Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Montevideo

From Arapey to Montevideo was a 370 mile drive which took us 2 days with an overnight stop in Trinidad. Luck was with us. We decided to park at the Esso gas station overnight instead of a campsite. The next morning there was another RV parked next to us. The couple was from San Jose about 2 hours from Montevideo. They had seen our license plate and knew we were from San Jose, California. Also, they had replaced some of their windows with Plexiglas and gave us the name and cross streets for the people who did the work in Montevideo. Funny how things seem to work out. Entering the city from the west, the first thing we saw was “the hill”. Montevideo is said to be a version of a sailor’s cry “Monte vi eu!” (I saw a hill). The 139 meter (456 ft) cerro is topped with a fort and lighthouse and is one of the sight-seeing places on our list. But first, Plexiglas. We pulled into a gas station for directions and with some help from the attendants; a friend of theirs got into his car and said to follow him. It was actually a house which the owner had remodeled a part of, into his workshop. We told him what we wanted and were told “no problem”. He could do it immediately for $130.00. What a deal. Whilst he and a friend did the work with Tom overseeing, I chatted with his wife and children. They bought us iced sparkling water and offered cookies whilst we waited. Within 2 hours we were finished and on our way. The Plexiglas window looks great and Tom is happy. We made our way to the river (Rio de la Plata) and the coast road called La Rambla which follows the bay. Uruguay has a population of only 3.4 million people of which almost 2 million live in the capital city. The streets many which are still cobbled, are jammed with cars, buses, scooters, cyclists and pedestrians. La Rambla itself is a wide, paved boulevard and the bay has beautiful curved beaches. We drive the length of it, looking for possible places to stay, admiring the gorgeous white sand and marveling at the number of people enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. We pull into a park but are quickly told that it is not a good place to spend the night – no security. Out on the point there is a lighthouse and since there is a naval facility and port authority offices there, with security, which would be a better place. It was. We found a parking spot right on the point, not too far from the lighthouse. It provided fabulous views of the city and bay. Tom got out our gas grill and, as I walked Winston he prepared the steaks we had picked up earlier. Facing due west, we were treated to a beautiful sunset as we ate our Uruguayan steaks and drank Uruguayan red wine. Later, to our delight and Winston’s dismay and panic, there was a brilliant fireworks display. We are not sure of the occasion but it definitely was a great way to spend our first evening in the capital. Quite patriotic. We spent the next day visiting the Cerro with its fort dedicated to General Jose Artigas, who in 1815 led Uruguay towards independence (true independence from both the Spanish and Portuguese did not happen until 1829) and was the first leader of the nation of Uruguay. We followed the cobbled streets through parts of old town past the imposing stone buildings of the Banco de la Republica, La Bolsa (the Stock Exchange) and Aduana (Customs House). We also drove around Parque Rodo, named after Jose Enrique Rodo, one of the most prominent 19th century South American writers. His most famous work was Ariel. Visiting Montevideo gives the feeling of stepping back in time and old versus modern. Where narrow cobbled streets, huge stone-hewn buildings and old cathedrals lay side by side with modern high rise condo and office buildings. Where cars battle with horse drawn carts on the city’s streets. Where the ceremony of drinking mate and partaking of afternoon tea battle with the profusion of modern restaurants and brew houses. Colonial opulence versus steel and glass. Diverse and definitely interesting.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Termas Del Arapey.

The 525 mile drive from Santa Teresa took us three days. We camped overnight in Melo and Tacuaremb√≥ at the municipal parks. Most of the larger towns have camping areas in the park and there is usually room for a motor home. Our destination Arapey is well known for its thermal mineral spas and we had been told there was an excellent ran department (state) park. We were not disappointed. The park had a 3 motel, a 5 star hotel and a huge camping zone that had electricity, water and sewer hookups plus Wi-Fi throughout the whole area. There were 10 thermal pools, some enclosed and some outside and they are open 24 hours a day. We found a campsite close to the Rio Arapey Grande which borders the park. There were plenty of areas for walking Winston and we were able to let him off leash by the river. The pools are amazing, not too hot, in the mid 90’sF and very relaxing. The first three days though, it poured with rain which did not stop us from enjoying the thermal pools but made other activities hard to appreciate. Like sloshing through the mud to exercise Winston. Luckily, he is a fair weather dog and does not like the rain so walks were blessedly short although the pile of towels from drying him off was getting quite substantial by the time the rains stopped and the sun finally emerged. The other major thing that happened between Tacuaremb√≥ and Arapey was a rock from a truck ahead of us must have bounced up and completely shattered the window in the over cab. We did not realize anything had happened until we arrived and parked at the thermals. Since it was raining, Tom simply secured a tarp over the front until we can come up with a better solution. Also, we use that area for storage so much of the items were saturated and for now there was little we could do except wait for the rains to stop. There were lots of RVs, mostly from Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil but there was a contingent of 8 motor homes from Germany. One couple had been travelling South America for six years. The German RVs resemble tanks on wheels with Mercedes truck engines, custom bodies having few windows, large tires and well, sturdy. On our third day, the sun came out. Relief. I had lots of laundry waiting to be done. It has to be washed and rinsed by hand and then hung out to dry as there are no lavanderias in town. Everyone is in the same boat and by late morning, all campers have washing lines full of clothes, sheets and blankets. Tacky but what can you do! Tom, meanwhile had emptied the over cab of all our things and had lain them out to dry. He also devised a makeshift window from some plywood we had stashed under the mattress. Fortunately he always makes sure we have a variety of nuts, bolts and screws on hand. After he took the tarp off and starting measuring the window, other campers starting drifting over, offering suggestions and help. We are going to try to replace it in Montevideo and if not there then we will wait until we get to Buenos Aires. Not with tempered glass but with an acrylic, plexiglass or similar products that will better withstand the journey. Until then, it is the wood covered with plastic taped in place in case we have more rain. Chores completed we spent our remaining days enjoying the pools and walking Winston by the river.