Capital – Montevideo Currency – Peso Uruguayo (UR$) Language – Spanish
8th November 2012 – Following a 13 hour direct night flight from London Heathrow, we landed at Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Favourable winds over the Atlantic had given us a bumpy flight at times but also resulted in a slightly earlier landing. The Manuel Tienda bus from the airport (170 peso) turned out to be an excellent, cheaper and very well organised choice of transport to take us to the ferry port. The temperature outside at 9 a.m. was 32 deg. so the air conditioning inside the bus made it a comfortable journey, especially as we had left London in winter clothes, walking boots and carrying full back packs. It was also a slow journey through the main city of Buenos Aires where traffic traffic clogged the streets and numerous huge lorries taking containers to and from the port, certainly contributed to this. The Buquebus ferry terminal was again well organised, our boat leaving at 15:30 for Montevideo. We paid tourist class (£88 for two) and everyone took a comfortable seat on on the ferry. Huge windows all around the bow gave excellent views, although there was not a lot to see for the 3 hr. journey, except for the murky brown waters of the huge Rio de la Plata. As we approached the waterfront of Montevideo however, it looked very attractive with the late afternoon sun illuminating the port and numerous city buildings. A final taxi ride took us to the Ibis Hotel on the seafront where the long corniche was used nearly all day long by joggers, keep fitters, fishermen and dog walkers, all battling against the strong winds off the Atlantic. We would certainly recommend this hotel. We had a comfortable room with a safe, an excellent buffet breakfast with lunch and dinner if required and the staff were all extremely welcoming and helpful, some even speaking very good English. There was a well-stocked supermarket in the next road and we discovered it was easily possible to walk up Ejido Street on the main 18 de Julio Avenue where everything happens and also to the Ciudad Vieja (old city).
9th November – We visited Uruvan, the company that we had chosen to help clear our vehicle through customs as quickly as possible once the ship arrived. However, the very hot weather that Montevideo had been experiencing, turned to torrential rain and strong winds, the calm sea now a churning, dark brown mass, with waves crashing over the corniche and the palm trees looking wet and bedraggled, quite a change from yesterday’s beautiful silhouettes against a brilliant orange sunset!
10 – 15th November – We walked to and from the main street of 18 de Julio Avenue many times in the next few days, as delays in Buenos Aires meant that our ship is now due on the 14th. It is very easy however, to settle into Montevideo’s relaxed and friendly atmosphere. The long shopping avenue of 18 Julio is a mix of old and new, with modern towers of glass and steel amongst huge, old palatial buildings. This busy street is interspersed with numerous plazas and their statues which provide a green and peaceful haven amongst the crowds and traffic, Plaza Independencia being the largest with its granite and marble mausoleum under the bronze statue of General Jose Gervasio Artigas, Uruguay’s national independence leader. At one end of this main avenue is the 40m high pink granite Obelisco dedicated to the Constitution Writers of 1830. Its 3 bronze statues represent Law, Liberty and Strength. Behind this monument, stretches the green Parque Batlle with many lovely trees and luxury houses and apartments. Sculpture Jose Belloni has his famous ‘Carreta’ (oxcart) monument within this park. At the other end of 18 Julio, through the Citadel gate (once part of the walled city) is the Ciudad Vieja, the old city, with its cathedral and plaza with a marble fountain. The streets are full of market stalls, music, chess players, flower sellers and pavement cafes. Amongst the back side streets we discovered interesting wall paintings….. and a number of old vintage cars still in use on the roads today. We soon learned to find the streets in the old part of the city with the shipping, insurance and customs offices and made many visits to these before completing all the necessary paperwork ourselves required by MSC (the shipping line) and Maersk (the container company), prior to releasing our vehicle from the port. Unfortunately we were disappointed with the attitude and efficiency of Uruvan, our original contact in Uruguay, who continually kept putting obstacles in our way to delay us getting our vehicle. We eventually used a customs broker, Adriana Radiccioni. Adriana worked with her daughter Florencia who spoke excellent English. Both were brilliant in helping us by completing all the necessary paperwork at the customs and in getting our Land Rover out within two days of the ship docking. We would definitely recommend them.
