A Travellerspoint blog

December 2018

Uruguay 2018

Route: Santiago de Chile – Montevideo – La Paloma – Treinta Y Tres – Durazno – Fray Bentos – Riachuelo – Montevideo – Santiago de Chile

semi-overcast 30 °C

NOVEMBER – DECEMBER 2018

The trip to South America started off with a bit of a bonus. Our flight from London to Santiago de Chile only had 55 passengers so there was plenty of room to spread out and get some sleep, which always helps especially when you have 14.5 hours in front of you. Santiago de Chile was just a rest stop, so we spent the night in an airport hotel before continuing on our journey to our first real destination, Uruguay.

Clouds over the Andes

Clouds over the Andes

Flying over the Andes

Flying over the Andes

Santiago de Chile to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, was a short 2-hour flight southeast across the Andean Mountains. Our plan for Montevideo was to mainly chill out and recover from a pretty hectic two months in Europe, and that is what we did. The city is a very relaxed and calm place and nothing like the other Latin American cities we’ve visited. An Argentinian writer once wrote “Montevideo during the week was like Buenos Aires on a Sunday”. I think he was right, there were no traffic jams, the bus drivers don’t think they are in a motor race, car horns are only used when absolutely necessary and everyone goes about their business at a calm and leisurely pace. All this suited us down to the ground.
The mild weather, dry, partly sunny and in the low 20’sC, also helped us with our plan of chilling out. However, we didn’t just sit around and absorb Uruguayan life as it passed us by, we did get out and explore this intriguing city.
Montevideo has a very pleasant pedestrian walkway along its coast, known as the “Rambla”, which we explored on a number of occasions. Watching people jog, cycle and hang out, as well as sunbath and swim on its adjoining 14km of sandy beach. However, that is when the wind wasn’t too strong, and we risked getting drenched from the waves crashing over the sea wall, which did happen on one occasion.

La Rambla

La Rambla

Windy day on La Rambla

Windy day on La Rambla

Montevideo Beach

Montevideo Beach

Away from the coast the city is a tranquil oasis of small plaza’s, ornate period building (many in need of serious restoration), small businesses, and sparsely populated by locals going about their daily lives. Even in the old town centre, and with a cruise boat in port, it didn’t seem busy. We joined the locals as we explored the capitals streets, checking out the main attractions and being amazed at how many statues there were, of all sizes and dedicated to the people that are important to the Uruguayans. As is usual when we wander around the streets, not following the tourist route, you encounter the unexpected. Like the group of youngsters, practicing their music for the 2019 festival, tucked away in a backstreet lockup. And coming across a wallet siting on a plaza bench. In fact the wallet incident was a little adventure in itself.
We looked at the wallet sitting on the bench for a few minutes, expecting someone to rush over a claim it, but no one did nor was it stolen, so we thought we should do something about it. On investigation, the wallet was stuffed with lots of money and several credit cards, and obviously belonged to an Englishman, based on the bankcard details. We thought about taking it to the police, but then noticed a document relating to a berth on a cruise liner. With this clue we made our way to the port where we had seen a cruise liner docked, hoping it was the one and that we could return the wallet to its owner. Luck would have it, especially for the wallet owner, we encountered a group of English tourist waiting to cross the road and on their way back to the boat in question. One lady offered to return the wallet to the boat authorities for us, and she appeared pretty trustworthy, so we gave it to her along with one of our travel cards and hoped for the best. Low and behold, a few hours later, Anne received an email from the very pleased wallet owner thanking us for our honesty and endeavours. Actions like these make you feel good about yourself, especially when you have been able to make someone’s day.

Street Art

Street Art

Old City buildings

Old City buildings

Old City Buildings

Old City Buildings

Palacio Salvo

Palacio Salvo

Carnival Practice

Carnival Practice

Pre Carnival dancing

Pre Carnival dancing

Our last day in Montevideo made us feel like real locals. We visited Rodo Park, just down the road from our apartment, and wandered around its Sunday market. Then had a late lunch in a local restaurant, the Paella was excellent.

Best Paella in Montevideo

Best Paella in Montevideo

It was then time to leave the capital and head east along the Atlantic coast. Our next destination was La Paloma, but before that we took a small detour to visit Punta del Este. Punta del Este is Uruguay’s number one beach resort, but our visit wasn’t for the sand, more for the hand in the sand. On Playa Brava there is a striking concrete sculpture of “Los Dedos” (The Fingers), known in English as “The Hand in the Sand”. Created in 1981 by a Chilean sculptor, 3m high concrete fingers protrude from the sand and have become the town’s icon.

