Uruguay: 30.05.- 05.06. & 18.06. -01.07.2007

Distance: 550 Km   Ascent: 3400m 

Route: Colonia de Sacaramento, Montevideo, Paysandu, Tacuarembo, Melo, Rio Branco
Preface: If you would have asked me 4 years ago, what I would have known about Uruguay, I would probably have taken a deep breath to have more time to search somewhere in the well hidden corners of my brain for some information. After a long long pause I probably would have told you, that Uruguay must be some "wild" country in Latin-American (not even sure if Uruguay would be a part of Central- or South America), heavily involved in producing or smuggling drugs. I couldn't have been more wrong. Uruguay is a small country opposite of Buenos Aires on the Rio de la Plata. Nicknamed "Swiss of South America" Uruguay had according to our guidebook in 2002 with 12000 $US the highest average income of all countries in South America. Uruguay is mainly hilly cattle country, with a dairy company as the countries biggest single enterprise. Even more than in Argentina was and is the Gaucho culture closely connected with the country, although Punta del Este is the most popular beach resort of South America. The Uruguayans have nearly all European forefathers, who came mostly form Italy and Spain during the 19th century. Thanks to the friendly and helpful Uruguayans we enjoyed our visit to Uruguay very much. Besides Colonia des Sacramente and Montevideo we visited the centre of Uruguay, we there is nothing much to see except huge Estancias. Probably the east coast and the region along the Rio Uruguay is a bit more interesting. Bush camping is possible without problems, but because of all the fences we always had to sleep quite close to the roads, but this wasn't a big issue as there is not much traffic

1st visit in Uruguay 30.05. - 05.06.2007 

Route: Colonia de Sacaramento, Montevideo

Colonia de Sacramento: Fouded 1680 from the Portuguese, Colonia was an important center to smuggle English goods over the Rio de la Plata into the Spanish colonies during the 17th century. The old historical part of the town is quite well preserved and many buildings from the colonial times are in a pretty good shape. The old town itself was declared a UESCO world heritage. After busy and noisy Buenos Aires picturesque Colonia is quite a relief. We really enjoy strolling through the old town with its small streets, its museums its cafes and the lighthouse.
Calle de los Suspiros: In Calle de los Suspiros one can still find the old cobblestone from the Portuguese. For us as Germans some old cobblestone is nothing special, we have it in nearly every better town, but here in South America well preserved old buildings and streets from the colonial times are rare.
Montevideo: After two quite days in Colonia we're off to Montevideo, with it's population of 1,3 Mio. (population of Uruguay 3,6 Mio.), more than just the capital of Uruguay. Nearly the whole industrial production as well as all imports are done here and many theatres offer a wide range of cultural entertainment. Contrary to busy Buenos Aires life seems to be pretty relaxed in Montevideo. There is not too much traffic and woman and man who walk along the streets with a thermos bottles under their arm and a mate cup in their hand are quite common. While Mate is the national drink in Argentina it seems to bee the elexir of live in Uruguay.
Theatro Solis: Our guidebook suggests a tour through the Theatro Solis, but instead we visit the performance of  "El Princepito" (The little Prince). The performance was on Sunday morning and so we sow it with many other kids! Thanks to our Spanish lessons in Buenos Aires we were able to understand at least a little bit of the performance!
Market day: Every Sunday there is a big market in Montevideo where one can encounter nearly everything imaginable. Here one can find not only antiques, trash and handcrafts but also food, spare parts for cars, pets and furniture. We bought a nice leather Mate kit.
Tango on the street: In the evening we are on our way to Plaza Fabine where we is supposed to be a Tango performance. It's already dark and pretty cold when we arrive, but instead of the expected professional performance there are only some elderly couples dancing to the Tango Musik from a Cd player. On a bench next to the "dance floor" are about 10 spectators or potential dancers. Close to us is a lonely elderly SeŮor who accompanies the melodies of the Accordion making music on a leaf of grass. He seems to to be a frequent guest because he knows al the songs very well. But he stays in the shadow behind a tree, probably because he is ashamed of his social position. While the rush-hour holds still control over the main road our dancers get more company and sometimes there are up to 6 couples on the sidewalk. Between the dancers is a dog which belongs to nobody. Nobody seems to notice him but at least nobody is kicking him as well. The group of dancers/spectators seems to know each other pretty well, because everybody who is arriving is welcomed warmly, although most of the time there are always the same dancers. Although they just dance on the sidewalk, most of the dancers are dressed very formal with suits and dress, but back on the bench they quickly put on a coat and a hat as it is pretty cold. Just a couple of minutes before the last song is over the "grass leaf musician" disappears quietly. Have the dancers realised that he was there?
Mercado del Puerto: After the poor Parilla (BBQ) in Bueino Aires I wanted to give Mum at least once the opportunity to test the famous south American steaks. The steaks in Uruguay are probably even  better than the ones in Argentina, thanks to better grass an no supplementary feeding),and to taste it we went to Mercado del Puerto. The old harbour market is located in an 19th century building and is crowded with many restaurants who all prepare their steaks straight in front of our eyes on grills fired with real wood. While I enjoy a grilled cheese my Mum ordered a bife de lomo, a beefsteak. She enjoyed her bife de lomo  so much, that she surely would have ordered another one, wouldn't it have been that big!
Returning to Buenos Aires: After six lovely days in Uruguay we returned to BsAs. Thanks to some "good" connections we left Montevideo at 1am, changed to the ferry at 4am and arrived pretty tired in Buenos Aires at 7:30am!

