Customs, Immigrations and the leaving the Devil

Today would be a long day. In order to make time and miles I’d have to leave earlier than the 9 or 10am departures which, no matter my efforts, seem to be consistent on this trip.

The 6:30am alarm was slammed to snooze until 7am when I jumped out of bed to perhaps the coldest morning in recent memory. I hurriedly prepped the shower and stepped in when i felt it warm enough. I take long morning showers. It’s how I wake up. Water conservationists could have a hey day with me. I’ve been known to fall a sleep with my face pressed into the corner ot the shower as the hot water pelts my back. So relaxing.

As I huddled in the shower in some state between awake and dream it seemed the water temperature increased dramatically. I stepped out of the stream and slapped my back and began to rub where I felt I got burned. I felt the water again. It seemed okay. But my back didn’t. It still hurt. Then down at my feet I spotted a wasp seemingly struggling for its life. In the mirror I inspected my back. Sure enough. I’d been stung. The pain increased and a red halo had already circled the tiny cavity in my skin. I tried to feel for the stinger and gouged my finger nail in the wound to liberate it.

I’m not allergic, but a brief set of panic and disappointment set in. I hurriedly pulled my gear together. Before leaving I inspected the room for anything left behind. When I pulled the curtain back a dozen wasps started flurrying about. Another twenty or so hung onto the backside of the curtain. Good god. I’d slept with these pesky bastards all night. It’s a wonder I didn’t get stung or wake up with an unwelcome bedfellow.

Gas stations are thinly populated in this part of Uruguay. Reserve light had been on for a while yesterday. I hopped to find gas soon. The ride was chilling. Perhaps I’d underdressed. I had better luck for in just a few miles a girl bundled up in a winter jacket, hat, wool gloves and a scarf wrapped around her face revealing only her eyes pumped Doc full of gas.

At the Uruguayan border station I rolled into the turn lane. It seemed quiet. Then a uniformed man waved me on. I rode for another 3 or 4 miles and came to another border station, this time more active and with Brazillian personnel present. This was odd. I hadn’t been stamped out of Uruguay, yet here I was at the Brazilian border with no Uruguayan officials anywhere. I stepped inside and for the first time was hit by a wall of Portuguese. I pulled my memory for some words, any words, from my trip to Portugal a few years ago, or from my half-ass studying the night before. Obrigado. It’s all I could muster. I went back to my bike to pull my Lonely Planet Brazillian Portuguese Phrasebook. It wasn’t where it should be. In fact, it wasn’t anywhere. I had briefly looked at it last night. Where was it? I was going crazy. It had to be there. But nothing.

I tried my hand at Spanish with the Brazilian immigration and customs people. It didn’t take many words to understand that without an Uruguayan exit stamp I see the Brazilian side of the border. So I had to go back. That’s when I decided I’d really go back. Back to the Hosteria del Pescador. The whereabouts of my Portuguese phrasebook was driving me mad. After the episode of lost cables I wasn’t going for two nights in a row. So I blew past the Uruguayan border station, cruised on by the bundled up gas station attendant and once again found myself rapping on the door of my last night’s home. I scanned the room. Yes. The wasps took a second night it seems. But the phrasebook? No sign of it. I thought for sure it would be found among the ruffled sheets. But no. Then my last chance. Under the bed? Yep! It must’ve fallen behind my pillow and down the headboard. I was fired up. Yeah. The whole episode was not only frustrating but I’d leave there knowning I could be riding in the dark in order to get to Porto Alegre as originally planned.

Sitting behind a large pane of glass, my Uruguayan immigration officer sat at a while formica topped table stained in blue patterns left by years of carbon paper. A circular tree of rubber stamps and stacks of papers and folders added to the confusion. He stamped my passport then asked for the temporary import permit for my motorcycle. I lied and told him I didn’t have one. He cocked his eyes to the right then left without moving his head then looked over the top of the reading glasses that neatly slid down his nose as he talked to me. He gestured for me to come behind the glass while putting his index finger up to his lips. Shhhhhh. He asked where I was going and when. I told him that the border people at Boquebus in Montevideo didn’t provide me with anything.

As you might remember, I had to practically bed to get the form in question when I landed in Uruguay just over a week ago. And the form that I was given was not copied — carbon or otherwise. I had the original. That meant there was no record of Doc actually entering Uruguay. I was playing with fire at this point. But I reasoned that since Doc wasn’t “cancelled” out of Argentina in Buenos Aires, I would need proof of the date Doc actually left Argentina. I planned on properly “checking out” of Argentina when I cross the border to see Iguazzu Falls from the Argentinean side. True, a shakey strategy, but the paperwork would provide that Doc was out of Argentina prior to the expiration of the Argentinean import permit.

The Uruguayan official told me to stop talking. He explained I could be subject to a large “multa” (penalty) without this paperwork. He handed me back my passport and told me to go straight to the Brazil border and not to mention this to anyone — including the Brazilian officials — the friendly guy with a huge star badge reminsicent of a sherrif’s from the wild wild west in the USA and the cute, curly-haired blond with the shapely ass that has earned Brazilian women a well-deserved reputation.

