….every now and then I visit La Paloma (“The Dove:) in Uruguay. This is our furthest place from home in our whole trip. In this episode, we begin our long ride back, have a sticky situation in a swamp and fill Annie from a Sprite bottle.
Thursday, June 21st (cont.)
With Montevideo in my mirrors I made my way towards song place number 62 of 92: La Paloma.
The original “La Paloma” that I planned to visit was a small community in Texas. I may have mentioned before, but choosing the song places when there were duplicates was one of the first things that I did in the planning process (probably at least three years ago now). Choosing the places was essential to getting my first mileage estimate.
Somehow, I was not aware of two notable “La Palomas” in South America. This one in Uruguay and another in Paraguay. Once the discovery was made, it seemed appropriate to change the “official” place to this Uruguayan locale. Yes, there are rules. Yes, I’m making them up as I go.
I had a chilly ride over some more bumpy Uruguayan roads.
Buoy, was I glad to see this sign.
I decided to make my home at Hostel Araza. It was a cozy place that seemed to always retain the smell of sea water and marijuana smoke. It was definitely more of a “party hostel,” but I still met some really nice people there. It was $9/night, really cheap for Uruguay.
Friday, June 22
Time to check out the city. I had a really nice time visiting the museum which was in the old train station.
I learned so much.
La Paloma calls itself the “first planned city in Uruguay.” The city itself was founded in the 1870s, but that’s really not when this place was born. The whole project of turning La Paloma into a major resort town, the brainchild of civil architect Carlos Gomez Gavazzo, began in the 1930s.
An English brochure from the early days:
He and his team planned out everything, from the streets, the zoning, the designs of the houses, location of the parks. They really didn’t spare a detail. Perhaps it goes without saying, but this kind of orchestration is quite rare in Latin America.
You could say that their plan is still succeeding. Though La Paloma lists just 3,500 permanent inhabitants, the city swells to over 30,000 during the summer months. I can’t imagine how that sort of influx stresses the infrastructure.
Other local artifacts:
I should maybe note that I was here at possibly the worst time of the year. The climate of coastal Uruguay is similar to that of the coast of South Carolina. They are both at about the same distance from the equator. I don’t imagine Myrtle Beach is too crowded in December.
Still, the coast was pretty to look at.
I was pretty sure that my picture to define this place would be the classic lighthouse.
I also wanted to incorporate another element into the official photo. Distinguished readers of this quality publication will remember my chance encounter with Kevin and Catherinanne on my way up to Schefferville (place 25 of 92). They found a place for me to stay in Wabush, Labrador with their old friends Bev and Gord. This encounter still blows me away… (this post)
Another fun thing about this meeting was that they gifted me a little dove that had been blessed by Pope Francis. I didn’t get it attached right away, but it now hangs from my right side mirror.
Being that La Paloma translates as “The Dove” in English, it seemed appropriate to incorporate it into this photo.
I also had to appreciate the strange symmetry of this moment. Here I was on the solstice, summer back home, winter here. One year ago I reached the northern boundary of my trip in Fairbanks, Alaska. I had an amazing experience there, marking the first time that a stranger took me into their home. My new friend, Rick, even took me to see the annual midnight baseball game and was the first person to cross a place off of my sign:
Today I was at the point furthest from home of my whole journey. It was a real time of reflection for me.
Some other sights around town:
“All hugs are hugs, but not all hugs carry the same emotion.”
One person with whom I connected at the hostel was Alice from France.
She was a real wine connoisseur, who was currently trying to figure out how to smuggle 14 bottles back to her home country. Unfortunately, she had some bad news for me. It turns out that my name, Brett, is often used to describe bad tastes in a wine. As one website puts it:
“You’ll recognize brett from its barnyard, cow pie, horsey, mousy, pungent, stable, metallic or Band-Aid aromas.”
Actually, that’s a pretty good way to describe my scent. I’m not even mad. 🙂
Friday, June 22nd
I was told that an essential experience in La Paloma was visiting the Laguna Rocha just outside of town.
Some of the dirt roads there were pretty good.
Other parts were soft sand.
