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On to Montevideo, URG


November 17th, 2019

We drove from Fray Bentos inland through Mercedes (where we stopped at a gas station for a hot shower – aaaah that felt so good!) and then moved on to Carmelo on the coast – still on a river not the ocean but now we are on the Rio de la Plata – the same river that Buenos Aires is located on.

We drove to the park where others have wild camped and found a place in the sun to top up the solar panels as the last two days they had not fully recharged. Today it was quite sunny and getting hotter so by early afternoon they were done. Here there were public bathrooms with an outdoor cold shower but nothing else – and the cell reception sucked.

We met a young French couple in a Washington plated pop up camper and invited them over for happy hour later.  Lola and Melvin had purchased the vehicle through Overland Title Services located outside Seattle.  We’d met Alex, in 2018 when we were on our big road trip in the US/Canada with our Honda Civic – super nice guy and we’re happy he appears to have made a full time job with his business.  Alex will help you transfer the title of any American plated vehicle to a Washington state registration and take care of the title transfer of it all from a distance.  Quite a niche business but there’s a good demand for it.

We took a walk along the beach

and then found a spot under a tree in the sand to cool off for a while from which we could still see Tigger across the road.  We’re not sure we want to swim in this river as upstream at Fray Bentos, there were signs that said not suitable for swimming and the water is still quite brown this far south.  There were plenty of people in it so if it gets hot enough we may cave….

Lola and Melvin joined us later in the afternoon and spent some time chatting before watching the mediocre sunset.  There were lots and lots of people out around us and it was well after 9 before they all (except one small bunch) left.

As we were not all that impressed with the town of Carmelo, we decided to move on down the coast to the historic town of Colonia del Sacramento – as mentioned in our last post, this was the first settlement in this country founded by the Portuguese.

There is a large stretch of beach here west of the city that has trees, picnic tables, bathrooms but no showers and bbq’s where many overlanders have stayed.  But first we wanted to visit the town.  We parked just on the outside of the old fort walls in the bright sun to get the panels topped up and wandered around the old city.

Colonia del Sacramento was viewed as strategically positioned in order to control ships to the Uruguay and Paraná rivers from the Rio de la Plata river that it sits on.  Sailors began sailing these waters as early as 1516 and the Portuguese established a command office and town here in 1680. Today it is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Around noon, we headed to the possible camp spot and after much walking around found a spot that gave us good sun but also some trees to sit under without being in deep sand.  We were later told by the lady manning the bathrooms that we may get kicked out of our spot tonight as we were “outside” the main picnicking area.

We spent the day and once the panels were topped up and the sun began dropping, we moved into the picnic area but still in the open part for the night.  Again the gennie was causing us some stress, so Doug looked online and found a Cummins in Montevideo and we decided to make our way there in the morning.

So Tuesday morning, we drove into the capital of Uruguay – Montevideo. It has a modern vibe and the streets are in great shape (as are the highways thus far – many have paved shoulders) and the mod cons of life are present.

Montevideo is the largest city in Uruguay with more than half the country’s population.  It was founded in 1726 by the Spanish as a fortress against the Portuguese.  It is the country’s political, economic and transportation hub.  It is sometimes overshadowed by it snazzier neighbour Buenos Aires, but Uruguayans will tell you it is the true birthplace and home of the tango.  The city’s old section is often used in movies as a version of Havana, Cuba.  There are ferries between Montevideo and Buenos Aires in addition to the ones from Colonia to BA.

We arrived at Cummins mid-morning and Doug went in to speak to them about the issue and could they help us.  Randy, at the front desk, spoke decent English and afterwards, they had us back into their garage for a diagnosis.

It was determined firstly, that the fuel filter of the gennie was in backwards! And then that the fuel pump, which we’d just replaced was toast!  They attempted to find the parts here in country without success (unless we want to pay hundreds of dollars in shipping and taxes) so we’ll have to bring them back with us in January when we return from our Christmas trip “home”.   So we’ll be without the use of the generator for the next few weeks which could suck wild camping as the temperature is rising again…..low 30’s C / 90’s F.

