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.