Here you can see the division, with the ocean on the left and the lagoon to the right.
There are lots of water fowl in the area, but I was unable to get any good pictures of them. I enjoyed just walking around and enjoying this peaceful area that I had all to myself.
It had been quite awhile since my last “splurge meal,” but I knew I had to try a good chivito before I left Uruguay. This meal set me back $14, but was well worth it.
The people at the hostel had convinced me to stick around an extra night to take part in the celebration that was happening this evening. It was a large bonfire in a neighboring town, La Pedrera, which was just about 20 minutes away. Apparently it was a big deal as they were locking up the hostel so that all the staff could attend too.
Though it was after dark, I decided to drive myself for a couple reasons. First of all, I knew I had a long day on the road coming up so I wanted to get some sleep. Secondly, having to drive would give me a good excuse to forgo partaking in the “magic mushrooms” everyone was talking about. 🙂
I didn’t stay for too long. Foolishly, I’d left my bongo drums at home so I couldn’t join in the drum circle. 😦
Saturday, June 23rd
The rest of the hostel group came back around 5am and there was a fight outside which woke me up. I snoozed a little longer before packing up and hitting the road.
On my way out of town, I returned to the lighthouse. I’d checked my maps again and found that this point, which jutted out a little further into the ocean, was my actual furthest spot from home: 5,879 miles as the crow flies. To put that into perspective, here are some places that are closer to Nebraska, than where I stood: Istanbul, Turkey; Sierra Leon in Africa; even Sapporo, Japan makes the list.
I stood there watching the waves for awhile, deep in thought.
I crept closer and closer to the water, knowing that each inch was setting a new personal record for me. I’m maybe a little too competitive. Finally, as the waves threatened to flood my boots, I decided that it was time to turn around.
The first steps after this picture felt light and easy. After about six months of going further and further from home, I was officially on my way back….though we won’t be taking a completely direct route, of course. 🙂
Thanks for the memories, La Paloma.
The quickest way for me to get back through Uruguay would have been to return along the coast and through Montevideo again. I wanted to see some more of the countryside, so I decided to go north instead:
I stopped at an interesting city called Treinta y Tres (“Thirty-three”). I racked my brain, but I couldn’t think of another place with a name that is a number. Can anyone else think of one?
It had been recommended to me to take a hike at Quebrada de los Cuervos. It was really in the middle of nowhere, but the gravel road to get there wasn’t too bad….except for a few patches:
It was a nice hike, about two miles long.
Scenery-wise, the countryside of Uruguay kind of reminded me of Nebraska. The beauty doesn’t just come right up and introduce itself. You have to go looking or listening to find it.
This was actually the trail at one point:
I used up a lot of precious daylight, but it was still worth stopping. I asked the guy at the office about the condition of the roads, trying to decide which way to go next. I must have misunderstood him, since I ended up taking a way that was about 40 miles through really rough paths. I could tell I was somewhere very rural, as even the livestock alongside the fences started running when I approached. They weren’t accustomed to traffic.
As the sun dipped lower, I started to get a little more aggressive with the throttle. Mistake. In one muddy patch, my rear tire must have hit a subterranean rock. It shot my back end out to the side. I was sure that I was going down.
I really wish I had a replay of what happened next. My rear tire must have hit something which pushed me back the other way, into alignment.
I pulled over over and took a couple of minutes to let my heart rate stabilize. I had been going fast enough that a crash could have been damaging to either Annie or to me. Additionally, it probably would have been awhile until anyone else came along this road. I didn’t meet another car in about 90 minutes on this stretch.
Though it was predictably pock-marked, I was very thankful once asphalt returned. I only had about 20 minutes before sunset so I just hopped off the road to the first place that was reasonably hidden from the road.
At least my neighbors were nice and quiet:
Those graves were from the 1930s.
I don’t think it quite dipped below freezing, but it was still a pretty miserable night. I also discovered that my inflatable pillow, just like my air mattress, had sprung a leak. Hooray for camping!
Sunday, June 24th
I had a real hard time getting going. The condensation on the inside my tent had turned to frost. The worst part about camping in these these conditions, for me at least, is not the cold. It’s the moisture. It never has a chance to dissipate when you pack up at sunrise. Even my sleeping bad is growing some moldy spots by this point.
