Uruguayan countryside (Tacuarembo, Melo, 33, Chuy, Punta del Diablo and the roads in between)

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South America » Uruguay
July 2nd 2011
Published: July 7th 2011
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Up to that point, all I had seen of Uruguay was its capital. I don't normally like capitals (I find them too big) but Montevideo was definitely small enough for me to enjoy. Still, I was finding it all a bit too “Westernised” and was looking forward to getting off the beaten track. The guide book suggested escaping to the countryside, with a trip from Montevideo to Tacuarembo (to the North) on day one, Tacuarembo to Chuy (near the coast and on the Brazilian border) via Melo and Treinta y Tres on day 2, before returning to Montevideo along the coast on day 3. So that was my plan... I understood what was interesting there was the road, rather than the towns where I would stop for bus transfers or a night's rest.
Bus travel in Uruguay is not exactly cheap (the journey from Montevideo to Tacuarembo was around £15), but it's comfortable. I spent most of the day looking out of the window at the green countryside. It was pretty and I kept wishing I was on a bicycle or my own car so that I could stop every few minutes to take pictures. Having said that, it wasn't the most amazing stuff I'd seen. It was mile after mile of green plains (Uruguay is very flat and low), with cows and trees reminding me a little of what you would find in some parts of France. We didn't cross many villages, we just drove through the nothingness for hours.
When we finally arrived in Tacuarembo, it was about 4pm and time to go looking for a hotel. I had a couple of options from the book, but decided to ask at the tourist info if they had any other suggestions (which they did). So I started walking around town, looking for a place. I went in and asked and tried to haggle my way to a cheap room, but I wasn't doing so well and in the end one of the women who didn't want to lower the price, pointed me in the direction of another place which she said would be cheaper. I finally found “El Hospedaje” which charged me 250 pesos (£8) for a single room with private bathroom. It was basic and not particularly nice but would do the job for a night. After dropping my bags, it was time to go for another look around town. That didn't take too long: there was not much to see... So I ended up having a rather boring evening, staring at the walls and eating sandwiches. It turned out not so bad because I needed to catch the bus very early the next morning (I think it was at about 6am) and the station was quite a walk away from the hotel.
I was up before dawn and not quite sure how to get out of the locked building. I eventually found some old man asleep in a corner, which I assumed to be the night guy. He let me out and I was on my way to the bus station. There I had to catch the bus to Melo, (239 pesos), where I would change for the next step of the journey. I didn't see so much out of my bus window because it was early and I slept a fair bit of the way. Once at Melo bus station, I managed to hop on a bus to Treinta y Treis (that means 33), my next stop. Once again, the road was very pleasant: vast expanses of green, with cows enjoying the blue skies and the odd stream running through. It was lunchtime by the time I arrived in Treinta y Tres and the next bus out to Chuy wasn't until 2.30. I asked a couple of people what could do in town and the answer I got was a funny look... So I headed for an internet café to see if I could find any information about what to do in town. What I found was something along the lines of “if you're planning to visit 33, you're better off going elsewhere”. That was going to be a long 2 hours wait! I went to the central square, where I found the 33 monument (apparently dedicated to the first 33 people who rebelled to free the city from the Spanish rule, I think) and then found the tourist office where I was able to find a town map. You know there's nothing to do in a town where the points highlighted on the tourist map are useful things like the post office or the supermarket... That was 33. The man in the tourist office had suggested for me to go to the museum. I'm not so keen on museum but I wanted to kill time, so I asked him what the museum was about. He replied “Everything, it's the town's museum, it's not about just one subject.” So I decided to go and investigate. When I got there, I found some paintings in a first room and then went up the stairs to a room where they hadn't bothered to turn the lights on. I was on my own, apart from a few staff members in an office downstairs. When I walked in the next room, I had pretty much made my mind up on the museum already. But I had been wrong. There, I was greeted by a man (who I guess was the museum guide) who proceeded to show me around the collection of antique books and mate pots (remember where they drink from) as well as all sorts of random articles. He told