Uruguay Day Seven

PIRIAPOLIS: A travel day today. After finding Montevideo very quiet and without much to see or do I am quite glad to be going actually. My goal today is to reach Punta del Este, although I received an email telling me about great views from inside a cross on the second highest hill in the country. It sounded interesting so I was thinking about stopping here on my way through.

The Bus Stop That Was Not
After the morning ritual and signing out of my hostel, I headed toward the bus stop, addresses of all youth hostels along my journey in my hand. When my first bus approached the stop, I flagged it down furiously. To my amazement it just kept going. A lady behind me told me that I was at the wrong bus stop for that particular number of bus.

No problem I thought, looking at my three different bus numbers I could catch, I will simply wait for one of the other numbers. When the next bus approached, of a different number, I again flagged it down and once again it continued right past me. The driver of this bus as he passed, smiled and motioned toward the bus stop that he stops at. A man behind me repeated the same message.

I considered waiting for the only other bus line that I had on my list, but decided that the other bus stop could not be too far. Besides, if two of my buses stopped at the other bus stop then it would be better odds to wait there. So I wandered up to the other bus stop to discover that all three of the bus lines on my list stopped here. No wonder the buses I wanted had never stopped.

Within a short time I was on a bus heading past the Tres Cruzes Bus Terminal, and ironically it was not any of the buses that I had listed. I saw a sign in the window that listed this as one of the stops and took a chance that it was correct. It was, but one of my bus habits is to remain on board long enough to be sure that the last stop was really the bus stop that I had wanted. So sure enough, this time was no different, and I walked back the extra blocks to the bus terminal.

Ticket Confusion
It was 11am when I turned into the bus terminal and asked about tickets. There was a bus actually leaving right now that I could have caught, but because I wanted to see the nearby Parque Batlle I asked about later buses. A bus going via Piriápolis and leaving at what I thought to be 2pm sounded perfect, giving me three hours to saunter casually around the park and an opportunity to check out the cross on the hill in Piriápolis, so I bought my ticket.

When I got my ticket it read 12pm and it was only then that I realised how I had confused the two words “doce” (12) for “dos” (2). This gave me only one hour to look around the park, get back and board my bus. A tight timetable but it seemed possible. So both of my bags and anything in my pockets except wallet and camera found their way into the local baggage storage service to lighten the load. I then walked straight out of the terminal and turned and ran all the way to the park, stopping on the way only to ask someone if I was heading in the right direction.

Parque Batlle
This park contains a number of sports complexes including a velodrome for cyclists, a huge track and field sports complex, and a football stadium. As I ran past the track and field oval there were shouts and cheers as the local school children competed in interschool races. The crowds of children did little to fill out even one section of the seating, but they certainly knew how to make a lot of noise. I continued my running, which had now become a fast jog, around this field.

Off to the side, where there were trees and large expanses of grass, dozens of dogs had gathered under the watchful eye of their professional dog-walkers. These professionals normally walk anywhere from six to fifteen animals at a time. There were dogs peeing on trees, dogs scratching themselves, dogs sniffing each other, dogs pooping on a spare patch of grass, and dogs resting – it looked like a sports club resort for the dogs.

An Historic Stadium
As I continued, I saw the Estadia Centario, the huge football (soccer of course) stadium in front of me, and was glad to stop running when I reached the main entrance. Outside the entrance a huge mural of a goal player leaping up to catch a ball stood higher than the stadium itself. Above the entrance were the words, “The Premier Football Stadium In The World” (or something similar).

Inside, I need to purchase a U$15 (US$0.50) ticket to view the stadium, which seemed pretty reasonable. So I paid for the privilege and walked up to view the stadium. Now the boasts that this place has, and its right to charge for admission are actually quite just. This stadium was the first place in the world that World Cup (Soccer) was played, back in 1930. The whole stadium is virtually identical to how it was when first built, with the exception of the wooden chairs being replaced with plastic in places, and some of the official sections now being glassed in.

It looked just like any other football stadium to me, but with the lady at the entrance now being my tour guide, I learned many interesting things in our discussions that constantly switched between Spanish and English. Most interesting was that the entire grass section of the playing field has huge electric heating elements underneath it to help the field dry out during wet times. One time this was not enough, and they tried using a helicopter flying above it to dry the place out faster.

The original concrete chairs were still in place, and a large structure built above the stadium were all that remained. The structure, with both wings and the brow of a boat, was built in honour of the different ways that the teams were arriving in Uruguay for the big game. I do not know how many teams were present during that game, but by the discussions I had it sounded like there were more than just two. The best part of this game for Uruguayans is that Uruguay won.

On leaving the stadium, I still had enough time that I did not need to run back and instead walked briskly. Back at the bus terminal I retrieved my bags and boarded the bus. On the bus, safely seated against a window, my tiredness from a couple of late nights put me into a wonderful deep sleep. By the time I woke up, we were almost at Piriápolis.

On arriving at the Piriápolis bus terminal I decided that I would not stay in this place, but simply climb the cross and keep going. My first problem was how to get to the mountain where it was, but this was solved by a local taxi. The driver estimated the cost at around U$100 pesos which although expensive, seemed reasonable enough for my time constraints. The meter was running however and by the time we got there it ended up costing U$160 pesos.

Cerro Pan de Azucar
As we approached the hill, I could see the cross on the top. Although Cerro Pan de Azúcar is the second highest point in Uruguay, the country is virtually completely flat, so a little hill like this one becomes pretty famous. Its height of 423 metres (1400ft) is not high by mountain standards, but you still have to climb every one of those metres to reach the top.

My driver was a nice guy and in our conversation I learned that business is very slow in winter. I figured that he was very happy with my fair today. When we arrived he pointed me in the direction I needed to go and left me with my backpack. So I picked it up and walked over to the shop in anticipation, only to discover it was closed.

Looking around, I noticed a number of people working in the wooded area to the side, and when I approached them an old guy greeted me. He was extremely amicable and treated me like a friend, walking with me to show me the way I needed to go to climb up the mountain. Only once he was sure I was heading in the right direction did we part, and he then returned to his work with the others.

I was now in a zoo. After finding the office, I was able to store my pack and then follow the signs pointing to “Cerro”. This took me through the pens and cages of many different Uruguayan animals. It was sad to see so many wonderful birds and other animals caged in such small pens, but most especially the birds.

Along the way, I noticed a narrow trail to the side going through the shrubs that looked to lead to the base of the hill. Looking ahead, my road continued for what seemed to be a long way. So faced with an opportunity for a direct assault on this rather large hill, I took the path.

Off The Beaten Path
The path that I had taken soon faded out and I was left with nothing but bush. I could still see the hill though, and since there were passages through the bush, it seemed reasonable to me to continue on, pushing through the shrubs and trees. I worked carefully so as not to damage my new woolen pullover. This was not easy going, and there were a number of plants that worked hard to spike, prick, or tear at me as I passed.

As I pushed under trees and shrubs, and climbed over logs and through layers of thick leaves, I was very thankful that this was winter and all (most?) of the snakes were sleeping. It did not stop me wondering about what sort of dangerous creatures lived in these parts however, something that I still had not found out. Sometimes ignorance is bliss, but in this case there was no bliss in not knowing.

Rocks And Boulders
Looking at the hill from below, the boulders did not look too big, nor the climb too difficult, but everything changes as you get closer. As I continued on and the bushes and brush gave way to the boulders and rocks, the climb grew progressively harder. The first few boulders were not too hard to climb over, although they were at least my size in height, but they grew progressively harder.

One of the things making climbing difficult was that the shoes that I was wearing had absolutely no grip. This meant that every time I tried to climb a boulder, at least one of my feet would slip, and sometimes both of them. The worst part of this was that the shoes also had no “feel” to them so I could not tell when or where they were likely to slip either.

As the boulders started growing to twice and three times my height, I discovered that wearing jeans and filling the front pockets with a wallet and digital camera significantly impedes movement. Every time I tried to lift a leg higher than my knees I needed to re-arrange my pockets and sometimes help my leg up, ignoring the discomfort the item in my pocket was causing. Eventually these items moved to my back pockets which helped my leg movement significantly but exposed them to a much greater chance of damage.

The climb had become difficult by now, and progress was slow but steady. Even though it was cold and my pullover had become a band tied around my waist, I was sweating heavily as I worked to get up the ever steepening slopes of this mountain. The further up I went, the wetter the boulders became and the weaker became the grip of my shoes. And then I reached it. The decision point.

The Decision
As I looked up all I could see was a large wet section of sloping rock covered in moss and slime. There were three sections to it, overlapping each other like tiles on a roof, except these tiles were 10 metres long (33ft) and almost 100 metres wide (330ft) or more. It looked impossible to climb at first, and there seemed to be no way around them. I seemed that after all my climbing to get here, I needed to turn back and take the signed pathway.

Something happened at that point though. I looked up at the first section and could see some places that would help me climb it. It was dangerous, and very slippery. No one knew that I was climbing in this place either, so a fall could become a serious setback or worse. My shoes were terrible for a situation like this too. So weighing up my options, I took my shoes off and started my climb.

