• 1 December 2017

A short bike tour in Uruguay

A short bike tour in Uruguay

A short bike tour in Uruguay 1024 683 Gürkan Genç

Crossing from Buenos Aires to Uruguay was a bit expensive though the trip was quite comfortable. The ferryboat services going directly from Buenos Aires to the capital of Uruguay are quite expensive. There are trips from Buenos Aires to Colon in Uruguay by ferryboat and from there to Montevideo by bus which are cheaper. Without taking a bus it takes 4 days on bike to arrive in Montevideo. My initial plan was to start from Montevideo and then riding to Colon after traversing the country in a zigzag manner but then my plans changed. My route is chopping and changing.

Before boarding the ferryboat, we were given plastic shoes cover. At the beginning I got astonished but then liked the idea. The kids were playing around and rolling on the ground as in Europe. There was a large duty free, restaurant, café and large comfortable armchairs in the ferryboat. Since the schools are on vocation during December in South America, the ferryboat was quite crowded.

An elderly couple was sitting next to me in the ferryboat. For the first 10 minutes we didn’t speak to each other than he asked me “where are you from?” I understood the question and replied in Spanish but then apologized for my bad Spanish. He started to speak in fluent English. They were going to Uruguay for their summer vocation. They talked about Uruguay and how much they liked Uruguayan people for a while. I asked the man what his profession was. I said: “I’m a retired fighter pilot”. Well, I scaled his age in my mind as a retired fighter pilot he must have been fought during the Falklands Conflict between UK and Argentine. While I was thinking of this his wife said: “He is one of the war heroes”. During the war he rescued his pilot companions while his fighter was hit and was able to land though he was injured. That is, the man sitting next to me was welcomed as a war hero in Argentine. Falklands war coincides with my childhood. I must admit that I didn’t read or researched much about this war. If I had a UK visa on my passport and had gone to Falkland Island traveling to the south, then I would have researched its history in detail. The Argentinean generals at that period decided to attack Falkland Islands, a national matter of the country, to reduce the influence of the military coup on the people. But things did not go as planned and UK supported by the neighbor country Chile won the war. Those islands are belonging to UK for the last 200 years. In the past many countries had occupied those islands but Argentine was never among them. Argentine keeps arguing “Hey! Those islands are close to the mainland, we have rights on those islands”, but nobody pays attention. By the way, this is the reason why Chile is not liked much by the other countries in South America, backing up UK. Also, in Chile a military coup took place supported by USA and UK and afterwards thousands of people were killed in villages among them also SS officers escaped from Germany. The history of the region is really very interesting. I’m becoming unable to find words describing my feelings traveling in some places.

The ferryboat lands at the old town of Montevideo. Following the coastal, line you can go to till the city center. It is claimed that the coastal line has the longest uninterrupted coastal road in the world. There are spots exaggerated in almost all countries. I rode on this road and it was interrupted many times.

My first impression of the city was the trees in the side streets. Well, in many of the cities in South America attention is paid for gardens and parks. These are not afterwards just randomly established places. Those trees were at least 100 years old and were taken care. There were a lot of Jacaranda trees with purple flowers. The view was really very nice.

I had mentioned about Mate in my Argentine road memories. They put tea leaves in some sort a small bowl and add hot water on top of it. Then, serve it with a metal straw which they also share with other people. Dude, why to share the same straw? Well, this mate is common in Uruguay taken to the next level. Everyone is carrying a mate bowl with thermo bottles under their arms. The person talking on phone, elderly man sitting at the corner, the woman driving the car, the father pushing the baby carriage, the women talking to each other on the beach  everyone but really everyone is carrying a mate bowl. I’m not kidding people are going to defecate with mate bowls in their hands. I didn’t see people drinking mate like crazy as the ones in Uruguay. They praise their mate “the ingredients of our mate are the best”. It is the South American version of the smuggled tea conversation in Turkey. Another thing caught my attention before arriving at the hostel: People were very relaxed. You cross the main square, people sitting on the banks are drinking beer, people crouching down at the corners or on the paving are drinking wine. It seems that they are enjoying their conversation. It looks like a huge open air party. I’ve never seen such relaxed people yet. At first, I thought this comes from the marihuana not forbidden in this country. After spending some time in the country, I realized why it was so.

