Since we now had about 4 weeks left before our return to Cape Town, we decided to take a second look at Uruguay. Our first impressions were dampened by rainy season when we arrived in May – maybe the country had more to offer that flat cattle ranches?
Noch hatten wir genug Zeit, uns in Uruguay genauer umzuschauen. Ist dies Land wirklich so langweilig wie unser erster Eindruck war? Wir beschlossen, gemütlich entlang der Küste in Richtung Montevideos zu fahren.
We crossed the Uruguay River via the Salto Grande dam wall which forms the border between Concordia in Argentina and Salto in Uruguay. At the joint border offices, customs officials of Uruguay advised us that our vehicle never officially left Uruguay when we originally drove into Brazil the previous year – we should have handed in our vehicle paper to customs. This now could not be rectified on the spot, so next day we again had to emigrate back into Argentina where we drank a coffee at a gas station, then returned to the border once more – this time round we got the paper for our vehicle with validity in Uruguay for full 12 months.
It was a pleasant camping site with good ablutions and many birds around including the Ñandu, a smaller version of an ostrich. While we held our braai at the camping site, the dog belonging to the lodge shook and possibly killed a skunk next to us – it was not a pleasant sight nor smell – a strong odour similar to carlic lingered on into the early morning hours. Nevertheless the evening bath in the termas under clear skies was absolutely magic.
Following our successful exit and re-entry in Uruguay, we finally had the correct papers to leave the vehicle until March 2018. We drove on to the Termas Guaviyú, our next stop for the night. The area was huge – we camped a little distance away from the crowd of holiday makers and had a large area all to ourselves. Some mozzies in the evening, customary shower of rain early morning.
We continued on Ruta 3, then turned off at Lorenzo Geyre towards Tacuarembó and after a pretty boring stretch, did some shopping in Tacuarembó and found an idyllic spot at a Laguna to the north, inside a small forest of pine trees. A local gentleman came to run his dog in the forest and informed us, that the well-know Uruguayan national Gaucho festival/feast, the Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha, would start on Thursday. As we decided to stay and pass time, we starting looking for the cave Gruta de las Helechos (ferns) but never found it, the drive through the hills nevertheless compensated for the effort.
As we did not want to wait in Tacuarembó until the Gaucho Festival would start, we drove to an old, disused gold mine, the Minas de Corrales that was operational between 1867 to 1970 and is a protected sight now. Originally mercury was used to process the gold, later they switched to cyanide.
Camping was free and drinking water available at the Ruinas del Cuñapiru. (This is the site of the first hydroelectric system in South America.)
Here we met campers Darren Robert and Natalie Beltrán with son Teo (both had worked for Continental in Brasil) enjoying the drive through Uruguay and looking for new work opportunities.
Since the showers were cold at the camping site we stopped at a service station next day, had lunch in the Gaucho steakhouse and took a hot shower at the truckstop for 45 Peso. By evening we were back in our little pine forest outside Tacuarembó, again we had another very quiet night.
Not so the next : by late afternoon armed police searched for a villain in the area – we decided to move camp after they had requested us to phone 911 if he pitches up. It was the first time in 10 months that we felt it would be safer to stay elsewhere. So we camped at Valle Edén some 25km away, close enough to return to the Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha in Tacuarembó the next day.
This national Gaucho festival was a sight to be seen, especially since the riders starting at age 5 are already participating. We sometimes wondered whether they had been glued to their saddles, so proficient at this young age.
We spent the day enjoying the Gaucho atmosphere and traditions and watched the youth perform. A small village had been erected to display the way of life and old traditions.
For the night we returned to Valle Edén. Next morning the heavens opened up. We briefly visited the Museum for Carlos Gardel – (1890 –1935) who was a French Argentine singer, songwriter, composer and actor, and the most prominent figure in the history of tango.
Visiting the gaucho festival this day seemed impossible due to the incessant rain so we decided to continue via Ansina Melo to Trenta-y-Tres where we found free camping on their municipal site. A fairly noisy night with lousy ablutions. Our Spanish teacher, José, had taught us, that a beautiful woman in South America is “guapá” -we started understanding this expression.
We decided to drive on via Pedro Varela, Lascarno and in the direction of Coronilla on a rural dirt road. On the way a large agricultural machine came towards us, it was as wide as the road and we had to pull off to the side – promptly sinking into mud and down to the axle. An oncoming truck had to pull us out as we could not get back up the embankment.
As Coronilla had no camping possibility we pressed on to Fortaleza de Santa Teresa (1762-1793), a beautifully restored fort that saw much action between the Portuguese and the Spanish.
Not far from the fort is a large natural camping area along the sea which can host probably 500 or more campers in the season. Since school holidays were over, it was empty and we found an ideal spot among trees close to Playa Grande – in walking distance (2km) over a dune or two to Punta Diablo where we already had been 10 months earlier. The water was warm here and offered safe swimming with no currents.
This post covers 2nd to 13th March 2017