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Uruguayan Beach Time


November 24th, 2019

We left Cristian’s seaside camp on this Sunday morning and hit a large grocery store for supplies.  (Note: today is Uruguay’s runoff election day so no alcohol buying was allowed.)

We made our way eastward along the Atlantic Coast stopping first at Piriapolis – a small seaside city that caters to a slower pace than the main holiday city of Punta del Este further east.  We enjoyed the drive by the malecon and decided to stop for a while and maybe the night.  We parked on a side street next to the Argentina Hotel & Casino where others had parked before.  We grabbed our chairs and Kindles and headed to sit on the nearly deserted beach.

Once the clouds all dispersed it got too sunny (temp in low 20’s C/ 73 F) to sit on the beach where there is NO shade whatsoever.  We pulled out our folding beach umbrella but were not successful for long.  It already has two broken spokes on it and the wind managed to catch it about three times and damaged one more; we think it’s toast now but are not going to get rid of it until we can replace it with something else – we’ll need something for the beaches of Brazil come January…..

We decided that it was not worth staying the night here due to lack of shade on the beach and we didn’t want to have to sit inside, so we returned to Tigger and made our way along the coast to the big holiday destination of the locals:  Punta del Este.

Before hitting the city, we stopped at Punta Ballena where we thought we’d spend the night on the point.  It was super windy and when Doug stepped out of the truck his hat blew off headed for the ocean!  There were three young men sitting on the rock wall and they managed to rescue it so he was pretty lucky.

On this point is the Uruguayan artist’s Carlos Paez Vilaro, “Casapuebla“, which you can tour but we only wanted to see the building itself.  From our parking spot we could see it on the side of the cliff:

“Casapuebla” – This “house” took 36 years to complete and was originally the summer home and workshop of the artist.  Now it is a museum/gallery, cafeteria and hotel.  Although the style can be compared with the houses of the Mediterranean coast of Santorini, the artist often referenced  the nest of the hornero, a bird typical to Uruguay, when discussing the style of construction. 

The building has thirteen floors with staggered terraces that allow one to have optimal views of  sunset on the waters of the ocean. 

After checking out all the views, we decided it was just too windy to spend the night and we pushed on closer to the city.  We found a wild camp at the west end of the north beach where the wind wasn’t so bad, pointed Tigger into the wind and spent a quiet night.

We drove into the city skirting it along the water (the “rambla”) the next morning.  We are still about 2 to 3 weeks from high season so there are not crowds of people at the beaches.  Temperatures range from 20 to 38 C / 70 to 100 F and the wind can be quite strong.

We stopped to check out a spot at the port/yacht club where others have seen sea lions – we saw only two; this one on the boat launch:

and one swimming by and this lonely cormorant.

We saw a possible spot for showers but it was only for “port users” so we pushed on and drove around the point – this is the most southern point of Uruguay.

Last stop on our way out of the city was “The Hand”.  This is a similar sculpture to the ones we saw in Chile but smaller:

We continued along the coast and on our way out of Punta del Este into its suburb, La Barra, went across this cool “stressed ribbon bridge” (aka catenary bridge) where suspension cables are embedded in the bridge:

Doug (who is a civil engineer for those who don’t know) had never heard of anything like it.  It was quite cool.

About 40 km / 25 mi later we came across another unique bridge structure near Lago Garzón: a round one!  It was designed “to force drivers” to slow down in 2015.

Our last pit stop today was the Laguna de Rocha reserve; a fresh water lake/wetland with lots of birds.  We saw a lot but they were mostly far away and in the strong wind it was hard to hold the camera fully zoomed very steady.

Then we finally ended up in the nearby small town of La Paloma.

The weather was on the cool side (high teens C / 63-66 F), very windy and they predicted rain by tonight so we didn’t expect to sit on the beach today at all.  We did want showers though and at the port here, you can pay for an eight minute shower in the port office so that was our first stop.  Boy that felt good!

There are a few places in the town for free internet so we went to one for a little while and then went to a parking lot between the port and the beach where motor homes are allowed to park overnight.  There are no services (although you could walk the 430 m / .3 mi to the port bathrooms if you wanted to) but it’s clean, safe and quiet.  We ran into Stephanie and John on the street and told them about the showers so they headed there for the entire family to get clean before parking in the same lot.  From here, you can walk into town or to either of the two beaches around.  We all had a quiet night.

