A Little Bit of Uruguay

As countries go, Uruguay is not a popular tourist destination. But it happens to top the Overlander list of places to get to at certain points in your trip.  This is because the country offers an automatic 12 month stay for foreign  vehicles. As well, there are plenty of long term vehicle storage places. This combination allows Overlanders to fly home for any reason, no explanations required,  while your vehicle stays safe.

From Buenos Aires, the drive out of Argentina was easy. The land was flat and at times marshy, scattered with tall grasses and shrubs. Cattle pastures mixed with small fields of corn and sunflower. The farm machinery that we did see was pretty basic.

Driving through flat landscape on our way to Uruguay.

Our first night was spent at a riverside campsite in Gualeguaychú, (pronounced Wally-guy-chew) still in Argentina. It was a popular spot with locals arriving to enjoy a lunch in the shade, sit on the beach, or do a bit of fishing. The señor who owned the camp sold groceries, beer, wine, home made salami, and frozen pizza. He would also change your American dollars. For us it was a convenient stop, and we had a quiet night.

Camping by the river in Gualeguaychú

The next day we had the border crossing into Uruguay. As usual, I was anxious, but surprisingly it turned out to be a drive-through. We pulled up to a kiosk labelled Migración and handed our passports through the window. They were stamped and returned in about 5 minutes. The next kiosk was the Aduana, for the vehicle paperwork. Vanna was kind of blocking the narrow lane, so Bob drove over to a parking lot, while I stood at the window. An older guy was manning the booth but he typed like a trooper. The only wait was for the computer to reboot. He took that Argentinian permit that we waited 19 days for, copied the info, and printed a new one for Uruguay. In about 10 minutes. While I stood there, a guy tried to run over me. But otherwise, it was a good experience.

We now had the permit for Vanna to be in Uruguay for a year. And they didn’t even do a search inside.

Lunch stop at a roadside parilla.

As we drove off elated, Bob reminded me that often there is a surprise stop down the road, shortly after the border. Indeed there was. We came upon a structure that looked like a road toll, with gated lanes, but driving through was not allowed. We were required to park. Reason unknown.

Ok. So now what. People were milling around in confusion. None of the signage explained what to do or why. Some people were unsuccessfully trying to get information from inside the building, others were struggling with a bank type machine.  A lineup had formed in front of a small trailer. We decided on the line.

Once inside the trailer, the woman charged our credit card for about $13 Cdn and handed over a windshield sticker. It turned out that we were purchasing a prepaid road toll sticker, which will be read automatically as we drive through any of the highway tolls. Additional payments can be made  online.  This makes sense. Just the lack of direction prior to this point was confusing. But it’s often the way.

Back in the van, Bob fussed over where to place the sticker. It came with a lot of directions written in Spanish. Put it 5 cm from the top, but if this is the case put it here but then if this, or this…. so confusing. I stopped reading.  Bob finally stuck it near the rear view mirror. As we drove through the lane, we held our breath. The gate opened. Yay,  we were through.

Driving along the highway in Uruguay

The main highway was in decent shape occasionally lined with palm trees. After the excessive heat of Buenos Aires, we really wanted a few days at the beach. Turning off the main highway, we took a narrow road to the tiny town of Santa Ana. What a gem. The sandy pristine beach was wide and stretched a long ways.

Beach at Santa Ana, Uruguay

The water is still actually the Rio del Plata but the river is so wide at this point that it looks like the Atlantic Ocean, with waves and tides.  In high season this small town spills over with beach lovers. But this is autumn. There were a few groups of people, some horseback riding or ATVing on the beach. Others were fishing.

Horseback rider on the beach at Santa Ana
Loved these trees, Santa Ana Uruguay

We settled into a barebones campsite, then took a stroll around town. We happened to meet George who was just opening up his restaurant for the evening. We were the only customers. George put on some music, then went to the kitchen and prepared us a complementary appetizer of cubed cheese and tomatoes, sprinkled with oregano. Then he sat down for a chat.

A Uruguayan, George appeared to be in his 80’s, having owned this hotel restaurant for over 20 years. He shared the history of the place and talked about his love of music. Sometimes he would stop mid story and comment on a particular beat or phrase in a song we were listening to. He only spoke Spanish and I wondered if he realized some pieces, with lyrics being in English, were actually Christmas songs. Which was a bit odd for March.

