Paraguayans have a state of mind that likely is the biggest reason they are regularly perched atop those “Most Content/Happiest People In The World” polls.
Everything is cool, amigo. Relax. It’s all good.
It is a pervasive state of mind.
Except when Paraguayans get behind the wheel of their cars.
God help you.
Most my cab rides here have been nerve-wracking, white-knuckle affairs. Mostly fine, but each, barring 3am trips to the aeropuerto, with a few moment of sheer terror. The streets might have some vague code beyond “Stop at red lights, but not necessarily Stop signs”, but it seems mostly anarchy. Drivers make up for lost time snarled in traffic at red lights on major streets by going as fast as they can push their engines down residential streets. Want to make a left from the far right lane across 4 or 5 lanes of traffic, go for it.
And what exactly are “lanes” anyways?
Motos – motorcycles – are the leading cause of death in Paraguay. They zip around everywhere.
Who is at fault for accidents is nonsensical and leaves me terrified to be behind the wheel.
Not far away from Asuncion, across a lake, is San Bernadino, AKA Sanber. A town built/designed by German immigrants and where the Richie rich locals all have summer homes to escape the heat. South of the lake lies one of the major highways that connects Asuncion on the west to Ciudad de Este (Ciudad de Eisley, as any visit to State Department sites illustrate. Allegedly the thriving black market of the city, which borders Brazil and Argentina, generates 5x that of the Paraguayan national GDP. Wikipedia allegedly) …
So, anyways, one night a bus broke down along the 2, the highway which connects Asuncion to CdE. Broken, the BUS, a large bulk, sat on the edge of the highway. Four rich kids, absolutely hammered, driving south towards the highway in a BMW, smashed into the bus. All four died.
Seems a tragic case. Until local law made it absurd. The bus company, whose bus was sitting there, stationary and immobile, like the World’s Largest Paperweight, long before inebriated drivers arrived, had to pay out some absurd settlement to the families of those in the vehicle that, at high enough speed to outweigh the reliability of fine, efficient German engineering, rammed into a rather large, inert object. Yeah.
As I mentioned, I have to walk pretty much everywhere. Or fork over a few bucks for a few moments of terror in a cab to get around.
The Paraguayan automotive chain of priority for rights seems to go:
Drunken kids in BMWs -> motos -> cars -> Inert buses on the side of the road -> Pedestrians.
(But the money/clout of anyone involved in an accident or collision can cause a party to leapfrog up or down the chain. Provided you have a vehicle.)
So as a walker, I’m at the bottom of the food chain.
Some even park on the sidewalk, forcing me to dart into traffic to get around their vehicle. If my Spanish/Guarani were up to par, I’d “Dukes of Hazard” it and just vault->slide over their cars, secure in my ability to tell them off.
Crossing the street during certain peak traffic hours is either a nightmare or competitive sport, dependent upon mood at the time. Drivers will not stop. They don’t even slow down.
Some speed up.
I thought, “well, I’m white bread. I stand out. Perhaps my Yanqui super powers will enable me special rights. Maybe not diplomatic immunity where I can stand in the middle of a street and hurl bottles at everyone while laughing manically… but at least they *might* hesitate as surely there is more paperwork to fill out if you run down a Norteamericano.
Hell, I get honked at more than occasionally if I finish crossing a three-Ypacarai-count before they get near me. Apparently the drivers are offended I dared use the open ground in front of them to go on my merry way. Gringo Card be damned.
Needless to say, all the times I was told I was “throwing my time and quarters away” by my parents when playing Frogger at the arcade in my youth was a dead-wrong assessment on their part. Time and meager allowance spent hunched over those massive games has provided me with lifesaving skills.
Side note on this.
One afternoon, while walking to Friday Night Futbol, in a residential area (not major streets) in the area of town dubbed Lego Land, at an intersection I had a northbound and eastbound car arrive at the intersection and, in typical Tucson 4-way “no, you!” fashion, both come to a halt and wave me through.
Initially they were polite.
But I was momentarily stunned. I might have been less surprised had the Swedish Bikini Team paradropped in front of me and offered me a cooler filled with ice cold Dale’s Pale Ale than having not one, but TWO cars stop for me.
So next step went from “apoplexy” to “wary” and visions of Admiral Akbar danced through my head.
I think the super-extended dance club hit remix delay bumped them from polite and patient to starting to see rojo.
I then dashed diagonally through the intersection, probably leaving them as confused as their initial pause had left me.