blindly.

Naturally, right where I’m instructed to turn left is a big traffic sign communicating NO LEFT TURN. Considering my recent string of bad luck, I determine it unwise to ignore the law and don’t make the turn anyway. This choice to be a law-abiding citizen turns out to be a terrible idea (seriously, Lo, this is Latin America). It has started to drizzle and continuing on the road, I can’t find ANYWHERE to turn around. After much ado, I finally meet F, where the police officer tells us that we cannot file a denuncio at that station because both parties need to be present.

Um, hello, that’s the point. The other guy fled the scene!

Instead, he sends us to another station in a different district, 30 minutes away. F is generous enough to drive my car, so we leave his at the station and set off. We stop along the way at a comisaria to double check that we are headed in the correct direction. The uniformed male slouched in the chair stares with empty eyes as F presents his question. It is clear he doesn’t know anything. About anything.

We continue on and finally find the big police station, where in front of the high rise gate stands a uniformed female. She has her arms crossed and glares hard at us, but her facade of animosity fools no one. We express our desire to file a denuncio and before we can even finishing explaining our situation, she starts shaking her head, muttering something about going to the station by the Viaducto…where we had just come from.

We persist in attempting to get her to actually listen to what we were saying, and eventually she pulls open the gate and allows us to walk onto the station grounds. She keeps reciting that both parties need to be present. Still the dumbest thing I have ever heard.

Then some chubby old guy, who looks eerily like the hottie (pictured above) spotted riding the metro in Barcelona, walks by in a ridiculously tight white tee emblazoned with “I am a bad drinker” in Spanish (midriff for all the world to see and everything). I thought he was another regular Schmoe there to file some paperwork.

Quite the contrary (or not–we’ll never know). The female officer flags him down, asks him about denuncios, and the crazy character puts his sunglasses on and vomits the same rhetoric this lady has been rotely reciting. Both parties need to be present…blah blah…you need to go to a different station…blah blah. He even throws in a gem about both parties needing to take an alcohol test. Ha! What a freaking joke. They don’t know what to do with people here, so…*shoves breathalizer test* in person’s mouth.

The mindless bantering carries on as we grow increasingly frustrated. We finally depart without having made any progress, thoroughly convinced that every single police officer/employee/crazy man spokesperson we had talked to had certainly paid someone off to pass their qualifications exams…if there are any in Paraguay.

Can you see why this country is in shambles? Their supposed justice system totally favors those who commit wrongs. I can’t imagine trying to report a sexual assault or something far more grave than a fender bender. It’s a sad reality, really.

In any case, we return to the city, where we make one last ditch effort to at least gain some information on how to proceed. We jam the car onto the side of the road when we see cops directing traffic in the hopes of getting someone to answer our questions. It is no surprise to hear them spout nonsense and send us to yet another station on the other other side of town.

With night having long fallen and a steady rain now threatening to wash us off the roads (lack of city planning also means that 10 minutes of rain creates immediate mid-car height floods–and I drive an SUV–that throw the city into watery paralysis), we give up for the day. Congratulations to us: we accomplished absolutely nothing.

A day in the life.

Part 3 up next.