Reflections on Uruguay

   

Lucy
I loved going on the rides in the in the amusement park.  My favourite was the horse merry go round.  We tried to go again the next day but it was closed.
In Uruguay you need to be 8 years old to climb up the lighthouse.  This was not fair as I could not go up and I wanted to go up.  
I loved seeing my friends Betti and John again.  John is silly and Betti is nice.

 

 Alisha

I could climb up the lighthouses because I am older than 8. But I did not really like going up it, as the steps were really steep.  We met Betti and John again unexpectedly which was lots of fun.

We did a long drive across Uruguay.  There was not much to see except lots of cows. I liked in the running in the sea when we got to the beaches.  I played tag with Lucy but she could not catch me as I ran in the sea and she had a cut on her foot which stung when she went on the sea.

 

  Gilly

Uruguay might never hit the top 10 places to visit in South America but that doesn’t mean it is without its charms. The white powdery sand Atlantic beaches are definitely a highlight. 
On our two day drive across the interior we saw how most of the country is agricultural, especially as it was harvest time. We saw many gauchos (Cowboys) riding their horses with their berets and baggy trousers. Beef farming is big here and I was surprised to hear Uruguay is is home of the Oxo cube in the town of Fray Bentos. A familiar name to most Brits, from the famous meat pies, which I also never knew came from Uruguay. 
We’ve felt very secure in Uruguay, parking up for the night in several town centres, including the capital Montevideo. 

 

Steve
Uruguay is one of the smallest South American countries but we still drove over 1,500kms in 9 days so it is all relative.  It is probably the most developed country we have been to in South America and feels very European.  While there are no stunning must see highlights it is a very pleasant country to travel around.  As such it makes a good place to start or in our case finish a South American adventure.
We were lucky in that we got summer weather without the summer crowds when we were at the beautiful Atlantic beaches in the North East.  We were also fortunate to witness a number of lovely sunsets.

Uruguay is famous for its fantastic beef and we certainly saw plenty of cows while driving across the interior of the country. Some people even say it is better than the beef in Argentina but based on my extensive research I think the crown for best beef still belongs to Argentina. 

 

  

Uruguay

Uruguay’s dramatic Atlantic Coast more than made up for its more humdrum interior. Whilst most of the country is flat, green and agricultural the beaches we saw were beautiful with white powdery sand, crashing surf and backed by dunes. Our first stop on our short skip down the coast was Santa Tereza national park which had two stunning beaches backed by pine forests. Obviously very busy in the summer, it was almost deserted when we were there. The picturesque fort added to its charms. We drove the short distance the following night to Laguna Negro to see a beautiful sunset over the lake and slept to the sound of mooing cows.     
 

   

  

Cabo Polonia is a tiny village with a lighthouse nestled amongst the dunes. The only way into it is on a ramshackle 4×4 truck as it is in another national park. I don’t think the girls will ever complain about bumpy roads in our well-suspensioned truck again as we rocked and bumped our way through the dunes and along the beach. The imposing lighthouse on the headland was surrounded by tiny holiday houses in the dunes. It was very laid back place with an impromptu guitar and bongo jam going on while people waited at the end of the track for the truck and a man strolling around playing a ukulele. In one of the few quirky cafes open we were served lunch by a bald man wearing just tiny swimming shorts. Tie-dye clothes and shells were the only other things on sale in town. The warm Indian Summer weather was perfect for a walk along the white sands. 

   

       

That night we parked up in a tiny village just north of the park where we found a spot behind some dunes. It was worth getting up early to watch the sunrise over the sea.  

  

   

Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, on Sunday afternoon was full of families out enjoying the warm weather. We had heard that we could park up for the night in a park right in the centre, far better for us as all the campsites were miles away. It turned out the park  was close to the seafront, an amusement park and was clean and well ordered. Even better as well as having parking attendants on the weekend, it also had a security guard 24 hours a day. Once we squeezed into a spot we asked about parking for the night, no problem said the lady, just pay me a tip for parking today. Perfect. I can’t imagine parking up in somewhere like Hyde Park in London for the night and no one having any problems with it. We had been sad to say “Goodbye” to Betti and John, our friends with a similar truck, last week but were really pleased to hear that their search for new leisure batteries for their truck was going to bring them to Montevideo. So they pulled into the park soon after us. Betti and I joined the throngs at the amusement park whilst the girls spent their pocket money, feeling out of place as we weren’t sipping the ubiquitous mate. Mate is a bitter herb that is drunk all over this region. Everyone carries a thermos of hot water to fill a little gourd cup stuffed full of herb, it is sipped through a silver straw with a filter at the end. It is constantly topped up and drunk absolutely everywhere! 

  

A stall selling Mate Gourds 

 

After a peaceful night in the park we strolled a few kilometres along the promenade into  the historic part of town. Montevideo was a pleasant enough city, with some pretty colonial bits but nothing spectacular. The real draw for Steve was the promise of of real Uruguayan Parilla (barbecue) at the meat market. It wasn’t as gruesome as it sounds, I had visions of entrails all hung up, it was actually a collection of barbecue places in an old market building. Sitting on stools at the bar we got a good view of the masters at work on the grill. The true carnivores amongst us enjoyed the various bits of offal and black pudding, while the girls and I stuck to the more pedestrian cuts. 

 

  

  

 

Colonia is a pretty little colonial town just 50km from Buenos Aires across the mouth of the Rio Uruguay. We’d heard of a parking spot right on the river front, so cautiously wiggled our way through the cobbled streets avoiding all the pedestrian zones. The spot was perfect for a couple of hours wander around the tiny town. Midweek and out of season, it was quiet with few people around. So we were nicely surprised to have a knock at the door and see travel bloggers: Tony and Thomas, who we had met on the cruise to Antarctica. (www.contemporarynomads.com). Catching up it was interesting to hear that Antarctica was also their absolute favourite experience that they had had in their 8 years travelling.  

