As tempting as it was to keep looking at photos of tiny homes, I promised Ike that I would write our Uruguay blog post while he was back in the States for his grandpa’s memorial. But he’s coming back in a few hours and I haven’t started yet. Eeek! Have I become a procrastinator during this trip? I sure hope not. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t finish before he returned.)
We boarded the Buquebus ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia, Uruguay, with Sweetcakes in tow. The ride was uneventful, and after just over an hour we were arriving in a new country! When we returned to our car to disembark from the ferry, we decided to whip up some quick sandwiches for lunch in case customs would confiscate our fresh food items. Suffice it to say we’ve become a bit lazy/lax in researching our border crossings by this point. We pulled off the ferry and followed the other cars a couple hundred meters, then waited at the back of the line for the customs inspection. Quick! Grab the grapefruit! We popped it in our mouths, with juice all over our hands when the customs officers came over for our vehicle inspection. Victory! (??) They did end up taking a few very obviously placed produce items, but didn’t do a thorough search of our vehicle, so our losses were minimal.
The custom officials then told us that, unlike the Argentinians, we had to go “over there” and get a temporary import permit. We drove in the general direction that he waved, parked the car, and set out on foot, a look of confusion on our faces. Eventually we found our way to the customs office. We pulled out all our paperwork and handed it to the nice lady who was helping us. The first question she asked was, “Can I see your proof of insurance?” My heart sank. We had tried to purchase last minute insurance for Uruguay during our one day stay in BA, but were unsuccessful. Reports from other travelers said they had never been asked to show it while in Uruguay (not at the border, not at any police stops). We had decided to roll the dice, and now it was the very first question she asked us? Whomp whomp.
Luckily we had a sneaky plan B. Our other insurance policy covers a handful of countries in South America, but Uruguay is not on the list. I handed this policy to the woman and she spent a few minutes scanning through it. Eventually she pointed out that it did not cover Uruguay. “Oh, really? I thought it covered all of the Mercosur countries…” She probably didn’t believe my ruse anyway, but I think I deserve an A+ for effort. I’m no good at fibbing. Instead of making us board the next boat back to Argentina (as I feared), she informed us there was an insurance office 3 blocks from the port. She gave us very vague directions and we set out on port, Sweetcakes locked in the port. After heading off in the wrong direction and asking to buy a policy from an office that offers personal security services (oops), we found our way to the right insurance office.
With all of the paperwork to take care of, it was time to pay for the policy. They didn’t accept Argentinian pesos (I don’t blame them), and since we were fresh off the boat we didn’t have any Uruguayan pesos. We set out to find an ATM, but it was unable to process our transaction. Say what!? We were certain we had enough funds in our account to pull out a couple hundred dollars worth. We found another ATM, but it was out of service, of course. We asked the security guard at the bank where we could find another ATM. He referred us back to the first one we had tried. We ended up going to a money exchange house and exchanging Argentinian for Uruguayan pesos at a brutal rate. I wondered what was wrong with our bank card and already had visions of us having to eat our “emergency” meal that night (pasta, canned tuna, canned peas, and sauce). Ugh…
Back at the port we walk up to the security guard and explain our situation, and that we need to re-enter the arrivals area so we can speak with the customs. He tells us to have a seat and wait. We noticed another ATM in the ferry terminal and this time we were successful in pulling cash. If only we had noticed that ATM an hour ago… We waited twenty or so minutes, then a customs official comes through the doors, looks around, then sees us and asks if we are the ones needing the import permit. Yup, that’s us. She tells us to wait just a few minutes for her to help a few other customers with their Duty Free purchases. Eventually we walk into the room. She doesn’t ask to see our insurance. (Obviously) She then proceeds to ask us where we are from. “Estados Unidos,” we reply. “Ahhh, ooooo-sa!” (They pronounce “USA” like it’s all one word instead of saying each of the letters individually.) She spends a few minutes looking confusedly at her computer screen, then admits to us, “I see Sweeden on here, but I don’t see ooooo-sa.” “Maybe try looking under EEUU,” I suggest. She gives me a puzzled look. “It’s the abbreviation for Estados Unidos.” “Ahhhhhhhh…..” she responds and I think I literally saw a light bulb turn on inside her head. How can this woman be a customs official? A few minutes later we had our paperwork in hand and headed back to Sweetcakes. We hopped in the car and drove right out of the port, no one stopping to look at any of our documents. Welcome to tranquilo Uruguay!
“This is the beach where Eric, Ariel, and I went skinny dipping!” -Bethany
Growing, buying, and selling Cannabis is legal in Uruguay. You can tell, because all the graffiti is like this: “Don’t forget to smile! :)” or “Life is short, be happy.”