We found a wild camp spot in the city on iOverlander near a lighthouse which seemed to offer the promise of a wonderful breeze off the ocean as it was located on a bit of a spit – we were happily rewarded with same and spent a comfortable although at times, a bit humid, night. There was only other camper here with us with Argentinian plates.

Next morning we decided to go tour some of the city as it has some sites to see and as we drove down the lighthouse road to the main road, we saw a French motor home and a Uruguayan van parked just before the main road in a small grassy lot.  We stopped to say hello before carrying on.  Their spot looked a bit cleaner than ours, but it was closer to the main road, did not seem to offer the same breeze and comments in iOverlander referenced break-ins.

We were headed to a parking lot near the port but it turned out to be full but we managed to find street parking on the road along the malecon (here that is called the “Rambla”).  We buttoned Tigger up with all our security measures and walked into the old part of Montevideo.

First stop was lunch; we found the port market and had fish and chips at a restaurant inside

From there we walked to check out the city:

Gates from 1746:

The most interesting/memorable place we visited was the Museum Los Andes 1972.  This museum pays tribute to the survivors of the 1972 plane crash in the Andes.

Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 was a chartered flight that crashed on a glacier in the Andes. (Think the movie “Alive”.)

Among the 45 people on board, 28 survived the crash. Facing starvation and death, the survivors reluctantly resorted to cannibalism. After 72 days on the glacier, the surviving 16 people were rescued.

The flight, carrying 19 members of a rugby team, family, supporters, and friends originated in Montevideo heading Santiago, Chile.  After stopping in Mendoza to wait out some weather they left after 24 hours attempting to go around the storm. The aircraft struck a mountain top, shearing off both wings and the rear of the fuselage. The forward part of the fuselage careened down a steep slope and came to rest on a glacier. On the tenth day after the crash, the survivors learned from a transistor radio on board that the search had been called off. Faced with starvation and death, those still alive agreed that should they die, the others might consume their bodies in order to live. Amoungst themselves, they created their own society, with everyone being responsible for some aspect of their survival (like water, clothing and the like).

Seventeen days after the crash, 27 remained alive when an avalanche filled the rear of the broken fuselage they were using as shelter, killing eight more survivors. The survivors had little food and no source of heat in the harsh conditions. Finally, with no other choice, the survivors ate the bodies of their dead friends.

They decided that a few of the strongest people would hike out to seek rescue so sixty days after the crash, two passengers lacking mountaineering gear of any kind, climbed from the glacier at 3,570 metres (11,710’) to the 4,670 metres (15,320’) peak blocking their way west. Over 10 days they trekked about 38 miles (61 km) seeking help. They met a Chilean man who gave them food and then rode for ten hours to alert authorities. The remaining 14 survivors were rescued on 23 December 1972, more than two months after the crash.

The survivors were concerned about what the public and family members of the dead might think about their acts of eating the dead. There was an initial public backlash, but after they explained the pact the survivors made to sacrifice their flesh if they died to help the others survive, the outcry diminished and the families were more understanding. 

the crash site in the Andes
Clothing made from airplane seat fabric
NY Times article

The museum was very well done; first you watch a short video of the story and then you can wander the three floors of the building where there are story boards and a few items from the young men involved; real tribute to the human spirit.

After a few hours of sightseeing, we were hot and sticky and decided to check out a movie theatre as we’d read that all movies are in the original audio track here with Spanish subtitles.  We found a parking spot near the cinema and went over to find it was not quite open yet and that the movies on offer were not worth coming back for.  There was a McDonald’s across the street, so we went in for some ice cream and air conditioning.

While using the internet there, we heard from our British overlander friends, Angela and Graham, and they were near Montevideo so we made a plan to meet tomorrow morning for “coffee” at our camp spot.

We returned to the lighthouse camp spot for a second night.  Sadly the breeze was not as good tonight but our batteries were topped up and we used fans.  The night was not as quiet though as local also like to come here to hang out.