The Challenge Of Slime
Reaching up for the first handhold, I pushed my shoes, swinging from my neck, away from my face and pulled myself up. My bare feet told me just how incredibly slippery the whole surface was, but having individual toes worked well in finding tiny points of refuge to provide the resistance I need to stop me falling.

Each hand griped carefully onto the tiny edges revealed in the rock face. The surface was steep but not incredibly so, but the slipperiness made it a tough climb. As I edged my way further and further upward I was thankful for the times that I had spent climbing and learning the techniques that were being so useful right at this moment. It was very clear to me that any mistake could send me sliding back down the slope and into the boulders that lay below. It was not really fun, but making progress was becoming very rewarding.

At the first overlap I was able to stand up and look at where I had just come from. The green moss and sparkling water lay below and above me. There was no turning back now, it would be too dangerous to try. I was committed.

Rocks And Boulders
Looking at the hill from below, the boulders did not look too big, nor the climb too difficult, but everything changes as you get closer. As I continued on and the bushes and brush gave way to the boulders and rocks, the climb grew progressively harder. The first few boulders were not too hard to climb over, although they were at least my size in height, but they grew progressively harder.

One of the things making climbing difficult was that the shoes that I was wearing had absolutely no grip. This meant that every time I tried to climb a boulder, at least one of my feet would slip, and sometimes both of them. The worst part of this was that the shoes also had no “feel” to them so I could not tell when or where they were likely to slip either.

As the boulders started growing to twice and three times my height, I discovered that wearing jeans and filling the front pockets with a wallet and digital camera significantly impedes movement. Every time I tried to lift a leg higher than my knees I needed to re-arrange my pockets and sometimes help my leg up, ignoring the discomfort the item in my pocket was causing. Eventually these items moved to my back pockets which helped my leg movement significantly but exposed them to a much greater chance of damage.

The climb had become difficult by now, and progress was slow but steady. Even though it was cold and my pullover had become a band tied around my waist, I was sweating heavily as I worked to get up the ever steepening slopes of this mountain. The further up I went, the wetter the boulders became and the weaker became the grip of my shoes. And then I reached it. The decision point.

The Decision
As I looked up all I could see was a large wet section of sloping rock covered in moss and slime. There were three sections to it, overlapping each other like tiles on a roof, except these tiles were 10 metres long (33ft) and almost 100 metres wide (330ft) or more. It looked impossible to climb at first, and there seemed to be no way around them. I seemed that after all my climbing to get here, I needed to turn back and take the signed pathway.

Something happened at that point though. I looked up at the first section and could see some places that would help me climb it. It was dangerous, and very slippery. No one knew that I was climbing in this place either, so a fall could become a serious setback or worse. My shoes were terrible for a situation like this too. So weighing up my options, I took my shoes off and started my climb.

The Challenge Of Slime
Reaching up for the first handhold, I pushed my shoes, swinging from my neck, away from my face and pulled myself up. My bare feet told me just how incredibly slippery the whole surface was, but having individual toes worked well in finding tiny points of refuge to provide the resistance I need to stop me falling.

Each hand griped carefully onto the tiny edges revealed in the rock face. The surface was steep but not incredibly so, but the slipperiness made it a tough climb. As I edged my way further and further upward I was thankful for the times that I had spent climbing and learning the techniques that were being so useful right at this moment. It was very clear to me that any mistake could send me sliding back down the slope and into the boulders that lay below. It was not really fun, but making progress was becoming very rewarding.

At the first overlap I was able to stand up and look at where I had just come from. The green moss and sparkling water lay below and above me. There was no turning back now, it would be too dangerous to try. I was committed.

Returning To Town
Having spent my time here looking at the views, reading the graffiti, most of which was simply names and dates, and talking with God, it was time to return down the mountain. After my experience of climbing, I took the easy pathway all the way back down. It took me almost an hour to climb up to the top, but only fifteen minutes to get back down, and at the bottom I discovered that the side trail I took was very close to where the official climb started.

Retrieving my bags, I am told that there is a bus going past which can take me back into town. I head out to the gate, sit down on my pack, and wait. It only cost me U$15 pesos to be dropped right in the middle of town.

As I walked down the main street, although I had read that some hotels would be closed during winter, I did not expect to see virtually all of them like this. Even the youth hostel was closed. I thought about my plans to continue on to Punta del Este, but there was something about this town that I liked, so I wanted to stay the night.

Finding A Hotel
Needing some form of accommodation, I thought I would price the best first. The Argentino Hotel was the second hotel ever built in Piriápolis and can house up to 1200 guests. At the time, in the 1930’s, it was the best hotel in all of South America, so it was little wonder that the rooms cost U$1080 pesos per night per person. It was tempting to spoil myself with a room here, but I could not bring myself to spend it just for a bed, so I pressed on in search of something cheaper.

When I find a smaller hotel that is actually open, it looks like I am the only guest there. The price of U$250 pesos for the night was a rate that I was very happy with. While checking-in to the place I saw the same amicable guy that I had seen in the woods out at Cerro Pan de Azúcar. He greeted me enthusiastically and welcomed me to his hotel. He was the owner. I just grinned. How unlikely it was that these two events would coincide as they did. I was shown to the best room in the place, with a view out over the beach.

After a shower to wash off the sweat from my climb, I head into town and find very few eatery places open. Based on my experiences of every other place in Uruguay I expect they will all open later instead so I stop into a local Internet shop and wait for them to open.

When I leave the Internet place at 10pm, I walk down the road and discover that even the restaurants and places that were open are all now closed. There was nowhere that I could have dinner. I was very disappointed. Instead, when I returned to my room, I dug out a two day old and very squashed banana that I remembered buying and not eating. That became my dinner.

It was a good travel day today. I had done something significant, like climb a mountain, and it felt good.

Uruguay Day Six

MONTEVIDEO: Well today I started early, and a lot has happened. It seemed easy to rise just after 8am this morning, although a fight with the shower again set me back in my early schedule. It turned out that the flame on the gas heater had extinguished, so until we re-lit that there was never going to be any hot water. Breakfast was both the bread provided by the hostel and a banana I bought later. More than sufficient to keep me going until the afternoon. Now I was ready to head out.

Climbing Cerro
First destination was the bus stop that would take me to Cerro, a hill on the other side of a small bay to Old Town. On my way there I passed by a fruit market that had set itself up down one of the streets. Following on from it was a bits and pieces market which seem to comprise of enterprising individuals selling whatever they have for whatever they can get. I wandered through this most interesting and eclectic mix of items and then continued on my way.

Somewhere in my map reading I confused my bus stop, resulting in me walking far too far and having to return again. Once I returned it was easy enough to catch the bus heading out to Cerro which passed through a number of villas (slums) and poor areas. As we passed through I noticed people sitting out on the corner of the streets displaying their wares for sale. Most of the items on display looked like junk to me, worn out shoes, broken lamps, rusty keys, dirty bottles, and more, but they obviously held value for each vendor.

Driving along the streets were cars that were totally decrepit. Surprisingly, these vehicles were still registered, some of which had no lights, were filled with rust, had badly cracked windscreens, and whose doors that never really shut, would almost fall off with each opening. Some were extremely old, while others had simply had a very rough life. Not only where these cars around the place, but also many horses were pulling carts full of carefully collected rubbish as well as people pulling or pushing smaller carts carrying the same thing.

I could see Cerro, a small hill, getting closer, but I did not really know where to get off. Following the advice of a policeman who was also on the bus I got off too soon. This gave me quite a long walk through the villa and up the hill in my plush “Columbia” feather down jacket and designer style jeans. There were a few times that I felt a little unsafe during this wander, but the view was fantastic. It amazes me at how many slums seem to end up with some of the best positions in town. Perhaps this is a way to offset the more painful parts of life.

Once at the top of the hill I discovered that the Artigas Museum was closed and the view I was expecting to see of Old Town was very hazy, but I had at least made it there. When I entered the only shop on top of the hill it became painfully obvious that I was the only one there. Four people who appeared to be family were overly anxious to please and help me. I had come in search of Tortas Fritas but found none. They offered me baked fritas filled with jam instead, which served as a very poor substitute.

Heading back down the hill again, I once again walked through the villa. This time I decided to wall through the centre of the place, right back to the township I had seen on my way through. It was actually quite a long way. Perhaps it was a little bold to wander as I did, through the private roads of the villa, but they were much more direct than taking the more public routes, although there were a few times that I was concerned for my safety.

The town turned out to be very unexciting, so I found a bus stop and proceeded to wait. A very old bus rambled up to the stop with a sign indicating that it may be going in my direction. Now that I was a seasoned bus traveler I saw it as an opportunity to experiment, so I took it. It turned out to be an express bus taking me back in the Old Town via the main expressways.

Palacio Legislativo
My next goal was to head out to the Palacio Legislativo building which is the main Parliament building, located in a palace. I tried to find a bus but could not work out which one I needed to take. Since it did not seem too far I decided that I could walk there instead, although a bus would have made the three kilometer journey easier.