Hand in the sand

Hand in the sand

The beach at Punta del Este

The beach at Punta del Este

La Paloma is a sleepy coastal town (it doesn’t get busy until January), with long sandy beaches and a strange variety of beachfront properties (a mix of concrete blocks, to thatched cottages, to houses made from shipping containers stacked on top of each other). However, this time of year the beach is not the main attraction, the lack of warmth and high winds being the main reason. Instead, we were here to chill out and do a bit of birding. To the west of the town is the protected area of Laguna del Rocha, home to Black Necked Swans and Flamingos, amongst other water birds. The Lagoon is beautiful and there were hundreds of Black Necked Swans (no Flamingos when we visited), but the real treat was the bird life on the approach road. The birds were so varied and plentiful it reminded us of the road through the Pantanal (vast wetland in Brazil, teaming with wildlife).

Birds La Paloma

Birds La Paloma

Light House in La Paloma

Light House in La Paloma

View over La Paloma from the beach

View over La Paloma from the beach

Ripples in the sand

Ripples in the sand

La Paloma Beach

La Paloma Beach

Our next destination took us away from the coast and north into the eastern heartland, the most remote and least populated region of Uruguay. Our base was the town of Treinta Y Tres, a four-hour drive through rolling countryside along almost empty roads. We had been warned that the roads weren’t good but didn’t find them as bad as expected, not much different to a poorly maintained country lane in Britain.

Road between La Paloma and Trienta y Tres

Road between La Paloma and Trienta y Tres

Scenery on our way from La Paloma to Trienta y Tres

Scenery on our way from La Paloma to Trienta y Tres

The town of Treinta y Tres was named after the 33 heroes that secured this part of the country from its Portuguese occupiers, back in the time of Uruguay’s independence. It’s the most populated in the region but at times seemed more like a ghost town than a thriving community, maybe the 30+C heat was keeping the locals indoors. Our main reason to visit this part of the country was one to see the region and two to visit “Quebrada de los Cuervos”. Quebrada de los Cuervos is the largest canyon in Uruguay, with a subtropical forest at its bottom it is home to many species of birds and flowers otherwise mainly found further north in Brazil. Our visit required a 30-minute dirt road drive to arrive at the canyon then a 3-kilometre hike to explore it. A three kilometre hike sounds fairly easy I here you say, but that wasn’t the case. Those three kilometres are mostly of the vertical type, as the route first takes you down to the canyon bottom, a 175m decent, then after briefly following the river, you climb back out of the canyon. Add to this a 35C temperature, and the whole exercise becomes quite knackering. The scenery was very beautiful though; so all that effort brought its rewards.

Going down into the canyon, more climbing than walking, thanks for the ropes

Going down into the canyon, more climbing than walking, thanks for the ropes

Quebrada de los Cuervos Canyon (named after the 3 different vultures that can be seen in the area)

Quebrada de los Cuervos Canyon (named after the 3 different vultures that can be seen in the area)

Caterpillars in the canyon

Caterpillars in the canyon

Some Dragonflies in the Canyon

Some Dragonflies in the Canyon

These pink eggs could be seen all around the river, unknown origin

These pink eggs could be seen all around the river, unknown origin

Quebrada de los Cuervos Canyon view from the top

Quebrada de los Cuervos Canyon view from the top

Our second and last day in Treinta y Tres was equally hot, and as we still hadn’t fully recovered from the previous day’s hike; our activities were restricted to exploring the town a bit more.

Trienta y Tres  main street on a Sunday lunch time, the biggest city in the east!

Trienta y Tres main street on a Sunday lunch time, the biggest city in the east!

Leaving Treinta y Tres our journey now took us west, straight through the middle of the country. Again we were warned that the cross-country roads were very bad, and at times we had to agree with them. A mix of dirt and paved roads formed our route, the paved being ok but the dirt were barely passable at times. As with all long drives we share the driving with one-hour stints. Unfortunately, on this occasion Anne lost out, getting an hour of the very worst roads we encountered. Six hours after leaving Treinta y Tres, we arrived at our next location, Durazno. A tough journey but a rewarding one, as we achieved our goal of seeing Uruguay’s interior of cattle farms and vast expanses of pampas grass.

