Uruguay, I'm a machine.
Trip Start Oct 13, 2012
32Trip End Ongoing
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After another very sweaty walk from the bus station we arrived at liveMVD hostel, spent a bit of time showering and sorting ourselves out, and began to get to know the hostel staff. The hostel is owned by two young women, Lu and Alexandra, both of whom were friendly, helpful and, most importantly, easily amused.
Having not eaten all day we decided that the plan for the evening would be a cheap yet hearty meal, followed by painting Montevideo red until the early hours. This plan failed almost immediately.
The first snag came at the restaurant we had found in the pedestrianised old part of town. Whilst Rob and myself had elected for chovitos, the local hamburger-like sandwiches, sean decided to really push the boat out from his usual restaurant staples of pizza and carbonara, by getting a cabonara INSIDE a pizza. Unfortunately the restaurant obviously was not aware of sean's typical cream/bacon/dough intake, and the calzone he was provided with was approximately the size of the empanada's sold at every street corner, despite costing about 9 times the price. After the waitress had helpfully cut this in half, an operation not to dissimilar from splitting the atom, except slightly more bacon scented, sean inhaled slightly, vacuuming up his entire dinner, and leaving him in a state of irritated dissatisfaction and unfulfillment until now only experienced by hannah.. Sensing the night souring, the three of us put our heads together to come up with some sort of solution, a way out of this predicament. Our £20,000+ educations had obviously not gone to waste however, and sean was soon placated by a healthy dessert of spaghetti carbonara. Better the devil you know!
Disappointed with our dinners, we decided that any space left in our stomachs and any money left in our wallets could easily be solved with the application of a few litre bottles of beer. Unfortunately we were, to use the technical term, shit out of luck there too;our arrivals was on a monday, the night all the bars in Montevideo are closed. After a lot of wandering around, we finally called it quits and, promising to ourselves that tomorrow would be better, elected to hit it harder tomorrow, returned to the hostel.
Upon arriving, we explained our disappointment to Alexandra, and got to talking about our trip to here. She seemed unhappy we were spending so little time in Uruguay, only staying in Montevideo two nights and one in Colonia de sacramento before moving on to Argentina. "Why not see more?" she asked "Why not rent a car and drive up the coast?". Being the forward planning and schedule aware people we are, we immediately agreed, and spend the evening organising car rental and planning our route, a process that consisted of typing place names into google image search and seeing if they looked nice.
The next day, bright and early we awoke, keen to have breakfast. One of the main reasons we chose this hostel was because of how many of the reviews raved about the breakfast, calling it the best they had on their travels. Finding that it consisted only of bread and butter was therefore a bit of a shame, but fortunately we soon located an alternative: a man with a shopping trolley on fire, barbequing sausages on a piece of sheet metal. Despite the fact that this man had more fingers than teeth, but lacked a full set of either, he had a certain something that kept us coming back for those sausages. We would later discover that cooked meats was not the only thing he sold, and that certain something was very possibly crack.
With our car booked, and a plan to hit the road reasonably early, we knew today was the day we had to see Montevideo. Helpfully, the city is arranged in such a way that a straight walk through the centre (more or less) will take you to everything worth seeing, and so this was the route we followed. Along with the usual sites capital cities offer, such as beautiful buildings or areas of greenery were some nice changes, such as a handicrafts market filled with all sorts of oddeties, or an old market building converted into a large upmarket asado food court.
I personally was a big fan of the London-Paris building, not really because my year previously had been spread between these two capitals, but more so because it had now been converted into a McDonalds, and I was able to get ice cream.
Once we felt we had seen what Montevideo had to offer, we returned to the hostel for a healthy dinner of pizza and beer, before heading out for our second bash at Montevidean night life. This attempt was infinitely more successful, in that we managed to have TWO WHOLE BEERS before giving up on trying to find places that were open. Tails between our legs, we returned home.
Happily, the hostel staff we all up and drinking, supposedly innocently, but in reality probably celebrating the departure of Julia, an American girl I had come to close to strangling after a single conversation, and who had spent five weeks in the hostel. We joined them, originally for a few beers, which of course resulted in rob having various objeCts stuffed into his mouth to train him to roll his rs, whilst sean and myself taught the uruguYans some of the finer points of the English language. If you ever find yourself in Montevideo, and an enraged local calls you a wanker or a twat, you have us to thank.
This of course resulted in a later and significantly more painful start to the start of the next day than we had planned and, secure in the new found freedom that having a car provides, we decided to wait until we were good and fit before setting off. At this point, our impromptu road trip had become a good opportunity to test our camping gear, until now completely unused. It seemed unwise to start trekking having never used our equipment, and the last thing we wanted was to set our tent up for the first time in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, with no one around and no proper facilities.
You can probably see where this is going.
