The first 30km to the border went easily and quickly, and we found ourselves arriving at the border at 11am. We thought there would be a village or something at the border or at least the usual last chance to get fuel before crossing the border customary petrol station
. When we arrived though we saw there was nothing but a guard post that was manned by two soldiers. We presumed that we would have to show them out passports and they would stamp us out of the country, like in every other border crossing we have had so far. However they were not interested in our passports and only seemed to want to make us aware that we were not allowed to pass on our bicycles. They were quite clear that we were not able to cycle over the bridge into Uruguay, but instead needed to flag down a truck and ask them for a lift. It seemed ridiculous because the bridge was a sturdy looking, two lane, modern structure and the traffic was extremely light. They couldn't give us any reason (that we could understand) why we couldn't cycle across and we didn't feel it was wise to ignore two soldiers, with guns. Therefore we had no choice but to obey their command and wait for a truck to pass that may let us put our bikes in the back. The traffic was so light that we had to wait for an hour and a half, before a pick up came passed. By this point, we were so desperate we almost threw ourselves in the road in front of them. As I tried to explain our plight, the driver looked at me with a “that sounds ridiculous, why can't you just cycle it or just admit that you have tired little legs and want a lift” kind of look. The soldiers stood in their booth and stared out from behind the door, without saying a word to help us explain. To say that we were peeved is an understatement, because it delayed us considerably and we felt like the soldiers were just bored and looking for some entertainment
. I felt like they had placed a bet on how long it would take us and then they just sat back and watched us as they sipped their matè.
With the help of the friendly, Argentinian pick up driver we were dropped down two minutes later, on the other side of the bridge, which was the site of the Argentinian and Uruguayan customs offices. Within ten minutes we had been stamped out of one country and into the other, and we were free to go. If only it had all been so quick and easy.
Still annoyed we pedalled into our sixth country for the trip and noticed that it still looked fairly similar to Argentina so far. There were still tarantulas on the ground, which I had been hoping we might have left at the border crossing. They are not getting any easier to see all the time after four days of cycling passed them. We stopped for a short break at a petrol station, where they accepted Argentinian Pesos, at an extortionate exchange rate. We noticed that it seemed a bit rougher around the edges again and they didn't have any coffee making facilities but they did have sandwiches for sale at least.
By the time we arrived into Mercedes, it was 4pm and we had only cycled 66km
. As we needed the local currency we headed to the centre of the large town, and easily found the main plaza. Kory tried countless banks but none of them worked, even though they had his card provider pictured on them. After having two cards eaten by cash machines, I was down to only one more card. As I tried to take out money, the machine informed me that my card had expired 3 days ago. What are the chances of that?! We had money left over from Argentina so headed to a bank to convert it into Uruguayan Pesos, unfortunately the exchange rate they provided was half of what it should have been and it cost us a lot of money to be able to have enough currency for the next couple of days to get us to Montevideo.
We were tired and disgruntled. After a long and frustrating day, where we only cycled about half the distance that we wanted to cover. The town of Mercedes was in the Lonely Planet because of its beautiful waterfront promenade, along the river, which was a hub of watersport activities. It described a small campground by the river, but said that it would close at Easter. We hoped that it would still be open for the week following the long holiday weekend and were extremely pleased to see that it was, and there were a couple of other campers staying there. We pitched our tent by the river, made a cup of tea and watched rowers row up and down the river as the setting sun cast long shadows over the surrounding countryside. It was beautiful and although we were still concerned about our lack of money, we felt our stresses melt away. It was also helped by a really hot shower, that the camp grounds-keeper had stoked up with a wood furnace. We were both exhausted after our simple pasta dinner and were asleep by 8.30pm. What a day! It can only get easier again surely?!
We had one of those crappy travel days that thankfully we don't have very often and will hopefully be the last one that we have on this trip. It started off well, with great potential for it being a great day. We woke up in the peaceful campsite by the river, with the place to ourselves and nothing to interrupt a pleasant breakfast. We were ready for another day on the bikes and were in good spirits, as the end is getting near and we can almost smell the sea air from our up-coming beach holiday at Montevideo. We left the campground hoping to complete a good day on the bikes, cross over the border into Uruguay and then with a bit of luck we would find a nice place to camp in the evening 100km or so into the new country.