The outside of this Palace was totally incredible. There was intricate detail all over the building, even on the flag poles. The size of this building, built entirely out of marble, rendered me in awe. I had seen many amazing churches and other places in Europe but this was the first time I had seen somewhere that I could call a true palace. It was just incredible.

On reaching the main doors I discovered that to enter we needed to hand over some form of identification for which we would then receive a badge indicating who we were, which for me was a visitors badge. After the customary frisk by the friendly security I was directed up the stairs to join with a tour that had just begun.

With me there was now three of us on the tour. The older Uruguayan couple that I joined told me that they had lived here all their lives and this was the first time they had ever come to see this place. The whole place was breathtaking wherever we looked. The entire tour was in Spanish but the lady, knowing that I was from Australia, simplified things for me enough to allow me to understand most of what she was saying.

The tour of the Palace was just incredible. Everything about it was amazing. Wood ceilings painted in pure gold, huge marble pillars with intricate designs covering them, massive rooms with several story ceilings. It was all just mind blowing. Even the representative and legislative sections of their Parliament were both very impressive rooms. I had seen much like this in Europe, but this truly was just incredible. The old library, the second most important in the country, was the cutest thing I had ever seen, filled with old books from floor to the third story ceiling. The most amazing part was that it was open to the public.

After collecting my identification I left this amazing building, staring at it as I walked away, still mesmerised by the incredible beauty of the place. A nearby cyber shop allowed me to stop in and quickly write about my experiences there before I then caught a bus to Parque Rodó on the other side of town.

High Court
In between buses, on my way to the next bus stop, I wandered past the High Court of Uruguay. Having discovered that the people here are quite friendly it seemed reasonable to me to ask if I could look around the building. Sure enough, even though the building was officially closed to visitors today, I was permitted to be taken around the building.

As a result, one of the officials accompanied me around the entire building, showing me the rooms and decorations throughout. This amazing building, built in a French style, was actually owned by a millionaire some years ago but now was housing the Uruguayan Supreme Courts. It was a very beautiful place and I found it incredible to think that this had actually been a house.

After seeing through the entire place and taking lots of photos, some with me in them courtesy of the man who was showing me around, I finally left. How amazing it was that I was shown such hospitality by complete strangers, simply because I was a visitor to their country. How the United States and so many other places need to learn from their smaller cousins.

Parque Rodó
The bus I took to Parque Rodó did not take me directly there, turning off instead toward a shopping centre while only part way there. I quickly got off at the next stop and walked. This was a much richer part of town and my wanderings revealed many interesting and very attractive houses on the way to the park.

Just before the main park that I was aiming for was a fun park that had been closed up for winter. Everything was still there, it just had covers over them. Further on there was a lot of noise being made down in a pit. It turned out to be the local bowls club which consisted of a single lane for bowling and not a blade of grass. Beside the lane, leaning on the fence that surrounded it, were a bunch of guys, all giving out their share of friendly remarks and advice as the bowler sent his ball down along the tiles toward its goal.

On reaching the park, the first thing that I notice about it is the lovely trees surrounded by fallen leaves, and roads lined with grand trees. It was a wonderful place with a feeling of peace about it. I even wandered around the inevitable lake located in the middle of the place, enjoying the ambiance of the late afternoon with the setting sun. By the time I reached the beach, right next to the park, there was little sun left, but the beach had a cosy feel to it still. On a full tide it would be a very busy swimming hole this close to the city.

From here I could see the city clearly and the view was quite spectacular with the orange clouds hanging over the top of the well lit office buildings. Wandering toward the city again, I search among the side streets for a bus stop that will take me back to the Palace. I had heard that it is well lit at night time which would I thought would make good photos. But when I arrive back there I find that it is not so true, taking a few photos anyway since I am there.

Palacio Legislativo Again
Just as I am leaving the area, I meet a guard whom I had previous talked with during the day. He tells me that there is another tour that I can do right now which is actually different to the one that I had done during the day. Following his directions, I went to the door he told me to enter only to be told that I needed to go to the smaller door to the side of this one.

When I get to there, the police stationed at this smaller door revealed that I was actually on the wrong side of the Palace and needed to find a similar sized door to this one on the other side. I also discovered that there was no actual tour but instead I was able to view the Parliament process in session. So I walk around the building to the other side and discovered a line of people waiting to enter. Joining the end, I started chatting with the last few people and find that everyone standing here had just come from the public seats and were lining up to get their personal effects left at the guardhouse before entry.

Apparently there was a controversial law that was almost passed (or almost not passed) and these people had been protesting about it. The door I was entering provided access to the top balcony of the Parliament which was currently in session, and these people had been present to witness the processing of this controversial law. Whichever way it went, the results were favourable and everyone was now collecting their things and going home. I was just arriving.

After surrendering my bag and everything in my pockets including coins and being frisked by one of the police officers, I was allowed to enter with just my wallet. I climbed the four stories of stairs to the top level balcony and sat on the front row watching the proceedings. I was one of only three or four people there from the public.

Although microphones were in use, the large marble room prevented me from understanding much of what was said. So I watched the speakers change a couple of times, noting that there was a light on the microphone that indicated who was currently talking, and then left. It seemed little use to remain there. Once back outside, I took some more photos of the place and then caught a bus back the way that I had come.

Wandering Through The Streets
The idea was to visit a local artists market place, but by the time I had arrived they were all closing up. I looked around a little at the few places still open or in the process of closing but there was not much to see. Based on my history of always looking and never buying, being closed probably saved me a lot of time.

It was not too far from the familiar district of Old Town so I wandered my way slowly through the streets, stopping to admire any interesting buildings or shops and observing the people on the way. Along the way I saw a magazine in English for the first time since arriving in South America. It was a Newsweek with a large “future technology” article in it. I found it to be too much to pass up, so I bought it. Now I wanted to read it, so after wandering across the road to a bar and restaurant, I was provided with a nice couple of beers to keep me occupied while I enjoyed reading through the main articles. It was great to read in English for a while.

It was now getting late, and with little tourist things to do around here at night, the local cyber cafe became my home for the next few hours so I could write my current journal entry. From here it was straight back to my hostel where I tucked into a lovely warm bed, surrounded by bitter cold, and happily drifted off to sleep.

Uruguay Day Twelve

PUNTA DEL DIABLO: A whole day to discover the beaches and wonders of this remarkable village of Punta del Diablo. My first objective was to visit the lighthouse down the end of one of the long beaches. After this I simply took time out to wander the rocks and beaches, enjoying the natural wonders of such an untouched area. And there were some other things that I had to do no matter what the cost.

Morning Walk
The sun had beaten me up this morning, so after the morning routine of rugging up with lots of coats against the super cold weather, and buying breakfast from the local shop, I headed off for a walk. I wanted to visit the lighthouse today.

There had been conflicting reports of how long it would take me to get there, and also about the condition of the sand along the beach. By the time I reached the lighthouse I knew who was right and who was not.

It only took thirty minutes to get to the end of the beach, although the soft sand made walking tough at times. The large waves of yesterday had now become much smaller waves today, but the sound of their crashing added a rhythm that made walking very relaxing as I sauntered along.

Behind the beach some of the dunes had steep walls of sand covered in lines which had been etched there by the wind. The grasses that covered them created their own patterns as the blades of grass were pushed back and forth by the wind on the sand surrounding them. The slight cloud cover gave a biting edge to the cold breeze, but nothing could dampen the beauty that surrounded me.

The Lighthouse
Reaching the rocks at the other end of the beach, I was close enough to see that the lighthouse was actually just a colourful pole with a light on top. A large and luxurious house sat next to it, closed up for winter. There was nobody around. In my solitude, I wandered along enjoying the sight of the waves throwing sprays of water into the air as they crashed against the rocks.

Suddenly a dog charged at me barking and growling. I was very startled indeed. Fortunately the dog did not pursue me, but only wanted to assure me not to come any closer to his territory. Behind him were people working in the garage of a much smaller house that had been hidden behind the larger one.

Feeling safe, I continued my rock climbing until it finally ended once I reached the beach on the other side. This beach, like the other long beach that I had seen yesterday, continued into the distance untouched by civilization, until it finally rounded a sandy point.

It took a long while before I returned around the rocky point of the lighthouse. I stopped many times to enjoy watching the waves, and took my time slowly wandering across the rocks that made up the point. There is something about being isolated in nature that is a very refreshing experience. This was one of those wonderful moments in time.

Lunch Alone
It is lunchtime by the time I return to the fishing village, so I head for the one and only restaurant once again. All the familiar local faces are there but there are no guests except me. We chat a little but today everyone has something to do and so talk is limited. This suits me fine, as I really only wanted to eat my meal and go out exploring again.

Lunch is a lovely pasta dish with white sauce, and is so tasty that it takes very little time to finish. While I am eating, I notice that the family who run this place bringing out food for their lunch, and just as I am leaving they all sit down to eat. With the house as part of the restaurant they eat together in the dining area.