We eventually loaded up and left Montevideo at around 5pm, our first destination 400km east, the small fishing town of Punta del Diabla. Armed with our expert equipment (the back of our Montevideo map had a map of Uruguay with about three roads on it, one of which was the one we needed), we made the trip to the town in about 4 hours. This sleepy coastal retreat attracts thousands of tourists in the high season, drawn to the authentic, almost rustic atmosphere, and the feeling of getting away from it it all. This means that the town boasts some extensive and well supplied campsites, including one with a pool, and it seemed like the perfect place for a first foray in to camping. However, what we failed to take into account was that this was not high season, and as such there were no tourists. And with no tourists, there was no reason for the campsites to be open, so they weren't. After driving around for a bit and realising there was not going to be anywhere we would be allowed to set up our tent, we did the only sensible thing, and decided to set up our tent anyway. As such, we found ourselves setting up our tent for the first time in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, with no around and no proper facilities, but at least it was illegal as well.
Our night was surprisingly comfortable and, except for one stray dog spraying its scent on the side (the first of many unusual and inhuman smells to emanate from it), entirely without incident. We woke early, spent a few hours exploring the town, before hitting the road again, but with one small but significant difference: this time, the driver was one handsome sonofabitch.
Our first destination was Laguna Negra, the black lagoon, one of the largest lakes in Uruguay. However, not being frequented from the side we were on meant that the only access to the lake required us to leave route 9 (supposedly the best road in the country) and move on to a three mile dirt track, covered in lumps and enormous pot holes. A bit of expert driving by yours truly saw us through it with basically all of the cars wheels, and nearly hitting only one gigantic turkey vulture, and we soon arrived at the lake.
Being the less visited part of the lagoon, as well as right in the middle of low season, we were the only people to have taken this route and as such the only people on this side of the lake. On top of this, given the lake's size and distance from the road, we were probably the only people for a number of miles in any direction. This was an incredible feeling, a experience of total escape (if only for a moment) from civilization. It was the most alone we had ever been, and we reacted the only way we knew how.
After out doing the creature from the black lagoon on his own turf, we got back to the main road and headed a little further east, to the Santa Teresa national park. The park itself is very well kept up, as part of the Uruguayan army's more important duties, and is designed to be driven around. Unfortunately, the maps of the park bear zero relation to the roads of the park itself, which combined with the fact that we didn't know what any of the stars on the map translated to meant we ended up driving through one of them, as well as accidentally driving through a cow pasture.
Nonetheless, we saw all the park, some very nice natural scenes interspersed with me being unable to find a toilet and sean falling into what he hopes was a bog of rainwater and I hope was a sewer. The park also had a campsite, and this one was actually open! Our accommodation was sorted! Sadly however, it did not have anywhere to eat and, being growing lads, we had already eaten all of our oreo cakestars and gummi worms for lunch. We decided to drive a little further up the road to get something to eat in Chuí (pronounced Choo-ee)
The town of Chuí lies on the brazilian border, and is split evenly between Brazil and Uruguay, the border of the two countries running along the main road of the town. Thankfully, the authorities realised that having to go through border control to pop across the street would be a right pain in the ass, so the official policy is "Fuck it". As long as you stay inside the town limits, you don't need to show anyone a passport. The insurance companies are less generous however, and we had to be very careful of the route through town we took, as we had crossed the border we would have been driving without insurance.
Getting back to Brazil allowed us to re-sample some Brazilian delicacies we had gotten a taste for and had to leave behind last month. Specifically, rob bought a litre of grape fanta, having been searching for it for weeks, as well as his fourth pair of flip flops of the trip so far, whereas I was a lot more mature and sensible, and spend a bunch of money on some Brazilian anti hangover medication I'd found to be a bit of a winner. Sean meanwhile, really wanting to reconnect with our first entrance to Brazil at the start of the trip did as he did then.
After a big meal (meat) we decided to head back to the park to camp up. Another midnight tent set up and night's sleep later, rob was back at the helm, and we decided to leave the coast and head inland, to a town called Minas in some of the nicer Uruguayan countryside. Regrettably just before we left the camp wardens turned up and made us pay. If only we had escaped a few minutes earlier! After paying about 6 pounds between the three of us, we headed off, our terrible map in hand, to navigate part of the 80% of Uruguay's road system that isn't paved.
On paper the route seemed simple, a little way along the way we came we would turn off onto a road that cuts through the centre of the country and travel north for about 100 km. This was perhaps the point a better map would have been useful. The road turned out to be a dirt track, pitted with pot holes, wide enough for a single vehicle at a time, and forking off without any road signs. With our car being the cheapest one we could get our hands on, it was not really designed for this sort of road, and the trip took a lot longer than we had thought. There were also one or two other obstacles that blocked the way, but fortunately we found ingenious ways to overcome these.
On arriving in Minas, we immediately stuffed our faces with sausages (sean has had a lot of practice) and head to the tourist information to try and find something actually worth seeing in this place. Despite the woman not speaking any English, we muddled through, and although minas is not a particularly touristy place, especially internationally, she was not so surprised to see us at this point, because she assumed we were there for "the rally".
Though no doubt she was able to easily tell how politically active the three of us are, she was not talking about a big protest. No, apparently we had inadvertently arrived in Minas at the same time as some other people: The finalists in the South American Continental Rally Championship.