He offered to show us around, so we trooped after him to the pool with a water fall, to the plumbing room full of pumps and pipes, through the cluttered kitchen, over to the backyard fireplace and then took in the terrific view from the upstairs patio. He wants to retire and threw out a figure of about  a million, presumably US dollars. We did not enquire further because we are not in the market.

George showing us around his hotel and restaurant in Santa Ana

After Santa Ana we headed east to Colonia del Sacramento. A Uruguayan tourist town, it’s on a point of land just an hour ferry ride across the water from Buenos Aires. From the beach, if you look hard enough, you can faintly see the tips of tall buildings in BA.

Our hotel was along the water front, with a balcony offering a nice view of the various boats coming and going.

View from our hotel in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

We also could the wide paved walkway paralleling the beach. It was well used. Locals were out jogging, or walking during the day, and it turned into a kind of patio in the evening. People of all ages met up there, friends or family with lawn chairs, to chat and drink mate.

Uruguayans are obsessed with mate ( pronounced ma-tay).  To drink it, you need a special mug, a metal straw, and a thermos of hot water. Sometimes the mug is passed around. One chatty taxi driver, Jorge, told us that mate is the most important thing in his life. Mate first, then his wife. Really!

Bob and I followed the walkway to the town center, a distance of about 3 kilometres. A lot of high school students passed us, out on an afternoon jog for gym class.

We found the vibe in the town center to be really laid back. We hung out in the shade at the park, stopped for a pitcher of lemonade, talked to the street dogs, and then walked around the historical section.

The Street dogs of Colonia

The Barrio Historical, a UNESCO world heritage site, was built in the 1700’s by the Portuguese. It includes an old basilica, a lighthouse, and a stone city gate complete with a wooden drawbridge. The streets are the original cobblestone. Quite interesting and picturesque.

Canons, lighthouse and cobblestone streets of the Barrio Histórico in Colonia del Sacramento
Barrio Histórico in Colonia del Sacramento
Bob takes a photo for a couple at the stone gate.

With only a few days left in this trip, it was time to store Vanna. We had already arranged to leave our vehicle with Sandra who has a cattle and horse farm north of Colonia.

At Sandra’s farm, Julio poses on his horse, wearing the gaucho beret.

We found the place easily using Sandra’s directions. She was not home but her  mother-in-law greeted us enthusiastically. She really wanted to talk and I really could not understand a word of her Spanish. I felt bad because she seemed excited to see us.

While we were preparing Vanna for storage, mother-in-law brought out a home made felt beret and scarf for me to try on.  She and Bob could not stop laughing when I put them on. Ya, no. I didn’t buy.

Beret and scarf hand made by Sandra’s mother-in-law.

Next up is a ferry ride to Buenos Aires and a taxi to the airport. Homeward bound.

Colonia del Sacramento

Before this trip we had someone in Argentina inquiring about purchasing Vanna. It had been 3 years since we were last here, and we felt out of touch. Should we sell? We weren’t sure if we wanted to continue.

But now, even though we only had 5 weeks for this trip, we are so glad that we took the opportunity to return. It did not take us long to realize that we still enjoy this type of travel. Some days are difficult to be sure, but overall it’s a good life.

We plan to return. 

We are on the Road!

We finally got our paperwork completed, after waiting 19 days for our permit. This is an unusually long time, and was disheartening when we learned that one guy in another city received his permit in 45 minutes.

After email exchanges with Alex at EMBA produced no movement, we decided to pay him an unannounced visit. He was clearly unhappy to see us but he remembered our names. He was insulted that we questioned where our paperwork was and insisted he had sent it on to the Inspection office. (Aha, but our intel – aka Cristian – had found out otherwise). Alex speaks very little English and we don’t expect him to, but his two favourite lines to us were, “That’s not my problem” and “Goodbye”.  Especially rude when he said them together. It was an unpleasant visit.