We awoke early (the sun comes up well before 6 am here now) to a lovely breeze and did some exercise and chores before Baloo showed up with our friends.

We spent about an hour plus visiting with Angela and Graham sitting in the shade.  It was nice to catch up.  They are heading to leave their van in storage in Colonia while they take a ferry to Buenos Aires to spend some time in the big city.

We left and made our way less than 20 km away to a campsite on the beach owned by a nice helpful young man and his family.  Apparently, Cristian needs a license to run a campground so we couldn’t set up in the main area (his permit does not begin till December 15th) but he has an area in back right by the dunes where we could park.  We were a bit hesitant as there was no shade back there (although we could get power) but he set up a shade right over us using six poles and a type of shade netting.

our beach access

We changed into our suits and went for a dip in the ocean – aaaaaaah it was nice to be on a nice wide sandy gently sloping beach – the only thing missing was palm trees.  It felt like coming home…..

We returned to camp and sat in the official camping area at a table using the fast Wi-Fi before using our outdoor shower to wash off the salt and sand and wash our hair.  Cristian’s place is pretty basic and unfortunately right now the shower (which is only cold water anyway) was not working.

We felt so good after the swim and the shower and sat in the shade by the rig reading before dinner.

Just before sitting down to eat, Cristian knocked on our door to advise us we had neighbours: a German couple had just arrived.  We went out to say hello to Robert and Brigit before calling it a night.  Their rig had just arrived via ship from Germany and they are only staying here one night.

The wind picked up after dinner and we read in the forecast was a good chance of rain sometime overnight.  That happened around 5 am for not very long but the temperatures dropped big time and the wind didn’t stop ……after 39 C / 102 F yesterday, 19 C / 66 F felt cold today!

Fran did some laundry and with the wind, we thought it would dry quickly but it was a damp wind, so we’ll see how long they actually take.

The sun came out the middle of the afternoon and the clothes were dry by 4ish – a little sandy from the blowing wind but dry.  Since it was cooler than usual we didn’t’ mind actually cooking dinner in Tigger – we often have easy non cooked meals like salads.

It was cool overnight and perfect for sleeping – needed extra blankets instead of throwing them all off!

Tonight a young Danish family arrived; Stephanie and John arrived in Uruguay a few days ago and their VW camper arrived yesterday.  They are travelling with a 5 year old son and their twin 3 year old daughters – a full house!

The sun was out on Saturday but it was still pretty windy so it didn’t warm up a great deal but was quite pleasant.

We spent a nice but not so warm day at the campground and decided to leave the next morning.

As we are going home next month, we’ve been looking for a place to leave Tigger for the duration.  There are a few places on iOverlander that store vehicles but they are far from the airport (many overlanders from Europe leave their vehicles long term in Uruguay as you are given a one year TIP so it’s easy to go home – many of them just come to South America during its summer).   The problem with these locations is that in order to make an early morning flight, you have to go the night before to the city/airport area as there is no transport sufficiently early to get you to the airport on time and/or sufficiently late enough to be picked up so it means two hotel stays which adds to the cost of storage.

Cristian told us he has stored a couple of RV’s on his property while overlanders have gone home but we are not 100% confident it’s secure enough.  He has assured us it is, and that he’ll tie up his dog next to the rig during the nights but we’re going to exhaust other options before deciding.

On our way east we did stop at a popular storage/camping spot called Paraiso Swiss and asked about their storage set up.

Here we came across this iguana:

The parking is no problem, but as mentioned, the transport to the airport is as they are 40 km / 25 mi away.  There is a bus but not nearly enough to get us there on time, but it could be a way back as there is a very late one but the problem with that option is that it only drops you at the top of the road to the site which means walking nearly one kilometre on a gravel road with all our luggage – not fun in the dark with roller board bags and knowing how much we bring back, not really a viable option.

There is one more place to check out and we’ll do that on our return to Montevideo – for now, our focus is checking out Uruguay’s beaches.