Tacuarembo and Salto, Uruguay

Tacuarembo

Honestly, I had no real interest in the town. I wanted to get to Salto but I also didn’t want to spend ages riding from Rivera. Stopping along the way was preferable, and Tacuarembo was convenient. Well, that was one reason. The other is I got to know a pair of (secret) porn stars here in South America, and Tacuarembo was their home town. Curiosity got the better of me. I had to see it.

Tacuarembo is not a pretty town. Or a lively town. Or an exciting town. Well, I suppose parts of it are pretty, like the fountains above, but nothing outstanding or spectacular.

But then I heard about Balneareo Ipora. It’s maybe 8km away and you will know when you arrive. You don’t need a sign. Because it is absolutely beautiful. There’s a massive lake in the middle of the woods with a track around the edge for cars. Follow the track and you eventually get to a hill that overlooks everything and it is a truly gorgeous sight. I found it hard to imagine that earlier in the day I was in a dreary looking town and suddenly I’m in such a stunning location. And there was a dirt bike track just over the hill so I spent some time that afternoon enjoying bikes and bikers, not that I could use my monstrously heavy bike on a dirt bike track but still, it felt good being in a familiar environment.

I still know nothing more about the porn stars though.

Salto

Salto was a bit of an oddity for me. It came very highly recommended by others in Uruguay so I expected it to be akin to Rivera. But it was … different. It’s made up of this odd mix of old an new. There’s a portion of the town that’s really nice, around the main plaza. Then there’s the view of Rio Uruguay that serves as the border with Argentina and riding or walking along the river is very scenic at spots. Centro is pretty upbeat too. But those areas aside, it felt as though Salto was mostly forgotten. All the residential areas seemed worse for wear, and what should have been stunning parks were strewn with litter.

It felt like living in two different cities. Take a walk outside my apartment and I was in the nicer part of a ramshackle little town. But walk 10 blocks and suddenly I was in a very active CBD with a touristy river looking all pretty just down the road. But head two streets back into a residential area and it’s the ramshackle little town again.

I did go for a ride to the outskirts of the town. There was a poorly maintained dirt road not too far away and I followed it to the river where I met up with some fisherman who wanted to talk bike. Argentina was right across the river and though Uruguay had been good to me, I wanted to leave. It was time. I’d had enough of the small, flat, farming country and needed to see bigger, better sights.

I needed to head out of the country via Fray Bentos. Mercedes was a town not too far away, so that would be my final stop in Uruguay.

Melo and Rivera

Melo

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.

Rivera

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!

Punta Del Este and Punta Del Diablo, Uruguay

The plan is to travel around South America. Montevideo, Uruguay, was my first stop, primarily so my bike (later named Rodriguez), would have a safe landing. Uruguay has a reputation for low corruption and safety. But those details are covered here.

Punta Del Este

Punta Del Este was next on the list. I spent two weeks there in the off season. It felt like living in a ghost town. Most shops were closed, some even boarded up. Traffic lights on the main road were turned off. I stayed about two blocks from the harbour that was filled with luxury yachts, almost none of which were used. Empty luxury hotels towered over the empty empty beachfront. Yet the locals insist the town is a thriving hub of activity from November to around March. I’ll take their word for it.

The town is superbly maintained. It has all the trappings that attract tourists. Fine dining, entertainment, shopping, are found everywhere. The beach spans the length of the town and though empty when I visited, I imagine it is immensely popular in warmer weather.

Winter, unfortunately is not the ideal time of year for a town like Punta Del Este. The combination of the cold, rain, and heavy winds make for a miserable off-season climate.

Maldonado is one town over, about a 15 minute drive. It is neither as stylish or luxurious as Punta Del Este, and is where the workers of Punta Del Este live. I took a ride through the town and despite it being not as fancy, it felt less fake. It felt like a town where people lived, not just a town people visited.

Punta Del Diablo

I headed to Punta Del Diablo for three nights. The town is small and quaint, and almost every house is unique, which gave it an authentic feel.

The town is pretty small, with the beach close by. Much like Punta Del Este, the town is very quiet in the off season, but is apparently a hive of activity otherwise. The town is perfect for relaxing and taking a break from regular life. I rented a mini house that made very clever use of space, including using a ladder that doubles as a staircase to access the bedroom upstairs.

The nearest fuel stop is 15km from the town and Chuy, to the east, borders Brazil. It’s very convenient for a bit of cheap and/or duty free shopping. About 8km from the town is Laguna Negra, a stunning and huge lake. You either need your own vehicle to get to it, or you’re in for a very long walk, but spending an afternoon there is highly recommended.

After 3 nights in Punta Del Diablo I was off to a Melo, but that’s for the next post …