We drove down the road to a nearby grassy area along the water where other overlanders have wild camped previously. It was a gorgeous spot right on the water and tucked behind a little hill so we even had a bit of privacy. Probably the best “urban” camping we’ve had the whole trip. I made Ike walk over town with me, reminiscing about my short trip to Uruguay during my BA study back in college. He’s such a dear to put up with me.
Fall colors, no fall temperatures. YAY
Bethany’s weakness from this trip: photographing street art.
The next morning we set out on Uruguay’s very nice highway, passing through what could easily be mistaken for the American Midwest: gently rolling hills and agriculture all around! We drove through the capital city of Montevideo and headed for another urban wild camp. This one was on a small peninsula on the far side of the city, near one of the light houses. The spot looked good enough for us, so we pulled in, locked up, and set out to walk to the historic part of the city to get ourselves a big parrilla for lunch. It was something like a 4 mile walk, but it was a beautiful day and there was a nice pedestrian sidewalk that hugged the coast the whole way there. When we were most of the way there we both looked at each other and agreed we would catch a taxi back to our campsite after lunch. (Did I mention that Ike is a dear for putting up with my whims?)
We were headed to the Mercado del Puerto (Port Market), where the whole area is packed with parrillas serving enormous quantities of grilled meats to hungry patrons. We eventually chose a restaurant and settled in for the mountain of meat. It was decent, but honestly nothing to get excited about. We’ve had better in Argentina!
Sure, we’ve had better, but this was still pretty darn good.
Better than my grill.
Our taxi dropped us back at our campsite. By now it was early evening and the fishermen and others hanging out near the lighthouse were starting to pack up and head home. We moved Sweetcakes closer to the water and settled in for the evening. It didn’t take us long to realize we might have many visitors that night. Looking down at the ground, it was covered in, ahem, condoms. Yes, it was disgusting. Needless to say, we slept in our car that night. We poured ourselves a drink and enjoyed the sunset behind the city skyline, doing our best to forget what was staring up at us from the ground. We’ve said it before: the overlanding life is super classy!
Not pictured: dozens of condoms
Sunsets don’t mess around in Uruguay
We weren’t feeling the city thing, so we headed further along the coast the next morning. Since it is now fall down here, this is the off season for Uruguay, meaning there are absolutely no crowds, but also that many of the official campgrounds are already closed. We were in the mood for a shower, and eventually found one that was open. Queso, the campground cat, welcomed us to our spot and was basically our BFF the entire time we were there. The weather turned windy and cold, and we started to sour on the idea of beach camping for a couple of weeks as we had initially intended. I found us an apartment on airbnb in nearby Punta del Este and we headed there the next morning, looking forward to a week of relaxing in style!
Our new best friend we nicknamed ‘Queso’
The apartment was nice and had a beautiful view overlooking the harbor. The downside was that it came with a quirky owner, Claudia. We had rented one of the rooms in the 2-bedroom apartment. After we arrived and checked in, Claudia informed us that she would be arriving that evening to stay in the other bedroom. A bit creepy, but ok. Soon after we heard a very loud banging noise. And I mean LOUD! It turned out that the unit right next to ours was being completely remodeled. Bang bang BANG mixed with errrrrrrrRRRRRR (serious drilling noises), soon had me about to lose my mind. We went out for a quick walk and to buy some groceries, hoping the noise wouldn’t be so bad when we returned. But it was. The next morning we emailed Claudia, explaining that if the noise continued we wouldn’t be able to stay the entire week. She didn’t respond. We went on with our day, trying to make the most of it since this was a mini vacation for us. Later that evening we had just poured ourselves a glass of wine and a batch of oatmeal cookies were in the oven when we heard a knock on the door. Surprise! It’s Claudia. By that time we had just assumed she wasn’t coming to stay anymore, so it was a bit awkward to say the least.
We had just moved the TV out of the second bedroom and into the living room (per her suggestion), and Ike was excited to be able to watch one of the NBA playoff games. Five minutes after she arrived, Claudia asks us if we intended to watch TV that evening. Ike said yes, he was going to watch a basketball game that started in 10 minutes. “Well, I was hoping to watch a movie on the TV in my bedroom, but I guess if you want the TV, you can have it…” she pouted. “It’s just that I usually live in a cabin in the woods without electricity, so when I stay here it’s like vacation and I like to watch TV.” Tough luck, lady. We live out of our car, oh, and BTW, we are PAYING YOU! Of course we didn’t say that, but man was it hard to bite my tongue. A few minutes later Claudia left, and when she returned she had a clunky old TV in a shopping cart. “Oh, I remembered I had another TV in my car.” WTF? In response to our complaint about the construction, she instead offered to let us go out to her cabin on the ecological reserve where she spends most of the year. For the same price. “You have to pump your own water and there’s no electricity, but it’s very peaceful!” This was my response.It ended up becoming a running joke with Bethany and I because Claudia kept bringing up the place and asking us if we wanted to stay out there.
