Uruguay 6: Fiesta de la Patria Gaucha & Fortaleza de Santa Teresa

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.

We entered Uruguay and briefly stopped at the Termas del Dayman where there were just too many visitors – so we continued to a beautiful and quiet stop at Termas San Nicanor further on.

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

Argentina 4: Gaucho Festival, Parque Lanin and Villa General Belgrano


If we could, we would have stayed longer in the seven lakes area. As luck had it, we visited a typical Argentinian Gaucho gathering.

Argentinien und Uruguay sind bekannt für ihre Gaucho Kultur. Pferde und Rinder sind hier die Essenz des Lebens.

Caro had no difficulty in persuading us to accompany her to the annual Gaucho festival – what an experience to see how real gauchos were handling their horses. The town Junin de los Andes was abuzz, streets were lined with shops selling everything a gaucho needs.

Our stay in San Martin d.l.A. was finally coming to an end – but not before we paid another visit to the famous ice cream shop Mamusia – not to be missed when in the area.

After we said our goodbyes we proceeded to Lago Huechulafquen at the foot of Lanin volcano into PN Lanin. Here we found a superb free camping spot among trees (camping libre) far into the park and at the foot of the volcano ( S39°45.1194 W071°30.5982).

During the night we had some rain, but the morning turned out perfect and we later passed Corral de Piedras, proceeded along Rio Limay to Embalse Ezequil Ramos Mexia, a huge dam and found a camping spot near the dinosaur footprints at Camping las Huellas, basic but ok.

Since we had brought with us a post card from Post Office Bay on Galapagos, we drove to Neuquén, where we delivered the post card to Teres Perleaz, to whom it was addressed, then proceeded on the R151 to Santa Isabel, the road littered with potholes. The road was straight for miles on end and Karin did most of the driving, relaxed as there were no more curves. For the night we reached the town Telen, where we camped in the recreational park – a police woman promised to keep an eye and she patrolled a few times during the night.

We tried to cover a good distance through the pampa – not the most diverse landscape. Passed through Victoria toward the North, then through Villa Mercedes, an ugly and poor town. While en-route to Merlo we got hit by one of the notorious hailstorms and had to seek shelter to prevent the vehicle getting damaged. Many other vehicles stopped and draped their windscreens with blankets. The soft light and the clouds were beautiful and impressive.

In Merlo we overnighted at El Rincon Camping Municipal; the town is worth visiting, close to the mountains, full of restaurants, art shops and action companies offering paragliding, fuffy sliding (Tirolesa), quadbiking etc. We had a terrible rain storm during the night- not the best night for all the campers at El Rincon.

Following a breakfast and stroll through the picturesque town, we hit the road through the mountains towards Villa General Belgrano – the road had been closed due to the storm, but as we proceeded the first paragliders jumped and enjoyed the view from high up and were soaring with Condors. The mountain road became almost a track and quad bike groups and enduros raced along.

We were rather surprised when an oncoming camper vehicle suddenly stopped and the two occupants jumped out and greeted us – Eric and Nancy Hesemans are the owners of the balloon safaris along the route towards Sossusvlei in Namibia. What a surprise in the middle of the Andes. They were on their way to Vallecitos Parque Natural and hopeful to see some Condors. (Note: the red Mercedes bus shown below is not theirs -it is typical for some locally converted camper buses)

We reached Embalse Ministro Juan Pistarini, the camp site at La Cruz was very busy and partially flooded, then we passed a Nuclear powerstation after Embalse and ended on Camping Club de Pesca, which was pleasant and not overly full.

After a stroll along the lago and a small breakfast, we proceeded to Villa General Belgrano, a village with the largest annual beerfest (Oktoberfest) in Argentina. I-Overlander indicated that Camping la Florida is a popular stop over, run by owners Ralf Lage and Bettina Wittkop, originally from Hamburg’s pub scene.

While we were setting up camp, travel friends Willy and Gaby Cordes arrived in their bright red Toyota Hilux (we called them bombeiros due to the red vehicle – an unusual colour for overlanding vehicles). Willy kindly offered us his gas bottle, which fitted our bracket perfectly (we had lost our Cadac gas bottle in Ecuador ).

Ralf persuaded us to partake in his Super Asado – a braai of enormous volume: sausage like Chorizo, Blood sausages, chicken, the fatty gland that regulates the growth hormones in cattle, beef ribs cut across, all with the typical Chimichuri sauce. We spent the evening until late, eating and talking as it is typical for an asado.

Our first full day at the camp was occupied by washing, cleaning, mailing, blogging. Then we walked into the town – mind boggling to hear old german folk and country songs, every shop offering various Oktoberfest paraphernalia including the widest variety of beer mugs. Below a liter capacity nothing seems to go. We spent a restful evening at the camp, assisting Bettina to book some flights as they do not have any credit card facilities at the camp.

We had ordered fresh, home baked bread and met the Bavarians Sepp and Annemarie Still. They promptly convinced us to stay on their small holding next afternoon, where they had Gaucho friends coming across and it gave us a chance to meet some of the locals –both gaucho and Germans, some being descendants of the Graf Spee mariners, a ship that sunk in Montevideo in WWII.

The next afternoon and evening we spent outside Villa Los Reartes at their small holding, the visitors singing while Annemarie played an accordion, first having coffee and cake and then eating a pork, masterly prepared by Sepp.

This post covers 12th to 22nd February 2017