Tuesday the forecast was for all day rain with thunderstorms so we decided moving on was pointless in the rain – no views – and we could use the free internet in town so we parked outside a closed restaurant and spent a few hours online.

Sidebar:  A very useful app we were told about by other overlanders, is one called Instabridge.   It’s user contributed and people enter free Wi-Fi spots or locked ones and provide the password.  You are supposed to have “permission” to add the password so we never add locked ones but since others have, we’ll use them! 🙂   Since the place was closed we had good bandwidth most of the time; we did notice locals coming and sitting at the outside tables once in a while, so we we’re not the only ones in on the “secret”. 

It did finally begin to rain around 2:30 but only for about a half hour; pretty hard for only a few minutes and then it dried up pretty quick.

We chatted with our kids and mothers via Skype and Whatsapp and did some online shopping for our trip home.  Naturally we also got some walking in.

This town has a skeleton of a southern right whale on display:

The southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) is a baleen whale, one of three species classified as right whales.  Approximately 10,000 southern right whales are spread throughout the southern part of the southern hemisphere.  

Here’s a photo courtesy of Google:

After a night of on and off sprinkling rain, we went for hot showers again before leaving town.  We made our way 58 km / 37 mi to the other side of the Cabo Polonia National Park to the town of Barra de Valizas.  Today there’s not a cloud in the sky and the temps reach the lows 20’s C / high 60’s F.  We found a wild camp spot near the beach access where the Visitor’s Information station and bathrooms are located but both are closed this time of year.  We got parked and went to the beach to do a hike into the park which is mostly sand dunes.  We realized we couldn’t cross the river to access the park so we saw they offered boat rides across and back for 50 pesos (about $1.25).  Takes about 20 seconds to cross and then we hiked out to a whale look out spot – the southern right whales are supposed to pass this way from October to December but after sitting there for a while, we gave up.  No whales for us today.

After having brunch in Tigger we sat outside to read but it’s one of those days where it’s too cool in the shade of the awning and too warm right out in the sun; had to keep moving our chairs (we know: boo hoo!).

We spent two quiet nights here; on the second day we took a long walk on the beach in the morning before the sun got too strong – so nice to partake of one of our favourite pastimes.  We walked back the same way until we found an access into the village where we stopped at a store for a few items before returning to Tigger.  It’s a cute very small town with a few hostels/hotels, mostly closed restaurants this time of year, a few artisan shops and all dirt roads.

It was still pretty windy today and temps reached about 23 C / 75 F.

Next day we moved onto Punta del Diablo of which we’d heard so much.  It’s a small ex fishing village that has become a funky little tourist/beach/surf destination.  It was very windy here so never got too hot despite the forecast calling for 30 C / 85 F. We checked out the first RV wild camp spot; didn’t like it.  We moved on to the point and found four overlanding rigs including the van with the Danish family in it. 

There was an Argentina VW camper, a huge Uruguayan school bus motor home and a cube type truck with French plates.  Emanuel is a Frenchman travelling with his Scottish girlfriend, Jennie – they are just starting their South American journey.  We chatted with them for a bit as well as with Stephanie and John.  We then took a walk along the rocks and then into town where we decided to go out to eat.  It was so so.  Our lunch view:

We had a quiet night hearing the waves.  It was time for showers and we decided to go find one as we headed to the duty free zone at the Brazilian border.  We found a gas station that offered free hot ones and we stopped in there first.  As this is a “free zone” we did not need to exit Uruguay or check into Brazil since we were only going shopping and not delving further into Brazil.

We did some grocery shopping, found some good booze and beer deals (24 Corona for $17 USD! and Amarrula for less than $10), bought some gas and then went to find a beach camp; the two we saw on iOverlander on this side of the border didn’t pan out so we crossed back into Uruguay and hit the beach at Puimayen and hit the jackpot.

There is a grassy park/playground area with a big parking area overlooking the ocean.  There was a wooden boardwalk over to a sand dune that you climbed down to access the beach which we were told was nearly 30 km / 20 mi long. There are three benches under palapa type umbrellas and a viewing platform for a better view of the ocean as well as a few food kiosks on either end although today only one was open and technically not until around 4 when most people came.  They were mostly all gone shortly after sunset and we were the only ones spending the night.

