I had difficulty finding reasonably priced accommodation at Melo on AirBnB. I travel, but still work. An internet connection is critical wherever I stay. No internet, no work. No work, no money. No money, no traveling.
After scouting AirBnB for a while, I came across Itaka farm run by Robert. The price was right. It was about 30km from town but I didn’t mind that too much since Robert offered to cook, and it looked just fantastic. And as it turned out, Robert is an amazing cook!
As hosts go, Robert was fantastic. He’s very well traveled, mostly to Spain and France, but he’s now settled in Uruguay. He built the entire farm himself, all styled based on his travels.
He has cows. His dogs are some of the happiest I’ve seen, and he has one sheep that grew up with his dogs and acts like one; always trying to sneak into the house, or jump up to play with visitors.
The farm is in a valley between two hills. The setting is gorgeous and if you’re looking to disconnect from the world, Itaka is the place to go.
Unfortunately I wasn’t looking to disconnect which is where I ran into a problem. The internet connection technically exists, but is so poor it’s effectively useless. And as luck would have it, I urgently needed to finish a piece of work on Monday morning, which is how I ended up sitting with a laptop by the side of the road with a motorbike and backpack, cows in front of me, horses behind, getting very strange looks from passers by. Still, everything was completed so no harm done, and it was an experience to remember.
I had heard that Rivera was one of the more lively Uruguayan towns, largely because it shares a border with Santana Do Livramento in Brazil. I headed there next.
The accommodation was surprisingly cheap. As it turned out, I was staying in Santana Do Livramento (SdL) in Brazil, not Uruguay. But that wasn’t a problem since Rivera and SdL effectively act as one town. There’s an imaginary line running through the city that separates the countries, but visitors are free to move between towns as they please, without the need for passports or border checks.
In the middle picture above, I’m standing with one foot in Brazil and the other in Uruguay.
The idea of two towns acting as one leads to some interesting consequences. You can buy a pie on the Brazilian side of the border really cheaply, then cross the road to the Uruguayan side and pay twice as much for the same thing.
What’s was glaringly obvious however, is the quality of life. Everything on the Uruguayan side of the border is well maintained, smart to look at, clean. Switch to the Brazilian side and it feels like entering a very run down neighbourhood. Things simply did not look as good. Everything was a bit of a mess. The streets were not as clean, the buildings were in various states of disrepair, and initially I suspected I made a very poor choice of accommodation since judging by looks alone, I thought I was in a very dangerous neighbourhood. But I was assured the area was safe and that’s just how things looked in SdL. That seemed to be the case since nobody looked fearful, it was common to see people walking around alone at night, all signs of relative safety.
It was an interesting experience, crossing countries on a whim, seeing the differences in language, culture, and living conditions, especially when many of these differences manifested in the space of two or three city blocks. Rivera and SdL are both very lively places by Uruguay standards. I understand why people like it so much. And yes it’s tacky, but I stood with my feet in different countries!