The ride along the southern coast of Brazil passed through a nature preserve. Barren wetlands home to tens of thousands of birds. Huge flocks sitting on the pavement would rise in a dense black cloud as I rode closer. Along the highway I spotted carcasses of at least twenty large mammals. Signs warned of wildlife on the highway, but my Portuguese was insufficient to accuratley understand the detail of these warnings. I couldn’t figure out what these creatures were. They were the size of seals. They seemed to be amphibious. They didn’t die on land like a stranded seal of whale. They had been hit by motor vehicles. It was sad. This 100 mile or more stretch of pavement cut through this barren yet teeming with wildlife land mass.

Brazil Birds Wetlands

Seemed to encounter massive flocks of birds every few hundred yards.

Soon enough I was in a gas crises. My reseve warning light had been lit for more than 50 miles. I’d rolled the throttle back to 3,000 rpms and crawling at about 40mph. According to my GPS Rio Grande wasn’t far away. But there was no evident of population save large farms, which as a last resort would be paid a visit by Doc and I. Yet surely riding fumes I rounded a corner and encountered evidence of commerce. A couple miles later I spotted Doc’s oasis — a posto – service station.

The first odd thing I noticed was the young guy pumping my gas. He had dark ebony hair, dark skin, a handsome angular face and piercing blue eyes — the hair and skin color didn’t match his eyes. Weird. The second thing was the smell. Could he have been drinking. The guy reeked of alcohol. In fact, when it occured to me that not all gas station attendents in Brazil could be alcoholics. No they mix alcohol with the gas and sell straight alcohol/ethanol at many stations, too. The wafting aromas were reminiscent of many of my inebriated encounters throughout Central and South America.

According to the odd bunch at teh staation, I was still nearly four hours from Porto Alegre. With not much inbetween, I’d be pushing it to make it before sunrise. I motored on. Making good time I woulda arrived before dark hadn’t I been slammed with pelting rain just an hour later. I had to slow my pace and that combined with the notorious traffic outside Porto Alegre, I broken one of the basic tenets of world motorcycle travel: don’t travel at night. And in Brazil it’s not just motorcycles that are warned against the dangers of such driving habits. Signs along the highway warn and strongly suggest that driving during the day is much safer — for your life.

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The only message I’ve found to date in Brazil that is in both Portuguese and Spanish. On the left is Portuguese and says “Traveling in the day is prettier and safer”. On the right in Spanish it says “Traveling during the day is more satisfying and safer.”

Lost in a loop somewhere outside city central in Porto Alegre a black man riding a 125cc bike splits a traffic of cars to meet me at the front of the line at a traffic light. Every few seconds I have to wipe my faceshield clean of rain. He tries to catch my attention. It’s dark. It’s a big city. And it’s my first night in Brazil. I ignore him. At the next light he starts waiving a card that’s attached to a lanyard not unlike a backstage or press pass around his neck. I flip my lid and we chat. Speaking Spanish he explains he works for the city tourism office. Yeah right. I’m a bit jaded as its a common hoax and trick to rip tourists off by posing as police or other officials. He offers to escort me to a hotel. Now I’m thinking his simply a roper for some dump trying to increase business. I had a card from a hotel recommended by the tourist information people I chatted with hours before at the border. He shook his head and said the place was 10 miles outside of town. Great. Was he lying? Was this a scam. I told him I wanted a hotel in the city center. I took my chances and followed him. I was lost anyway. And other than that hotel I knew nothing about this city.

A chain smoker and not really suited up for the rain, Lazaro, my escort, was legitimate and guided me to the City Hotel just a few blocks from the main plaza. They offered parking at a nearby secure garage. I was soaked, tired and hungry. I was thankful and I was in Porto Alegre in the state of Rio Grande do Sul — in Brazil.

1St Brazil Wine

My first taste of Brazilian red wine.

Ruta 9 Uruguay: La Paloma to Punta del Diablo.

I bid farewell to the nearly ghost town of La Paloma and headed northeast toward Punta del Diablo. With two destinations on my mind, I figured I could check out the infamous dunes of one of Uruguay’s few national parks, Cabo Polonia, and to walk in the shadowy history of one of the legendary Spanish eighteenth century coastal fortresses, Fortaleza Santa Teresa.

La Paloma Packing

Packing Doc prior to leaving Hotel Bahia in La Paloma, Uruguay.

The park ranger at Cabo Polonia was more interested in chatting about my motorcycle and sharing war stories and scars than about letting me into the park. To be fair, the park is closed to vehicular traffic and the only way to get out on the dunes is to walk the few miles inland (and back) or to use one of the authorized tour operators in the area. Turns out my new park ranger friend has raced motocross and as he showed me a series of scars explaining that rounding a turn just north of the park he had the unfortunate luck of finding his front while lose traction due to a fresh carcass of something on the road. No motorcyclist talks about how much he or she would like to crash in the future. But those of us who have had the experience of biting pavement or swallowing mud tell these stories with passion and enthusiasm. Strange but true.

