Uruguay Day Eight

PIRIAPOLIS-PUNTA DEL ESTE: Today I was heading on to Punta del Este, and after climbing Cerro Pan de Azúcar yesterday it seemed to me that I had seen most of what Piriápolis had to offer. It was for this reason that I rose late and raced downstairs for breakfast at the last minute. Today was a travel day and like most travel days I did not expect to get much done, however this was all about to change.

Getting breakfast was an exercise in patience as I waited around in the lounge room for someone to appear. I had called out and rung the bell but could rouse no one, so I turned the television on and waited. Finally an older lady turns up and asks me if I want any breakfast. It was now half an hour after breakfast officially had closed, but perhaps the fact that I was the only guest here allowed for some special dispensations. When it arrived, breakfast was tea and toast with homemade jams that tasted very lovely.

To Ride Or To Walk – That Is The Question
There were a couple of things that I wanted to do here before leaving, things that I had seen in some of the tourist brochures. At first I was going to walk around the place to see it all, but as I passed by a motorbike workshop, I noticed a sign offering them for rent too.

Out of interest, I wandered down the long narrow lane way through myriads of bikes in various states of repair until I reached the workshop. I then asked about prices. It was U$150 Uruguayan pesos per hour, but if I paid for two hours I could have the bike for three. At first I baulked at the price of U$300 but after working out that this was actually only USD$10 for three hours, it seemed like a great deal.

There were two bikes I could choose from, one being slightly more
expensive than the other. I chose the cheaper one, partly because both do the same job so why pay more, but mainly because this was the sort of bike that everyone around here rides and I wanted to see what it was like.

Sorting Out The Bike
After wheeling the bike I had chosen from the back to the front workshop, we conducted the transaction and I left a piece of identification with the guy, which just happened to be my driving licence. The bike had to be fueled, which was done by his side-kick who had just appeared, and the tires were checked over and pumped up. That was all the preparation it needed.

There was no key to this bike, nor was there any gears. Simply kick-start it and off you go, with the more you rev the engine, the faster you go. There was also a convenient stop button to turn the engine off again. Because of the lack of key, I asked the guy about security in this place. He looked at me and pondered for a moment and then went fishing for something among the busy shelves full of miscellaneous items behind him.

It did not take too long before he emerged again with an old rusty chain that looked like it had not been touched in years. Having satisfied himself that it was long enough to reach around the wheel, he then set about searching for a padlock. There were actually many locks around the place, but none of them had a key. Why he still kept them I had no idea.

Finally we are ready, with the chain wrapped around the handlebars and the key to a working padlock in my pocket. Surprisingly, considering that no-one actually uses them at all around here, I am given the choice of two types of helmets. Apparently they are mandatory for rented bikes. There was a very small full faced motorbike helmet which did not fit me, and a construction workers hard hat that looked just a little bigger.

On The Bike
The truth is that none of them fit me, and after trying to wear the hard hat in the British soldier style, with the strap tucked under my nose because this was the only place that it reached, the futility of the exercise became apparent. For the rest of my ride the helmet took its proud place on the handlebars of my bike, right next to the lock and chain that I never ended up using.

Now with a tiny engine powering my bike, there were severe limits to how fast I could actually go, with my estimates sitting on about 50kms per hour. There was no speedometer on this thing either, so I never really knew how fast I did go, but it quickly became apparent that if I was going flat-out through the central business district areas, then this was a little too fast. I think the fact that I was passing all the cars driving along the road helped me work that one out.

Heading East
With a full tank of fuel and three hours to try and consume it, there was a lot of riding that I could do. So first I rode East, past Punta Frio (Cold Point) and toward Punta Colorado, stopping on the way to take some photos of jetties reaching out into the water and the sand dunes that had started to take over the roadway. I also stopped at a mini fishing village where a few fish were on display for sale and all the fishing boats were in a cluster by the shacks that housed the fishermen.

At The Port
Coming back to Piriápolis, I stopped by the main port where fishermen were cleaning their morning catch on the boats, while others stood on the sides trying to catch their own. As I sat and watched their activities, I suddenly noticed a big black shape emerge out of the water below me and run down to see what it was. It had disappeared again, but I was sure it was a seal.