Durazno was always going to be a rest stop, in the truest sense of the word, as we had booked into a nice hotel on the outskirts of town. We aimed to catch up with our travel planning rather than explore, which is exactly what we did. On our first day there was a thunderstorm that lasted most of the day, so we didn’t feel guilty about not leaving the room much.

Wet day with thunder, lighting and even hail

Wet day with thunder, lighting and even hail

The weather on the second day was much nicer so we decided to spend the morning exploring Durazno town. The town, although small, was lively with a couple of interesting plaza’s and the unusual church of San Pedro. Unusual because, from the outside it has a traditional period look about it, but the inside was very modern. It was then back to the hotel for more relaxation and travel planning.

San Pedro Church in Durazno (traditional facade)

San Pedro Church in Durazno (traditional facade)

San Pedro Church interior (rebuild after a fire destroyed the original)

San Pedro Church interior (rebuild after a fire destroyed the original)

The following day we were on the move once again. This journey took us east, about as far as you can go without ending up in Argentina. Our destination was the town of Fray Bentos, on the banks of the River Uruguay.
We started our drive in heavy rain and with thunder and lightening all around us, fortunately the weather improved as we progressed. It seems that if you travel along the southern coast or from south to north there is a good road to travel on, but if you want to go east to west this is not the case. So similar to our route from Treinta y Tres, our cross-country section provided us some pretty bad road conditions. At least the road was paved this time, but with potholes that could swallow half the car if you hit them. So progress was slow on this section, but at least we arrived before the weather turned nasty again.
That evening we experienced the worst storm that either of us could ever remember. By nightfall it was raining heavily and during the early hours of the following morning it was torrential, accompanied with thunder and lightening. It was as though our tin roofed apartment had been placed under Victoria Falls, constantly illuminated by the sheet lightening and rattled by the thunder overhead. The roof sprang some small leaks, which a carefully placed bucket dealt with, and water started pouring in the front door, which we partly averted by the use of bath-towels. By daylight the storm had passed, but our first job in the morning was to mop up the water and allow the warm breeze to dry things out.

Sunset on River Uruguay, with Argentine in the distance

Sunset on River Uruguay, with Argentine in the distance

The main activity on our first day in Fray Bentos was to visit the old meat-processing factory, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For English people of my generation, the words Fray Bentos conjures up the images of tinned Corned Beef and Pies, and that is exactly what was produced here for the world market. They also made Oxo here, another iconic brand. For decades, using South American livestock, cheap labour from all over the world and British financing, meat was processed, canned and refrigerated for export all around the world. This continued until the late sixties, when the British investors decided the production was no longer viable and closed the factory. This of course was a disaster for the town, so the Uruguayan government stepped in and re-opened a new plant as a national concern. The new plant has been in operation, on and off ever since, but only as a canning factory.
We spent a very enjoyable three hours touring around what was left of the old factory, learning about the history and processes, in the company of three other tourist and our guide. Everyone was so friendly, and patient with us, as the tour was in Spanish and Anne did her best to translate for me as we went round.

Fray Bentos Factory view

Fray Bentos Factory view

Fray Bentos Factory

Fray Bentos Factory

Bright sunshine and a clear blue sky is what we had for our second day, so it was a good opportunity to explore the riverfront of Fray Bentos. We started in town with a stroll along the ‘Rambla”, a riverside pathway along the waterfront. Here we watched locals setting up their BBQ’s ready for Saturday lunch, fishing in the river and generally socialising. Then we ventured just out of town along the “Panoramic Route”, a very scenic road that hugs the shoreline. The road runs past the old Fray Bentos Meat Factory and into lush countryside where horses graze freely and a good variety of birdlife can be spotted. It eventually ends at an old iron bridge, which no longer is suitable for road traffic.

Free grazing horses are common in Uruguay and still used daily

Free grazing horses are common in Uruguay and still used daily

From Fray Bentos our journey took us southwest, on good roads all the way for a change, to a small community called Riachuelo. Riachuelo is just 12km from the historic town of Colonia, set amongst woodland and farmland. Our accommodation was a beautiful cottage in the grounds of our host house and business. Its own gravel driveway lead to the front door and the back door lead out on to a small veranda with lawns a trees stretching out beyond it. It was a very pleasant and tranquil place for our four-night stay.