The tour operator across the gate of the park told me that he didn’t have a driver. My offers of driving fell on deaf ears so I moved to the next operator at the turn off from the main road. That’s where I met Mario, the vocal, charismatic and slightly disheveled and likely buzzed owner of a couple tour trucks, which were simply vintage 1960 and 70’s stake bed trucks manufactured in Detroit sometime in the late 60’s and early 70’s. I imagined during the high season tourists packed into the back of these trucks, doing there best to hang on to the side or some galvanized tubing erected in the back of the truck. But today I was the only tourist. And Mario, as amiable and charming as he was informed me that it takes at least two passengers to make it worth his while to go into the park. I didn’t want to pony up the fare for two so I asked if I could wait in the hopes that a carload of eager dune worshippers would descend upon Mario’s corner.

While waiting Mario offered me some fish freshly caught and cooked from the nearby Lake Castillo. And pulling a box from behind the corner of his shed of an office asked if I’d like a glass of “tinto” — referring to the red wine. I passed and walked twenty feet to another building where I must assume was Mario’s mother running a little “convenience store” in the front of her house. I thought I was in her kitchen and almost walked out. No. She sold me a cold coke for less than a fifty cents.

In the end I never got to see the dunes. But the conversations I endured and participated in completely in Spanish were priceless. From the quality of gas in Uruguay compared to its neighbors to the price of electricity, meat and industrial goods. He was most contentious about the price of carne. Though it’s raised and slaughtered here in Uruguay, he is forced to pay “export” prices. He poked another piece of fish with his fork and plopped in on my plate. “And the Argentineans are buying our electricity, so it costs more for us.”

Del Diablo Park Guys

Mario, Ranger Lorenzo and friend. Notice the bike’s name. Then check out the typical Uruguayan or Argentinean pose of the friend who has his hot water and cup of mate. (click to make larger)

So I moved on to another National Park, Parque Nacional Fortaleza Santa Teresa, a massive fortress which the Portuguese laid the stone foundation for in 1762. Soon after the Spaniards captured the territory and ultimately completed its construction using double layered stones and soil in 1792. While nearly 250 years old, more than 100 years after the Jesuit priests, Portuguese slave traders and Spanish colonists began their conquests in South America, this condition of this Fort is spectacular. Restored in 1928, the artifacts and antiques from the onsite chapel, commissary and armory (now museums) are in equally great shape. The lichen on the rocks has replaced the settlers and colonial military as residents. Colorful yellow-bellied birds find the fort as a good resting vantage point for the miles of farmland that extend north toward Brazil and south to the Atlantic Ocean.

Fort Santa Teresa Watchtower

One of four watchtowers at Fortaleza Santa Teresa.

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My yellow-bellied friend checks out the view.

Fort Santa Teresa Window

Door of the commissary at Fortaleza Santa Teresa.

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19th Century Weapon of Mass Destruction.

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The fortress was massive.

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Views across farmland to the ocean.

Making my way to Punta del Diablo about an hour away, I once again find myself in a near ghost town with only the locals milling around the only market in town. Lovers and elders walk the beach all but deserted save the resting fishing boats which I’m sure will be rolled into the sea early tomorrow morning. I knock on the doors of three hotels/guest houses and a IH youth hostel. No answer. Of the two restaurants in town I spot, neither is open. A few enterprising artisans set up temporary shop selling honey and handcrafted goods down by the beach. There’s none of the commotion around me or my bike that typically stirs when I roll into a small town. No, I’m invisible for the most part. Which is fine with me. I ride the maze of dirt and sandy streets in the hopes of finding a place to stay. Nothing. Everything is shut down for the winter. There’s an strangeness that hovers over the town. I consider setting up camp but then remembered a lodge I passed on the road to town.

There’s a single light on that I can see through the locked front door. After a few raps on the window of the Hosteria del Pescador, a guy unlocks the door and between him and his wife or girlfriend, they agree to rent me a room for $21. I’m informed that there are no restaurants open this time of year, so I ride back into town and pick up a tall beer, some sliced ham and cheese, bread and chocolate cookies. I’m sure there’s fresh fish cooking in the homes of residents, but this is one night I’m unquestionable will be eating and sleeping alone in this hotel with a massive restaurant, bar and game room area and more than 30 rooms. Once again, the hotel to myself.

I set to go through the usual ritual of downloading photos, charging batteries and reviewing plans for the coming day. That’s when I discovered I was back to that absent-mindedness that seem to plague me at the beginning of my trip in Canada and Alaska. The USB cable for my camera and my cellular phone charger were nowhere to be found. I was sure I left them at Hotel Bahia in La Paloma. I am incredible hard on myself when I do something so stupid. It’s telltale that since I’ve not been consistently riding and settled into my pattern and day-to-day system of unloading, packing and reloading. I’ve got to be more diligent. I’ve got to keep my head.

