It took a day to find a workshop selling the starter batteries we wanted, another to wait for them to be delivered and then, on day three, they were ready to be installed. We felt lucky that they caught fire just before the border of the tax-free haven of Paraguay, instead of in the middle of expensive Brazil.
Batteries on Fire
After four wonderful months in Brazil, luck had turned against us. One morning we woke up freezing. Within 48 hours the temperature had dropped by 25 degrees Celsius, and we put on all the clothes we had. According to the tourist information in Bonito we could cross into Paraguay at Bela Vista. However, once there we learned that this border crossing had no customs nor immigration office.
Luckily, the next border crossing was at Ponta Pora, a mere 150 kilometers away. We calculated we should arrive there right after sunset. The cold day grew into an even colder and foggy night. It became impossible to see anything beyond the front of the Land Cruiser. Suddenly Coen hit the brakes, stopped along the road, jumped out of the car, yelling.
“I see sparks!”
He opened the bonnet and indeed, one of the batteries was on fire. With an old t-shirt he quickly extinguished the fire, but the cables had melted away. Fortunately, we have a second set of batteries, for household use, and with a switch we should be able to use them as starter batteries.
Coen gave it a try.
No luck. It didn’t work and Coen had no idea why.
Standing outside in the pitch-dark evening, along the deserted road, was creepy. The cold was relentless and the wind blew straight through our clothes. It must have been near freezing point by then.
We considered our options.
While doing so a truck stopped and the driver asked how he could help. With the truck pulling the Land Cruiser, Coen tried to jump-start it. But again, no success. The driver offered to tow us to the nearest gas station, only a couple of kilometers down the road. We felt grateful.
At the gas station men started arguing. They didn’t want us to park there because we would be too close to the road. “Too dangerous,” they said. The man of the workshop next door offered us to park on his property. We were humbled by so much kindness. With a recently bought bottle of cachaça we showed our appreciation to our saviors.
To the friendly couple in the red truck with license plate BW1-2060: We thank you from the bottom of our hearts!
A freezing night followed. It was hard to believe how the weather had changed. Later we learned it was the first time in 80 years that Buenos Aires had snow! In the morning people stood around fires trying to keep warm. The workshop’s owner suggested towing the Land Cruiser again and, after several attempts, Coen managed jump starting our vehicle.
Why we tried to get the car started instead of searching for new batteries – that were clearly bust? Well, shopping walhallah Paraguay was only five kilometers away. Paraguay, notorious for its shady economy, has a very favorable tax policy, as opposed to Brazil which levies high taxes.
It went without saying that much money was saved by getting our Land Cruiser into Paraguay before we changed the batteries.
In Ponta Pora we found batteries. As Coen watched the helpful guys installing two brand-new Rocket batteries, a big spark vaporized nearly half of a contact point on one battery.
“Wow, there must be a short!”, one of them cried, literally so shocked by the event that it left him stunned for a few seconds.
An electrician was fetched, who quickly determined that the insulating layer around the positive cable of the winch had worn away and this had caused the short. After this initial setback things move as planned and the installation of the batteries continued without any further difficulties.
The town looked uninviting, the grey and misty weather certainly didn’t help. We changed our Brazilian money at one of the many money-changing offices downtown, where a guy stood guard with an impressive shotgun. Looking more closely we concluded that many of the shops had guards, most of them quite young. At night we could park on the premises of our battery-shop, also guarded by two guys with guns; the owner assured us that this was a necessity.
It was time to leave this place behind and explore some more inviting areas of Paraguay.