Gaz received his passport on the Friday afternoon, found a flight on Saturday, got a lift 200 miles down to London with his dad on Sunday morning and on Monday morning would be in Buenos Aires! That meant that even though I was waiting for a replacement interior for my Rohloff, due to a gear-slipping issue that I was having, which would arrive in Montevideo I had to go over to meet him. I did a bit of sightseeing over that weekend, but more than that it was a time to get things in order and look at possible route ideas as that would be completely in my hands.
Montevideo, named because it’s the 6th mountain along the river from east to west (MONTE VI De Este a Oeste), is about 200km across the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires. There are direct boats that go across in a couple of hours, with tickets starting at $100, but there are also cheaper options. The cheapest one involves a bus from Montevideo to Colonia del Sacramento and then a slow, night ferry across the much narrower part of the river to Buenos Aires. That’s $24 and so the one I went for. It meant that I had to get to the bus terminal for 11pm, check in, sit around for about an hour, take a 2 hour bus, sit around for a couple of hours, and then a 3 hour ferry over. It sounds long, and slightly annoying, but I managed to sleep a couple of hours and … it’s 76% cheaper!
It was meant to arrive around 7am, but it was late and by the time I got my bike all sorted out it was past 8am. No problem, Gaz’s flight wasn’t arriving until 8:30am. Since telling me his flight details when he booked it, we had barely in touch. He had been busy doing last minute shopping, and the 15 minutes he got online at Atlanta airport was when I had chosen to buy some food having been staring at my laptop screen all day long waiting for him to come online. The airport is a fair way out of town, and involves riding along a motorway to get there. That seemed a terrible idea so we settled on the idea that he could find a bus from the airport to the bus terminal in the port area and I’d meet him there. Being only his 3rd time overseas (a trip to Malta and Germany) and not speaking the language he was understandably nervous, but 4 hours after touching down he made it to the terminal. I was lucky that the terminal had a cafe area with not only power, but also free wifi so some form of entertainment and being in touch with him for the moments he had internet – not many cos he doesn’t have a phone and was relying on his netbook that was running out of battery.
I had told him that I was waiting in the cafe, but he hadn’t found it so it was only thanks to the kindness of a bus station employee that we met up when we did. I’d gone to the loo, and mentioned to a worker that I was waiting for my friend. He said is it a blonde guy with a bike. Gaz had been stood around for 15-20 minutes and was about to write me an e-mail asking me where I was as he hadn’t seen the place that I’d been waiting. Oh well, over the next 90 minutes we got his bike thrown together and as with my trip 3 years earlier he wobbled unsurely away having not ridden such a heavy bike before.
Buenos Aires has a fair network of bike lanes, even though some of them run over pavements, and I’d plotted us a route along them from the port to the house of Andrés, our host. In the 12km, we were out of traffic and on small streets for about 90% of the way. HJ was in Buenos Aires, so even having said our goodbyes for the 3rd time 72 hours earlier we met up again. Bizarre this traveler lifestyle. She was staying with a Couchsurfer about 1km from us, but knew Andrés from a previous visit to Buenos Aires and was waiting for us when we arrived.
We tried to go out for dinner, but it was too early for the residential neighbourhood we were staying in and ended up doing our own cooking and drinking some cheap wine. It’s not to the extent of Venezuela, but Argentina has a parallel exchange rate too which means that it’s cheaper than most other countries in Latin America for foreigners who can make the most of it. It also means that lots of Argentinians hop over to Uruguay to take US dollars out of the cash machines, something that I’d been stocking up on over previous days to get the best exchange rate.
BA is HJ’s favourite city in Latin America, and we were lucky that she was willing to show us around the next day on a sightseeing tour. There were a lot of Italian immigrants, and it was very obvious by the number of pizza places around. The most touristy thing that we did, was to go to Recoleta Cemetery, where countless famous Argentinians are entombed – the most well known being Eva Peron aka Evita. Gaz was finding it difficult to take things in, and so it was a slow tour with plenty of time for his favourite activity of playing in parks. It also meant that on our second day, he had a lazy day while I hung out with HJ before she took a bus on to Mendoza.
We had dinner near the cathedral and were walking towards the metro to part ways when she realised the front pocket on her bag was open. Someone had taken her battered iPhone 4 and purse. We re-traced our steps to make sure it hadn’t fallen out, or that we hadn’t left it at the restaurant, but it was gone. She’s been on the road for so long, and it was the first time for something like that to happen. There wasn’t much money in her purse, but it did have her bus ticket for that evening and the locker key as she’d left her main backpack at the bus terminal instead of lugging it downtown. I wanted to go to the bus terminal with her, to try to make sure it all went well, but had to get back to Gaz to pick up our bikes and get back on the night ferry/bus to Montevideo. Blah. A crappy ending to a lovely day, and especially for HJ who loves BA so much.
Gaz and I made it to the ferry with time to spare, and it arrived in Uruguay at 3am. I had to go to Montevideo, because my package was still at the airport, but there was no reason for Gaz to follow me around as it was just a day trip and then I’d be back in Colonia. He took some convincing, but agreed to stay there and we arranged a provisional place to meet up at in the evening. I took the bus to Montevideo, and sat around in the bus terminal from 6-8:30 waiting for Jose to wake up, as I had to go past her place to pick up the letter FedEx had delivered saying that my package was being held at customs. Then it was on to the airport where I spent 2 hours getting bounced around from desk to desk and ended up having to pay almost $200. Owww. The most painful of that was $50 to FedEx who wanted their processing fee – absolutely insane considering in my mind they’d been paid $120 by Rohloff to ship the item from Germany to a place in Uruguay and weren’t doing so. I was having to go and speak to the airport, to speak to customs, to pay these fees and all FedEx did was send me a letter. A con. On top of that it was about $110 in tax (60% of declared value of item + value of shipping, so glad that Rohloff declared it at €50 and not it’s real value) to customs and then a $20 handling fee to the recently privatised warehouse where the item was waiting for me. If you don’t pick it up in a couple of days, they start charging you by the day. BLAH.
Anyway, I now needed to get the hub installed and thankfully found a very nice group of mechanics at the Specialized store – a definite recommendation if you have any bike problems in Montevideo – who spent 90 minutes taking out the old internals, replacing the new one and making a couple of other minor adjustments on my bike, all for free. At least moneywise. They inflated my rear tyre using a compressor and when I rode off on it I got about 50m before the tube failed. My sidewall had gone. I don’t know if it was because they’d put in too much pressure, but I’m leaning that way because I’d not even had a puncture in the previous 4,500km since installing it and that seemed way too soon for my new tyre to be failing. Thankfully Gaz had brought over a replacement tyre (along with more importantly a new sleeping pad for me, some warm gloves, new earphones and a couple of other small things) so I could put it on. The $7.50 Brazilian tyre that I’d installed at the same time as that just-failed Schwalbe is still going strong and also hasn’t punctured. Sure, it’s on the front of my bike so less weight but that’s impressive.
I made it back to the bus terminal and eventually back to Colonia by about 7pm where I found Gaz. We rolled past the fire station and… were told no. They wouldn’t be able to host us, but did mention a nearby stadium here we could probably stay, and if that failed… well come back and they’ll see what they could do. We found the stadium, and the security guard pointed to a fair amount of soft grass – perfect for camping especially with Gaz’s tent that has to be staked in. It was his first time putting the tent up, so it took a while and then we celebrated the start of our trip with a beer!