My plan to ride down to Chui hit into my laziness. There was 240km to the border, and having stayed until the Saturday morning cos of how lovely Duda’s family was – with my visa expiring on the Sunday – that would be doable, but with a strong headwind forecast for the whole weekend it sounded like a pretty miserable ride through flat fields with nothing to see.
We were up before 6, so they could leave early, and because the bus would leave at 7am. I’d been up trying to get the blog a little more up to date until past 1am, so was happy to get a bit more sleep on the bus. Looking out of the window every now and then, at the trees bending towards the bus and little to see any time, I was glad to not be riding.
I got off at the police station, which doubled as immigration, and got stamped out. I asked him about my situation and he seemed to suggest that even with having gotten up to my 180 days, the visa limit, there was a chance that if I tried to enter the country again I might be let back in. I don’t know where the road takes me now, beyond Montevideo and probably Buenos Aires, but if I was allowed more time I’d definitely look for a way to bounce back into Brazil – for example to get up to Foz do Iguaçu. Part of that uncertainty is because one of my friends from home, Gaz, who did the small trip with me back in April was planning on flying over, but the UK passport office is being incredibly slow at getting it organised meaning that he might not be able to fly over.
Chui (or Chuy when you’re in Uruguay) is the southern-most point of Brazil, and frequently when I’ve told people that I started in Oiapoque (the place thought of as the furthest north although it’s actually where I crossed from Venezuela) they ask if I’m going to Chui. The main street, Avenida Brasil/Avenida Uruguay is split down the middle with the border and it’s quite nice, especially as far as border towns generally go, with plenty of shops as well as a park which was full of kids enjoying the swings and slide. I got myself a Uruguayan flag, and switched out my remaining reals for Uruguayan pesos, before actually passing through the border control where the immigration official came outside to look at my bike before stamping my passport – because he was a cyclist too.
Entering Uruguay, I saw more bikes in the 40km I pedalled that first day than I had in probably the last couple of weeks in Brazil. Most of them were attached to the cars that would pass me, giving lots of space and frequently tooting their support. I’d heard about Uruguayan drivers, and it seemed that they deserved their positive reputation. They seem to have lots of patience, and even though the road only had one lane in each direction – with a shoulder – there was little ridiculous overtaking. Sure, there wasn’t much traffic, but that hadn’t seemed to matter in other places. The drivers were so nice, that it even extended to the slower drivers pulling over into the shoulder to let others pass, and I saw quite a few stopped in the shoulder making phone calls. It’s probably the biggest change in drivers since I flew from Salvador to Lisbon and started giving everyone a thumbs-up for not driving like homicidal maniacs.
Even though I’d not ridden so far, and it was sunny, I started to feel tired and cold and needed a few rests to make it the 40km to Punta Del Diablo, where Fernando, my Warmshowers host was waiting for me. I made it to his humble place, and felt cold and sore all over. I got changed, and put on plenty of extra clothes, and we sat around watching movies while I stumbled trying to speak Spanish – Portuguese is so similar that they’re mixed in my head and it’ll take a while to go back to actual Spanish. His place was a little small, so I was going to sleep in my tent, no problem – or so I thought.
Around 11pm, when we started watching the 3rd movie, I decided to sleep and went to put my tent up in the balmy 5c. That’s when I noticed the first issue. My tent should have two poles. The main one, which connects the four corners of the tent, and a second short one that provides the width and structural integrity to form the roof. Without it, it’s very narrow and the fly touches the inside so it leaks. So, losing the short pole was better than losing the big one, but still not ideal, but at least it wasn’t raining. The second problem became obvious about 20 minutes later, when I’d inflated my mat – that had been covered in glue in a hope to stop the ridiculous number of leaks that had developed – and it was already going flat. Blowing the mat up every 30 minutes, when you’re feeling crap and just wanting to sleep really isn’t a good way to pass the night, so after doing it 3 or 4 times I stopped. If it weren’t so damned chilly and I weren’t feeling crap, it’d have been OK, I’m fine with sleeping on a hard surface, but the lack of insulation meant I had cold feet all night long even with a thick pairs of socks on.