Since I was now at the waters edge, I used the opportunity to take some photos of the boats and fishermen, waiting at times for the sun to appear from behind the clouds. Suddenly there was a noise just near me, and when I looked, sure enough there was a seal swimming in the waters below. I followed him along as he swam next to the edge. Somewhere along the way he noticed me, and started swimming sideways so one eye could see what I was doing. Then he stopped, and with what seemed like a twinkle in his eye, turned and swam out about a boat’s length from the edge.

Here he surfaced and with only his head poking out of the water, started watching me. After a little while of watching and playing around in the deeper waters, he gave up interest and returned to his fish finding exercises along the edges of the port. I was really surprised to have seen a seal in a port, and it was only much later that I remembered that there was a seal colony on an island not too far from here where he may have come from.

Cerro San Antonio
After my entertainment with the seal, I pointed my trusty little motorbike at Cerro San Antonio, riding the ring road around and around until I reached the top. Up here, beside the radio and transmission equipment, were two shops filled to overflowing with nick knacks and memorabilia. The most odd thing I saw here though, was a restaurant with a swimming pool.

There was also an odd little building here too, which looked like a lighthouse. But when I looked it over, it turned out to be the protective house for faithful San Antonio. Inside were flowers and plaques and notes from all of the people who were so thankful that San Antonio had answered their prayers or been there for them at the time they needed it. I actually found the shape of the building itself much more interesting.

Once I had bought and consumed my essential supply of chocolate, I turned the bike to head back down the hill again, passing the top point for the chairlift that rises from the waters edge near the port. Heading downhill with this little bike required careful use of the brakes to avoid over-revving the poor little engine and breaking it. On the way down, some sand and dirt over the road showed me how poorly this thing handles away from the road surface and reminded me of my vulnerability as I rode without a helmet.

Heading West
Having descended from the hill, it seemed a good idea to head West toward Montevideo along the coastline, where I had seen a great view from the bus. Not sure how far it was, I kept going for what seemed like ages, but still could not find the exact point I was looking for. I did find an off-road trail to the beach though. It took me past a field of straw rushes that were each bound together at the waist. Looking at them I felt that I was back in the old time movies in the fields.

There were also a couple of detours off the main road in search of each beach along the way, and I was not disappointed either as there were many beautiful beaches along this stretch of road.

Heading North
Returning to Piriápolis I stopped at a plaza by the beach, riding my bike around the walking paths since there was nobody about, and then continued on, turning past an old garage to head North. This old garage was cluttered with an assortment of cars from an old Dodge to cars that resembled a slightly modern version of a Model-T Ford with many things in between. There was even old tractors and mini-sized earthmoving equipment sitting around, covered completely in rust.

My destination in heading North, was Castillo Piria, although I stopped at the Piria Church on the way. This was an old and very pretty looking church that was in the later stages of collapse, although the walls still stood and gave an indication of what the place would have looked like in its days of glory. A quick walk around it revealed that the best view was from the front. The back rooms were now home to the homeless, while inside the huge main sanctuary area dozens of pigeons and a scared cat were the only inhabitants.

Castillo Piria was once a private home, although it looked more like a castle as it rested in the middle of a huge farm. Today it is a museum, displaying the former glory of the place on the first floor, with photos and the history shown throughout the ground floor section. As with virtually everything in Uruguay to do with history, entry was free.

Running On Borrowed Time
By the time I left Castillo Piria and the very friendly and chatty couple that showed me around the place, my rental period for the bike was over. Knowing that this was the off-season and that the people here are reasonably lenient, I thought I would push my luck and head out to see the last two items on my list of things to do. So I headed back toward town again at the fastest speed the bike could do.

Heading through town once again, I kept going through to the other side until I found the Fountain of Venus. This was a lovely pond with several little water-boys scattered throughout pouring water back into it. In the middle was a circular platform on which the lovely Venus stood, and over which a large domed roof provided shelter, supported by six columns.

Not knowing where my last destination was, I asked some locals nearby and raced off in accordance with their instructions. The road I followed led to the steepest hill that I had ridden on. My poor little bike laboured under the weight to carry us both up the hill, highlighting the fact that it is really only good for flat areas.

