2011/04/19: To Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, via Buquebus 14 km
We rode downtown to the Buquebus terminal, and boarded the well-appointed ferry for a three hour crossing to Colonia. Logistical moves with bikes are often stressful, but this boat journey was not. We left our loaded bikes –luggage-tagged– just outside the terminal along with several nice-looking road bikes, and boarded as foot passengers. We watched from a high stern deck as an attendant wheel each of the bikes onto the car deck below.
In Colonia, we found a hostel easily, but finding a bank machine was harder. Prepared to try anything once, we ate our first Uruguayan chivito –a cholesterol special if ever there was. (See Paysandú below) We walked around the historic quarter, drank coffee, and watched the sun set.
2011/04/20: To Carmelo 79 km
We woke to sound of heavy rain, so we didn’t leave town till late morning, but once we got riding across gently rolling agricultural land, it felt good to be moving again. We noticed that cars were older and horse transport was still used more than we’d seen in rural Argentina. Much of the open land is used for grazing beef and dairy cattle as well as sheep. Windbreaks of poplar and eucalyptus line side roads that lead to huge estancias. Cereal crops are grown on broad cultivated tracts, and signs on fences advertise fertilizer, and every village has feed supply shop and a veterinary clinic.
Stopping to look up at some large nests in a stand of eucalyptus, we realized it was a raucous colony of green parrots. We watched them come and go from the entrances on the underside of each nest. Noisy buggers!
At dusk in Carmelo, we found a modest room, and were charged a small fee to store our bikes in the garage. The fee was so tiny when compared to the room cost, so it seemed a pedantic thing to do, but as fat-cat Canadians we didn’t complain. Dinner was a parillada or BBQ feast, but I wasn’t up for eating the kidneys.
2011/04/21: To Mercedes 115 km
We headed out early, and when Chris stopped for his first attempt at a bird photo, he realized he hadn’t charged the camera battery. Oops! A friendly couple at a coffee stop on Palmyra let us charge the camera. It was from señor that I learned a new saying: “Gato con guantes no cazo ratones.” (A cat that wears gloves cannot catch mice.) He was kindly admonishing Chris for his oversight, and an informative conversation about local bird life ensued.
Agricultural land alternated with extensive planted stands of eucalyptus as we moved north, and larger towns had fertilizer plants or grain mills and silos. Rows of gleaming tractors stood for sale, and we caught occasional glimpses of sailboats on the broad Rio Uruguay across fields to our left.
The ride to Mercedes seemed quite long after our down-time in Buenos Aires, but the road was smooth and the kilometres flew by. In Mercedes, we camped at a municipal campground on an island in the river, returning to the plaza to poach WiFi outside the pizzeria on the instructions of the campground staff.
2011/04/22: To Ancap Gas Station Camp 67 km
In the morning, one of the campground staff came to show us that there was an “orange warning” of a severe storm due to pass through at 11:00 a.m.. He talked of lightning and hail, so we packed up quickly in a strong gale, and went to our WiFi poaching zone again rather than head out into open land. The wind continued, but the sky looked clear enough that we headed out on the assumption that the weather man was wrong.
Part of our route was on dirt road, which is considerably harder on Chris’s arm than smooth pavement. Chris saw a really big fox — I think the neotropical versions are indeed larger than northern species. We stopped quite a bit to birdwatch; there are some avians here that look pretty exotic to our northern eyes, and the ubiquitous parrots always liven things up.
It got pretty hot and a stiff headwind picked up, and we took turns leading and drafting. We arrived at the Tres Bocas gas station sweatier and thirstier than we’d been for many weeks. After cold drinks in the convenience store, we were pleased to notice that there was a shower for truck drivers. We also saw a green space behind the station, so we asked meekly for permission to camp. Permission freely granted, we set up our abode behind a large flowering shrub, made joyful use of the shower and had a good nap. Later we had a second round of refreshments in the shop, and watched Mr. Bean with the gas station lads. We slept soundly despite the rain and lightning of the predicted storm finally passing through.
We rode uneventfully to Paysandú, stopping briefly to buy fig jam at a roadside stall. Paysandú was having a beer festival, and we’d heard accommodations were full, so we indulged in another chivito before crossing back into Argentina over the Rio Uruguay. Here in Colón we found accommodation at somewhat better than our usual standard, the excuse being that the warm swimming pool would be good for Chris’s arm! As we near the end of our quiet day here, our plan is to ride three more days across Entre Rios province to the city of Paraná, from where we see possibilities of canoe or kayak trips into the intricate wetlands than surround the Rio Paraná. This would be a good change of pace before braving a bus to Córdoba. Also, It would be a good way to have a closer look at the birds, and from what we’ve seen so far they’re well worth a closer look.
Note: We have uploaded a Uruguay photo set on Flickr.