We parked, sat in  the shade admiring the view and reading before waiting till 3:30 to go for a beach walk when we found hundreds of jellyfish:

It was a wonderful and we love this beach.  Think we’ll stay a second night.

Sunday morning, Doug went for a jog on the beach, Fran did her yoga and later a walk.  It’s cooled off again – yesterday we were back up near 30 and today the wind is strong again and it only reached 22C / 74F today.

Monday we awoke to even cooler weather but it was sunny and clear.  Doug has a spot on his gums that’s been bothering him so we thought we’d return to the free zone on the Brazil side and see about finding a dentist and maybe do so more shopping.  We checked out about five different dental offices and either they were closed or the dentist was out or not doing consults that day.  We walked and shopped and upon returning to Tigger went for another free shower at the truck gas station.

windmill farms on the Brazilian side
Hostel campground near the border

After reentering Uruguay (on this side we had to stop at Customs but no immigration necessary if you are only going over for a few hours) and although they did peek inside the coach, they did no inspection.

We are now making our way back south/west towards Montevideo with a few more beach stops.

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Today we headed to a new little town with a wild beach camp:  La Coronilla.  There is a dead end road with a circle on it that has room for a few rigs to park.  There are bathrooms with cold showers but they were nasty!

We spent two quiet days/nights here, wandering the beach and the town.  By the way, the ocean water has by no means been warm since we left Montevideo where we had that one dip in the water when the temperatures were quite hot.  It’s been disappointing on the one hand as there’s been some beaches with decent waves for boogie boarding but on the other hand the land temperatures are bearable.  We expect to be able to go in the water more come January after summer officially begins.

On our second day, we walked a couple of hundred metres back up the road to a turtle rescue/sanctuary called Karumbé.  Angela and Graham had told us about it and we have now added it to iOverlander.  This is a voluntary organization run all on donations.  They rescue both land and sea turtles.

Diana, a volunteer from Scotland, gave us a 15-20 minute tour and talked about the project.  There were about six bins of land turtles and about 8 of sea turtles.  These green sea turtles are found on the beach and the land turtles brought here by pet owners who no longer want them and rather than release them into the wild in an environment where they are not indigenous, they bring them here.  The volunteers here help to nurse the sick turtles and release the sea turtles back to the wild (once they are eating, pooping and no longer just floating in the pen) and also attempt to find homes for the land turtles or have them brought to a more turtle friendly place inland from here.

Later that day, a Chilean rig joined us; Rodriguez and his family are travelling South America currently headed to Brazil.  Doug made balloon animals for his daughters.  We saw them hook up to the water outside the nasty bathrooms and decided that washing Tigger might be a good idea after all the salt spray covering it.  So after lunch we pulled up to where they’d left and gave Tigger a wash down with a bucket and a mop head.  While parked there, a white van with Washington State plates arrived and we met Stuart and Lins from England – they had purchased the van in Colombia through our friend, Alex in Washington State, and are heading south after a dip into Brazil.  We made a plan to meet in the Santa Teresa National Park where there are supposed to be free hot showers and decide from there where to spend the night.

On the drive here and then again as we returned, a section of the highway becomes an airstrip!:

It seems the park is free during low season so we decided to stay a couple of nights so we could hook up to power and get hot showers.

Lins and Stuart did meet up with us and we shared happy hour (and popcorn!) with them while swapping stories.

Next morning we walked the less than 1 km to the beach to check it out:

and then made our way to the centerpiece of this park:  the Fort.  Forteleza Santa Teresa was built in 1762 by the Portuguese and subsequently taken over by the Spanish the following year and was manned until 1775.  Restoration began in 1928 and has been done very nicely and the entrance fee was just over one dollar.


 We returned to campsite and spent a quiet afternoon.  Lins and Stuart needed to go into town so they left and returned in time for happy hour.

While out walking, we saw another Washington plated camper van and met Marie and Julius from Denmark.  They bought their van in Buenos Aries, also with Alex’s help and are currently headed up to Iguazú.