I stayed for 4 nights at Medio Mundo Hostel. It is at the city center close to everywhere and not pricey. It breakfast is not so bad. It has a garage for motorcycles and bikes. Theft and robbery were happening also in this country though not as at the high rate as in Argentine. Well, I’m writing this but isn’t it through for all capital cities? Theft is a problem everywhere. One must keep his eyes open. As in Argentine, also in this country theft by using motorcycle or bike is common, therefore it is not wise to walk on streets with mobile phones in hands.

I preferred a hostel near to Nilufer and Berkan’s home who invited me for dinner. The couple of Nilufer and Berkan sold everything the possessed in Turkey and decided to settle down in Uruguay. Berkan wanted to open an ice cream shop but things weren’t easy as it looked like. It is not easy to open shop or a place in Uruguay. For example, to rent a place you need to pay a 5 years deposit. Dude, who’ll last for 5 years?  So, Berkan bought a car and started to work as an Uber driver.  After I had left, they found both a better place to stay and the store they wanted. You may visit their store in Montevideo in Uruguay.

I could only once jog along the coast which was very nice. Well, this city reminded me Mersin in Turkey. Well, I guess many places in Turkey must have been changed a lot since I have seen 6 years ago.

After Montevideo, my next stop was Maldonado and Punta del Este. The family Tutuncu was waiting for me. It was a single day distance of 142 km. The road was quite comfortable on which I saw some nice villages. About 60 km outside Montevideo the security grates on the windows of the houses and wire fences surrounding the gardens disappeared in the nearby villages.  Those were serene settlements.

The Spanish generals when they arrived in 19th century massacred almost the whole population. Presently 92 % of the population has European roots. Italians and Spanish make up the majority. Especially, the Italian immigrants of Uruguay proving that they have Italian roots also received Italian citizenship.  Seeing this, also Uruguayan citizens of Spanish origin followed the same procedure. So, majority of the 3.5 million citizens of Paraguay have also European passports. Well, the Uruguayan citizens have become a part of EU but not the country itself which in on a different continent.

The country is the most expensive one on the whole continent. The hostels, food, drinks are much more expensive compared to that in the other South American countries. Therefore, to live in this country you cannot rely on your savings only. Also the family Tutuncu started to work besides applying to residential permit. Murat is working as teacher for an online English Education Program in Uruguayan state schools run by a foreign company. Gulen didn’t want to work the previous year and enjoyed her time in the region. She ate a lot of ice cream, rode on her bike, drank mate at the sea shore and read books, as far as I got. Since they were living in the country for more than a year, their opinions and experiences were different than mine about this country.

The couple Murat and Gulen possesses nice experiences. They settle down and work in the countries they travel in for a while. They also share their memories on a web page: http://www.bigezipgelelim.biz/ . Gulen’s articles are very good. Murat seems rather to enjoy traveling. Gulen is also the cook. Well, as far as I witnessed, Murat’s life is full of joy. I would say he is good in cooking Asado but Gulen put her hands on this also, she barbecues the meat very well. I ate delicious salads prepared by Gulen. They hosted me about 10 days.  We strolled around in the city on our bikes and even did a performance ride. We went to shopping and picnicked. We even went for vacation in Puerto Diablo meeting up on the north with the Turks living in Uruguay.

There are two memories with Murat and Gulen which I’ll never forget. One was the card game we played together. I didn’t laugh that much in my whole life. Gulen beat me and Murat. The name of the game was stress or something like that and we got that my and Murat’s eyes were not seeing. We laughed our heads off.

The second was the day when we went out to ride on our bikes. We were about to turn the corner of the street when I saw two men in white sleeveless undershirts, the wifebeaters, their bicycles laid down at their sides. I turned to Murat and Gulen and said: “Dude, there are so many people in this country resembling the people in Turkey”. At the same moment those guys called: “Hey! Do you have a few minutes for us?” in Turkish. I don’t understand how we come up to such moments, like a joke. Omer and his friend came for vacation to Uruguay. Then we met at the evening and had a nice conversation. The couple Tutuncu were very nice. If one day they decide to go to another part of the world, I would go there just to visit them.