Working Fishermen
When I reach the fishing boats, the same two fishermen are busy folding more nets. I thought they had finished yesterday so I asked them how many nets they had. They replied that these few now were the last of all the nets. They had folded one type yesterday which floated near the surface of the water, and today they were folding the other type which sat on the bottom of the ocean.

I hang out with these guys again and chat with them for a while. Most of the time I am simply listening to the conversation, trying to make sense of what I hear. When they are almost finished the last net, one of the men start talking about how hungry they are and how they really need to eat, making jokes about how his stomach is about to cave in. Then, as soon as he finishes the last part of the net he jumps down from the boat and runs off into the distance crying out how much he needs to eat.

The other guy works to finish folding the net on his own. With this done, he continues working, moving on to clean out and organise the cabin area from where the boat is steered and then starts preparing the front hold to take all of the now-folded nets. I take a few more photos and then bid my farewells and leave.

There was something that I just had to do, and it was over on the other side of the point, where the water was smooth and silky.

What You Have To Do, You Have To Do
The ocean that I was next to was the Atlantic Ocean. All my life I have lived and swam in the Pacific Ocean. Today, no matter how cold it was, I was determined to ensure that my experiences were expanded.

Reaching the other side of the point I discovered the water was not as smooth as it was yesterday, and with the tide out I needed to walk a little further to reach the deeper water. These did not dampen my enthusiasm for a swim however.

Being a quiet and private place, I considered going in naked to save me carrying around a wet pair of swimmers. Then I thought against it and changed into my swimming shorts. Just at that moment, a couple appeared on the sand dunes behind the beach, heading my way.

Now in the middle of winter on a day where the sun is shaded by cloud and a gentle breeze is blowing, you cannot pretend that a swim in the ocean is going to be warm. It certainly was not either. As I waded into the waters of the Atlantic, the freezing cold water bit around my feet. I knew this was going to be a challenge, but it was becoming greater than I first expected.

My determination to swim, and my commitment to follow through with my words after telling the fishermen that I would be swimming today drove me on. I am not sure which was the greatest motivation. I was not in an area that went deep very quickly, so there was plenty of time to think about how cold this water really was.

As the water started to rise above my knees, the small swells rolling in started to reach some of the more important parts. The water felt like it had come straight off the south-pole and already my legs were tingling in the freezing cold.

Finally, once I was in up to my waist and still trying to avoid the swells, I realised that it was time to “do it”. So taking a big breath I gathered myself and dove head first into the next oncoming swell. It was freezing.

My skin crawled all over my body, growing tight with the cold. I could have left right then, after all I had immersed myself in the Atlantic now. However, just a dive in the water did not constitute a swim, so I stayed in there until it felt like a swim.

After a while of playing in the water I started to grow accustomed to the sensation of not feeling anything and began to enjoy playing in the water. It was probably about five minutes later that I emerged from the water. Dimples covered every part of my skin which was looking more like it belonged to a plucked chook than it did to me.

I was cold before my swim, but once I had dried off and dressed again I was feeling comfortably warm. Perhaps that was because it took a while for the sensation of feeling to come back to me again. But I had done it. I had been for a swim in the Atlantic Ocean. Next time though I think I will wait until summer.

Venturing Through Town
On my way home, I wandered up through the sand dunes to the back part of the village. Here were located many commercial buildings, built in threes or more for the sole purpose of renting them out during the summer months.

As I wandered through the dirt streets, looking at the many interesting designs and colours in the houses, I encountered a cat sitting on a post. It seemed lonely, so I went up and patted it and immediately had a friend. It wanted to climb onto me then, but although I was friendly, I was not that friendly with it and did not like the idea too much.

Cat And Dogs
When I left, the cat jumped down from its pole and followed me along the road. It was probably the worst thing a cat could do in this dog inundated town. Before long, two of the many dogs that roam free in this town saw it and thought that dinner had been served on four legs. The cat quickly realised that the two dogs hurtling toward it were not about to become friends and it took off with a flurry. The dogs were chasing hotly behind it.

The cat quickly found a wooden pole and raced half-way up it, out of reach of the dogs. With its head hanging frightenedly over a sign, looking fearfully down on the dogs jumping up and down, barking wildly. It was a sight that I had only ever seen in comic books before.

Before too long, the owner had retrieved his disobedient dogs, much to the relief of the cat. Not certain of the safety down there, the cat continued up the pole and sat on the roof it was supporting. I had lost my friend, but this was safe at least.

Bones and Fossils
I soon returned to the more common section of town, away from all of the barking dogs who were protecting their turf. It was down here along the beach-front that I met up with one of the fishermen that had been standing beside the boat while I was there.

Greetings and a short conversation later and we were soon looking at bones. He pointed out a bone on the ground that had belonged to a large whale which died on the beaches nearby. Another whale bone was also now part of the roof structure of his house. Now that I saw these two bones I also remembered seeing another in the restaurant. It looked like this whale had been scattered around the village.

These bones were not the only items that had been collected either. Inside the house I was shown many other bones and fossils that had been collected over the years. Most of these sat proudly on the sloping bricks above the fireplace. A penguin that died a similar fate to the whale had bones and its pelt on show here, as did fish other animals. Even dried fish skins adorned the brickwork.

It looked a little bit macabre, but this fisherman was obviously proud of each item. I soon discovered that these sorts of items were not only located above the fireplace. As we looked around the house there were others sitting on or hanging above the shelves and on the walls around the room.

The most significant fossil however was sitting on the dressing table in the bedroom. This was the complete skull of a seal, with the jawbone and teeth intact. It too was a casualty that they found along the beach.

A Fisherman’s House
As I looked at each of these fossils, I was also looking around at the house that I had been invited into that was truly the house of a bachelor. There seemed to be no order to things, but it had a certain feeling of home.

The kitchen-living-dining area was the first part of this two room house that I entered. Here there was clutter everywhere. Things collected from the sea and beaches were scattered amongst the essentials of pots and pans and food items. There were no cupboards here, only shelves that revealed all they contained.

The fire was burning, making the inside much warmer than it had been outside. On the table sat a cluster of items from books to food to collected items. There was enough room there for one, but only for one.

One shelf, standing as high as a person, was filled with books. As I looked through the titles, I saw books relating to fishing and boats, the ocean and the beaches, and books teaching tying of knots and other skills related to his profession. There were only a few novels and books that offered other topics.

As we entered the bedroom, the large single bed caught my eye. It was not made, which is only to be expected, but the most startling aspect was a massive big hole that had sunk into the middle of the bed. The way it was set up, the bow in the bed because of the hole would make it worse than sleeping in a hammock.

On the floor of the bedroom were old clothes scattered around. Shoes and other items not currently in use filled in the holes among them. A cupboard was here with its doors flung wide open, but there were few items remaining inside. The dressing table was covered in items, many of which belonged in the workshop or other places. Things were now within easy reach however, such as the seal skull fossil.

After viewing this last and most prized of fossils, I thanked this friendly fisherman for the opportunity to see them and for our conversation. From here I went my way again, heading toward the flat.

Dinner Alone
On returning to my flat, exhausted and tired after a day of constant walking, I quickly fell asleep even though it was only late afternoon. When I woke, at dinner time, I headed down to my favourite, and only, restaurant.

Yet again I dined alone. All of the girls of the family were seated in the corner nearest the fire, making many different items of pottery, but the boys were not here. With the girls involved in making some of the items that would be sold in their artists stall down by the beach, there was no-one to talk with.

A local paper provided some interest during my meal, which was a delicious serving of fish steak covered in mushroom sauce. It was one of the tastiest meals that I had enjoyed in this place, and probably significantly better than my standard of steak and fries.

Thanking the ladies for such a good meal, I gathered my coat and headed out the sliding glass door. It was a good time of night to look around the town a little.

Nobody Here
It became obvious to me very quickly that there was nobody around town tonight. Even Gringo was locked away inside his home. After thinking about it, I considered that perhaps last night, being a Sunday, was the reason it was so social. Today, on a Monday night appeared to be an in-house night and I found not a single person socialising.

Making Fire
Returning to my flat, I set about to make a fire, retrieving more firewood from the pile outside Gringo’s door. There was one dilemma that I had this time though. After using almost ten matches to start the fire last night, I now was left with only one.

In preparing to light the fire, I armed myself with a lot of pre-torn and crumpled paper, and made the fire just as they taught me in boy-scouts. Then I lit the match and ignited the paper in my hand. From here it was a frantic process of pushing one piece of paper after another into the small fire until finally some wood started burning.

It was another cold night, so I stoked the fire with a lot of wood and let it burn brightly. Learning from last night where I put all of my wood on the fire at once, I waited until the wood had turned mostly to red hot coals and then sparingly added more wood as it was needed. This kept the flat nice and warm and conserved my wood.

By the warmth of the fire I sat and enjoyed reading more about Punta del Diablo. With much time on my hands I also found time to finish reading about vacations around the world in Spanish and some of my Bible. It was a pleasant and relaxing night to sit by the fire, and by midnight I was happily asleep in my bed and dreaming of the day that had just been.