16th November – We visited the port this morning with Adriana and Florencia and finally got our vehicle. Everything is fine and we are now ready to begin our trip! 17th November – Heading east from Montevideo to explore more of Uruguay, we take Routa 9 to Rocha, a very green area with rolling hills, estanchias (ranches), cattle and horses. From there to La Paloma on the coast with long, sandy beaches and strong surf rolling in. We stop at Altena 5000 Youth Hostel and ask if we can camp on their large area of wooded land. No problem and we were offered the use of the bathroom inside the hostel. Very peaceful until a nearby disco began playing very loud music around 8 p.m. How they must love to party! The music continued until 8 a.m.! 18th November – Before leaving the hostel we had many visitors admiring Moby and taking photographs, he is creating quite a lot of attention! Today we take the road for Punta del Este. Beautiful big skies, wide open spaces and rolling grassland to the horizon providing wonderful grazing for the cattle and horses. Many trees providing shade, whilst rivers and large areas of surface water provide watering holes. Long, yellow gravel tracks lead off into the distance toward the estancias. Punta del Este is situated on a narrow peninsular with miles of beautiful sand beaches and dunes. Luxurious houses and tall apartment blocks line the sea front and the harbour is full of expensive boats of all shapes and sizes. It is ‘the’ place to be seen in the summer months. A huge sculpture of the ‘mansa’ (hand) attracts crowds of people on Brava beach. It was a ‘must’ for us to find the Moby Dick Pub overlooking the harbour because of the name of our Land Rover but it was closed until the evening. After a seafood lunch, we watched fishermen cutting up fish on the sea front with seagulls and sea lions lined up waiting for the scraps .
Another ‘must’ was to visit the very unusual, huge white villa and art gallery that we had read about at Punta Ballena in Maldenado. This incredible structure has been designed and built by the Uruguayan artist Carlos Paez Vilaro without using any right angles. The view across the sea toward distant hills was spectacular.
The interior was a maze of corridors and rooms at different levels overlooking the sea and displaying the artists colourful paintings, interesting sculptures and pots. Photos on the wall showed meetings with Picasso when the artist was younger.
From Maldenado we drove to Minas through beautiful green countryside once again with private estates and estancias amongst the rolling hills and rocky outcrops, fields once more full of cattle and horses.
We arrived late afternoon at Arequita Municipal Camping approx. 12 km outside of Minas. This was situated in a huge green area of land, full of trees, surrounded by beautiful countryside and overlooking Cerro Arequita, a large, rocky outcrop of nearly 300m. There were little cabins to stay in if required, tables, seating and barbecue areas, electricity, warm showers and swimming pools. The people at reception spoke no English but were typical friendly, relaxed and warm hearted Uruguayans who just wanted us to enjoy our stay. We could park anywhere we liked and it was only 100 peso per night (£2/£3)!
19th – 21st November – So far the weather has been very hot and sunny but last night we had torrential rain and thunder and lightning. Two coach loads of children arrive at the campsite with their teachers. We met up with one group of 9/10 yr. olds from a local school, led by Santiago Olivera from Minas who spoke very good English as he had visited New Zealand. They were fascinated by Moby and how we lived inside, to hear of our trip and to practise their English. A great bunch of kids, here for 2 days of team building activities, swimming, fresh air and lots of fun! They took us across to their building that they were staying in and showed us their dormitories.
Late afternoon when it is cooler we walk across adjoining farmland, followed by one of the campsite’s many dogs, to climb the Cerro Arequita. An interesting climb, just avoiding a swarm of bees and nearly stepping on a huge, brown and hairy spider as big as a hand, that Santiago confirmed later was a tarantula and very common along with snakes. The views from the top which we shared with some cows, were beautiful and very large birds known as Cuervos were gliding overhead. 22nd November – We leave Arequita Camping and drive back to Minas taking Ruta 8 east for approx. 10km and then taking a winding track toward Penitente to enjoy the panoramic views.
Before leaving this area we stop once more just outside of Minas and visit the massive stone monument Cerro Artigas. Well worth a visit.
This area around Minas, approx. 120km east of Montevideo has certainly been one of our highlights in Uruguay. We are very glad not to have missed such an area of outstanding natural beauty with its cattle and horse farms and remote and wild open spaces.
We head west to Colonia del Sacremento following flat farming land with fields of corn, cattle and horses and some citrus trees. Colonia was originally a 17th century Portuguese port, situated where the Rio Uruguay and Rio del Plata meet and is now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is certainly a picturesque town with many lovely old houses in the side streets, some stone and others a paintbox of colours. Streets are lined with huge, leafy trees and the occasional colourful shrub. Many houses have window boxes and pots with plants and lovely gardens like a green oasis.
No litter, only carpets of purple petals under the Jacaranda trees that are in full bloom. The old city gate has been rebuilt using the ruins of the old wall and wooden drawbridge and the ancient Street of Sighs has houses on each side belonging to the first colonial period.
Just outside of town, dirt tracks led out to a beautiful and very green countryside with many estancias and cattle and horses knee deep in grass. No chance to wild camp however, as all the land is fenced on both sides of the tracks. With only one very expensive campsite available, we spend the night in a lorry park next to the port.
23rd November – Rather than stay another night in the lorry park, we take Ruta 21 to the town of Fray Bentos as we had told the Customs that we would be crossing the border from there into Argentina. We pass farming fields each side of the road with ripe corn, maize, some vineyards and of course, miles of grazing land and many trees. The soil looks very black and fertile. we could be anywhere in England except for the palm trees, green parakeets and farmsteads. John Deere is also big business out here for farming equipment.
