Uruguay-Travelogue :Wandering in America del Sur
Number of Uruguayians who do not speak English - 2
Number of Uruguayians not drinking mate - 0
Number of people in Punta del Diablo in January - too many!
Number of people in Punta del Diablo off season - 2
Number of people in Montevideo who haven´t gone to Punta del Diablo - 2
Number of days without rain in Uruguay - 0
Number of days without scorching heat - 1
Number of Canadians who haven´t stooped to drinking mate in the blistering heat - 2
Number of foreigners riding the bus in the dark to Punta del Diablo without a reservation - 2 - could these be Canadians?
Number of vehicles post 1990 - 2
Number of vehicles pre 1970 - too many to count!
When you think of Uruguay what do you think of? If the answer "not much" comes to mind then you would be in the majority. And for us it was the same. All we knew from the Air Canada in flight magazine was that it was in the top 5 beef consuming countries in the world! Information that I wouldn´t think would get us too far! And so we set out to discover the country, without preconceived notions and sin (without) guidebook because not only did we not have one, but none of the bookstores sold one. Hmmmm ... this should be interesting ...
But what a civilized way to enter the country, via the catamaran from Buenos Aires terminal directly to Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay a mere 1 hour jaunt over the ocean or rolling over the ocean in a storm as our luck would have it. There seems to be something about us and boats and planes!
Headed straight for tourist information to try to piece together some info, any information to fill in the gaps of the places that we knew the names of and not much else - Colonia, Montevideo, and Punta del Diablo. Fortunately for us, the office was full of glossy brochures, maps and we were soon on our way to the bus station to buy our tickets east.
As soon as we stepped out of the terminal we knew we were in a different country. Somehow it was a quieter, gentler world. Gone were the honking of the horns, the quick pace of Argentina. Instead there was almost no need to check the traffic before you crossed the road and you could amble in the street. All of the cars were of a 1960 vintage and not exactly build for speed so there was no fear of being a victim of a hit and run like in Chile or Argentina. We began to exhale!
After booking a room for our return a few days later we boarded the bus - first stop Montevideo. Only a few minutes out of town we were pulled over on the side of the road wondering just how long this alleged 2 hour trip was going to take. Turned out the bus was dead and we started on the process to transfer to another bus hoping that our bags made it too!
Now there is something that must be mentioned about bus travel in Uruguay - bring a book! The scenery is very pastoral, but of a very small scale, particularly after gazing upon the wide open spaces of Patagonia. Many medium sized fields and very few cows. I kept thinking it would change, but after the first 15 minutes it´s all pretty much the same, field, cow, field, cow, repeat for 6 hours and you have Uruguay!
Coming into Montevideo woke us up as we passed through shantytowns and then closer to the city, but since the bus terminal is 3 km outside the central area could not really get any sense of the place. The bus terminal was a bustling place full of more young Uruguayians with all types of backpacks loaded down with sleeping bags and camping gear, heading for the coast. And if you had to wait too long, there was not only McDonald´s, but a full on shopping mall connected in which to spend all your pesos!
Now most tourists head directly to Punta de Este, home of the beautiful people, starlets and party central of Uruguay. It is one of South America´s premiere beach resorts right now. Very hip and very in. But preferring to see a little more of the true Uruguay, we headed further east, actually so far that we were nearly kissing the Brasilian border. Now if the idea of staying in a place which translates as "the Devil´s point" isn´t all that appealing well then you´ve come to the wrong place.
According to its scant mention in the Lonely Planet, Punta del Dialo was a wild place with surf, sand and solitude, quiet for now. Sounded good for a few days of R&R. Planned to get there just in time for dusk. Of course things did not exactly go according to plan since our second bus was the milk run bus and we can safely say that we have seen every small inland town between Montevideo and the border! We have driven around every Plaza des Armas and seen every bus depot! Exciting it wasn´t! And surprise, surprise, not another tourist on the bus!
Dark came early, much earlier than in Patagonia and we were doing what I said we would not do, arriving in the pitch black without a plan. And we were totally unprepared for Punta del Diablo. Spilled off the bus with the mass exodus and found ourselves in the land of beach vacationers, Santana playing in the streets, the roar of parrilla cooking, people wandering aimlessly in flipflops and not a sign to be found. Quiet? Not! It was the high season!
But surely some guesthouse owner would be out to meet the bus and be drumming up business?! Not the Uruguayian way as it turned out. The places had been booked well in advance with all the good ones being snatched up months ago. The place was hopping and our heads were spinning as there was seemingly no order or reason to finding a place here, Spanish language skills being absolutely essential! Looked helpless and got ready to start pounding the pavement in search of a spot to lay out heads, but remembered the name of one hostel and did what any self respecting tourists would do, went straight to the police station and asked them where it was. They pointed out directions in the dark and we were off.
The hostel turned out to be very hotel looking, but also very expensive for what you got. When we expressed concern about the price, the owner told us that he had another option, a cabana - 2 story with two bedrooms and a full kitchen. Went over and checked it out. The price was right and while it was basic, it seemed fine and we decided to save ourselves the grief of wandering aimlessly in the dark for hours and just take it! Good choice!
But there is just one other thing about renting cabanas in Uruguay and it went a long way to explaining all the sleeping bags we saw on people´s backs, there are no sheets or towels provided which is why it is so cheap. Of course, we were not carrying our own set of anything so through a combination of pathetic faces and hopeful Spanish, we managed to secure a set from the owner for free. Yippee!
After a restless sleep in the oppressive wall of heat that greeted us and having been eaten alive by mosquitos, we walked around town and by the beach, quiet, only the sound of 5 year olds in their wetsuits off with the instructor to surf school.
Everywhere there were little coloured houses ranging from ramshackle affairs to multilevel custom cabins with big glass windows. But regardless of size, the common denominator was the big bbq grill area for parrilla! Development was encroaching and no longer was it a quiet beach, but it was all small scale with no high rises in sight. The big night out still remained a stroll down to the local ice cream shop and everyone still packed up for lunch at 1 and left the beach with their families.
With almost no foreign tourists and almost all Uruguayians, it was an interesting study in culture - much more laid back, low key and not as affluent. Everyone played in the waves and after sat on the beach with their thermos and cups of mate which is a national obsession. Almost without fail, everyone had mate with them. And even at 38C every restaurant aka chip wagon advertised "agua caliente" hot water for mate. Without ours we were definitely outsiders.
In the afternoon just as we had decided to try and go out again - we had gone back to our little cabana to escape the heat - we heard the snapping of trees and the telltale screeching of the wind. Just had time to start battening down the hatches before a major thunder and lightning storm with winds of epic proportion hit.
Sat in relative safety of our cabana until we started to fill the dripping of water! Not only was it pouring in through our window sills where there was so much that it was splashing up and over to our table, but we looked up to see it running down our walls from the second floor down, several recognizable patterns of water droplets and damage. And being from Vancouver, we know what we are talking about! Hoped that it would not get much worse and now understood why our cabana was so much less than the hotel room! Ran to check all our stuff in our backpacks and get ready to abandon ship if necessary!
Fortunately a few hours later it let up and everyone came out to walk to the ice cream place, to browse in the art galleries and street stalls and to stand and listen to the local musicians on the one main street trying carefully to avoid the foot deep puddles that had turned the dirt roads into swamps and it was just another night in Punta del Diablo ...
Read on for more Uruguayian tales in the next installment ... these pictures tell the story for the whole Uruguayian trip - enjoy!
|Start of journey:||Jul 05, 2005|
|End of journey:||Mar 02, 2006|