Uruguay Day Fourteen (End)

CHUY-TREINTA Y TRES: After wandering around Brazil and Uruguay for a while, I finally catch the bus to Treinta y Tres. After two weeks of traveling around Uruguay as a tourist it was all about to end. I did not mind though because I was about to meet The Scotts, some friends that I had never yet met. (Photos below…)

Breakfast At The Hotel
Breakfast at the hotel is a service that you need to pay a little more for. Since the price of the room was so good, I thought I would have breakfast here too. Once I find someone to ask, they explain to me that they do not actually have what they need for breakfast. However, they are very happy to race down to the shops and buy it if I can wait. I am not in any hurry so I agree.

When it arrives, breakfast is croissants and tea, sweetened by a lemon that looked very much like an orange. I asked about this similarity and was told that it was definitely a lemon, retrieved from the neighbour’s tree. It smelled like one too, so I used it. Later I discover that this is a Brazilian lemon. A fruit with the appearance of a mandarin and the taste of a lemon.

As a result of this particular unusual lemon, my tea now tasted quite horrible. It was warm however and on such a cold morning I was not going to stop drinking something warm just because of the taste. The croissants helped to sweeten the horrible flavour in my mouth after I had finished drinking my tea.

Eating breakfast at the hotel gave me the opportunity to talk with the people who ran the place. I thought they were the owners but they quickly told me that they were just the workers here. They explained to me that there are only a few people that own the bigger things in Uruguay, and most of the people only work for them.

I inquired about storing my backpack here while I looked around the town. The lady told me that it was against their policy, but she was happy to let me keep my room today until my bus at 3.30pm. There was not many guests around at the moment, but I still checked that she was sure about doing this. Once I knew she was, I thanked her graciously and headed off toward Brazil.

Rich And Poor In Brazil
Rather than heading directly into town and then walking over to Brazil, I decided to walk straight across the border from where I was, a number of blocks away from town.

My walk took me into one section of town that was separated from the other sections of town by a large fenced paddock of grass in which horses were grazing. By the time I reached the end of this section, I had walked quite a few blocks. To return, I simply moved one street over and walked back again. This section was only a few streets wide but was very long.

The most incredible sight that I saw were the houses of the rich juxtaposed against the homeless tents of the poor. Lawyers, doctors, and other such well-to-do people had multi-level houses of fine construction, surrounded by six and seven foot iron fences. In their yards of lush green grass and immaculately kept garden beds there always lay a guard dog or two. These dogs lay in the sun, watching everyone pass by but would try to eat you should you stop or return past the house too soon.

Right next to these houses, with only a road separating them, were the poor people. Sometimes they were there in the block directly adjacent to the rich houses. Without a house, these people had constructed large tents made of vinyl and canvas from whatever they could find or afford at the time. These tents were their homes.

Bedrooms were created by a sheet hanging between two old wooden cupboards. Chairs and tables and other items were scattered around under the shelter too, when there was room. Most of the items had been dragged from the rubbish piles, bought with money gained in whatever way was possible, or made from items found around the place.

Today was a sunny day. Every colour of clothing was currently hanging out on makeshift clothes lines, drying after the rains that had turned the ground around the tents into mud. There were people both inside and outside these tent houses, chatting and joking and laughing. With only each other and little else, there was still occasion for fun and joy.

One Brazilian Suburb
Here there were also roughly built houses scattered around and between some of the richer places as well as forming their own sections. Unfinished and often needing repair, they belonged to people who had at least a little money. Ironically however, virtually all of these houses, as unfinished as they were, had found the money to mount and pay for a satellite television dish. The priority of television was clear.

Alongside the houses of the rich, the roads were well finished and drainage was good. Everywhere else the drainage consisted only of ditches that had been dug by a backhoe. In these crude ditches the water still rested and was already stagnating. Children ran around, jumping over them, unaware of the diseases that each may have contained.

As well as bicycles and Vespa style motorbikes, horses and carts were also everywhere. Some horses looked healthy and strong while others often showed sores and under nutrition, holding themselves as though they had a broken spirit. Each horse pulled a cart. Each cart carried anything from furniture to cardboard to rubbish to people. Although they were made of wood, each used different types of wheels and suspension that were used off any old vehicle available.

Wandering the Streets
Leaving this suburb of Brazil in Chui, I then wandered along the street looking at the shops. There was not a lot of difference between these shops and the ones that I had seen everywhere else. There were large department stores and very small boutique stores side by side. More interestingly however was how services such as hairdressers and automotive style workshops were situated right next to the retail shops. It seemed a very unusual combination.

After a while of just browsing, I decided that while I was here I would like to send some postcards from Brazil. I never did, but some ladies in one of the shops told me where I could buy some. It was on the Uruguayan side of town.

As I walked along, people often offered me a leaflet on discount meals or clothing stores. When I accepted them, they would first ask me which language, Brazilian or Spanish. English was never part of the question. Then they would give me a short speech on the benefits of buying from this particular place and tell me how close it was.

Most of these places had people handing out papers like this because they were not actually very close to the main street at all. This was a very good way to generate more business. Should I show interest in actually visiting the place, I was told to be sure that I handed the piece of paper in when entering the store so they would get their commission. I only ever entered one store in the end.

Chatting With Locals
In one of these instances, a guy asks me to visit a boutique clothing store. It was not very far this time, so I agree to wander in and look around, being sure to leave my peace of paper with the people there.

After I leave the place I meet the guy again who is still on the corner giving out his leaflets. He says “thank you” as I approached. This was about all that he knew in English. As a result, we end up chatting about languages and then about working in other countries and which ones you need to earn more money.

He had a dream to have sufficient money to not have to work every day, although he had no idea how to achieve it. A friend of his who is busking in Spain on the streets of Barcelona is earning about 50 Euros per day, the equivalent here of over U$1000 pesos. In contrast, the guy I was talking with is currently earning about USD$3.00 per day, or U$100 pesos.

I wished him well in achieving his dream, and even made a few suggestions on how he might achieve it. After our conversation finished, I wished him luck too and then continued on down the street.

Free Stores
Along this side of the street in Uruguay there are “Free” stores everywhere. At first I did not understand what a “Free” store was, so I looked inside. Elegant perfumes and expensive clothing and accessories, electrical goods and other items of high quality made it clear that they were actually “Duty-Free” stores.

With no real reason to enter them, I decided to see what price they were asking for a Palm Pilot. This was something that I had been thinking of buying for a long time but was still not sure if I would.

Most of the stores did not have anything electronic beyond a portable radio and CD player, but a few of the larger ones did. When I did find a Palm Pilot, the price was almost double that which they sell for in the United States. I had heard that the taxes in Uruguay were very high, and it seems that the “Free” stores still had a number of taxes applied to their goods.

Before I Leave
In the process of wandering through the stores, I meet two friendly attendants who told me the details of a cheap electronics store. When I looked, I could not find it, but I was not really searching hard. Instead, I headed to the local Internet cafe and wrote a few emails. Most of my time here however was spent chatting with the people that ran it, learning about life in Chuy and how everyone here also knows how to speak in Portuguese, the language of Brazil.

Soon it is time for me to leave. I return to the hotel and pick up my backpack, chatting with the lady while I was there. When I ask for a photo of her in the doorway of her hotel she kindly agreed. The photo also included the cleaner who was walking past at the time.

A Rushed Lunch
Time has rushed by and now, with little time left before the bus arrives, I race over to a restaurant and order a fast meal. Not remembering that I had very little money left, and no way of getting more from Chuy, I ordered quite an elaborate meal.

I ate quickly, knowing that I would not be able to finish everything that I had ordered, and annoyed at myself for buying too much. By the time the bus arrived, I was satisfied, but not finished, and offer the food and drink remaining to a man with whom I had been chatting with since arriving in the place. He thanks me and enjoys enough food for a decent meal.

When I pay, it comes to the exact amount that I had in my wallet. I had no more. The bill was slightly less, but with tip it emptied every peso from my possession. My wallet was now vacant. I was glad that I had already purchased my bus ticket.

Sitting on the bus, I am surprised to see the guy that I was chatting with over my meal come and sit next to me. I asked him if he was coming to Treinta y Tres too, but he said no then nodded toward a plastic bag cradled in his hand.

The plastic bag was just like any other that you get from the shops. It contained another bag within and inside that was a bottle of some sort. He indicated to me to look at what was inside. I had no idea why. The urgency and secrecy in his voice indicated to me that perhaps I should do it discreetly.

When I looked inside I discovered a 750ml bottle of Williams Scotch Whiskey. He looked at me satisfied that I now knew the contents of his bag and made his offer. U$30 pesos he asks me. I tell him that I do not have any money, at which he counter offers for U$10 pesos. U$30 pesos is equivalent to USD$1.00, U$10 pesos is USD$0.33. The price was ridiculous.

At a price like that I considered that I probably would have bought it had I had any money, but my wallet was empty. I told the guy this, and then pulled out my wallet and showed him how empty it really was. When he saw that I was telling the truth, he wrapped up his contraband and left, his suspicious behaviour making it obvious that he was trying to smuggle the bottle off the bus.

