Trip Start Mar 09, 2007
Trip End Mar 09, 2008

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Flag of Uruguay  ,
Thursday, April 19, 2007

Hello from sunny, wonderful Montevideo. But first a quick recap of what we've been up to since our last missive. When I last wrote it was from Porto Alegre where we'd spent the night and been lucky to find a restaurant near the hotel that not only served good food but had a what looked like a master class for guitarists going on. Super evening.
Next day we arrived in Gramado which was a bit of a change. Think the Sound of Music meets Snow White and her Seven Dwarfs and through in some giant white plaster rabbits and you'll get the picture. Buildings are mostly chalet style, very alpine but then have these weird plaster people and animals dotted around. Quite surreal at times.
As usual we managed to find some great places to eat. The first night I didn't feel particularly hungry so just had a wee bowl of soup. It came in a hollowed out loaf of bread so I was the only person to eat the bowl as well!
Our hiking was a bit of a disappointment. We traveled to Carmelo where there were 2 National Parks that we were lead to believe (Lonely Planet) had plenty of trails but in fact the first, although holding a pretty waterfall, was more an adventure playground for kids and the trails only took us about half an hour. Which is why...fools that we are...we decided to walk to the next park. There was no alternative transport anyway. It took one and a half hours each way and we spent about 10 mins actually inside the park admiring the horseshoe canyon. There wasn't even a place to buy an ice-cream! Still thinking of my ice-cream I had noted a little cafe place we'd passed on the way there at about the halfway point and determined to stop on the way back. If there'd been a banjo anywhere in sight I'd have kept on going...this bar was definitely for local people. Anyway we survived but needed a taxi from original park back to hotel...failed again Lou! Gramado and surrounding district is pretty but I think we'd have done better joining in with a group or having our own guide.
We spent about 3 nights in the hills then started back to Porto Alegre meaning to catch the 12 o'clock bus to Chui on the border between Brazil and Uruguay. (This bit is quite embarrassing-again) We missed the bus because we didn't have enough Reals to pay cash at the ticket office, the banks were closed (Saturday) and the ATMs refused to hand over any money on any of our cards (Visa is worse than useless here). So what to do? We bought tickets to San Carlos from an agent so we could pay by card. He promised we would be dropped off at Punta Del Diablo which is a pretty unspoiled town (Lonely Bloody Planet) around 6am (the bus left at 10pm). Feeling pretty pleased with our solution and with visions of watching the sunrise on the beach while our luggage was securely locked at the bus station, we set off on a City tour of Porto Alegre and a walk through a local park. Everything had to be Visa-friendly so we ate at a hotel restaurant.
Bus was very old and I'll swear it wasn't just mosquitos biting that night. It took quite a while to cross the border and I looked at my watch 4.45am Just time for another little sleep before we were due in Diablo. At 5am Im shaken awake and told it's our stop. We grabbed our daypacks and stumbled off...into pitch blackness. We were left at a crossroads miles from anywhere and told another bus would pick us up in 20 minutes. Half an hour later it did turn up but of course it wanted paying in Pesos not Reals. With some persuasion they took our Reals and dropped us in Punta Del Diablo. Lets just say, the pictures tell the story and so does Dave's face. He was not a happy bunny. There is no bus station in Diablo, there are no roads, street lights, sign posts or anything really, certainly at 5.30am on a Sunday. Actually, now I come to think of it, there were at least 10 dogs roaming the streets, and one German Shepherd decided to be my protector during our stay.
So seasoned travellers that we are we waited till that lovely sunrise (too cloudy) and discussed the situation. A few US$ (tiny) and a few Brazilian Real (tinier). We spoke to the local policeman who'd been keeping a sleepy eye on us since we arrived and eventually, with the help of a couple of little girls, we persuaded a man (Dave found out where he lived and wakened him) with a beat up taxi to take us back to Chui and he accepted our mixture of cash in return. By now it was about 8.30 and we then found a bank, and bought 2 tickets to Montevideo which incidentally was the destination of both the buses we chose to leave. We were very tired campers when we got here. I'm sorry we didn't get more time in Diablo because it really did look quite unspoiled and the people were very helpful if a bit bemused by us. I even got chatting to a proper Gaucho while he waited for the bus ticket place to open.
Montevideo is a really happy, friendly place and very cheap! We've done another city tour, we've visited the football stadium where the first FIFA World Cup was played in 1930 (Uruguay won) and we've even played golf! Dave loved it and I'll leave it to him to give a hole by hole acoount. Apparantly, the course was designed by Alastair Mackenzie who also designed Augusta. Impressed? No me neither, he could have designed something to keep away the mozzies, I'm covered in bites. As usual found lots of lovely restaurants and quaint bar/cafes bar. Walked for miles too and enjoying the sunshine. We did have an electrical storm last night that put paid to a live outdoor concert which is a shame but I can totally understand the guitarists' reluctance to stand on stage plugged in with sheet and forked lightening overhead.
Tomorrow we're on the bus again and this time more organised, I hope. Colonia del Sacramento here we come, ready or not!
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