Luckily Claudia only stayed in the apartment for 2 nights and she was out most of the daytime. But when she was around she wanted to talk our ears off! I understand, she’s lonely, but we rented this place to relax! She told us about how her mother died and her brother and sister were both murdered. (!!!???) [“My brother was murdered in Brasil, and then a man came to me and said, ‘Pay me $1000 to kill the man who killed your brother.’ But I didn’t like my brother!” Lord, have mercy.] As she was getting ready to leave, I asked her about the process of us paying for the electricity before we left. (Unlike most properties on airbnb, Claudia’s description mentioned that the renters had to pay additional for the electricity and telephone use during their stay. I figured that wouldn’t be a big deal since we didn’t use much electricity.) “Well, it’s usually around $100-150,” she informed us. “For a week!?” “Yes, well, it’s $25 for a bottle of gas, no matter how much you use. And then it’s $4/day for the cable, and then about $50-$100 in electricity.” WHAT???? First of all, we know how much propane we use and how much it costs. We had just filled our 20lb tank for $13 (half of what she was quoting us), and that has lasted us since northern Peru! We have only filled our tank twice since leaving the US. Secondly, when we weren’t heating or cooling our apartment in the states, our monthly electric bill was around $30. So her charging $50+ for a week of electricity was absurd. Again, I bit my tongue. After giving this some thought, I think there is a good chance she is scamming people and charging tenants for the total electric usage since the previous tenants, however long that period might be.
Me being me, of course I let this stupid utilities charge (=scam) get under my skin, but we still enjoyed our time in the city. We went for walks along the coast, bought fresh fish from fishermen, and soaked up the sunshine (and internet). My favorite part was watching the sea lions and seagulls fighting for fish scraps in the harbor as the fishermen cleaned their catch.
View from the full wall window
Can’t imagine this place during high season
What was I just saying about those Uruguayan sunsets?
Then we found out the place is only open on the weekend during low season. Which made us sad. But then we saw that they sell off the extra gelato really cheap the last hour they’re open on Sunday night. So we bought a kilo (2 pounds). And ate it all in 24 hours. So then we felt happy.
Lime on Sushi was new and amazing.
Uruguay’s national dish: Chivito! “Someone….someone is better than me at making burgers.” – Ike
They knew where the free food came from.
Extreme seagull surfing on a sea lion
Trying to keep up our tradition of visiting a mechanic in (nearly) every country, we took Sweetcakes in to a mechanic to have the rear wheels checked out (one had overheated when we were fleeing from the volcano and we noticed something was leaking fluid). Of course we became BFFs with Horacio and he was super interested in our trip (and Sweetcakes). Turned out that one of the repairs we had done in Belize was done incorrectly, using a piece that was too narrow, and as a result something broke and we lost all of the fluid in the rear diff. Oops. He fixed it right up and also taught us how to replace the brake pads. As a bonus he sent us to the parts store to pick up the new pads and this place was plastered with awesome hand written cardboard signs and political cartoons. Horacio jokingly asked us to stick around and help him out in his shop. “So, we start at 8am tomorrow!” :)
Conjugation of the verb, “to vote”:
We f*** ourselves
You [guys] get rich
They go on strike
Dear client: If you need the doo-hickey for the thingy, please bring us the thingy where the doo-hickey goes. :-)
That’s what 35,000 miles of overlanding will do to your brakes…
Bethany and my new boss, Horacio.
After our week long vacation (Note I’m not saying “vacation from our vacation” because our trip really isn’t a vacation. It’s an adventure. And it takes a lot of work!), we continued further along Uruguay’s coast. We took the scenic route, hugging the coast while the main highway headed inland a bit. We had some beautiful views and even got to take a tiny ferry. We stopped in a tiny fishing/tourist village called Punta del Diablo, a mere 30 miles from the border with Brazil! We pulled into a small parking area right near the beach where we had intended to camp that night, but there really was no privacy. Instead we spent a couple of hours meandering around town and watching the giant waves break along the rocky coast. Once the sun became low in the sky we headed towards our plan B campsite at nearby Laguna Negra.
Along the way, we found this abandoned church.
They started construction in the early 20th century but gave up after twenty-ish years in the 1930’s.
We’re just happy humanity defeated the giants.