We all met up together for happy hour this evening.

Fran, Julius, Maria, Stu, Lins and Doug

We spent a second night here and then moved on the next day after showers back to Punta Del Diablo.  We returned to the point where we’d parked last weekend and it was weird cause there were no other rigs…. Then a “parking attendant” advised us that this is private parking and that we had to park they way he wanted us to if we wanted to stay.  We’d already parked with a sea view and sat to read for a while before leaving later in the afternoon.

The spot we went to was a dead end road where there were a couple of holiday rental homes and it was super quiet.  We had a great view:

And later Julius and Maria showed up but they left the next day.  We spent the next day walking the beautiful long beach in the morning:

We went into town for a walk, stopped at a bakery and then lunch at a beachfront place and then the afternoon ready by the rig.

Lunch view: 

In the middle of the afternoon Lins & Stu showed up and parked near us on the cul-de-sac.  We shared some of Fran’s rye whiskey (bought in the free zone) with them for happy hour and had another super quiet night.

Sunday morning we were up before them but we are both headed to the same wild camp – the beach in La Esmarelda.  Upon arriving there, we went for another beach walk on what we think has been the most beautiful beach we’ve seen on this beach exploration of Uruguay; hardly a sole, very clean not even a lot of debris, lots of sand dunes (sadly no palm trees but plenty of waves and sunshine.

We sat on the beach using our sadly dying beach umbrella.  It now has 3 broken spokes and when it gets too windy, it’s game over for sure.  We used it a lot in Central America so it’s had a good life.

After another happy hour with Stu & Lins we said our goodbyes.  We are heading a little further than they are tomorrow and it’s doubtful they’ll catch up before we leave.  We might have stayed here longer due to its beauty but there are no services, we need a shower and there’s absolutely no cell signal.

We made our way back to La Paloma for showers at the port then made our way into town to park n front of the restaurant with WiFi that we’d found last time we were here.  After a couple of hours, we began baking in Tigger as the weather is getting warmer again so we made our way to the RV parking area near the port.  Here it was quite breezy and the beach on other side of the dunes was too windy to sit at with our broken “shade”.   Fran went for a walk and then we sat outside reading under our awning.

RV parking lot – beach is to the right beyond the grass

Tuesday after some more internet time, we spent the afternoon on one of the two beaches here; the larger one which was quite nice and a little further from the RV parking.  We finally decided to try out the sand bag attachments that came with our beach umbrella and lo and behold, kicked ourselves for not trying them out sooner.  They held up against the wind and enabled a large area of shade since they held the broken spokes out.

This made for a very pleasant afternoon and here we actually found the water warm enough to go in for a dip a few times; we are further west now  as we make our way back to Montevideo and the water is probably mingled some with the Rio de la Plata making it warmer.

Wednesday, we decided to make up some of the 200 km / 124 mi we had to do to get back to Cristian’s place by Thursday afternoon, and found a camp spot in yet another small beach town called Cuchilla Alta.  The beach here was pretty nice and again we spent most of an afternoon using our umbrella and the sand bags.

Around 3:30 the sky got darker and we could hear thunder, so we packed it in, used our outdoor shower to rinse off and wash our hair and spent a quiet, but rainy night there.  That turned out to be a blessing, as we had planned to wash the salt off Tigger before leaving to fly home and it rained enough that it was pretty darn clean and saved us the trouble.

After some exercise and chores, we finished our drive to Cristian’s place near the airport and settled in.  He chose a different place for us to park and we feel pretty good about it now; it’s closer to his actual house and he can keep a better eye on it than where he originally planned to have us park.  We discussed price and spent the afternoon getting a few things done.

Next day Fran did a bit of laundry and took a walk to the grocery store before we packed our bags for our trip home up and got us a treat to celebrate our 2000 days on the road!  Local beer and sweet cakes.

We had arranged with Cristian to leave Tigger plugged in all day.  He also has several dogs to help with security.  We were up at 4:30 am on December 14th, went out to the road to catch an Uber but couldn’t get one.  Luckily, the day before, Cristian had given Doug the number of a taxi driver so we called him and he was there in less then 3 minutes.

Hope you have have a Merry Christmas and we’ll start up blogging again in the new decade.