Border Crossing
Only a short way outside of Chuy the bus stops at the border crossing and we all get out and retrieve our bags. After waiting around outside the guard house while the bus and those remaining onboard (without bags) are checked, the door finally opens and we enter.

In here each bag gets searched for contraband and then we move on. Perhaps it was fortuitous that I did not have enough money to purchase the whiskey. Then, because I had a passport in my hand, the guard flicks through it until he sees my Uruguayan paper. I am free to go.

That was the border, and because Chuy, Uruguay borders with Chui, Brazil, every road leading out of the town in both countries has these border crossings.

National Roads
As we journey along, the road quickly deteriorates into a rough dirt road. The dust quickly finds its way inside the bus and makes breathing uncomfortable. Every window rattles and even some seats. Fortunately it did not remain like this and eventually we found our way back onto sealed roads.

The ride over the sealed roads however, was not very much more comfortable than it was on the dirt roads. There were as many bumps and ruts along these as there were before. The big difference was that there was no dust hanging in the air any more. And that was a definite bonus.

After passing through many small towns on the way, and stopping at farms and houses for locals along the road, we finally arrived in Treinta y Tres at 7pm. Just as expected.

Now I was here, all I had to do was find my friends, whom I had never met. My time of tourism was over and I was now about to live in Uruguay for an unknown period of time.

I wondered what would happen next.

–== THE END ==–

Continue reading “Uruguay Day Fourteen (End)”

Meeting The Scotts

TREINTA Y TRES: The main purpose of traveling through Uruguay was to visit the Goodmans. A family that I met via email through mutual friends. They lived in Treinta y Tres, the capital city of the province of the same name. This is where I had just arrived, and I had no idea what to expect.

Meeting The Scotts
On arriving in Treinta y Tres, I am met by Tim, a tall lanky lad with a strong reddish beard. At 21 he appears older than he is, and speaks in a Scottish accent. With his pushbike at his side, we both walk the twenty seven or so blocks back to his place.

The house is on the outskirts of town, and in their yard is actually two houses. The other is the new house that Tim is in the process of building. When I enter into the door of the smaller, thatched roof house, I am greeted by great plumes of smoke. Amidst all of this I see two figures who I assume correctly to be Chris and Grace Goodman, Tim’s parents.

Grace is at the gas stove, cooking up some lovely rabbit meat which refuses to stop smoking, while Chris stands at the kitchen bench, preparing other items for dinner. Grace quickly explains to me in her thick Scottish accent that this much smoke is not usual, something I found to be true throughout my stay here.

Two people who describe themselves as plodders, Chris and Grace heard God clearly tell them to move to Uruguay in South America many years ago. After a few probing visits, they then moved here from Scotland eight years ago with their son Tim, and started setting up a new home.

Steep Learning Curves
Never having lived a subsistence lifestyle before, there has been a steep learning curve in virtually every area. How to grow vegetables and trees successfully, how to milk and care for cows, and even how to kill and butcher rabbits. The yard that contains their two house extends for a long way down to the creek, making their land large enough to be called a small farm. Essentially that is what it is.

Wanting to honour God and the rulers of the land, the Goodmans have set about doing everything by the laws of Uruguay. This is something that even the people enforcing these laws have advised against, such is the strength of corruption in the country. Many of these laws do not seem to make sense, and everything takes time to complete. A lot of time.

Never having encountered such long-winded and lengthy delays as every process in Uruguay invokes, the Goodman’s expectations of completing things quickly, such as they could have done in Scotland, were quickly dashed. They came to realise that moving through official channels takes much longer than is reasonable.

These days, as most people who live in South America long enough begin to realise, a much more realistic approach is to select one item to complete each day. If this item is completed then you can begin another. Normally though the delays and circular processes take more than a day to navigate. Sometimes it extends into months or years.

As a result, something as simple as going to the bank or visiting the post-office can be a full day event. Getting approval for house changes takes much much longer, with many hours of time spent standing in line waiting to be told that the person you need to talk to is the one you have just seen.

The New House
Before, during and throughout their time in Uruguay, God has given the Goodmans guidance and direction. Although from a church perspective there has not been great gains or changes during their time here, the Goodmans have been continuing to build contacts and influence many people throughout the town.

There is a sense that their presence here will be the start of something much bigger soon. It is to this end that they continue to work in all areas, including on their house. This house, with a large open area on the upper floor, will become a valuable meeting place when it is finished. Meeting places of this size are not very common in Treinta y Tres.

The new house was a partly started project included with the property the Goodmans bought. After much time in seeking official approval to continue building, they now have the main structure completed. Tim, who has been training in carpentry skills, is in the process of creating the windows, doors and frames for the entire house. The finished products are each looking very good.

While staying here I lived upstairs in the main bedroom, reaching the upper floor by a ladder. About to help Tim with his work, this was my motivation to choose to help out with the interior staircase. Together with Chris we worked on paper and then wood to create the stairs. Time ran out for me before it was finished, but with a little more cutting, we were very close to assembling everything by then.

Sticky Weather
The weather here was reasonably good to us most of the time, although there were a couple of very large and heavy rainstorms that came through the area. One was so loud that it woke me in the early morning, a feat that even my mother finds hard to do.

Never warm, the temperature ranged from cool to very cold. Every day the air was thick with humidity and even dry clothes started to feel sticky. Fortunately, Chris had installed an instant shower from Britain, and I was able to wash the stickiness away. The shower was actually too powerful for the electricity supply and had to be tuned down. Even so, it still provided a lovely warm shower. The best part was that there were not any power cables lying next to the running water.

Getting Around
Transport for the Goodmans is bicycles. They have enough for each of them and one more. Town is not too far away and the ride over mostly flat terrain is easy enough to do. When they first told me they only had bikes, I was expecting motorbikes. Instead, I was able to gain a little fitness as I journeyed in and back from town each day. Chris even has a trailer to draw behind him when he needs to carry larger items.

My Experience
Spending time with the Goodmans, whom I affectionately nicknamed the Scotts, was very refreshing. After traveling for two weeks around Uruguay without speaking English it was also nice to be speaking it again. We shared our experiences of hearing God call us to South America, and told of our visions of what we wanted to see happen here. We chatted and laughed, and talked about much. When I left, I left refreshed.

Having gone to encourage them, I ended up being encouraged myself. They are a great family who are willing to obey God no matter what. The thing I remember most about them is their determination. I now have some new friends, the Scotts.

Uruguay Day Four

MONTEVIDEO: As seems to be my trend lately, I managed to rise just after 10am. Breakfast was until 11am so I still had time for a shower first. My room mate, Mike, had long since disappeared to Colonia. He was working his way around most of South America in just three weeks, so the 16hrs he spent in Montevideo was quite a luxury on his schedule.

Temperamental Showers
Negotiating the shower proved harder than I first imagined. It was a cold morning so a hot shower was a necessity today, but no matter how long I ran the hot water, nothing hot was coming out. Eventually I decided to run two showers to speed the process. It worked, and soon I had hot water, but as soon as I turned off the other shower the hot water stopped too. The result was that I showered with two showers running, and got the hot shower I was wanting.

I wandered down after my shower and joined a couple of German tourists at the breakfast table. They were enjoying their measly fare of sliced bread rolls and jams that constituted breakfast. After our conversation, I decided to head out in search of a better breakfast such as a banana or yogurt or even both. But being a Sunday morning, there was not very much open and I never did find my breakfast. In fact I did not find lunch either, opting instead to fast for the day.

Enjoying The City
My first stop was at the Plaza Independencia, a lovely open area filled with lush green grass. There was not a single person on the grass when I first arrived, so I found myself a lovely sunny patch and sat down to enjoy the atmosphere of this new town. Very few people were around the place and the few that were remained firmly in the sun. It was too cold to do otherwise. About two hours later I decided to wander a little further afield and see what this city had to offer.

Using my miniature tourist map with its walking tour information, I managed to find my way through the entire tour within a few hours. I do not think I could have walked much slower either. There were plenty of old buildings to see, and a number of old churches too, all standard fare for any city. I stopped and relaxed at times in some of the other parks on the way but none of them seemed to have the same positive feel as Plaza Independencia.

Mercardo Puerto
Since I was near the port and ferry terminal, I wandered in and got the ferry timetable for my return to Buenos Aires. Crossing the road from the port, I wandered into the Port Market area which was now open and filled with people. The atmosphere was busy and electric. A drumming band was playing rhythmic tunes amongst the local artists with their wares on display, the restaurants lining the place were filled with people dining, and dozens of people were wandering up and down the street enjoying the whole show. But this was just the avenue outside.

Inside, the market was filled with eating places. There was little room to walk between each of them. It seemed very similar to some of the eating markets I had visited in Japan. Every kitchen was filled with people busy stoking the fires and cooking up the meals for hungry customers. Chefs and waiters would search out and canvas for new customers as they wandered through the commotion. I found myself explaining to quite a number of these guys that I was not going to be a customer. Most of them left me alone as soon as they heard that although a few were like bull-terrier dogs that took a lot of convincing before I could shake them off.