Setting off I rode towards north along the coast. Katre sent me a massage: “Gurkan, I’m living in a small village along your route. If you’ll have time, just stop by. I would like to meet you”. Katre was working as a certified translator. She took all her belongings with her and came to Uruguay where she lives on selling little ornaments and working at hostels in this small village.

The place she was staying was somewhere between La Paloma and La Pedrera after the lake Rocha. I thought first to go to Santa Isabel, the dirt road along the coast was just what I liked. Since it was a national park region there would be various kinds of birds and I can cross to the other side from the coast at the lake side. As I saw from the satellite it was formerly draining to the sea but got dried out. If I would choose the other route going around the lake, it would add 50 km. The small village was 4 km away from the sea side. I just arrived in before it got dark and decided to camp on the beach and in the morning cross the lake at the side where it drained to sea. The view was spectacle and the sea side beautiful. The view of full moon was legendary. In the morning I packed up and intended to cross to the other side. Dude, I entered the water and found out it was head high deep. Well, it shouldn’t be so deep on the satellite photos all around looked dry. I cannot submerge my bike in the salty water. Nothing to do, I have to return, ride all the way back till the junction and make the 50 km long road to go there. It is not worth to insist at such moments, I have time no one is running after me.  The road was level and the 50 km didn’t last long. Afterwards, I got informed that the mouth of the lake was excavated by diggers for constructing fish pools. Dude, how come to built fish pools in a national park?

I stayed for 2 nights at the hostel where Katre was working. In the meantime, I met another very nice Turkish couple working at another hostel in the nearby village. Sercan and Zelis after marrying in Turkey put all the gold ornament given on bank and came here. Arriving in this country they first found a place to stay and then decided to work at that hostel. The owner of the hostel handed the kitchen over to them. They also earned some money from what they had sold. They bought an old Volkswagen redesigning the interior according to their taste. They were planning to set off in 2018, first towards Patagonia and from there to North America. I hope I’ll meet them once again somewhere on the road.

I continued to ride to north along the coastal line in Uruguay. As I already mentioned above the coastal line of Uruguay is very nice. In the small villages along the coast, it is possible to find quite nice restaurants. Once I was standing in front of one of these restaurants and looking around. There were street sellers selling beach dresses. Latest models of cars were parking in front of the restaurant. I guess if I would eat there the bill would reflect the luxury. One of the women coming out of the restaurant asked the price of a dress, and the seller said: “100 USD”. “Fuck you” came out of my mouth in Turkish but no one understood. What the hell is this?” Do you know how much a USD is worth in my country? When I started with my world tour one USD was worth 1.78 TL. At that time one USD was above 4 TL and when the man asked 100 USD for that piece of fabric, there was nothing left other than to say: “fuck you”.

I stayed one night in Aguas Dulces at the beach. There is almost everywhere a place called Cabo Polonia. To go to the small village at the beach, you need to traverse such sand dunes with vehicles. From the place I stayed, you can walk on the beach to go to the village and so you won’t pay for the vehicles. It is allowed to pitch tents on the beach. That place does not differ from any other beaches. It really is hard to understand why some places in South America are so exaggerated. Or I may not like such fancy places anymore. For example, there is a village called Punta del Diablo near this place which is really very nice. Its beach is also quite good. We stayed at a small place called Patas Negras. I said “we” because we met with Murat and Gulen once more and spent 4-5 days together. Years ago, they had visited this village but liked much more this time.

After this point the Brazilian border is only 40 km away. There is a town called Chuy. People seeing the Turkish flag on my bike said: “Selamun alaykum” in this region. Well, my response was how come, dude? This was the town where most of the Palestinians were living in South America. I knew that there was a Palestine succor team established in Chile but wouldn’t expect to meet here. The half of the city is duty-free, it became a duty-free town. Well, I didn’t have enough place in my panniers, so I didn’t stop. While exiting the country, it is word to pay attention to one thing. The Uruguayan and Brazilian control posts are not along the same road. For example, when I arrived at the control post on Brazil side I said how come, I didn’t exit Uruguayan border. The officer showed another place 5 km ahead.

  • Don’t send me there it is so hot. Just apply the entrance stamp for Brazil. If I return some day, then I’m going to pay the fine anyway.

The officer said “alright” and let me enter the country. By this was my travel in Brazil had started.



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