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Published: November 28th 2010
October 20, 2010 Montevideo
If you see a car parked with a bottle on top, it means the car is for sale. Not only in Montevideo, but throughout South America. Montevideo is the capital of Uruguay, a country of green, lush meadows seemingly stretching to the end of the world, now and again alternating with gently rolling hills where hundreds of animals, with a surprising number of horses, graze peacefully. Montevideo itself is a sprawling city of only about one-and-a-half million people. For a while we’ve been “holed up” in a curious hostel, “art hostel” is the name with only a ground floor and 1st floor, each 1,5 times the height in more conventional buildings. A beautiful wooden, winding staircase gets you to the first floor with 4 or 5 rooms, some double rooms, some dormitories. Since it’s being renovated and it’s off season, there are seldom more guests than us two. It’s quiet, with good coffee, fresh bread, butter and a sweet paste for breakfast included in the price. Garaging our car ads some to the cost, but it is actually too cold in the evenings to camp. Looking at the date we ask ourselves:
when will it get warmer and, even more important, will it be warm enough in the south of this continent to camp? And we have come to the conclusion that it won’t. We realize we have made a mistake coming here with our plans to visit the south, drive over and along the Andes in Chili and Bolivia. In part the mistake is due to the decline of our monthly income because of all the trouble with our tenants, but even with our income restored we would have unsuitable equipment. In Africa and large parts of the rest of the world it would be fine.
We have decided to drive up to Colombia (a long and potentially very cold trip!), sleeping in hotels when the weather and temperature make camping impossible and looking for a buyer for our equipment. By then we have seen a decent part of South America and if we have to leave to find a camper van we can live in, also in a harsh environment, we will do so.
Apart from the above, South America has a lot to write about. First, there are the insects. Flying and creeping, they are everywhere. Sometime not much
bigger than those pesky little things we found, (sorry, who found US in Scotland and Norway) which leave you acing all over without realizing what stung you. Sometimes just mosquito’s, in droves or single flyers, and sometimes a sort fly, but bigger that approaches you like a stealth flyer and who’s sting draws blood, apart from an itch that lasts for days. There are small flies that circle in front of your eyes, land on eyelashes and will not be crushed easily by clapping your hands in front of your face. And they NEVER stay in place when you hit the place they are sitting, almost but not yet giving yourself a blue eye.
Of coarse there are also beautiful insects, like butterflies. I wouldn’t be surprised if South America was famous for it’s butterflies, orange and fluorescent blue and pink and big and small. The variety is endless.
And then the corruption!
Corruption is not for nothing one of South America’s main flaws. Many times we heard amazing stories about traffic police pulling cars off the road for “inspection” or minor traffic offenses and skimming, or trying to skim money from the tourist. We heard about a
touring bus full with English speaking tourists taken off the road, “inspected” to see if everything was working and in place according to local by-laws until they found a side light that was defective, and fining them an astrological amount of money, all the time letting cars go by which wouldn’t be allowed on the road in other countries, saying that was them but we are now busy with you.
We were caught overtaking on a stretch of road with double lines, something that is common everywhere, especially in most South American countries, where every bend in the road is preceded by a warning (mostly not needed), every incline and decline of the road is preceded by a warning, (mostly not needed), and that goes for every place where you should not overtake, places where cars may leave factories and virtually every other place of the road which is not straight for kilometers to see from your car. But we were caught and initially were told the fine was 150 US$. Eventually, after sitting at the spot for hours with my drivers license taken away from me, we were escorted to their police station, some 20 km back, where the
commanding officer insisted the fine was 50 US$ and had to be paid before he would return my license. 50 US$!! To us that is almost twice the amount we can afford to spend every day.
