Uruguay: The Dark Chapter

Published: May 26th 2008
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Greetings, dear readers. It has been some time since we shared our news, but we´ve been having a bit of a traumatic time lately and have been a little distracted. Uruguay has been a bit of a challenge it must be said. Firstly, it was closed for the week-end - no boats across the river from Argentina - and so we waited in Monte Caseros until the Monday morning before making our way expectantly to the jetty for the launch across the river. Due to wind, inclement weather or possibly an extended mate break, the boat couldn´t immediately cross from the Uruguay side, but eventually did appear, bobbing along and looking very small. We were soon hauled inside the tiny wooden craft; us, the bikes, 28 sacks of flour, one or two passengers and the ship´s dog. Twenty minutes later we were greeting a comittee of Uruguay immigration people in the middle of a thunderstorm. They searched our bags diligently and gave us a list of prohibited items; it resembled an inventory of my rear pannier - fruit, cheese, nuts, ham - all prohibited. But, as the official whispered, he´d let me keep them.

Having kitted ourselves out with maps and money in Bella Union, we set off the following day for the city of Artigas. It was a hard ride: 145 km with a strong, unhelpful wind through an uninspiring landscape of huge pastures populated by cattle and almost as many ñandus. The rice harvest was being brought in and spilt grain littered the road-side. Huge flocks of bright yellow and green, opportunist finches took advantage of the bonus feast. Reluctant to leave their spoils as we approached on the bikes, they fluttered around us like clouds of butterflies.

As we arrived in town, a road cyclist drew up beside us for a chat. Noting that he had a good bike, we asked the whereabouts of a decent bike shop and were subsequently lead through the streets to a fine shop belonging to an experienced and succesfull cross-country racer, who was also a dab hand in the workshop. Now, the technicalities of bicycle maintenance have been stretching my spanish beyond its limits, but I managed to explain that Richard was worried about his little balls at the front and in no time he was refurbished with a new axis in his front hub, and searching for something else to worry about. The hunt for decent tyres continues however.

Another long day followed: 128 km along a road which climbed and undulated up to a vast plain which stretched away for ever. A head wind made life difficult and I was becoming ill with a painfull and unsettled stomach. When we eventually reached the tiny town of Tranqueras, I was exhausted. We found homely and comfortable lodgings, which was just as well, as we were to spend three days here while I recovered sufficiently to ride again. By now my stomach was very unsettled, eating was impossible, and I was desperately short of energy. Meanwhile, Richard suffered a series of Groundhog Days, endlessly touring the town and visiting the same corner shop and dining room each day; he was soon a well-known figure about town. Like the Flying Dutchman, our fate was to remain here eternally until I could break the cycle by eating a big platefull of pasta (I know, not the same as performing an act of unselfish love, but almost as difficult).

As we finally left town, we stocked up on warm bread from the bakery and, evermindful of a publicity opportunity, the baker ran out to take photographs of us with bread in hand. On the way to Tacuarembo we met Dario, a lovely chap who stopped to chat and invited us to his family home in Valle De Eden. Sadly, it was out of our way and we declined, but Dario left us his card and e-mail should we change our mind. I noticed that he was a doctor- I could have done with meeting him two days ago. Several kilometers later, we were flagged down at a police check point - what now, I thought. But they only wished to pass on a message from Dario - to call him on the cell phone number should we need anything whatsoever while we were in Uruguay. Throughout the following weeks, Dario was to send us messages of support and give us friendly contacts should we need help.

The following day we were pleased to leave Tacuarembo, which, it must be said, is spectacularly without charm. We had a long ride ahead of us, facing a headwind and with accomodation and food supplies uncertain. As we rested against a farm gate, the farmer came out to ask if we needed anything and

From Brasil looking across the road into Uruguay
we were invited inside to chat with him and his wife whilst he rang his friend in a village some way ahead to find out if there was any accomodation. The couple were expecting friends for lunch and the mouthwatering aroma of meat and sausages roasting in the woodfired oven filled the kitchen. We were offered a helping, but politely, and uncharacteristically, declined, to the relief of the would-be luncheon party.

It was too far to reach accomodation that night, and we crept into the forest to camp. Our tent was pitched and we were just about to wrap ourselves around a cup of tea when, to quote David Attenborough: "What the **** was that?" We were frozen by an animal cry the likes of which we had never heard before. A quick scan with the torch revealed at least three pairs of eyes shining back at us. We went through an inventory of the days road kill, trying to identify the likely owners. Foxes were statistically the most probable; wildcats the most worrying and we discounted the small, black and white, skunk-like creatures with pointy teeth. Knowing that a night´s sleep would be unlikely until we had identified the culprits, we watched them, watching us, watching them, until a glimpse of a grey body revealed the answer - foxes! I bet it was them that let Richard´s back tyre down in the night.