The whole market area was built inside a large high-roofed building made of tin. In the centre of this place was an old wooden clock standing proud above everything else. Exposed steel girders held the roof in place, and long tubes of steel venting the cooking fumes rose from each of the restaurants to the roof. The whole place took on the feel of chaos, but it was also a place that I would love to return to more than once.

The Tourist Trail
Moving on from here I continue on my wanderings, following the tourist map back to where I had started and then further on. Along the main road virtually all of the shops were shut. In one of the parks people are huddled together in the sun along the edges of the walking paths and gardens. From a distance they looked like birds sitting on a wire.

Further along I heard the sounds of a pentecostal church and wandered inside to listen to what they had to say. The volume of the speakers inside were so loud that my ears started to hurt. I could not understand what they were saying and decided to head out at the first song. As I left, a young man from the church approached me and tried to tell me about God. I told him that I knew God already, and once he realised that I did not really know Spanish, we shook hands parted ways.

The rest of the walking tour was very ordinary, although it did take me past a tourist information booth that was able to produce a map of the actual city and not just the Old City. It was getting quite late in the day now so I decided to head back toward my hostel.

Heading For Dinner
I stopped on the way at a cinema expecting to find people here. It was open, but had the same ghost-town atmosphere as the rest of the place. It was hard to believe that 1.5 million people lived here. Moving on, I found a place to eat that I had passed a few times before. Each time I had passed by there were always people inside, so it seemed to be a great place to stop.

Only after having decided on the meal that I wanted did I discover that the kitchen does not even open until 8pm. That is the way things work here. People come in even after midnight to eat their dinner, so at 7pm I guess I was still too early. None-the-less, I selected something from the snacks menu which turned out to be a full meal in itself, settled back and enjoyed my dinner.

By the time I left that place, just after 8pm, people were starting to appear on the street outside. When I had walked this same street before, it seemed crowded when I discovered five people walking along it. Now there were almost thirty or forty people wandering down it. Some people at my hostel told me that after midnight the place is completely packed with people, although I did not hang around to see that.

Hostel Activities
Back at the hostel I allowed myself to be entertained for a while by a strange French movie. It was about a young man being persuaded to start a family by his son and other descendants who lived in another world and time. Somewhat bizarre.

When it was time to retire to my room I passed by the family that runs this place who lived on the middle level. They were having friends over for dinner, creating a lot of noise in the process. I noticed their son using the computer in the corner, evading the crowd. I had not realised that the Internet computer was also their home computer too.

Inside my room the noise of these guests carried through readily. I lay on my bed reading until sleep eventually overcame me. Even the noise was not able to stop me by then. These easy days in the city were just what I needed.

Perhaps I would do more tomorrow. But then again, perhaps not.

Uruguay Day One

COLONIA: Well, here I am in the little country of Uruguay. After arriving in Colonia at midday I quickly found a place to stay, grabbed some money and headed off to see some sights. I did not get far though.

I had hardly made it down the road before I stopped to chat with a guy renting motorbikes. It started with just asking the price, but over half an hour I managed to discover that the country is hardly more than 600kms across and virtually all flat with a couple of ranges. It has few exports but plenty of water, beef, and cereals. I also discovered that driving around this place costs a lot as there are toll roads to get anywhere and fuel costs USD $1 per litre.

After parting with this friendly guy I ended up trying every single automatic bank machine, breaking some in the process of finding one that worked with my card. $3000 pesos later and I was ready to go. The Uruguayan peso is equal to 10 times the Argentine peso, so this was only a $300 peso Argentina withdraw, or $100 US dollars. It sounds a lot though, with a bottle of water costing $8 pesos.

Not very far down the road I met up with a bunch of guys that were about to start a game of football. They were one guy down and asked me if I wanted to play. It seemed a reasonable proposal to me, but I warned them that I hadn’t played since I was a child, and was not sure I knew how to play. They were happy to have me along and we started the game.

As we played, more people came and went with our teams swelling to almost six players a side, before shrinking again to the three or four per side we started with. Somewhere in the middle of everything I suffered a strong bruise to my leg. It is painful enough that I expect to remain limping for a few days. Eventually I thanked the guys and headed off to walk the tourist route through the ancient part of town.

Tourist Walk
The oldest house in town, preserved in its original state had dozens of paintings and pieces of art that covered the walls. Further into the place I discovered there was everything here, even the original utensils and equipment from the same era as the house. Surprisingly everything was also for sale, at a price. Absolutely everything that was not permanently affixed to the building had a price on it. I was amazed.

Moving on from this house on its extremely old rock lined street, I discovered my first museum, from the Portuguese times. Colonia, being World Heritage listed and basing its tourism industry on the age of the place, is full of museums. It was already getting late when I wandered in, so when I asked how long I had, it was not surprising to discover that they were closing in five minutes. It is amazing how much you can see in a museum in five minutes. With quite a rush, I managed to see everything in that time, even though I was the last person to leave.

Next stop was the lighthouse. This was the first fee I had encountered, and even though it was $0.75 Australian dollars, the entry fee of $15 Uruguayan pesos still seemed expensive to me. The climb to the top of the stairs revealed commanding views over the entire old section of town as I looked out from the section where the light is located. I took my share of photos and then climbed the dizzying number of circular stairs back down to the bottom.

By now my time for tourism had run out. The sun had virtually set, the museums were closed, and there was not much left to do except stop and eat. Non-the-less I pressed on and continued to walk around the tourist pathway based on the map I was holding in my hand. It was clear that I would have to return in the morning, but it was still worthwhile to wander and see this new place that I was now living in.

Relaxed Tourism
The best part of this trip is that I do not have any fixed timetable and can stay or go to the next place when I want. If I like the place then I stay longer, and if not then I move on. This non-pressure approach to tourism seems the total opposite to my world tour where I rushed around the world in a flurry, spending only one night in Venice, two days in Rome etc. There was so much to see and so little time. Now I am in a tiny little country with not too much to see and enough time to see it. This is going to be a lovely relaxed time indeed.

As I wandered around the place there were many interesting things to see. From tree-lined streets, to many old buildings with creative uses for each of them, there was always something that kept my eye interested. I even discovered dozens of old cars, the sort that lived during the Bonnie and Clyde era. Some of them had actually been converted into dining rooms for a funky looking restaurant near the old church.

Dinner Time
By seven o’clock at night I had worn myself out, and with my sore leg causing a significant limp, it was obvious that my time for wandering had drawn to a close. It did not take me long to find my way to a local watering hole where the food was much cheaper than most of the main tourist places. I like these places because of the friendly atmosphere and very cheap prices.

At the time I landed in this place, everyone was caught up in watching a local television program. It was hard to work out what the show was about because I could not understand all of the dialogue, but there were parts that were funny regardless of what language you speak. The rest of the time I took my cue from the locals as to when to laugh. The show finished just as I completed my meal, so I paid my $80 pesos for the meal and headed off again, for a quick stop at the internet place before returning to my accommodation.

Ending The Night
The accommodation I had chosen here was the local hostel which seemed a good place to start. I was lucky enough to be given a room to myself for the same price when I booked in. It is on the top floor, and from the balcony level I climb a few wooden stairs to enter the slightly elevated room. Two beds sit inside and create a relaxed atmosphere. It certainly seems like a nice place to stay.

So after a big day and night in Buenos Aires and with my limping leg, my plans for tonight are to simply retire to my room and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of this wonderful little town. It should not take me too long before I have drifted off into a pleasant sleep.

Uruguay is shaping up to be a very interesting and enjoyable place to be. Friendly people, football games, and lots of great chats. The difference between the big city of Buenos Aires and the local atmosphere of this place is obvious. After all, there are 6 million people living in Buenos Aires city, and only 3 million living in all of Uruguay.

Maybe I am just a country boy at heart.

Day 2 (& Photos)

Uruguay Day Thirteen (Night)

CHUY & CHUI: Today I moved on to Chuy. A true frontier town on the border with Brazil, Chuy has a main street on which Uruguay and Brazil meet. Cross the street and you have changed countries. There are many unusual things that I discovered in this small town in the North-East of Uruguay, including characters that looked like they had come straight out of the movies.

Arriving in Chuy
The bus journeyed on for less than an hour before it reached Chuy, stopping at many places on the way to ferry locals from one place to another. In Chuy, the bus stopped along the street. We were here now and supposed to get off. The town was just not big enough to support a bus terminal.

Climbing out of the bus, I wander into the ticket office and inquire about buses from here to Treinta y Tres. There was one leaving in ten minutes, or I could choose between an early morning or mid-afternoon bus tomorrow. I chose the mid-afternoon bus.

Staying The Night
Now I needed accommodation so I set out to find somewhere to stay. There did not seem to be a plentiful supply of hotels here and I eventually had to ask someone where I could find one. It turned out to be not very close to the centre of town but the price was very high.