Ok. Enough complaining…
I was resigned to have a simple day with absolutely no adventures. This attitude perpetually backfires for me. 🙂 To get to my spot, I’d had to bounce over some rough terrain, so I decided to take another path back to the road. Mistake. I only scouted about half of the way on foot. By the time I saw the bog. It was too late.
I didn’t think that there was any way through this. Additionally, it was too muddy and inclined to risk turning around. I guess it was time for some adventure!
I used all of the strength and technique at my disposal, pushing from Annie’s side while trying to simultaneously feather the clutch. I knew that letting the back wheel spin would probably spell my doom.
After about 30 minutes of mud-wrestling (no, not the sexy kind), Annie and I reached the road. We were both muddy, but I was really thankful to have made it through this sticky situation.
Ok, now we are done with adventure for the day….right?
I’m pretty cautious to make sure I always have a plan for gas, especially since I don’t carry any with me. I had heard that there was gas in Ansina, the next relatively large town, but the station was permanently closed. I was pretty sure that I did not have enough to reach the next town. Welp, more adventure I guess.
I started at the grocery store on main street where I told the lady at the counter of my problem. She thought for a moment, then wrote a couple of names on a piece of paper and gave me some block-by-block directions. When you get handed a piece of paper telling you to find either Pioncho or Larry, you know you’re in for a treat. 🙂
After some further instructions from locals, I came upon Pinocho’s little shop.
I hadn’t looked at the World Cup schedule lately, so I didn’t realize that Uruguay was actually playing at that very moment. A small group of people were watching on a little flat screen TV, fed by a grainy analogue signal. I felt a little bad interrupting, but Pinocho was eager to help me out.
I bought two liters (half a gallon) for about $4. Expensive, but only about 20% more than what you would pay at the pump.
I figured that even if it was actually Sprite that he was pouring in my tank, Annie would probably still run on it until I got to the next town. 🙂
All of these people were super friendly and excited to hear about my trip. I chatted with them for quite awhile. They were so nice that I actually became thankful for my fuel snafu. Of course, signings and pictures preceded my departure.
I just loooove this picture:
Thanks Pinocho and family!
The people of rural Uruguay were absolutely wonderful. However I did feel a bit bad for them. Perhaps I’m off base here, but it appears that this country does very little for their non-metro citizens. Uruguay is a rich country, at least by Latin American standards, but it has some of the worst roads I’ve seen. This is the main highway that leads across the north side of the country:
Additionally, there is only occasional cellular signal. At no point in this area did I have cellular data. It appears that all the power and influence resides in the capital of Montevideo. The outlying areas are just a reserve to be harvested rather than a resource to be helped. Perhaps only someone who comes from a place like Nebraska would notice these things. Again, I was only in the country for about a week, so take these observations with a grain of salt.
Late in the day I crossed the dam and returned to Argentina. Immediately, I had cell signal again.
Locals were breezing through the border office in about five minutes. My process was probably closer to an hour, but it wasn’t too bad. Those copy-intensive borders in Central America seem just a distant memory now.
It was dark by the time the process was completed. Lodging options in this first city were in the $20-$30 range, so I went looking for a tent spot. There was a park on the edge of town with lots of trees. It was almost too easy! I found a spot after about five minutes of scouting.
I was well enough hidden that I left my tent and returned to the nearest gas station to use wifi and work for a bit. I tried to comfort myself knowing that this could be my last night below 40 degrees F (4 C) of my whole trip. In the morning I would be making progress towards warmer locales.
Whew! This update was a roller coaster. I hope it wasn’t too negative. Three days ago, I spent about nine hours working on this update but couldn’t get it published due to internet issues. I hope that didn’t affect the tone too much.
Keep burnin’, everybody
Realtime update: I’m in Foz do Iguacu, Brazil. I’ve already seen both sides of the falls and I’ll get back on the road, heading towards the coast tomorrow. I’m a little behind here, but other than that, I’m doing very well. The warmer temperatures have perked me up a bit.