However, whether it was the result of that visit or just happenstance, on the ride back to the campground, we received a WhatsApp message from Hector, the inspector. Early the next morning, Hector arrived at the campground. A pleasant young man, he took photos of Vanna, and checked that the plates and serial number matched the documents. That was it. We were thrilled to be done with the process. But wait, there’s more!

Hector informed us that we had to deliver the inspection documents to Alex at EMBA, and wait for the permit. You can’t be serious. Groan.

We caught a cab right away for our third visit to EMBA. Alex said nothing when we handed him the inspection documents at about 12:30. We waited an hour, then he returned to tell us that we would have to wait until 4 pm. Which is closing time. We went for lunch, while I worried that Alex would leave work early. But when we returned at 3:30 he was still there. He finally handed over the permit at 4:30. We had a mini celebration. Ok we were so tired from the day (the cab ride home took 90 minutes) that we just clinked glasses. But we were completely relieved to have that part of our journey completed.

There were benefits to the long stay. We became friends with the staff at Andean Roads. Marcus the chatty mechanic, Sebastian and Andres who are in charge, and Mabel who does laundry and cleaning. They are super people and commiserated with us daily on our bad luck with the Aduana.

Marcus and Bob
Me and Andres

Secondly, we saw more of Buenos Aires, having booked the Grand Brizo, in the neighbourhood of Puerto Madero for another weekend away from the campground.

Swimming pool on the roof top Grand Brizo hotel

Puerto Madero is near the port, where of course cruise ships arrive. It’s quite a touristy area with upscale shops and long walkways along the water. We crossed the Puente de la Mujer bridge, a beautiful pedestrian bridge which was architecturally designed to represent a tango dance.

Puente de la Mujer bridge
Locks left by engages couples who throw the key into the river to seal their love

We walked along the harbour, and people watched at patio restaurants. We visited the Plaza del Mayo in the city center, which is a focal point for political demonstrations. And we marvelled at the massive Casa Rosada, the Pink House, which is the office of the president of Argentina.

Casa Rosada, office of the Argentinian President
Discontented encampment at the Plaza del Mayo.

We enjoyed watching a couple performing street tango one evening

Tango on the street
Steak dinner at the courtyard restaurant

and then chose a courtyard restaurant for our evening meal. Even though it seemed secluded from the street our Uruguayan waiter told me to put my phone away. Cell phone theft is rampant.

Friendly Uruguayan waiter
Our friendly Uruguayan waiter

He also cleared up a confusion we had; chorizo on the menu is a cut of beef, a steak, not the spicy sausage we thought it was. So we ordered chorizo beef along with salad and fries.

We stopped in to see the most beautiful bookstore in the world, Ateneo Grand Splendid. It is absolutely gorgeous inside.

Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore

The building was once a grand theatre and the books are arranged around the circular walls on two floors. From the mezzanine you can look down through railing over the first floor, books piled everywhere. It’s very colourful and truly grand. Apparently Argentinian writers are prolific and it is interesting to note that Buenos Aires has the highest number of bookstores per person in the world. So it is fitting that the most splendid bookstore is located here.

Lots of live shows to catch
Many live shows to choose from

Buenos Aires is a lively city with an amazing variety of things to see and do. Museums, art galleries, tango nights, beautiful parks, live shows, and historical sights. We barely scratched the surface. We will definitely return.

Before we left home this time, we were not sure what we could accomplish here. First of all we wanted to arrive alive- check. Get Vanna running- check. And renew the permit to drive- check.

Good bye Buenos Aires!

Time on our Hands

I wish we could say that we are moving. But we are not.

After we made the application, the vehicle inspection should take place within 10 days. We are at day 14. Yesterday I emailed asking for an explanation. The interpreted response was “we have your application and we are at your disposal”.

According to Cristian this means they are working on it. At least they haven’t lost our application. On second thought maybe they have.

Not being able to drive anywhere reminds us of the pandemic. We feel stuck. The difference is there are no restrictions on our movements, just on Vanna.

A motorcycle delivery and a horse and wagon delivery. Horses common in the burbs.

There are some nice restaurants within walking distance. Two nights we walked to a parilla, a lively out door restaurant full of local couples and families. Continue reading “Time on our Hands”

A Short Stay in Buenos Aires

Processes move slowly in Argentina so having time on our hands we decided to book a hotel in Recoleta, one of the more popular neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires. The hotel had the modern amenities of wifi and TV, with the older charm of dark wood, tiny slow elevators, and skeleton keys locks on the closet doors.