   


 

  

I can’t believe that we have so little time in South America left, after being in the continent just over a year. In just over a week the truck will be put on a massive Ro-Ro car transporting boat to Durban, South Africa. We are then hoping to fly back to Europe for two short weeks to see family in Spain and England, before joining it. Over the last 6 weeks Steve has been tirelessly juggling all the different aspects, including the “Carnet de Passage” (effectively the truck’s passport) which we need for Africa and beyond. His task has been made far more difficult because the ship has been travelling much faster than it was originally timetabled for. It is now expected more than a week earlier than it had been originally scheduled. We naively made plans and bought our flights to Spain and then the UK when we first booked the ship, so he has had to dolots of juggling. It is also taking just 14 days to get to South Africa. In hindsight, we should have not tried to combine the trip home with the shipping but parked up and flown back, then returned to ship. We are all really excited to go home and see our families, we just wish it was for longer.

In Montevideo we saw a boat similar to the one that the truck will go on next week. 

 

   

Crossing the Continent

We have spent the last week doing a lot of driving as we have driven 2,400kms from Santiago ( near the Pacific) to North Eastern Uruguay, on the Atlantic Coast.  As our remaining time was now short in South America and as we had already seen Central Argentina we decided to dash across to see our last South American country: Uruguay.
Before we could set off though we had to go through all the work done by the MAN garage in Santiago. They had done a thorough job and we had new oils, filters, belts and some other bits.  After a quick test drive everything seemed ok and the following weeks drive showed all was well. The garage had been very helpful again.
Leaving the garage we headed to the Argentine border at 3000m in the Andes.  The last time we had crossed this border we had to wait at the bottom because it was closed due to snow.  This time there was hardly any snow to be seen as we drove up the pass but with the sun shining, the views were magnificent again.
  
This was going to be our last day with views of the Andes. We have travelled with the Andes as our constant companion for much of our time in South America and have loved the spectacular views of the mountains.  We were going to be sad to see them go.  It was also Gilly’s birthday and unfortunately was not much of a birthday having spent the morning in the garage and then driving across the border.  However after crossing the border we doubled back a few kms to see the biggest Andean mountain of them all, Anconagua standing nearly 7000m high and the highest mountain outside the Himalayas.  Not a bad view for Gilly’s birthday.

   

  

We camped nearby and I had managed to smuggle a birthday cake into the truck.  It was cold so we all snuggled inside for a birthday tea.
The next day we set off on a long drive across Central Argentina.  John and Betti, our friends, had been in touch and suggested we have a last meet up near the Argentine/Uruguay border so we were off to meet them.  We drove through the familiar Mendoza with a quick stop to buy food before heading across the flat  plain of central Argentina.  The mountains disappeared behind us and the scenery was flat and boring.  

   

We passed the town of San Luis and started to look for somewhere to camp.  Seeing a dammed lake on the map we thought there might be an opportunity there and there was. We parked up on the road next to the dam wall.  We arrived just in time to see the sun set.

 The next day was an even longer drive, even longer than we had planned.  The scenery did not change much at the start as we drove through Rio Cuarto.  Our plan was to camp in Rosario on the banks of the massive ParanĂ¡ Delta.  This was a drive of 600kms and we were relieved to arrive in the city just before sun set.  Rosario is famous for been the birthplace of the Argentine flag, Che Guvara and more recently Lionel Messi.  Not that this really interested us as it is a city of over a million and we just needed somewhere to sleep.  We arrived at the one campsite to find it was closed for local municipal elections and we could not stay.  As there was no where else suitable to stay we continued East.  The road now was on a causeway across the delta.  It was a busy road and it quickly became dark.  As we were on top of the delta large insects were splattering the windscreen as if we were in a rain storm.

It was not pleasant driving and at the first town we looked for somewhere else to camp. No luck so we pushed on again.  Finally after 2 hours driving in the dark we saw a truck stop next to a restaurant.  It was quiet and the lady said we could stay for the night.  I was relieved as we do not like driving in the night.  It had been a long day and we had probably covered our largest distance ever in a day, 800kms.
At least it made the drive the next day much shorter.  We arrived in the riverside town of Colon shortly after lunch.  Colon is a pretty town on the shore of the River Uruguay and has a long sandy beach.  We were there though to meet up with John and Betti and found them in town.  We headed to the campsite where we spent a lot of time catching up.  We had brought a big piece of Lomo ( Argentine fillet steak) with us and plenty of wine and soon we had built a big fire and enjoyed a great meal with lots of wine.

We spent a relaxing day in Colon with John and Betti by the side of the river.  It was great to see them again and we have enjoyed meeting up with them as we have traveled through Central and South America.

 

  

  

 The next day we crossed into our last South American country, Uruguay.  The border crossing was quick and easy and after stocking up in Paysandu we headed across the interior of the country heading for the North East near the Brazilian border.  The scenery now was rolling farmland with lots of cows and horses as well as the occasional Gaucho (South American cowboy) riding their horse.  These were not tourist Gauchos but the real deal.  We camped up by a dried up river bed for the night before continuing the next day.

It was another long drive and the scenery was all the same.  It was definitely farming community and sometimes the farming vehicles slowed things down a bit.
However we managed to arrive at Santa Teresa National Park on the Atlantic Coast just before it got dark and were able to find a nice place to camp amongst the pine trees.