The rally events started with a parade through town that evening, followed by races the next morning, fitting our schedule perfectly. Not really knowing anything about rally driving, but being big fans of anything that might end in a violent explosion we knew instantly it was an opportunity we couldn't miss. This meant that we had only an afternoon around Minas to fill and so, like any serious traveler, picked two strange spanish things on the list that the woman had given us at random and decided to visit those.
The first on the list was a big horse. In fact, it was THE BIGGEST HORSE.
Just like every Uruguayan town, Minas has a statue to Artigas, the national hero of Uruguay, who basically created the state. For some reason however, the small town of Minas presumably really liked the guy. So much so that they went big, and the statue of him they now have is the biggest equestrian statue on the planet. This is something I have always wanted to see, so I assume you are all very jealous.
We arrived at the same time as a bus full of school children, who quickly discovered firstly that their English was better than our Spanish, and secondly that they were way better at jumping on to the statue than rob, which caused a lot of laughs all round. Some people might question some of the choices they had made when a bus full of Uruguayan 12 year olds is laughing at you, but rob could console himself knowing that he was the bigger man.
Leaving rob's fan club and seabiscuit behind, we headed next to a small national park a little outside Minas. However, this wasn't very good and even though it had an alright waterfall, we had seen a lot better on this trip and were a little unimpressed. Fortunately though, as we were leaving, we found something that completely changed our opinion.
So excited by the prospect of fucking about with that toy car that we abandoned our very real car without any care, meaning that when we returned we had to shoo a bird out of it. Not entirely sure why it went in the car, our best guess is that it saw sean's little noodle and thought it was a worm. A really really small worm.
We returned to Minas to watch the parade, coupled with a healthy dinner of ice cream and chocolate milk, before heading to a campsite out of town with the plan of waking early to make it for the racing tomorrow. Once again we arrived at the campsite after dark, meaning that the main office had closed. The night watchman let us in and asked for a piece of ID as collateral until we had paid our bill. Responsibly, I gave this strange foreign man my driving license, and we went to bed.
The next day we did indeed wake early. The owners of this campsite had had the bright idea of installing a little petting zoo in the campsite, perhaps as a way to drum up trade or pull in more tourists. The zoo had the usual goats and chickens, as well as a small emu and a peacock. The problem with this is that, as anyone who has watched any cartoons knows, is that birds make a fuck load of noise at sun up. If you think being woken up by a cockerel crowing is unpleasent, imagine it with the child-being-run-over scream of a peacock a few meters from your head. Still, we needed to get moving, as we had a rally to catch!
We hit a delay very quickly. Just as the office had been closed as we arrived late, we were leaving too early for it to be open, and there was no sign of the watchman. In the end, I nosed around in his stand until I found my driving license, and we drove off without paying like bandits of old. Fuck you Alfredo!
This delay had cost us though. The cut off time for being allowed on the rally course was fast approaching, and we had a lot of distance to cover. Yet again, we put our minds together admd fpound a solution. It was possible to get to where we needed to go in time as long as we drove really really fast. Genius.
Averaging about 150% of the speed limit for the best part of an hour, we arrived just in time and found ourselves s a good spot. A little later the rally started, and the road was soon filled with 60 cars, one after another, barreling down dirt tracks at speeds approaching nearly half of what we reached on our way there. The cars were doing time trials, one at a time, meaning that between each one there was a small period to cross the road or move to a different place but there was always the risk that you would spend a bit too long on the road and end up getting a lot closer to the cars than you had planned.
But, being that this was the middle of nowhere, it was trivial to jump the fences on either side of the track and walk along the fields on either side. This was a much safer option. For about 10 minutes.
We spent the next few hours dodging snakes and cars, but it was all getting a bit much for rob. The noise, the adrenaline, the fear, it was all a bit more than he could really take, and eventually he did the only thing one can do in that situation, and slunk off behind some bushes to have a poo.
Some time later we became aware the rumbling and thundering stopped, that there were a lot fewer incredibly dangerous objects moving at high speed around, and fear of dying had subsided somewhat. It was obviously over; rob had finished pooing. Also the rally had finished. Running a bit later to get the car back in time, we raced back to Montevideo, nearly snapping the axle a couple of times discovering that certain motorways in Uruguay have speed bumps, and went to return the car. After nearly crashing as I parked in front of the car rental owner, he gave it a check over and, somewhat amazingly, had no idea about all of the damage we had inevitably caused. We bid goodbye to this man and his mustache, and returned to our hostel.
That evening, a friend of mine from Paris was in Montevideo, along with some of her friends that are from here, so we met up with them. After a big dinner (they had pizza, we had beer), we hit the bars, finally seeing Montevidean nightlife as the locals do, but bringing our own, uniquely British touch to the proceedings.
After finding a promotional evening by heinekan with free beers, and stealing all the free beers, we headed to a beach party to show off our amazing dance moves. This was sufficient to scare off all the girls in our group, and the three of us danced the night away.
The next day we caught the bus to the port town of Colonia del Sacremento, a very pretty if somewhat unremarkable colonial town where we spent an unremarkable evening, before getting a ferry across the river mouth to Argentina.
We pulled up the dock around seven or eight, and yelled to the ferry "Yo holmes, smell you later!". We looked around at the city, and we were finally there. To check into our hostel, in the town of Buen. Air.