Thursday, September 25, 2008

Getting to know Uruguay

(Some views of Montevideo)

(A beach in central Montevideo !!)

(The view of Montevideo from "El Cerro")

After the festivities of New Years were over it was time to do some maintenance on my bike. Remember the problem from Casimiro de Abreu? Well, now that I have the correct part it was time to put it in, as well as a number of other things. So that is what I did for around two weeks during the day, and in the evenings we might go to a movie or have dinner with some of Katherinas family. The time passed incredibly fast. At some point we decided that we would stay in Uruguay until after Carnival which would mean the end of January. A short while later we were informed that the best part of Carnival in Uruguay was the "Llamadas" which took place around the 8th of February, so we decided to hang around until then.

(La Paloma)

During this time we spent a few days at La Paloma, which is a beach resort up the coast. The beaches in Uruguay are very nice, for the most part wide open expanses of sand, with some very nice towns alongside them. La Paloma is one such place, although of course Punta Del Este is probably the best known resort town in Uruguay. Punta Del Este is where all the celebrety have vacation homes and during the season it is basically a non-stop party. For my money, a sleepy place like La Paloma is miles better. I might also mention that thought the beaches are very nice, the water is freezing. Nevertheless a few hardy souls could be found in the water.

(The Carlos Gardel Museum in the rain)

We also did a little ride around parts of the country. Specifically we headed north from Montevideo, to have a look at the famous Gardel Museum in Tacuarembo. For those of you who don't know who Gardel is check this link out: Carlos Gardel The museum is in a beautiful part of the country, green valleys and small hills everywhere. The museum itself is a testament to the lenghts that the people of Uruguay will go to dispell the notion that he was born anywhere else than right here! There are letters, and documents on all the walls, all which serve to show that he was born, and grew up near here. These include copies of passport applications etc. Besides that there are some newspaper articles on the walls which show Gardel in his various travels, and movie roles. The documentation is certainly convincing but in the end I was more interested in what he did than where he was from, and for that this museum wasn't really very good.

(Camping above the Salta Dam)

From here we headed west to the Salta where there is a huge dam across the River Uruguay, providing electricity for both Uruguay and Argentina. This took us through the heartland of Uruguay. When people ask me how Uruguay is, I can now confidently answer; pretty boring! Basically it is flat to roling grassland, with varying amounts of wind. The main commercial enterprise is livestock. Either cattle or sheep. There is not much industry other than some mining in the north, and general industry around Montevideo. Making the country pretty much a sleepy backwater, with some stunning beaches, few people, lots of cows and just generally relaxing.

(The dam at Salta, Argentina is on the left)

From Salta we headed south, along various paths and visited some of the villages along the river which also serves as the border to Argentina. In one place we ran across a park, which had at it's center, a piece of the Berlin wall (a very small piece at that, not much more than a large rock!). Surprising in the least. Ok, maybe not, the name of the town was Nuevo Berlin!

(In Paysandu, Postre Chaya)

With the exception of some pretty hefty rain showers we had some really nice weather, the roads were good, and it was just really nice to ride around this sparsely populated area. North of Colonia we found what turned out to be a particularly popular beach and campground. This being the middle of summer it was packed with tourists, mainly Argentinians who come here for the river beach. As luck would have it it had been raining on and off for the past few days, and as we drove in there was a very ominous cloud hanging over the area. Sure enough, just as I was finishing putting up the tent, the sky went totally black, and the wind picked up. After that the rains came, we are talking serious downpour, coupled with strong wind. Almost as quickly as it came it disappeared, all in all it lasted maybe 15 minutes, but the change was incredible. Where before there was nice green fields, or empty culverts, now everything was under water. Many tents were flooded and or had washed away. Our tent of course had no such problems, there weren't any quality tents, so it was to be expected. The things that pass for tents around here are barely more than a couple of thin aluminium poles holding up some thin fabric. Across the road from us was a guy with a much more brilliant idea than a tent. The guy had a medium size truck which was empty, inside he had his furniture, including a refrigerator, sofa, table and lamp. When the storm hit, he just closed the back door and rode it out. Pretty cool.

(A typical view of central Uruguay)

Once the thunderstorm was over the sun came out and we had a look around. There wasn't actually much to this beach, a brown wide river wasn't exactly appetizing after the virgin beaches of northern Brazil. Plenty of children seemed to disagree with me though!

From here we passed through Colonia which is a very picturesque town on the convergence of the Rio Uruguay and the Rio Plata. We just rode through and headed to Montevideo and some more Carnival fun.

(At the racetrack in Montevideo)

(Mercado del Puerto, Montevideo, Yum, Yum)

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