Coast of Uruguay

7 04 2008

I knew there would be large distances after Montevideo, and possibly not much to see. There was and wasn’t, respectively. So I put in some big days and shot across the country, day one to just past Punta del Este, and day two to Punta del Diablo (Devils Point). Big is between 150 and 180km per day. See the map.

Some of the riding was along the coast, party through eucalyptus plantations (it is great to see my trees!), but mostly past dairy farms. So lovely and blue, woody, or green. Really it is pleasant countryside, but not overly exciting for a cyclist. It would have been heaven on a motorbike. The tarmac is very good here. Several bikes screamed past during the day (as well as plenty of mopeds puttering along). I wished one of them would let me hang on.

The weather has been exceptional. I took a day off cycling in Punta del Diablo, but I might just take another. Apparently this is the off season by the coast (thank goodness, I hate crowded coastal towns). It’s great here! Blue sky, not a cloud in the sky. The sea is warm; there is even a bit of surf. Air temperature up around 30°C. The hostel is pretty good too. Enough different people – I’ve met some other aussies for a change. If Brazil turn me around at the border, I think I’ve found somewhere to kill some time, err, profitably occupy myself.

I can’t show any photos (no camera), but I can offer a different sense of the place. The prevailing sound is the crash of the waves (or music after dark); the water is warm and the sand and water full of shell grit (it gets everywhere!), the sun on your back feels great. The clean smell of the sea is welcome down at the beach, and there is a strong, lingering sickly sweet (not tobacco) smell after dark. It is touristy, but more of a chilled out beach place. Lots of foreigners – I was expecting more Uruguayans.


3 04 2008

It would be in your (and probably my) best interests if you just ignore everything below. Perhaps pretend you’ve read it. I think my brain has taken a holiday.

Uruguay started promisingly. The first day of riding to Colonia was pleasant. Nothing too stressful, a nice change of scenery – lovely green rolling fields. A few cows. Reasonably flat.

Colonia (del Sacramento) is a lovely little place on the river across from Buenos Aires, old buildings and nice café. The sunset is spectacular – the sun melts in to the river, right alongside the skyline of BsAs. But the old town is easily explored in a few hours, and left the next day. I thought I could make Montevideo in one day (only 180km). And did, but I’m still feeling it, two days later. One reason to make the trip in just one day, is the country is boring. Let me add a few o’s to that. Booooooring. Perhaps some emphasis. Booooooring. Flat and green is nice for a half day or so, but after hundreds of kilometers… Did I mention it is boring?

I had hoped to get a bus up into Brazil, and bypass some of the boring bits in the south. But the Brazilian consulate in Montevideo has other ideas about issuing visas to trouble making Australians. Clearly I must be a potential troublemaker – no other country in South America has had a moments problem with letting me in. The best advice (from the consulate) I have now is to ride to the border and see what they say.

That will be a great laugh:
“Can I come in? Err, without a visa?”
“Why don’t you have a visa?”
“The consulate said he couldn’t give me one without bus or plane tickets showing how I would enter and exit the country. I have a bike – I don’t need a ticket to ride my bike”
“Why don’t you have a ticket to leave the country?”
“Errr, hello. Bike.”
“No. Go away and get a visa. You trouble maker on wheels”.

“But its 350km (boring!) back to Montevideo!”
“You think we care?”

Actually, I expect they wont have a problem with letting me in at the border, but you never know. I will be pretty annoyed if I get turned back now – after having gone through all the work to apply for the visa and being rejected. Do they think I want to stay there? I have a ticket to Canada after all!

And on that, I bought a ticket to Canada (in part to make the visa application for Brazil easier). I’m flying to Toronto in mid May. Not the original plan of heading to Vancouver – on the wrong side of the country in fact – but a start. I decided to not use my frequent flyer points to get an essentially free ticket. Another part from normal Steve behaviour (whats going on here?). But I had reasons, or at least one: The US make transiting through their country as much of a headache as wanting to stay there for months. I turns out that technically I could not transit through the US without having a ticket, not just out of the US, but out of Canada as well. This is despite having a visa that allows me to land in Canada on a one way ticket. So, if the US immigration official was having a bad day, it would turn into a very uncomfortable week for me as well. Does everyone assume that I’m going to try and live in their country, steal their welfare?

Personally, I think we should have grown beyond all this visa crap. I think it way too much of a pipe dream to ask to start to break down the borders around the world (hang on, haven’t they started to do this in Europe?). They appear to be heading in the opposite direction over here. Never mind, just so long as they let me in. A few extra (well many) bucks to jump over the US may be worth it in the long run.

Another behavioural deviation. Today I met up with Stefan and Sabine again for a wander around Montevideo (did I mention that for some reason Germans are not considered trouble makers, and can just go right into Brazil?). We had a pleasant stroll, looked at some old buildings. Had a nice lunch – I always seem to have big chunks of cow to eat when Stefan is around… And then, we got fleeced. I’m a little embarrassed to tell the truth. Some guy managed to get our confidence, and we voluntarily handed over cash for some football match tickets. He went off, and we never saw him again. Surprise, surprise. Now it wasn’t much money, but more that we’d spend on lunch. It was terribly galling, we simply are not that gullible. Well, clearly we are. I can only claim that my brain has taken a temporary leave of absence. Hence my comment that you should ignore all I’ve just written.

Time to watch the football match on television. We’ve paid to watch the damn thing once, let’s at least see who wins 🙂

Where am I?

30 03 2008

Back on the bike and I’ve left Argentina. It’s strange, I’ve only crossed the river, but it feels much different here.

The Buenos Aires suburb, or adjoining city, of Tigre is actually really nice. It’s very well maintained, with plenty of parks and canals. If BA is the Paris of South America, then Tigre must be the Venice of Buenos Aires. I was surprised at how big Buenos Aires is. I shouldn’t be, with a population of over 13 mil, they need 40km solid of houses. The road situation left me a bit cold though, I got sucked into a motorway at one point, stopped to ask a policeman for directions and was told to keep going. 10 minutes later I was shepherded off onto a tiny side road by another policeman.

I crossed by boat from Tigre to where-ever-I-am-now, Uruguay. This meant weaving through lots of canals along the mouth of the Rio Plata delta. This was a sunny Sunday afternoon, but I was shocked at how many boats were out there. Rowing boats and canoes were thick close to the port of Tigre, then there was a flotilla of sail boats, and then a mixture of huge power boats (expensive ones too!) and dingies with jet skis charging around playing on the wake. Amazing. The water is a horrible brown colour – it must be mostly mud from further up the river, but it doesn’t look altogether healthy. I won’t be swimming in there.

A good start for Uruguay: I don’t know the name of the town I’m in. It could be Carmelo, or Carmen. I think it starts with a “C”. It’s warm and humid here, balmy almost, distinctly different from BsAs. I guess I’m slightly closer to Brazil and the Amazon, but I didn’t think it would change this quickly. It’s more like I expected towns around here to be, it’s well after dark and the small center plaza is crawling with people. I didn’t see this as much in BsAs, it was more people going to a club or bar, rather than just hanging out.

The Uruguayan’s are friendly. So far. At least they let me in without any hassles, and pointed me at a hotel. The hotel owner was most helpful. He took me to a room, which looked quite nice and then proceeded to rattle of a price that had several more zeros than I was expecting. I realised I didn’t have a single Uruguayan Peso, and indeed didn’t have the first clue what the exchange rate might be. Slightly under-prepared, you might say. It’s all sorted now.