That’s okay. Tomorrow, after 20 miles or so, I’ll cross the border into Brazil, the sixteenth country I will discover on this journey and adventure. And the next adventure will be trying to find replacements in a new country and using a new language.

Punta Del Diablo Beach

Waves crashing on Devil’s Point (Punta del Diablo) on the Uruguayan coast.

Punta Del Diablo Horse Cart

Not much going on in town, but this guy is trying to make a delivery.

Punta Del Diablo Closed

For the most part, I just came across locked doors as the town was shut down. Though I must say the creativity and colors abounded everywhere in this quiet and sleepy fishing village.

Diablo Boats

Early tomorrow this boat will get dragged out to sea.



Del Diablo Casa Colors

What did I say about colors abounding?

Punta Del Diablo Sol

Another closed up, yet brightly painted, restaurant/bar.

Jose Ignacio to La Paloma. The sandy dirt track.

I got off pronto the following morning winding my way along the coast, past beautiful homes and the roaring Atlantic Ocean. Things were more tranquil after crossing this unique if not wacky bridge that represented, I think, the rolling waves, and found myself rolling into El Barro. Nice quaint, toned down.

El Barro Bridge

El Barro Bridge from Punta del Este to the eastern coastal towns of Uruguay.

Jose Ignacio Pulling Boat

Jose Ignacio Fisherman Boy

Fisherman and boy checking out the daily catch.

Jose Ignacio Fish

The daily catch checking out the fisherman and the boy.

Jose Ignacio Roads

Jose Ignacio roads and architecture.

Jose Ignacio Pushing Boat

Pulling the boat to the trailer. The daily chore. The Faro Cabo Jose Ignacio lighthouse in the background was built in 1877 and still operates today.

Jose Ignacio Sand Lines

Drawing lines in the sand. Get to know the true Uruguay.

Nice beaches but I didn’t stop. Soon I took the turn toward Jose Ignacio. Nearby there is a small nothing town that actually features an Inn and fine restaurant owned and designed by the Argentinean rock-star chef, Francis Mallman. Unfortunately it was closed for the season. I figure I would ride the bike until dark and stay at one of the quieter coastal towns closer to the Brazillian border.

But Jose Ignacio captivated me for a few hours. I found the lighthouse, the sandy streets, the laid back atmosphere perfect for a rest. Then the fishing boats started landing on the beach to the handful of locals waiting to buy fresh fish right off the boat. Jose Ignacio, despite its homey, folksy and fishing village facade is a playground and hiding place for the elite, the movie stars and those who would rather make their own parties until 6am instead of in some crowded disco-like club. Property here is the most expensive on the coast, I was told.

I meet Victor, a local from a city not to far. He came to Jose Ignacio that morning to pick up fish for his cioppino or paella he was making tonight. Drawing lines in the sand he gave me a veritable tour of the Uruguayan coast, complete with recommendations and must-do’s. Victor related his disappointment and how sad it is that people come to Uruguay and see Punta del Este, which in many ways is just a big resort town not unlike Cancun or Miami. He says people’s idea of these types of vacations is just go to spend money. Spend, spend and spend. But to see the great trees or dunes a national park and to see a classic old colonial era fortress and experience the real Uruguayan fishing villages on the Atlantic, this is is what people need to see in order to know Uruguay. Tells me that stars from Argentina, Brasil and Uruguay come to Jose Ignacio. He warned me of taking a road that takes an alternate route (other than the “freeway”) to La Paloma. I asked about the ferry (Balsa) and the road condition. He repeatedly told me not to do it.

Later when riding out of town I passed the turn to another dirt road that goes to the balsa and along the coast to La Paloma. I remembered Victor’s warnings. I didn’t want to believe him. How many times on this journey I got psyched out and ended up taking less interesting routes? I can count them on one hand. I may have missed opportunities. So I decided NOT to heed Victor’s advice. I went for it and made the turn.

Yeah. Ripio and sharp rocks. But the road was great and crossing the small lagoon was well worth it. It might have added a little time to the trip. But no worries. It’s about going slow. Drawing directions in the sand about places to go. T

The fisherman who wanted to trade his truck for my bike. I told that the only problem was there isn’t a lot of room for fish. He said that would be a problem. Asking if I would like my picture with his boat. I stood in front and they all scream Arriba. Jump on board. So i did.

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The ferry was more like a large raft, or a small barge. The small skiff with an outboard was tethered by the captains arm as we crossed the small lagoon.

Then cruising into La Paloma. Looking for a hotel. Most places shut down. It’s sleepy. Atop the 19th century light house I look down and see a couple guys on Suzuki DR’s checking out my bike. See them in town later.

There’s the Bahia Hotel. For $20, free WiFi and a restaurant that is acutally open. When I asked to see if he would give me a break on the price, the guy wouldn’t budge and pointed me to some alley with a hotel said go there. I did. But for the $5 savings I went for the internet and the included breakfast… oh well. I Considered these cabins in a little park in a forest glade on the way into town for 16 bucks. The hostal was closed, too. So to be closer to the beach and town and have the WiFi I chose Bahia. It’s extremely quiet. I’m the only person in the hotel. At dinner there was only one other table. It’s eerie. But it’s cool.