Our Cottage at Riachuelo near Colonia

Our Cottage at Riachuelo near Colonia

Poor weather on our first day give us a good opportunity to enjoy our surroundings and do a bit of forward planning. Day two was a bit brighter, so we took up the offer from our host Dean, to go on a birding safari around the local back roads. Our route took us along remote gravel roads and visited to empty beaches, with plentiful birdlife along the way. That evening our hosts, Dean & Cecilia, invited us for dinner. A very enjoyable evening followed, with Dean’s tasty pizzas washed down with wine and tequila, together with a fascinating look at his rock and fossil collection.

Deans makes awesome pizzas

Deans makes awesome pizzas

Tequila Shots, a nice way to end the evening with lovely hosts

Tequila Shots, a nice way to end the evening with lovely hosts

Day out with Dean

Day out with Dean

Day three was spent doing what we had originally come to the area for, to visit Colonia’s historic old town. The old town has many old buildings and the original cobblestone streets, and has undergone an extensive restoration program, culminating in it being added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1995. Most of what remains date back to the 18th and 19th centuries, including the old city wall, parts of which can still be seen. The town has suffered over the years through fire and bombardment from squabbling nations, all hoping to secure it strategic location in the River Plate estuary. The town is compact, so it didn’t take long to explore, and enough still remains to give you a real feel of what it must have been like in times gone by. Back at the cottage, we got a chance to look around Cecilia’s shop, “Antik”, a real treasure trove of beautiful china, glassware, furniture and other items, not to mention Dean’s amazing carving’s that are on display. If you are in the area of Riachuelo (12km from Colonia), a visit is a must, and while you are there, check out the neighbour’s workshop, Patrucio makes some amazing wood pieces.

Old building in Colonia

Old building in Colonia

Colonia del Sacramento old city

Colonia del Sacramento old city

The light house on top of old convent in Colonia

The light house on top of old convent in Colonia

Our last day in Uruguay was spent driving back to Montevideo and returning the hire car. Then flying back to Santiago de Chile the following day to start the next leg of our South American journey.
Uruguay has exceeded our expectations, a friendly country with a calm air about it. We know we have only scratched the surface of what the country has to offer, but have enjoyed every minute of our stay. Maybe it doesn’t have a lot of major attractions, but there is plenty of interesting places visit, and we feel we could have easily stayed longer.


Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Uruguay
Uruguay is a small South American country sandwiched between Brazil and Argentina in the southeast of the continent. It has an area of 176,215 square kilometres, about 35% larger than England, and is fairly flat, with the highest point being only 514 meters above sea level. It has a population of 3.35 million, most of which are found along the Atlantic coast, with 1.3 million in the capital Montevideo.
The climate is subtropical, with the sun shining most of the year and temperatures hardly ever dropping below freezing. However, the weather can be unstable owing to the lack of hills, and windy in winter and spring. Average temperatures range from 12C in winter (June-September) and 25C in summer (December-March).
With near-total literacy and minimal corruption. Uruguay ranks with Chile and Costa Rica as one of the three most peaceful countries in Latin America. Its economy is dominated by agriculture, forestry and tourism, with the greatest number of tourist coming from Brazil and Argentina.
Some more unusual facts about Uruguay are that it has over 10 million cows, three times it’s human population, it was the first country in the world (2012) to make it legal to sell and use marijuana, it won the first soccer World Cup and the dink Mate is more than popular, it’s a way of life for the average Uruguayan.

Multi adapters to charge electronics in Montevideo

Multi adapters to charge electronics in Montevideo

Mate
It is very common to see the Uruguayans carrying around a thermos, a leather encased cup and a silver stray. This is the culture of Mate drinking and is done anywhere and at anytime, hence the aforementioned equipment. The thermos holds the hot water; and the cup containing ground down leaves of the ilex paraguariensis shrub. The water is poured into the cup and the brew is then sucked up through the stray. And there you have it, the drink Mate. Unlike tea, Mate does not get bitter when left brewing and can be topped up multiple times. Mate contains an alkaloid called matteine, very similar to caffeine, which makes you feel more alert and less hungry. It is also said to ease digestion and reduce blood pressure.

Mate Drinking

Mate Drinking

Mate Store

Mate Store

Posted by MAd4travel 08:57 Archived in Uruguay Comments (1)

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