me much about the country and the city and finished by saying that the real reason why the city was called 33 was because of the Mason code as the Masons used to be very important, but nobody wanted to admit it. Then he took me to the restoration office where I met a man working on a painting. They explained to me what they did and showed me the whole collection of paintings they had at the back. The main guy was telling me about the different styles and schools and I pretended to know what he was talking about. He clearly thought he'd met somebody who was really interested in paintings and I didn't want to disappoint as I might have been his only customer of the day... So in the end, I really enjoyed that hour in the museum, thanks to the sweet old man who was so passionate about his stuff. After that, I went for a walk down towards the park but by the time I got there, it was time to return to the bus office to catch my next transport.
This was the slow bus to Chuy and stopped in every village along the way. It took ages but I enjoyed driving past all the little squares and seeing the locals going on about their business. After a while though, our bus stopped and we were told to all get off and go on the bus behind us, which was a direct to Chuy. I thought it was probably a good idea if I wanted to arrive before dark and followed the instructions.
By 5.30pm, I had arrived to Chuy and was discovering what I had heard about: a bit of a weird city. This town is on the Brazilian border so it caters for the needs of the Brazilian coming across in search of cheaper goods. It's basically like a big duty free town (it reminded me of Andorra a little bit). I eventually found the hostel (god knows how because I had no directions or map and had to rely on people pointing me in the right direction). The place was lovely and at 260 pesos for my own dorm with hot shower, breakfast, cable TV and extra blankets I wasn't complaining. On top of that, the owner and his wife were super nice and they even offered to share their dinner (it was too late as I'd already started cooking but still very nice). There wasn't much to do in Chuy, but I was still happy to spend the night there (it was definitely better than Tacuarembo!)
The following day, I was returning to Montevideo via the coast. The place to be on the Uruguay coast is Punta del Este, but having read the description (think Spanish resort, only it wasn't sunny or hot), I decided to head for another village called Punta Del Diablo. This turned out to be absolutely the right decision (especially as I later saw pictures of Punta del Este). I ended up in a little hippy village, where the only people I met were the odd surfer and a few locals. You could definitely tell we were out of season and all the hostels were closed, but I loved the ghost town feel of the place. The weather was a bit rubbish and I ended up taking shelter by a closed café when the rain started falling. I was glad I'd brought a sandwich for lunch as I wasn't sure I would have found anything to buy in the village. A couple of dogs had clearly smelt it and followed me for a couple of hours in the hope I would share with them, but they'd definitely picked the wrong victim! I managed to get some really top black and white pictures of fishing boats and of the lifeguard huts and by the time it was time to get on the bus back to Montevideo (a couple of hours later), I felt like I'd had just about enough time in Punta Del Diablo.
Unfortunately, the bus timetables didn't allow for another stop along the coast, so it was straight back to Montevideo. The road didn't even go along the seafront (which I thought it might have from the map I had seen) so it was more green plains and blue skies, with some parts that had palm trees growing in batches, which was a bit different and interesting, despite the fact I didn't manage to get any decent pics out of the bus window.
Once in Montevideo, I returned to the hostel I'd stayed at a few nights earlier (I'd left some of my stuff there too), where I spent the evening chatting to a French girl called Laura and her brother who'd come to visit her or a couple of weeks. It was my last night in Montevideo and even though my 3 days around the Uruguay countryside hadn't blown me away, I was pleased to have done it as it gave me a sense of having had a good look at the country and I felt like I could say I knew what Uruguay was like. It wasn't even the end of my Uruguayan experience, as the next day I was going to go and visit the town of Mercedes...

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8th July 2011
Punta del Diablo

ca confirme mon choix, je voulais y aller aussi. ca a l'air sympa
8th July 2011

j'adore.. est ce que tu t'es baignee aussi. la plage est tres jolie
8th July 2011
Punta del Diablo

une de tes fameuses photos artistiques? pas mal, tu pourras en faire un poster pour ton salon
8th July 2011

non! Pas de baignade... Il faisait trop froid...

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