The unique and developing history
of the Nivaclé communities
descending from Mistolar
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A Chaco Rescue

Kelly Ericson

The week before I left Paraguay, in March of 1983, Elder Sanders and I took a little four-wheeling trip some 500 miles out of our area. We also took a rifle with us to do some hunting. It was, of course, all at the request of the mission president...

Sunday evening when we returned to the chapel in Villarrica where we lived, Elder Sanders and I had a message requesting us to come to Asunción that night. Brother Flores, a district president in the mission, had been to visit the members in Mistolar, a village out in the Chaco region of Paraguay, and his vehicle had broken down on the return trip. He radioed Asunción for help. Elder Sanders had served in Mistolar and he was the only missionary in the mission at the time who knew how to get there. President Ramirez needed Elder Sanders to drive a couple of mechanics out to where Brother Flores was broken down. I was to go along for the ride.

We spent Monday in Asunción getting supplies and preparing the vehicle for the trip (a four-wheel-drive Nissan vehicle with a winch on front). When we talked with President Ramirez late Monday afternoon, he handed us a rifle and said, "See if you can bring me back some guazú." (Guazú was a variety of deer that inhabited the Chaco, about the size of a large dog.)

Early Tuesday morning we crossed the bridge from Asunción, over the Paraguay River and out into the Chaco. Elder Sanders was driving, I was riding shotgun and the two mechanics were in the back seat. From there to Filadelfia, a Mennonite colony about 300 miles away, it was a well-maintained gravel or dirt road with an occasional ranch here or there. We stayed the night at an inn in Filadelfia.

From Filadelfia to where Brother Flores was broken down, it was an 80- or 90-mile trip over un-maintained dirt "roads". Sometimes the roads were smooth; other times the dips, holes or puddles in the road were big enough that we had to work to navigate around, through or out of them. My job was to take the cable from the winch and attach it to a tree to help pull us out when we were stuck.

When the road was smooth, I sat with the rifle pointing out the window in case we saw some guazú or anything else interesting to shoot (kind of like "riding shotgun" but this was "riding rifle"). Once we stopped and Elder Sanders took a shot at some ostrich-type bird, but that was all the hunting we did on the way out.

Elder Sanders sang his country songs, and I thought about leaving for home the next week. I also thought about all the stories I had heard of missionaries getting stuck in the mud out in the Chaco. I was glad that it wasn't the rainy season -- I did not want to be stuck in the mud when it was time for my plane to leave. The farther we got from Filadelfia, the fewer humans/gauchos/cowboys and livestock we saw. The biggest sign of animal life that we saw occurred when we drove over damp spots in the road -- it would send what seemed to be hundreds of butterflies fluttering though the air.

We got to Brother Flores late in the afternoon. He had field-dressed a goat to eat, so he hadn't starved, but he was happy to see us. The mechanics finished their work quickly and it was close to sunset by the time we started back for Filadelfia. Brother Flores took the rifle with him, and we caravanned back along the same roads that we had come on.

As the sunlight faded, my ability to stay awake was also starting to fade. Brother Flores shot a guazú before it was dark. I don't remember him cleaning it, but I do remember that it ended up in the cooler in our vehicle. I went in and out of sleep for the rest of the trip. I did wake up once in the middle of the night to look at a huge rattlesnake that was dead in the road. We arrived in Filadelfia at 3 or 4 in the morning.

The trip to Asunción the next day was uneventful. It got a little hot in the vehicle so the mechanics would drink melted ice water from the cooler, with a little guazú blood mixed in -- it didn't seem like a good idea to me. My excitement for returning home was building. In just one week, I would be with Quin in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; with Mom and Dad a day or two after that; on to Salt Lake to see the rest of the family, then home to Boise. There's no place like home. And the Chaco in Paraguay was definitely no place like home.