Still looks seaworthy to me cap’n
Sweetcakes looking rugged
I loved this graffiti covered building in Punta del Diablo
little more relaxed than Punta del Este
Meandering back along a dirt road with the lake on one side and pastures of cows on the other side, we wondered what we were getting ourselves into. When we reached the end of the road, we saw another truck driving out of the trees. They saw our Wisconsin plates and one of them exclaimed that he was from Michigan’s upper peninsula. A Yupper! “The campsites are better further in,” they explained. “If you guys are sticking around tomorrow night, we’re going to come back for some night fishing!” Excited at the possibility for social interaction (hey, after spending a year with just yourself and your spouse, you take what you can get), we both nodded in agreement that we would stick around for a second night.
We parked Sweetcakes and walked along the path further into the trees and down toward the lake. It was a little gnarly in places, with large boulders sticking out of the ground and some narrow parts of the path, but we knew Sweetcakes could do it.
And she could, but it was fun!
tight fit :)
We had a perfect spot overlooking the lake. That night we watched a beautiful sunset and decided to sleep without the tent’s rain guard for the first time in months. Ahh, the little things. We enjoyed this place so much that we ended up staying for 4 nights. We went for dips in the shallow lake, watched the resident flock of parakeets, and read in the hammock. It’s amazing what good weather will do for your morale when you are on an extended camping trip.
This is opening of Lion King good.
At the barbershop
we said the lake was shallow!
not a bad view to wake up to
On our second to last morning camped near the lake, I was woken up early by what sounded like a remote controlled toy car encircling our tent. We’d had to put the tent’s rain guard on the previous evening because it had started to drizzle, so I wasn’t able see what was causing this strange noise. “Ike, Ike! What is that sound?” I nervously asked as I poked him awake. “It sounds like flies…” He got out of the tent to go to the bathroom and in the pre-dawn haze we could just barely make out a swarm of flies hovering about 15 feet off the ground, just beneath the tree branches. They were like an army staged for battle, ready to charge. Eeeep! After about 15 minutes they all flew away. Maybe they were hovering just beneath the trees while waiting for the temperature to warm up a bit. Somehow Ike managed to go back to sleep, but I just couldn’t for fear of having nightmares of being swarmed by flies.
After waking up and making some coffee, I saw the group who said they were coming back for fishing was hanging out down near another campsite. Walking down the rocks, I introduced myself. Nathan [the Yupper] and Melissa [from Portland, OR] are a chef and baker who are immigrating to Uruguay from the states. They took off for their new home without learning Spanish, because “It’s easier to just immerse yourself in it to learn.” [Amen!] And I thought we were brave for doing our trip! They were hanging out with their friends Claudio and Leticia, all four of them now living in Punta del Diablo. I admired the huge fish they had hanging from a line, impressed that there actually was real fish to nab in the lake.
At one point, they asked us about other places in Uruguay we hoped to visit. They started telling us about a trip they’d taken to a protected park. They ended up finding this creepy abandoned house that was becoming overgrown with moss. The uncle of theirs they were traveling with lit a fire on the front porch but it was so moist and overgrown they weren’t worried. Exploring around inside they saw Disney VHS tapes, photos of some weird Swami who was Christian/Buddhist and wore a rhinestone belt. There was officially licensed Swami incense in the house, but the place was abandoned and the group began speculating and making up a story in their minds about the person who lived here and ended up running off to join a cult. We spent several minutes reveling in the insanity of this place they’d seen. The uncle even asked around and the people were like, ‘oh yeah, crazy lady lived there.’ “What was the name of that place again?” I asked as Bethany came back up after stepping away. “La Laguna ecological reserve.” Claudio replied. Bethany’s eyes widened. “That’s where Claudia said her other residence was.” Now Claudio and Leticia’s eyes shot open. “CLAUDIA! That’s the name of the lady!” “That’s the crazy lady we were staying with!!” AHHHHH! Basically we realized we were lucky we didn’t end up as fish food in a lake.
Finally our blissful time along Laguna Negra had to come to an end. We woke up early and drove all the way back to Colonia, taking a more inland route and passing tons more agriculture. Someday I hope we can return to Uruguay and explore more of the country.
I bore the burden of taking Sweetcakes through customs and loading her onto the boat, since Ike had done it leaving Argentina. We pulled into the port area and were told to park the car in the parking lot since we didn’t have our boarding passes yet. We went inside, checked in, waited in line and were stamped out of the country by immigration, and were told to wait in the boarding lounge until they announced that drivers should go to their cars. Our departure time was approaching and they hadn’t made the “drivers to their cars” announcement, so I approached an employee and asked about it. They told me to go through the boarding doors and I could walk outside to my car. Great! I went downstairs and out into the port area and a few seconds later a lady started screaming at me. “What do you think you’re doing?” “I’m… going to get my car?” “Your car is over there.” (She pointed to a group of cars) “No, my car is out front in the parking lot.” She told me I’d have to go back upstairs, backwards through immigration, and get my car.