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DR riders circle Doc and wonder what is this? I watch from the lighthouse.

La Paoloma Lighthouse

The third lighthouse on my tour of Uruguayan coastal lighthouses.

Inaugurated in September of 1874 the Faro Cabo Santa Maria sits at the point in La Paloma.

Montevideo to Punta del Este

Punta Del Este From Afar

Gazing out upon the point – Punta del Este.

The ride from Punta del Este was a non-event. Yet arriving around sunset to this peninsula where the Rio del Plata river and the Atlantic Ocean meet was a joy. Just ten miles from the coast of this hip and tony resort town I pulled over to watch the sunrise reflect upon the high-rise laden corridor which includes the massive Conrad Casino and Resort.

I spent 2 nights here, but like most of my journey since leaving Buenos Aires, I find myself in somewhat ghosts of towns that during the high season bolster with activity and tourists. Many of the restaurants were closed and several hotels had battened down the hatches for the winter lull.

Punta Del Este Highrises

What’s it look like to you?

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Famous for crab, my dinner at Lo de Tare was topped by my motorcyclist waiter and the desert wine he graciously let me try!

I enjoyed a fantastic dinner at Lo de Tare with a nice bottle of Hungarian Tanat. My waiter, Tomas who also is a motorcyclists, gave me a complimentary glass of fortified desert wine like a port but fortified from Grappa instead of brandy. It smelled like chocolate. It was so seductive and delcious, I think I could have finished the entire bottle. It was called Alcyone and made in Hungary. Wanted to get a bottle for my friend Tim, but he said they make very little. A challenge, but this time no time to search. And I haven’t seen it since. Guess I’ll just have to go back.

Punta Fishing Boat

Small seafood market boat-side in Punta del Este.

Punta Hand Doc

The hand. The hand.

Punta Deleste Lighthouse

Late 1800’s watchtower lighthouse at the point.

Puntadeleste Harbor

Punta del Este harbor sure shows off the skyline.

After dinner Tomas suggested I walk up the street a bit to Moby Dick, a local watering hole. Though at 10pm he said it wouldn’t be happening until much later. He was right. I walked in and the place was empty save a woman from Chile. My observation that the Chilean people speak the hardest to understand and most bastardized version of Spanish I’d heard to date didn’t go over well. But with nothing to do (except work on this blog) conversation between the bartendress, my new Chilean friend and I was spirited and like these travels roamed topics from around the world. By midnight light crowds filled the bar area. That’s when I met Francois from France. He was with a group of 4 others. We drank, danced and discussed world problems. By the end of the night at this bar (2am) he was feeling quite well and wrapped his arms around me and said, “I’m not gay, but I love you, Allan!”

Soon I was sandwiched into the back seat of a subcompact car and whisked to another bar that was just opening. This place was packed with people that looked like they were in high-school, but before I new it the sun was rising and I was getting to bed at 6am. So is life in Punta del Este. I can’t imagine this town during the high season. Be careful.

Observations: The high rises. The tony shops. Tiffany. Gucci. And more. The beautiful harbor. The big hand in the sand. The long bike paths. The custom homes.

So now you know why I had to stay the second night in Punta del Este. This night I played it very low key, opting for think crust pizza and just one beer.

Punta Del Este Sunset

The last night in Punta. Tranquilo.

Last Day in Montevideo

Many travelers barely pass through Montevideo. And after spending almost two full days here, I wonder why. The city due to its small size is easily digestible. There’s great history, culture, art and architecture. Parts of the city and surrounding area offer commanding view of the ocean and the river. But sadly it ends up just as a check on travelers lists — been there.

But I gave it another day. Having spent endless weeks, it seems, walking the streets of Buenos Aires I wasn’t about to give up on Montevideo. Today I took in the busy commerce district and saved the night for adventure in the historical district.

My mission was simply to feel the vibe, sense the rhythm and move with the people while grabbing a few shots here and there. Without any direction, recommendation or predisposition to dining for my last evening in Montevideo, I wandered looking for something different. I passed the usual parillas, cruised by the sandwich/hamburger stands on the street, brushed up against the pubs but kept moving on. As I wondered off the beaten path into an area around the financial district into a neighborhood that might be considered one you don’t want to walk alone at night, I started second guessing myself.

Montevideo Horseman Church

Montevideo Dakar

Not sure what the women’s fashion in this trendy store had to do with either my bike or the infamous city in West Africa. But I couldn’t resist the photo.

Montevideo Colonial

Montevideo Street

Main drag in downtown Montevideo, Uruguay.

Montevideo Street Statue

People envision their rich history and a country without the dangerous dengue fever. (note the sign on building)

Montevideo Veggie Stand

Traditional outdoor farmers markets always warm up the colors of the day.