At the end of this road I parked my bike and look up to see the Fuente del Torro (Fountain of the Bull), a fountain created with a bull statue at the top dribbling water from his mouth down onto the cascading rocks below. Stairs on either side led up to the platform that the bull stands on, and some further steps directly behind the bull led to nowhere in particular, but the visual effect looked good.

Time To Go
After taking my photos of the famous Bull, I turn and raced back down to the township, weaving my way through the roads until I reached the hire shop. I was now about 20 minutes late, but the guy came out and happily accepted the bike without question. I passed him my camera and got a photo of me with my trusty iron steed and then walk back to my hotel.

Check out at the hotel was at 11am, but again perhaps because I was the only guest, I was allowed to leave my bags in the room for as long as I wanted while I toured around the area. Once I was back there I loaded up with my backpack and headed down the stairs to say goodbye to the lady and ask directions to the bus station from here.

She tells me that it is only two blocks away, just across the park. I ask her which way I should go down the street, left or right, but she ignores my question and tells me to follow her. We walked through the hotel to the back section, and then on through the garden. Leaving through the back gate, the instructions of “turn left and go through the park” were perfect, and I reached the bus station with only minutes to spare to buy a ticket for the next bus to Punta del Este.

Punta del Este
The journey to Punta del Este was short although the bus stopped many times on the way to let people off. By the time we arrived at the actual Punta del Este bus station I was the only one left on the bus. Grabbing my bag, I headed into the terminal and inquired about tickets and prices for my next journey in a few days, then searched out a tourist information centre.

In the centre I was loaded up with almost one dozen maps and information brochures, the most important being the details for the local youth hostel. With this information in my hand I thanked the helpful people and then headed down the street, following the directions to the youth hostel only five blocks away.

The Open Youth Hostel That Was Closed
The sign said that it was open 24hrs a day for every day of the year, but the iron gate on the front door was very clearly locked. I knocked on the door for a long time but nobody appeared, so in the end I sat down and waited, expecting someone to turn up soon.

Someone actually did turn up, but it was a Brazilian girl who was staying there. She was locked inside and could not exit, and I was locked outside and could not enter. We looked at each other and laughed. She had already searched the place and could not find anyone around. I thanked her and then left, deciding to wander through the city for a while.

A “Hotel Information Centre” provided me with some hope that I may be able to find another place instead, one that would let me in. We did find one, but it would have cost me over double the price as the youth hostel and was over ten blocks away, a distance I did not want to have to walk with my backpack if I could help it. So instead I returned to check on the state of my youth hostel.

Sure enough, it was still locked up. I called out through the door, hoping that there would be someone else there, but only the Brazilian girl appeared. We discussed the dilemma of both of our situations but neither of us could do anything except wait. I told her I would go to eat and then come back, hoping it would be open then.

On my way to find something to eat I passed a locutorio that offered the best Internet price I had seen in the entire place and decided to dive in here to write up my day’s events. It took hours to catch up on my events so when I finally was ready to return to the hostel, I was sure there would be somebody there.

The Key To The Door
When I returned, the place was still locked up. I knocked and yelled again, and this time a man came to the door. I started to speak to him in Spanish, thinking that he was the one running the place, but he only spoke English. It turned out that he too was a guest in this place. We chatted for a little while and then miraculously, he produced a key and opened the door. I was in. At long last I was in.

There were only four other people in the place. Two Australians, the English man that let me in, and the Brazilian girl. With so many English speakers and most of them could not speak a lot of Spanish if at all, the conversation obviously remained in English. This precluded the Brazilian girl who soon found other things to do.

After an hour or so of conversation, the lady running the hostel finally showed up, so I raced out and booked myself in before she could disappear again. I was now officially here.

Out On The Town
It was time to go to sleep and I was headed in that direction, but then thought I would take a walk around the town and see what was open. There was only one or two shops open in the whole place. One was the restaurant that I had dinner at, with the bonus of being able to watch the Boca Juniors play against River Plate once again in another classic of Argentine football. The other was an internet shop where I stopped to write up more of my events and happenings as I continue my journeys.

When I got back to my room, the other guys who had said they would be going out that night were all sleeping soundly in their beds. I loaded my bed up with blankets, knowing that the temperature was predicted to hit one degree celcius tonight, and climbed into bed. I was asleep in moments and dreaming of cruising down the road on my motorbike with the wind rushing past me and not a care in the world.

What a great place to be.