2nd visit in Uruguay: 18.06. - 01.07.2007 

Route: Paysandu, Tacuarembo, Melo, Rio Branco

Carlos Gardel: Carlos Gardel, probably the most famous tango singer ever, was born on a estancia close to Tacuarembo at the end of the 19th century. Before he died on an airplane accident in 1935 in Colombia he became so famous all over the world that besides Uruguay also Argentina and even France declared him a national hero. Here in Valle Eden close to Tacuarembo not far from his fathers estancia is a small museum to honour the great Uruguayan singer. To confirm his Uruguayan origin the museum hosts besides many photos from Carlos Gardel also all his documents (passport ...) and many newspaper articles. We nearly get the impression that confirming his Uruguayan origin is the sole purpose of the museum.
Towards the sun: The sunsets in the Pampa in Argentina and in Uruguay are sometimes really extra
Wet paddock: Some horses seem to enjoy especially the very wet grass.
HAGA UN CAMBIO: "Make a change!" and shoot a photo of the animals instead of  shooting them with a rifle.
Visiting an Estancia: In the middle of nowhere Labido (front right) invites us to his Estancia. Normally Labido lives with his family in Montivideo (where he also works for the biggest company of Uruguay), but he owns three Estancias out here which are run by his administrator (standing right). Each fortnight Labido is visiting his Estancias to check everything and to discuss some details with the independent agriculture specialists. We arrived at lunchtime at the estancia and together with the administrator, Juan an argentine agriculture specialist for Soy (front left) and Jaime (standing left) we are invited for lunch. We quickly realise, that we are not together with some simple farmers. Not only that we are able to talk with them in English but Labido, Juan and Jaime have also a huge knowledge about many place we have visited (including all the backgrounds), which means that we have to search deep in our brains to find the answers for the sometimes pretty tough questions. We expected everything in the middle of Uruguay, where the are cattle farms as far as you can look (and beyond), but not some people who recognised the bridge of Novi Sad (Serbia) which was destroyed 1999 by the USA from a photo and who also knew, that the sweet water dolphins in the Ganges river have some very long noses. Later we learned that Labido used to be a member of a delegation around the President of Uruguay during a visit to Dubai. Labido invites us to spend the night at his Estancia and we are happy to spent more time with this interesting gentlemen.
Visiting an Estancia part 2: Generally life on an Estancia an Uruguay is still pretty traditional. The fore worker took his hat when he was presented to us und Lapido showed everybody his place on the table. The cows here in the heart of Uruguay are probably some of the few really happy cows in the world, as they are allowed to spend their entire life on the paddocks (1ha for 1 cow) and are not fed with supplementary food to grow faster (injections to support fast rowing are also unthinkable). The Farmers are willing to accept hat the cows loose about 30 Km each winter to maintain the good quality of meat and stables are as alien here as the mass production of meet. Labido has to take care of some things during his time out here and so he asks one of his gauchos too show us the Estancia and to give us a horse for riding. So we are able to se not only the vegetable garden and the scale to weigh to cows, but also the accommodation of the gauchos. Here we see with our own eyes that a gaucho has really noting more than his clothes and his Mate cup. At least we havenít seen much more than one TV and one radio for 6 gauchos. (Not even a wardrobe)