The usual warning signs were evident. There was no pedestrian traffic. As I walked passed a triple locked fence outside a courtyard, I was nearly jumped by a more fiercely sounding than looking canine. An incredibly skinny woman with pale lips and empty eyes crossed the street toward me. The hood to her cold weather jacket hung down her back while the frilly fake fur hung by loose threads. Her hands were red from cuts and fingernails read sick to me. I thought she was a prostitute. But she simply wanted a cigarette and asked what I was doing here. My fears were unjust. She was simply buzzed from a recent hit of crack or dope and walking in her own euphoric state. Then late model car pulled up at a stop sign. A young twenty-something kid hung his head out the window. He was lost. The three girls in the back seat, giggly and cut, all peered to the front seat as I muttered my best spanish and gave them my local tourist map and pointed them in the right direction. I knew where they wanted to go. But because I’d been walking the one way streets, it was difficult to tell them how to go by car.

Then they asked where I was from. Upon hearing the answer the blonde in the back seat sprung to life, “I’m from Philadelphia,” she said excitedly. Turns out she’s in Montevideo going to dental school. Interesting.

I continued wandering and after passing an old stone building sandwiched between two others that had been remodeled or reconstructed. There was barely a sign. But the soothing lighting and weathered wood tables with a group huddled around a couple of them. It was a restaurant. But not on my map and certainly never recommended. “La Siliencosa”. Housed in a 17th century old Jesuit convent which at one time served as quarters to an English tailor during the British occupation a hundred years or so.

As only one of two tables in the small to mid sized elegant restaurant, I was surprised the place wasn’t busier. But later I learned that they do most of their business during lunch as they cater to the business crowd from the financial and commerce districts. It didn’t bother me, I was happy to have the attention of the owner and the inquisitive server.

Serving up Uruguayan fare with a touch of French influence, I had the best lamb I’ve had on my entire trip. And with the hundreds of thousands of cordero I encountered in Patagonia, you’d wonder why not great lamb there? It’s all about the cut. But the chef/owner of La Siliencosa (the silent one) gets it right. A fresh caprese salad and a bottle of Uruguayan wine at his recommendation completed the meal. The server, a young man in his late twenties eagerly listened and asked questions about my trip. A scooter fanatic, he is planning on riding to Patagonia (San Carlos Bariloce) on his vintage 50cc Vespa. I gasped and wished him good luck as then the owner handed me the card of a Uruguayan Winery just minutes out of town.

He made me promise to visit and as personal friends with the owner of the winery, he’d call them to alert of my arrival.

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La Siliencosa is perhaps Montevideo’s finest restaurant. Its housed in a 17th century former Jesuit convent.

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The caprese was perfect.

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The best lamb I’ve had since setting off on this journey so long ago.

So the next day I mounted Doc and headed to Bodega Bouza, which sits about thirty minutes outside Montevideo down a small dirt road. I was impressed to find that the winery housed a fine restaurant and that the owners were passionately committed to producing wines with structure, complexity and would manage yields from their vineyards. It’s places like Bouza that will help usher a new era of Uruguayan wine. Though it will be tough to compete on the international wine stage, I believe that Uruguay will find a small niche in North America and Europe, but perhaps even better will offer South American countries an alternative to Chile and Argentina.

Even more impressive than the wine was the classic car and motorcycle collection that the owner has accumulated. I’ll simply let the photos talk.

During my walk through the vineyards I met a couple from Brazil who owned a restaurant on the island of Florianopolis. After a tasting, good lunch and a sincere invitation to visit in Floripa (as Florianopolis is called by the locals) I mounted Doc and headed to the beach resort of Punta del Este.

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Walking through the vineyards of Bodega Bouza outside Montevideo, Uruguay.

Then wandering through the small but impressive collection of classic motorcycles. Maybe some of you can help identify the year and model of the less than obvious. Good way to take outside the city. The restaurant here is fantastic and you can try a variety of their wines.

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Making My Way Through Montevideo

Montevideo Skyline

Portion of Montevideo Skyline looking over Rio del Plata and toward the Atlantic Ocean.

More than half the country’s population lives the historical capital city of Montevideo, which was founded by Spain in the late 1600’s after the Portuguese founded Colonia just a few hours southwest. A rough history for the next 150 years finally saw the official independence of Uruguay in 1828.

Evidence of the countries mixed influences are evident in the architecture and the many plazas that provide beautiful views of the surrounding area, and in some cases the Rio del Plata which across the vast expanse of water lies my home away from home, Buenos Aires.

Unlike Buenos Aires, Montevideo is quiet and much easier to navigate. Entering the historical section of town you pass under a centuries old arch and soon find cobbled stone streets and narrow pedestrian walkways. Walking toward the river I passed very aromatic fisherman, many of which not only towing the tools of their trade but their offspring too.

This historical section butts up against the financial center of what is the largest city in Uruguay. Massive bank buildings dating from the late 1800’s still sit proudly and reek the aura of their once flamboyant and powerful past. I wonder into history and art museums, pass through plazas centered by 100 year old fountains and wonder through a maze of residential housing.