That was after we had crossed the border from Argentina into Paraguay. Later that same evening we stopped at a camp site that was recommended by Lonely Planet (Manantial Parc). It proved to be one of the best camping places we had experienced for a long, long time. Level, shady and grassy grounds, water and electricity where we pitched the tent, fantastic facilities such as toilets (with seats), hot and cold water, generous showers, big swimming pools (which we did not use) luxurious lounge with TV and WiFi etc etc. We stayed there for two weeks, after we had decided that living, I mean LIVING in a TENT is not the ideal way to live your life, especially in the America’s where too much is too cold, summer and winter, and too much is still very primitive.
One of the things we find curious in these countries, especially Bolivia, is the popularity of chicken and (very often cold) potato (chips) as evening meal. A
place where a more varied dish can be had are hardly anywhere to be found. Another widely habit is the use of mate (pronounce like father). It’s a drink made of very finely cut leaves and thin branches of a cultivated shrub, a family of the holly shrub, dried and processed and on the shelve everywhere in 1 kg bags or bigger and in a variety of 20 or more tastes. A measure of the stuff is pored into a special mate cup, over which some warm water is pored, usually from a thermos flask. People walk, talk, get into taxies and stand in groups with the thermos flask under an arm and sucking the liquid from the cup with a sort of metal straw with filter dipped in the cup. Especially in Paraguay it was astonishing to see how many people were walking along wile enjoying their mate. Ann enjoys it also, but I stay faithful to my coffee and whiskey. Especially coffee as I can make myself and whiskey when available.
Anyway, a few days ago we crossed into Bolivia. That is the second time we did, and this time it was at an very quiet border crossing.
So quiet, that we missed the passport check about 40 km before the actual border and 11 days after our permit for the car to be in the country had expired. We just didn’t know that until we had a big argument with traffic police, at one of their many check-points, a day before.
And we had been delayed in Paraguay , amongst others because of the passing away of Ann’s dad, 3 days before his 99th birthday.
Since there was nothing we could do about it, bar from getting back to La Paz to have it extended (a no-go solution), we risked and got another big problem at the customs check at the border , which was eventually sussed down by the customs official from Bolivia who gave us a 6 months permit for his country. What no-one had mentioned was the passport issue, which came to life about 60 km after the border post where the Bolivian passport check was situated. Since it was arguably no problem to the Bolivians, we were duly allowed entry without having been stamped out of Paraguay, although with a warning that we were to encounter major problems if we were to try
and enter Paraguay again, lol.
Operators of fuel stations not too far from the border love foreigners with their own car, because they can charge twice the price of fuel legally, supposedly because the price of fuel is much lower than in the bordering countries and they have real or imaginary suspicions that said foreigners will take that cheap fuel out of the country. When observing the size of the fuel tanks of border-crossing trucks, that suspicion may well be justified, but Bolivians themselves are never charged more than the local price. A day and a half after crossing the border and having used all my fuel including my spare from a jerry can, we were still not able to get the cheaper diesel and even further on I had to use all my persuasive powers to get 30 L at the normal low price. It was nearly not enough because after we had slept in a hotel the second night, the 300 km to the next town (Sucre) was a very course gravel road that was no match for our tyres. I lost 2 of them, both repairable but not reliable any more, a great loss. The construction I
had made in the car to carry our luggage also crumbled under the strain and will need repairing with much stronger steel to be ready for the next stretch of gravel, which is still a major part of the national network here.
In Sucre we found a very nice room in the center of town, which is not large anyway. It’s lively and colorful, with aroma of food and diesel fuel from the many, many buses that surge like blood through veins. I had my tyres repaired and, as Ann pointed out, since the road to La Paz from here should be tarred all the way, they should give us no trouble. And coming back to coffee:
The coffee Bolivian style consists of a large amount of hot milk poured over a small amount of coffee extract. It’s not bad but not what we (I) am used to. And a bit of disappointment when you look for some good coffee. We expected to find that, together with some good cake (as in Santa Cruz) at the German Café Berlin, some distance from our hotel. But instead of good coffee we were offered Nescafe and hot water while the cake was far under par as well. A Big Negative!!
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