Riding lessons: Nadine made her first riding experiences a park called LochmŁhle, where the horse was walked around by her mother. After a long break experiences on camel (Egypt), Donkey (Egypt) and elephant (Thailand) followed. Now, after another big break Nadine has finally the change to return to horse riding, as Labido offered us to use one of his horses. While until now always someone else took care that the riding animal behaved well Nadine was now on her own, after the Gaucho had disappeared shortly after the horse was saddled. The question how to tell the horse to start walking solved the horse on its own and walked straight back to its paddock. Now the Gaucho returns to rescue Nadine, brings the horse back to the front yard and closes wisely the gate to the paddock! Nadine used her change and asked the Gaucho about the name of the horse, but the answer was unexpected: "The horse has no name - its just a horse!" It seems that the relationship between the Gaucho and his horse is not too special. But again he didn't tell Nadine how to handle the horse. After "talking to the horse", "wobbling" and "pulling at the reins" all didn't work the only thing left to do was to use the rebenque, the short whip of the Gauchos. Slowly the horse started walking although not to enthusiastically. After a while, after she had stopped to pull on the reins, Nadine managed to ride with the horse in whatever direction she wanted. Finally after about 1,5 h was already pretty good and handled horse very well. The only thing which stopped Nadine not to ride straight into the sunset was the fence, because jumping is part of the next riding lesson! :-)
Slideshow: Before and after dinner (rice with black beans and beef) we have the change to show our pictures on the small TV of the Gauchos. I think the Gauchos had no glue what was about to happen when we suddenly stood with 6 people in their common room. Labido greeted all of them with a handshake and introduced us. Then he asked them if we could use their TV and also invited them to join us if they would like to. As 3-4 Gauchos are interested to see the photos itís for me now the first time that I have to present the photos in Spanish, but thanks for Juan the Argentine, who helps me out in all the difficult parts it works quit good. Due to my difficulties with Spanish and due to the dinner break we leave immediately after the last picture was shown, because the Gauchos have to start working long before sunrise.
Huge molehills:  We saw here in Uruguay some huge molehills. Some of the molehills were so big, that a sheep nearly disappeared behind them. Unfortunately we never saw the animal which made these small mountains.
Departure: Our departure form Uruguay and our Entry in Brazil was rather unusual. First the Immigration in Uruguay was already before the last town. After we got our departure stamp we cycle through Rio Branco, the last town in Uruguay, cross a bridge into Brazil but a Immigration office is nowhere to see. We ask some customs officers who seem to bee on the bridge by accident where we could obtain our Brazilian entry stamp and are directed to the Federal police somewhere in town. We are cycling quite awhile through Jaguarao until we finally manage to find the police station. Through the closes curtain of an open window in the police station a policeman takes our passports and returns them, correctly stamped, after a couple of minutes with the words "Welcome to Brazil!" Fortunately we never had such an unorganized border crossing at the beginning of our trip because surely would have forgotten to obtain our entry stamp for Brazil.




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