Montevideo Fisherman

Where the Rio del Plata meets the Atlantic Ocean these fisherman do their best to bring home dinner.

Honda Enduro Montevideo

Great small enduro motorcycles that we never see nor can buy in the USA. This is a police bike.

Montevideo Bank

Classic old bank in financial district.

Fountain Montevideo Uruguay

The walking through colonial historical section at night makes one ponder and relax for hours.

At night this area quiets down except the few streets closest to the main plaza. A handful of fine restaurants, bars and pubs lend an hint to the touristy flair of this part of town. But it’s winter in Montevideo. The tourists that flock here and to the beaches east of Montevideo are long gone. I notice a film crew taking advantage of the minimal pedestrian traffic and the beauty of the colonial buildings in Plaza Constitucion.

I need to fill my pocket with some Uruguayan pesos and the first thing I notice, even in this tourist section, is that the ATM machines have no English option as they do all over Buenos Aires. I choose a no fills parilla, Al Abasto, that looks onto the Teatro Solís, built in 1856 and reportedly the oldest continual operating theatre in the Americas. Afterwards, I wonder the streets, shooting pictures and soon enough I’ve got a ten year old boy tailing me. Not shy he soon asks for money. Having noticed a string of panhandlers on my walk from my hotel through the Plazas Azucuenga, Independencia and Constitutuion, I had the server at my restaurant set me up with a doggy bag for my walk home. If my panhandlers were indeed hungry, I’d have the sure cure and therefore stave off alcohol and drug purchases, my strategy anyway.

Teatro Solis

The oldest theatre in the Americas in Montevideo, Uruguay – Teatro Solís.

“Tienes plata para comprar comida?” the dirty faced boy with a wool cap and gloves with the ends of the fingers cut off asks. He asks if I have money to give him for food. I ask him if he’s hungry. His little head with strands of hair like straw poking out from under the cap. I hand him the remains of my pork ribs. He peers into the bag and then rolls up the end. I continue to walk following the sound of live music.

“Tienes plata?” The boy zooms ahead of me and juts his palm in front of me. I have to stop. Now I’m a bit angry. And I launch into a subtle tirade about working for money and he needs to go to school. Then I remind him of the nice pork ribs he’s carrying in his other hand. He repeats the question. I do what I hate yet have to do and ignore him until I find the pub where a four piece rock group is belting out Latin rock/pop.

Montevideo Pub

Irish pub in Montevideo. It’s quiet ’round here. It’s winter. But the band was excellent!

In many South American cities restaurants sometimes charge a fixed fee called a cubierto. It’s somewhat supposedly covering the cost of your table for the evening. In Europe I’ve been charged a fee per person for say bread and other treats that servers drop on your table. But what the cubierto actually covers is ambiguous in many places. In others, such as a pub or restaurant where live music is played this is an alternative to charging a “cover charge” at the door.

Two fine looking young ladies walk in, sit down next to me and begin to order a beer. It’s nearly 1am. When the waitress explains that there’s a 40 peso “cubierto”, (about $1.80 USD) they cancel their order and walk outside, the chilled air and minor breeze causing them to wrap scarves around their delicate necks.

Before I realize how much time had passed the band quit and the pub started thinning out. I bundled up what little I could and walked a mile back to my hotel

Montevideo Menu Uruguayan Wine

(l) Small pubs, cafés and locals only places along the residential historical seciton near the river.

(r) And my first bottle of Uruguayan wine. Not bad.

Montevideo Naval Nopasar

Not exactly sure what they mean by this sign. But I’m moving out of here.

Goodbye Buenos Aires. Hello Uruguay!

The late night with the crew at Las Lilas pushed my departure date back by a day. But it’s getting cold here. I’m looking forward to sandy beaches, warm weather and Brazilian culture. Though I’ll lament leaving Buenos Aires, it’s clear that I must push on. New experiences to write about. New environments to capture with my camera. And new people. And a new language, Brazilian Portuguese, the fact of which stirs trepidation in stomach.

Farewell Bsas5 Afk Javier

Outside of Dakar Motos, Javier and I pose for the ubiquitous last photo.

So I’ve got my checklist. Things packed. GPS loaded with new maps and a bike with fresh oil, tires, steering head bearings and exhaust packing. I’m ready.

The farewells as Dakar Motos were quick but with some sadness. A British couple who have been restoring their sport bikes complete with a wacky homemade massive top box were readying to put their bikes on a plane to New Zealand the same day. So without much fanfare I rolled out of Dakar Motos and toward the Boquebus Ferry terminal near Puerto Madero.

Farewell Bsas2 Sportbikes Dakar

Check out the sport bikes and the homemade boxes. Talk about a huge load. They’re heading to New Zealand.

As usual, I pushed my luck and my time. I arrived at the terminal within 20 minutes of the departure. I needed to purchase my ticket and go through immigration — you must go through both Argentina and Uruguay in Buenos Aires. Then I had to roll the bike onto the vehicle cargo area on the boat. This all happened fairly smoothly and quickly.

