DEPARTURE: Page 14
A genuine buyer for the quinta came along, another Frenchman, but totally different from the neurotic pieds noir still squatting the premises. This one was a big, brusque, straight-talking kind of guy who had made money buying and selling scrap metal and was used to never taking no for an answer. He made us an offer, quite a lot lower than our asking price, having sussed out that we were fed up with the whole situation and ready to move on. We immediately became friends with him and his charming, witty wife and, while we were aware that he was getting the better of us, it wasn't too hard to give in. The sale was agreed and the squatter, after much heated personal and legal intervention, was finally evicted. Our buyer, a man of strong opinions about everything under the sun, didn't believe in banks, he thought they were all thieves. Therefore he arrived with a large suitcase stuffed full of cash which we, of course, had to bring to the bank to be converted into something more portable.
To celebrate the sale we took the new owners of our quinta on a sightseeing tour of Asunción and surroundings, including the Macá Indian colony on a river island, where genuine survivors of a nearly extinct tribe displayed their credentials (bare breasts and beads) to be photographed, for a fee. In my photo, our Frenchman is in the centre, his wife on the right between two Indian "models" and Reg hovers in the background, blending into the shade.
The sale of the Quinta San Gabriel (formerly Quinta Recalde, ex-garden of Eden) took place on April 30. By June we were ready to leave. We knew where we were going (Rome) but not yet how to get there as cheaply as possible.
Hanging around the docks in Asunción, we found that the captain of a small Dutch freighter was willing to take us to Rotterdam for a reasonable fee, as long as we undertook to get our trunks and ourselves aboard with utmost stealth, as the carrying of passengers was not approved by the company. The ship was in port for a while so we had time to work out the logistics of the adventure. Our voluminous baggage was loaded first without attracting attention but we decided to board during the night from San Antonio.
The river was very low so we had to wait a few days until the water rose enough to allow a rowboat to slip us from shore to ship . Three of our closest friends volunteered to row the boat to assist our secret departure and it was an emotional and tense farewell. Tears were shed as we climbed the ladder swinging against the freighter's hull and hauled ourselves up on deck, scuttling quickly to our cabin where we had to hide until morning when the ship was well out of sight.
"The Captain". NdA. Felt pen. ..... ."Ship's Cook". NdA. Pen & wash.
The Dutch captain, a handsome and friendly man, taught us about navigation and we sat with him at mealtimes - invariably cabbage, potatoes, cabbage, meat and...cabbage. To this day I cannot smell cabbage cooking without being reminded of that long sea voyage (two and a half months).