My crappy sleep meant I didn’t get any better and woke up feeling bad. I didn’t end up leaving until 10am, Uruguayans seem to like getting up late, as I had to say adios to Fernando and the 32km I pedalled to the next town took over 4 hours even though it was basically flat and with minimal wind. I got there a bit too late for any restaurants to be open for lunch – it seems that especially on Sundays things are open a bit in the morning and then a loooong lunch until they open again late afternoon. I took a nap on a bench in the main square, strongly thinking about taking a bus to my goal for the day , the city of Rocha 60km away, as I felt worse than whenever I’ve cycled 200km, but for some reason decided against it. An hour of sleep later and it was onwards feeling marginally less crappy.
I had briefly interacted with a couple of cycle-tourists the day before, an Argentinian and his Brazilian girlfriend, and while I was stopped at a bus stop leaning over my handlebars, cold in 2 tops and a jacket, 2 shirtless Argentinian guys and an Ecuadorian rolled up. I tried to talk, but my brain really didn’t want to produce any words and I found staring at the floor while bent over double was more comfortable. It was a shame cos the Ecuadorian seemed interesting, and had been on the road for a year so far, but I guess I’ll meet more. I’ve already met more cycle-tourists in Uruguay in 2 days than in the whole 6 months in Brazil.
I slowly started to feel a little better, and pushed myself onwards to Rocha. Uruguay isn’t flush with places to stop, and I knew that with there being bomberos I would have a chance of a bed, a much better option than the tent, and so it turned out. I was welcomed in, and after a bit of confusion found my way to the piping hot shower. I’d not seen a place with a hot water heater for months before Florianopolis, but now hot running water is starting to be everywhere. I felt better after warming up, or so I thought, so walked to the supermarket to get something to eat. Even though it was about a 400m walk, I was shivering with uncontrollably chattering teeth before I was even half way there. I slowly got some cookies and yogurt before stumbling back to the bomberos, sitting next to the heater and eating a cookie every 5-10 minutes for fear of being sick. I eventually built up the energy to drag myself to a bed and, fully-dressed with coat and all, got into my sleeping bag.
10 hours of good sleep seemed to help a lot. I was definitely not feeling perfect, but had lost a good part of the lethargy from the day before. After a quick stop to pull some US dollars out of the bank, in prep for Argentina, it was back to the main road to head on to Punta del Este, another 90km to where I had a Warmshowers host. Even being the main road along the coast, the traffic is minimal and it has a large shoulder in decent condition most of the way. It’s just that of the 3.2m people who live in the country, about half of them live in Montevideo, so the rest of the country is very well spread out. That meant that there was a series of lightly rolling hills and plains that lasted 70km before I got to San Carlos, a little late for lunch so off to a bakery where the son was eager to practice his English after a bit of fatherly prompting.
My host, Anita, has hosted so many people, that all sleep in her 4-year-old daughter’s bedroom that she’s considering setting up a group called ‘I slept in Emma’s room’. She lives very near Punta del Este, easily the most popular tourist destination, a beach town where the Rio de la Plata meets the Atlantic. In summer it’s absolutely packed, especially with people who hop over the river from Buenos Aires. I’m sure it’s really great then. When I was there… less so. It was around 10c, and the water would have been far too cold to enter. I just hung out with Anita and Emma, delightful.
I was thinking of a day off, and especially when it was raining heavily when I was ready to leave the next day, but the wind was meant to pick up the next day and strong headwinds are probably worse than cold, heavy rain. The main downside was that my €1 gloves really couldn’t handle the rain, and so chilly feet chilly hands for a while. I’m definitely going to have to look into warmer clothes if I head much further south than Buenos Aires.
Anita had called the bomberos in Atlántida, a tactic she said she does when she travels, and so when I arrived after dark they were expecting me. I was welcomed in to a wonderfully warm place, took a hot shower and then stayed warm by the log fire sipping hot chocolate and talking with the bomberos, until it was time for dinner. I got a picture of them just joking around, but forgot to get a better one later on. Oh well. Lovely people, although they denied that they will rescue cats from trees, mainly because they think that cats can get down by themselves. Having said that, they did have some 15 stray cats living outside who they constantly gave scraps to.
Unlike my bomberos in Brazil, where they worked from 8am-8am and at 7am were all up and about so I had to be too, the Uruguayan bomberos are more relaxed and so it was after 8am when I got up and was given more hot chocolate as well as some of the typical Uruguayan bread for breakfast. There was a light headwind, and it made me want to use gears 6 and 7 on my bike… 2 of the 3 gears that have developed a slight skip, which made for a slightly frustrating ride. Thankfully it was only about 50km to Montevideo, with little traffic, where HJ had found us a Couchsurfer to stay with.