On board, the ship-hands helped tie my bike down. Though I was a bit worried that the suggested leaving it on the side-stand. I tried to convince them to just lean it against the side of the boat and tie it snugly. The old guy shook his head and told me it was an easy ride — a few hours across the Rio del Plata. Then I suggested putting it on the center stand. Nervous about breaking the frail side-stand of the BMW F650GS Dakar, I would worry about this all during the sail across the channel as the waves whipped up white caps and the boat rocked in the minor swells.

Interestingly enough there was only one other vehicle in my cargo bay on this ship. In the summer reservations are required for vehicles as the Porteños make their way to the beaches east of Montevideo. But with the winter rapidly descending on this part of the world all was quiet on the ship.

Ferry 2 Montevideo

Doc sits all alone on in the cargo deck of the Boquebus Ferry headed to Montevideo, Uruguay.

The bike never got checked out of Argentina. Could be problems for me down the road. But I do have a plan!

There are two options for getting to Uruguay by ship. First, is to go to Colonia – perhaps the most interesting and historically rich city in Uruguay. Or, secondly you can sail to Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay. Since Tim and I visited Uruguay in early March, I decided to fast track my time and head to Montevideo.

Exiting the ferry is when it occurred to me. In the rush and hubbub of getting on the boat before it sailed I neglected to cancel or check my motorcycle out of Argentina. All the customs/immigration officers knew I was on a bike. But no one asked. No one prompted me. They were all under the assumption that I’d be taking a short trip to Uruguay and then returning to Buenos Aires.

The ramifications of such a move could be costly. I knew I had at least a 90 day temporary “visa” for my bike. As I waited in the line for customs in Montevideo I thought about my options. I calculated the days since I last was “stamped” into Argentina. I was dangerously close to 90 days. But there was no way I wanted to turnaround and head back to Argentina, pay another two fares on the ship, just to get cleared.

My mind reeled. I would be heading to Foz do Iguazu – the grand Iguazu waterfalls that sit on the borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. I figured I could check the bike through customs at the Argentine aduana in Iguazu. Yes. That was my plan.

I rolled the bike to the custom agent. He waved me on. I pulled my helmet off and asked about permission to have my bike in Uruguay. He mumbled some words. The sky getting increasingly dark added to my anxiety of riding into the city and searching out a hotel — I never like riding in the dark. He asked when I’d be returning to Buenos Aires. I informed him I was headed to Brazil and said I didn’t want to have a problem at the border.

He led me to a small room near the bus terminal. Two desks, a couple old school typewriters and two computers sat amongst stacks of papers, books and cups of mate. He yanked on each drawer of one of the desks until he found the form. I noticed carbon paper but there was no copy machine. he filled out my form including all the detail of my motorcycle (VIN#, make, size etc.) and then handed me the paper. He didn’t make a copy of it. Just handed it to me. Odd. There would be no record of my bike in Uruguay. And he completed the form solely for my own personal use — after all, I did ask for the form.

I stuck it into my “important paper” stash and bid the folks good night and head into Montevideo.

Arriving In Montevideo

The ship and cargo terminal sits southwest of the city center. I could see the tall buildings as the ship approached the terminal. So I figured it would be easy to get downtown. But even following signs somehow I ended up riding a bit outside of town. I asked a couple police offers for directions and soon was in “Centro”. I did the usual quick run of a handful of hotels settled on the Hotel California on San Jose about $24 and includes parking which is around the corner and on the 5th floor. Carlos, the attendant, assured me no problems parking the bike including leaving some of my things attached to the bike. I cover it with his help. He offers to keep the helmet but tell him I need to clean it and keep it.

It’s new again. I forgot about how long it takes to decide on a room. Find a place to eat and endure the inquisitive locals. Wow. I am on the road again. A weird feeling. Still itching from the mosquito bites from Buenos Aires…

Good god. I’m glad I’m back…

Buenos Aires to Uruguay – Colonia.

The cobbled streets and rich texture of colonial buildings make Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay what some would call cute and quaint. It’s an hour boat ride across the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires. Tim and I decided we’d take a brake from our jaunts around the city and spend an afternoon, lunch and an Uruguayan cerveza while exploring a city in another country.

Colonia Overview

The Portuguese founded Colonia del Sacramento sometime in the late 1600’s. The Spaniards, Portuguese and even Brazilians all have controlled Colonia at certain points in its history.

Today Colonia sprawls a bit beyond the original Portuguese settlement pictured here. But this part is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and walking the streets you get a feeling of being in a different ere.

Tim Colonia Uruguay

In some ways with the cobblestoned streets, wider than many in Spanish colonial towns seem a bit like Lisbon in Portugal.

Colonia Old Car

Small but endearing and certainly quaint, Colonia is a great escape from the madness of the city of Buenos Aires.

Colonia Horsecart

Stores receive deliveries and kids go to school in horse drawn carts.

Colonia Street

The colorful facades punctuate the colonial flavor.