When I told this to the girl at the hotel reception desk, she happily explained to me where there were two other hotels in town. I chose the one that seemed to be a little bit further out of town on the chance that it would be cheaper. When I got there my guess had paid off. It was a hotel with very friendly people and a great price.

Sure, it was not in a great part of town, but that did not concern me greatly. I was only going to be there for one night. I thanked the lady that helped me to sort out my room and then headed back into town with a few errands to complete.

Some Interesting Characters
As I wandered down the streets of this new town, I could hardly stop myself from staring at each person I saw. There was hardly a person that I passed who did not look like they were straight out of a movie set.

There were a couple of women hobbling down the road that caught my eye. One was short, and the other appeared to be a midget being very much shorter than her friend. They did not walk fast, hobbling from one foot to the other, their movements suggesting pain was involved in the process. The skin on their faces, folded a thousand times into endless series of ruts and ridges, revealed a hardness of life they had both endured. They looked straight down the road as they walked, ignoring everyone around them.

Another man wandered slowly with a cane in his hand. His darkened leathery skin and face covered in a three day shadow did little to hide his years. As I greeted him while passing, he looked at me with tired eyes. Then they glistened as a smile grew on his face. Stopping, as though doing two things at once was a little too much for him now, he returned my greeting with a broad several-tooth grin. With the greeting complete, he then turned ahead and recommenced his journey. I just smiled and moved on.

I saw an old lady with her purple crocheted cap atop her head, who sat out in the front of her tiny front yard enjoying the warmth of the last rays of sun. Rugged up in a multiple layers of coats and with a thick scarf around her neck she was hardly visible amongst all of the clothes, her small diminutive body engulfed by what she wore. Staring straight ahead at nothing in particular, when I greeted her she nodded to acknowledge my presence but her eyes never moved. After persisting, she was happy to engage in a conversation. Her hearing was not the best though and I had to talk reasonably loud to make myself heard. Perhaps this explained the way she greeted me.

This was in the centre of town on the Uruguayan side where there is a large plaza common to all towns in Uruguay. In this plaza sat all sorts of other characters, each one that could easily have been from a movie set. One man was wearing an eye patch that reminded me of a pirate and was amongst a group of other men chatting and laughing coarsely. Children too had characteristics like Tom Sawyer and other characters from books. Both young and old had characteristics about them that I had not seen in any other city of Uruguay.

It was incredible to see so many amazing people. To have taken photos of them all would have been wonderful, although at this point in time I had no space left on my camera for photos. So amidst the frustration, I did as one of my good friends said and took “mind pictures” instead.

Running Errands
The first thing I had to do now that I was here was call the people whom I have fondly nicknamed “The Scotts”, to let them know when I would be arriving. Chris and Grace Goodman with their son Timothy, were friends of friends that I knew only via recent emails. They have lived in Treinta y Tres, Uruguay for around eight years, and we would be meeting very soon.

Discovering that the only Internet place in town was packed out with people, I searched out the only two photo shops in the town only to discover that digital photos was not something they knew much about. They did tell me that there were computers in the local petrol service station that may be able to help me move my photos onto CD.

Surprised that a service station would have computers, I discovered that they actually had three computers in the shop that had Internet access. They could not help me with my photos but I was able to access my email account and reply to all of the emails received over the last few days.

When I emerged from the service station it was dark. The sun had set in an blaze of orange glow over the top of the Brazilian side of town. Since I had yet to visit Brazil since arriving here, I headed directly toward it.

Crossing The Border
Now I was not exactly sure where Brazil started and Uruguay ended, but I had been told by the people in Punta del Diablo that you simply walk across a street and you are there. So I found the biggest main street and walked across it and presumed that I was there.

A quick look around at the shops and signs revealed quickly that I really was there. The name of Chuy had now changed to the Brazilian spelling of Chui. There were Brazilian telecom phones on the sidewalk, and the names of everything here was spelt in Brazilian rather than in Spanish. How incredible it was. How strange too.

As I wandered through the shops and streets of the business section of what was now Chui, I heard people talking in both Spanish and Brazilian. There is a clear distinction between the two languages that makes it easy to hear when people are talking.

The prices on this side of town were obviously in Brazilian Reals, the currency of Brazil. There were postal services for Brazil on this side, and on the other, postal services for Uruguay. Virtually everything was duplicated. One for the Brazilian side, and one for the Uruguayan side.

Even the main street that I had to cross was duplicated. It was built like a four lane roadway with the two dual lanes separated by a wide grassed strip in the middle. The difference here was that each side was actually a two way road. One two way road for Uruguay, and one for Brazil. The strip in the middle was the dividing mark between the two countries.

High-Class Restaurants
So after buying some toiletries from a pharmacy in Brazil, I headed back to Uruguay for dinner at a nice restaurant that had a few people inside. Some of the people, when served by the waiter, acted as though they were in a very high-class restaurant. They gave an elegant nod of the head as the waiter completed his duties at the table.

It was quite amusing to see at first. Then I considered that perhaps I really was in what they would consider as an expensive restaurant. It was not really an expensive looking place but it did have a degree of elegance to it. I ordered my usual of steak and fries with a side order of lots of bread.

Even though we were on the Uruguayan side, there was a lot of Brazilian spoken. Most people in this town could speak both Brazilian and Spanish. Being so close to the “other side” it was obvious why they could, and in many cases, needed to.

Facing A Gun
Heading back for my hotel it was already quite late at night. I considered that there were probably some risks in walking through this sort of area at the time it was, but this was the way to my hotel.

Actually I was not quite sure which way was the way to my hotel by now. I had taken a different way to get there, believing that I could remember how many blocks in each direction I needed to walk before arriving there. Somewhere along the way I had forgotten and now all of the streets looked the same. I could find my way back to town, but did not know how to continue.

Just as I arrived at this point of realisation, I saw a man in an overcoat standing in the shadow of a doorway. There was nobody else around in this particular place. He was the only person here for as far as I could see. Since I needed directions, and at the time he seemed to be the best, well actually the only person, I thought I would ask him.

It was a few stairs up to the concrete landing upon which he stood. When I reached it, I approached him and asked where the nearest hotel was. He pointed in the opposite direction to where I needed to go, to wards town. I told him that I already had a hotel, but could not remember where it was. At this he then pointed in the right direction and told me how many blocks each way I needed to walk.

Thankful for his help, I told him so and was about to leave. Suddenly, with a sweep of the arm faster than I could follow, he reached in behind his back and pulled out a gun. It was a large six-shooter pistol of the sort that you see in the western films. I was stunned. Was my helper now my robber?

I did not know what to say. There was nothing really that I could say. I just stood there and time seemed to move very slowly. The realisation of what was happening took a while to actually sink in. I had never seen a gun in the streets before, and to have one right in front of me was almost an unreal situation, but it was very real indeed.

Then with the suddenness that he had pulled the gun out, he turned it sideways and held it briefly in both of his hands. “These parts of the city are very dangerous,” he said. “You would be wise to carry something like this with you around here.” And then he returned it to its position behind his back. I left. Quickly. Thanking him for his advice as I moved away.

Why the change? It was for less than a second that the pistol seemed to be pointed at me. Perhaps this was his intention all along. Perhaps he was just trying to be nice to me. Perhaps in this street where there was little light and no people, he realised that I was taking a risk and he wanted to ensure I was aware of these risks. There was another explanation though.

Perhaps he had really intended to rob me. I had heard many stories of Christians in dangerous situations like this where someone that was intending to rob them suddenly changed their mind. Sometimes it was because they saw a huge person, possibly an angel, standing behind their would-be victim. Other times there seemed to be no explanation as the person changed their mind and the Christian walked on, untouched.

I pondered upon both of these explanations, although considerably later. The answer I do not know. I do know however that the street was deserted, that it was poorly lit, that the man was standing in the shadow of the doorway and hard to see at first, and that he was wearing a large overcoat which could conceal many things. I also know that he was Brazilian and there is more poverty on the Brazilian side.

All of this does not necessarily make him a robber however and not knowing his motives, I cannot say which occurred. All I know is that the situation was very weird, and that nothing happened to me. For that I am very glad.

Safely Home
The rest of my walk home was in the middle of the road. I had learned while in Argentina that this is the safest part of the street to walk, as there were less shadows and surprises nearby. A few cars and motorbikes had to drive around me as I walked, but there was room for them and I was not keen to move too far to the sides after this experience.

When I reached the hotel, I was glad to be there. It was like an oasis of calm and security amidst a land that I was not so sure about any more. This was my first encounter with a gun and it made me realise how quickly things can happen.

A Revised Perspective
Although the whole event came as a surprise, I was glad that it had happened because it gave me a different view on the things around me. I was not fearful of everything around me as such, but I had become a little too secure while walking through places such as this.

Now I was once again aware that there are dangers around the place. Now I give the respect and the fear to the places and the people that deserve such respect and fear. Now I am once again cautious.

These were the last thoughts that passed through my mind as I drifted off to sleep in the warmth and security of my hotel bed, safely behind locked doors.