Arriving at Fray Bentos and enquiring about campsites at a Parador, a very kind lady offered to show us the way to Las Canas on her little motorbike where there was a campsite. It was a very large and very pleasant camping ground with many trees, brick built barbecue areas, tables and seating, basic toilets and unfortunately, only cold showers. A little shop was tucked in one corner and sold fresh bread in the mornings. A lovely place to relax in and completely free of charge until December! Moby is creating a lot of interest once again, especially the lift up roof and when Bill uses the Kelly Kettle to boil water. More photos are taken by the visitors. Tomorrow it’s the border crossing for Argentina……we hope! We use up the last of our fruit, meat and dairy products, as we have heard and read, that these are possibly taken away before entering Argentina.
24th – 25th November – We drive out of Fray Bentos to the border post but first we have to go through all the paper work to be able to leave Uruguay. This we thought, should be quite straight forward. Tables 1 to 4 went fine and our passports stamped for exit but our hopes were dashed at the final table 5, as apparently we did not have a very necessary customs vehicle exit form that should have been sent by the customs at the port in Montevideo to issue the release of our vehicle from Uruguay. A very helpful guy phoned Adriana Radiccioni and we were assured that it would be on the ‘system’ at the border by 9 a.m. on Monday 26th. The border guy apologised profusely as now we would have to be stamped back into Uruguay again, hope this doesn’t happen too many times or else we will be needing new passports! He suggested we visit Fray Bentos, as being his home town, he assured us it was a very nice place. We had been led to believe that Fray Bentos had very little to offer, in fact we imagined it to be a last dusty outpost before the border. But what a pleasant surprise! It had such a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere, avenues lined with trees, beautiful green plazas full of flowers, clean, neat streets of houses and many shops.
The helpful tourist office gave us a map of the town and told us where we could find the old Fray Bentos factory that used to make the famous tins of corned beef, although this is now a museum. Next door was a little hotel which welcomed us to sit inside to use their WI FI and have a coffee. We found an excellent little supermarket to replenish our food stocks for the next 2 days but which also had an amazing selection of miniature cakes all filled with the famous dulce de leche. And so we return to Las Canas Camping where we discover that our electricity supply box has a nest with eggs in it and a little brown bird keeps flying in and out.
Our lunch is good and the cakes…….AMAZING! We take a walk in the afternoon through the camping ground and within minutes we are on the sandy beach at the edge of the Rio Uruguay. We walk back along tree lined streets with some beautiful houses and stunning gardens with spectacular views across the river. Many were for rent.
When we returned to the campsite, we discovered another white Land Rover parked not far from Moby with an Azalai camper on the back……they must be French! Yes, Chantal and Gilles had also been turned back from the border today with the same problem as ourselves, as they had also shipped to Montevideo. But how very nice to meet up with some more travellers with similar interests and to share stories, although their many journeys to various parts of the world, made our trip seem small in comparison! We shared gin and tonics and lots of experiences that evening. Thank you for your good company and let’s hope that we all successfully get into Argentina on Monday!
There are many families here for the weekend, lots of barbecues smoking and big pieces of meat cooking. All the young teenagers zip about on small motorbikes down to the beach. We meet Leti and Emi from Argentina who have driven from Buenos Aires in a Volkswagen Dormobile camper…..another great vehicle! Leti introduces us to drinking mate. Made from yerba leaves, it is a relaxing drink but must be hot, hence the flask of hot water that has to be carried, along with the cup of yerba leaves. Leti looks at our map of Argentina and gives lots of advice, as well as writing down good cuts of meat to buy. Many thanks to you both for all your help, it was lovely to meet with you and your English is excellent. We hope you have a fantastic journey when you visit Europe and maybe Africa!
26th – November Our big day once more at the border, will we make it this time? We leave with Gilles and Chantal and we all keep our fingers crossed. Our passports are stamped again to leave Uruguay, at the border kiosk this time,and we have the Argentinian stamp also but we are waved down to park and to go inside to clear our vehicles. No, our important document is still not in their ‘system’ as promised, and Gilles and Chantal also have problems. No one seems to know what to do with us all and the lack of communication in Spanish does not help. The nice guy who helped us before is unfortunately not here today and so our papers are passed from one person to another until after a very long wait, an older guy arrives to take charge. He has to make many attempts to ring the port customs before finally getting through to them……another long period of waiting. It is very hot and there are two very long queues of vehicles arriving at the border without any shade. It must be very uncomfortable. Finally the call arrives and the papers are issued and we go to the final table to get them stamped. Gilles and Chantal have sorted their problem also and we are all ready to leave for Argentina!