The next day it was onwards to Melo, meeting on the way an Argentinian cyclist, on the road for seven months with little luggage other than the obligatory guitar, as far as I could see. His rear hub bearings were shot and the wheel held together with wire. What were we messing about at, I wondered. Once in Melo, Richard befriended a passing cyclist, who in turn magically produced a handful of friends including some from the council who then provided us with accomodation in the municipal sports centre, normally reserved for visiting sports people and, bizarely, musicians. It was perfect. That night I ate the richest meal that I had had in several days. It was my undoing; within moments my stomach was sore and bloated and by the following day I was exhausted and could barely eat. I rested for a day, but unwisely we then set off for Treinta y Tres some 100 kilometers away. After 20 kms it was apparent
Fort at Santa TeresaFort at Santa TeresaFort at Santa Teresa

Only open at the weekend, therefore best to invade anytime mid week.
that I was in no condition to get there and I leaned upon a fence post to rest and eat. By a miracle of timing a coach pulled up beside us to drop off passengers. With trousers and shoe laces flapping (I was trying to remove a layer of clothing at the time), and resplendent with white stripe (my fence post had just been painted), I ran towards it. Yes, it was going to Treinta y Tres, and the cavernous luggage hold opened up to allow the two bikes to wheel straight in, panniers and all. Someone was certainly watching over us.

We were to stay in Treinta y Tres for four days while I slept and tried to coax my beleagured stomach into accepting food. Meanwhile, Richard acted as nursemaid, explored several uninteresting bike routes in the surrounding area and introduced himself to the local bike shop owners. After three days without progress, I went to see a doctor. I must say, it is much easier to get an appointment in Trienta y Tres than it is in Spondon, and very soon I was seated before a very personable young doctor who asked a barrage of questions and did a thorough examination, including those things that old fashioned doctors used to do at home before tests took over, like looking at my tongue, eyes and finger nails. The answer was the same, however: probably a virus and the treatment, rest, and a decent manicure. Oh, and I was to adhere to a very simple diet, which turned out in practice to consist of boiled rice and skimmed milk, and excluded virtually everything that I had been trying to force down for the previous few days. Our last night in Treinta y Tres, we spent in the company of the local bike shop owners, Claudia and Julio, and their friends and family. Many of them are cyclists and adventure racers and we watched videos of last year´s adventure race and of their recent cycle tour of Brasil. Their lively company was a real tonic for me.

In my weak and wobbly condition, cycling was out of the question, and so we abandonned the bikes and headed to the coast using the excellent, bike-friendly bus service. We stayed briefly in the anonymous, duty-free paradise of Chuy, which straddles the Uruguay- Brasil border. Unwittingly, we stayed in Brasil, which made for a confusing time when we had to pass through Uruguay customs the following day. Once firmly back in Uruguay, we hopped between the beach side resorts and fishing villages of the atlantic coast, resting and taking short walks along the pristine, deserted beaches; three days at Punta Del Diablo; four at La Paloma, where we were scooped up by the secondary school english teacher for an afternoon in the classroom!

Our penultimate stopping point in Uruguay was the swish Punta Del Este; the Monaco of Uruguay, and playground of rich Porteños. Unfortunately, the weather while we were there owed more to Manchester than Monaco! Finally, we spent a few days in Colonia Del Sacramento. This beautiful, quiet town stands on the bank of the Rio De La Plata opposite Buenos Aires, and boasts a gorgeous historical quarter with old buildings in Portuguese and Spanish styles. I comment to the cleaning lady at the hostel that Colonia is the loveliest town in Uruguay. She doesn´t agree, but then she comes from Tacuarembo. Oooops.

Tomorrow, a ferry across the river to Buenos Aires, to bring another leg of our journey to a close; next stop Ecuador. See you there.

Additional photos below
Photos: 16, Displayed: 16


Looking out from fort at Santa TeresaLooking out from fort at Santa Teresa
Looking out from fort at Santa Teresa

If you find a hill, best build a fort on it.

Familiar sight on east coast of Uruguay

27th May 2008

hope you are both feeling much better. am looking forward to the next episode. lots of love DAD
28th May 2008

Yes Back at last
Such a long time since your last blog entry, some people would have been puzzled why. But we now all know the reason, and wish you a speedy recovery. As usual, marvellous story telling, and excellent photographs. Here`s to a very smooth next 6 weeks until you reach Mexico. Love Nora and Dad xxx
6th June 2008

restored to health
Sorry you have been unwell Di but looks like yo are getting better wasn't that stuff from Fray Bentos was it ?
6th June 2008

Thinking of you
Just had a look to see how you are getting on, have been following your progress. best wishes John

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