The hotel lobby was full of suitcases, backpacks, water bottles and chatter. Bob soon got talking to Jeff, a teacher from California, here with a group of about 30 students from a private Jewish high school.  We learned that Buenos Aires has the largest Jewish population in Latin America, Jews having arrived over several different waves including while fleeing the Nazis during the war.  Interestingly, many Argentinians were sympathetic to the Nazis, and allowed Nazi leaders to gain refuge here as well.

We found Recoleta to be quite walkable and we spent mornings taking in the parks and tourist attractions. This area was once home to the wealthy, and their mansions have been turned into theatres, galleries and apartments. The Parisian style buildings are close to the narrow streets, but even so the greenery is abundant with trees lining the sidewalks. We passed many spacious parks with huge trees dominating the space.

Narrow streets of Recoleta, BA
Trees line a typical street in Recoleta, BA
One of the many huge trees in parks in BA

Continue reading “A Short Stay in Buenos Aires”

We are back!

We are back!

On Tuesday night we arrived in Buenas Aires. It has been 3 years since we left here, making our way home at the start of the pandemic in 2020.

It was a 24 hour journey. Our flights were  Calgary – Vancouver- Mexico City – Buenas Aires. The first flight left late due to de icing, leaving us to run through the Vancouver airport to get our gate on time. We left Vancouver late also and arrived in Mexico City with only 2 hours to our next flight. To our dismay we disembarked on the tarmac and had to board a bus and wait for it to fill, before driving slowly to the terminal. We anxiously looked at our watches.

Running through Vancouver airport was not too difficult. Running through the ginormous Mexico City airport on fat aging legs was torture. Checkpoint after checkpoint and then a stop for new boarding passes, then the baggage check, the body check with arms up, arms down, turn around and you get spit out. Still 40 more gates to go. Fortunately that flight was delayed by an hour and we arrived in time to board. Unfortunately, I happened to check my phone and discovered that our expected pick up in Buenas Aires had been cancelled. Cristian who has taken care of Vanna all of this time, said he could not find a driver and it would be a dangerous drive that late at night.

So it was alarming that we were now set to arrive in Buenos Aires near midnight, with no one picking us up and no hotel booked. Bob had to run to the bathroom. So as the boarding line moved forward, I held my phone and credit card in one hand, typed with the other and shuffle kicked my suitcase forward, frantically searching for a hotel near the airport. The reservation whirled around and around, then went through just before we boarded. Thank you booking.com! Continue reading “We are back!”

Crossing two Continents During the Pandemic

It’s almost 9000 kilometres from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Toronto, Canada. As the crow flies.

Although that is quite a distance, in normal times it’s not difficult to arrange flights. Just use a reliable online booking agent like Expedia, and the logistics are figured out for you. 

But getting home during the pandemic proved to be no simple matter.

These chatty green parakeets brightened our days, at Hostel Nagual, Tristan Suarez, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Continue reading “Crossing two Continents During the Pandemic”

Third Time’s a Charm – Getting home during the pandemic

For the third time now, we have tickets to home.

On a flight to Miami via Eastern Air scheduled for April 18. 

It is not a repatriation flight which means we are not prohibited from boarding, but when we land we may have to show proof that we have onward tickets to Canada. No problem, because we also have American Airlines tickets from Miami to Toronto, scheduled for the next morning. Don’t know for sure, but we assume we have to overnight in the airport. We will see when we get there.

Continue reading “Third Time’s a Charm – Getting home during the pandemic”

Argentina- in viral times

Driving south on Route 40, Argentina

We arrived in Argentina with a plan. First stop to see the wonders at Glacier National Park. Then a pit stop at Ushuaia, on the tip of South America. Then head for home, dropping off the van in Uruguay where we have a storage spot lined up. Finally, a short hop to Buenos Aires and fly home. A manageable schedule in the 5 weeks remaining.

Hiking in Glacier National Park, Argentina

But then, the world turned sideways. Continue reading “Argentina- in viral times”