So that’s what I did, and I pulled Sweetcakes around to the security gate to let me pass into the port area (where they other group of cars were). The woman working the gate asked to see a document, so I showed her the car’s boarding pass. “No, you have to keep that.” I showed her my own boarding pass. “Nope, not that either.” Finally I thought to show her the vehicle import permit we received when we first entered the country. “Ok, great,” she responded without even looking at it. “Pull your car next to the others, then you need to go wait inside the building.” I was confused. “But, aren’t we going to board the cars soon?” “Yes…” “So, shouldn’t I stay out here so I can drive the car onto the ferry?” “Sure, if you want.” I don’t know what other option she was implying, so I stayed with Sweetcakes. Five minutes later she told me I had to go inside the building and go through immigration. I told her I had already done that. “No, what you did was the check-in.” “No, I did the immigration,” I said as I showed her my stamped passport. “But, how did you already do that?” “Well, we parked out front, we went inside to check-in, proceeded through immigration, then I went upstairs to the boarding lounge. Then, they told me to come downstairs and outside to get to my car, but then some lady yelled at me and said I had to go back inside and then out to get my car from the front, and then I drove through the gate, and now I’m here.” “Uh-huh,” she nodded, a bit confused. But she let me stay with my car: win! Good thing I was the one going through all of this because if Ike had tried to stumble through with broken Spanish, we might still be in Uruguay! :)
It’s been awhile since we’ve reported our expenses, so here you get a double feature!
Uruguay budget recap:
Phew, we blew our budget in Uruguay! We were surprised how expensive it was; many times prices were near those in Chile (see expense report below; most expensive country since Canada?). We also opted to rent an apartment for a week, which cost a pretty penny, and our original budget did not include the cost of the ferry tickets from BA to Uruguay.
Expected days in country: 14 Actual days spent in country: 16
Daily budget: $53 Actual expenses: $83 (excluding car repairs) Difference: +$20 (+58%)
Average price for gas: $5.92/gallon (40.6 pesos/liter)
Good thing Uruguay is a tiny country.
Expected miles driven: 400 Actual miles driven: 812 Difference: +103%
Our original plan was to drive along the coast and continue in to Brazil. But plans change, and so we drove along the coast and then had to back track all the way to get back to Argentina.
Average miles driven per day: 51
A big relief after many long driving days in Chile and Argentina.
Biggest daily expenses ($/day):
#1 – Lodging ($27.25/day): We spent 8 nights in a cushy apartment. Thankfully we offset this by only paying to camp one night, and wild camping the rest of the time.
#2 – Food ($26.50/day): Groceries were expensive! And we opted to eat out a few times; pricey but worth it.
#3 – Gas ($11.54/day): They gotta pay for their free healthcare and higher education some way…
Chile budget recap:
I’m shocked that we managed to stay under budget in one of the most expensive countries of our trip! We wild camped a lot in Chile and this kept our lodging costs extremely low (averaged $9/day). Gas was cheaper than anticipated, which helped offset the additional miles we traveled and the exorbitant tolls.
Expected days in country: 30 Actual days spent in country: 30 How’s that for accuracy?
Daily budget: $76 Actual expenses: $66 (excluding car repairs) Difference: –$10 (-13%)
Average price for gas: $4.43/gallon (720 pesos/liter)
We budgeted $6/gallon for gas in Chile, so this was a pleasant surprise and helped us keep our expenditures below budget.
Expected miles driven: 2,100 Actual miles driven: 2,740 Difference: +30%
Average gas mileage: 20.4 mpg
This has been fairly steady throughout our trip.
Average miles driven per day: 91
Higher than we prefer, but not outrageous.
Biggest daily expenses ($/day):
#1 – Gas ($19.88/day): Even though gas was cheaper than we budgeted, we drove a lot!
#2 – Food ($18.77/day): I’m shocked we kept it this low. Groceries were expensive, but we did a good job of buying cheaper, non-perishable groceries in Argentina and bringing them across the border with us.
#3 – Tolls & Ferries ($10.85/day): Chile’s main highway runs the entire length of the country, but you have to pay for convenience, folks. Tolls were frequent, and at ~$6 each, they added up quickly. We also took several ferries while on the Carretera Austral and to get to Chiloe.