Uruguayan bathing

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Quarries of Riachuelo
(Coordinates: 34°26’36.0″S 57°43’30.5″W)

Since many years, Uruguay is a country focused on the Atlantic Ocean. To understand the relationship between the country and the ocean, we need to go back to the past. 

At the 18th century, there was only a vast meadow surrounding the port of Montevideo. With a mount, easy to identify which will gave the name to the city, and a bay drawing a vast anchorage area, the geographic features of the region offer a perfect strategic place for the creation of a port. Built at the beginning for being a military bastion, it became quickly a commercial port competing with the one of Buenos. Aires. The little fight between both ports symbolised the beginning of the Uruguayan identity. 

At the beginning of the 19th century, the rise of the merchant shipping led to the expansion of the city, plus reinforced the identity of the port and increased its desire of being independent from the main city of the area which is Buenos Aires. 

Uruguay is born in 1828, from the British people wishing to create a “buffer state’ between Argentina and Brazil. Montevideo became wealthy with the trade, but stayed a country without an inland region. An important feature for the history of the country, which always set the capital and its culture coming from Europe, against the inland reunion and its culture of the “Gauchos”. 

Since the end of the 19th century, the port function of Montevideo decreased. The strong links between the city and the port got lost. It was the beginning of the “European” city. The first French and Italian migrants changed deeply the behaviours, the ways of life and gave a new character to the city. The capital became focused on the beaches along the Eastern coast. Bougainville, a French sailor from the 18th century, already noticed in his logbook that everything in Montevideo was inviting the sailor to spend quiet and peaceful days within a happy mood… 

At the 20th century and still nowadays, the Uruguayan people renewed their links with the ocean, for its leisure benefits. The port, reorganised at this time, offered only an economic interest to the bay, when the promenade (perfect for relaxing) was built along the Atlantic beaches. The town and the country became focused on the ocean for its bathing function by arranging the sea front with the creation of leisure ports and the seaside cities development.

During the crossing of the country, the nice weather invited us also for a relaxing and bathing time. But finally, it was not in the waves of the ocean or on the beach of one of the seaside cities, that we had the most unforgettable swim in Uruguay. 

By asking Jorge about an interesting bathing spot before to reach Montevideo, he invited us to discover the pier of Riachuelo. 

About 12 kms away from Colonia del Sacramento, the pier is well known from the local sailors for being a small and quiet quay, located on a small river with the same name, where it’s great to enjoy watching the sunset on a desert beach.

But the most charming secret of Riachuelo is, without a second thought, its quarries. Indeed, Uruguay has several lovely quarries which worth a visit, throughout the coast. A secret well kept by the locals, who reveal rarely its access for keeping the quietness of these places.

Following Jorge’s advice, we took the direction of Riachuelo pier and left the side-cars on a parking lot for taking the small path leading to this natural swimming pool. It appeared after the former quarry was flooded by the groundwater table. Surrounded by rock cliffs offering a nice spot for sunbathing and resting, we were alone in the middle of this beautiful natural place. 

To honour the hippy mind of Jorge, we decided Julien and myself, to stand up in front of the quarry completely naked, on the top of the highest peak.

For reaching it, we had an epic climb of a few metres in a kind of a little jungle without clothes… Then, in front of the emptiness below us, we did a quick check on the right to verify we were still alone, and on the left for getting the support from our girlfriends. It was time for jumping. 5 metres was not very high or a great performance, but the feeling of freedom generated by this morning jump was a unique moment. The water temperature was great, the sun was already warm, the moves of breaststroke stretched the back. It was time to brave again the jungle to repeat the experience. Once the adrenaline was replaced by the tiredness of climbing the peak, came the time to find a towel, just for a few minutes to let the sun dry our skin. 

After enjoying this unique moment came the time to put our clothes back for going back to the life in society and to end this fairy time offered by the power of meeting people during a travel.

Uruguayan encounter

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Jorge and the sailing knots

After visiting the historic city of Colonia de Sacramento, we went alongside the plane trees of the ancient road leading to Montevideo. A few kilometres after the exit of “Colonia”, we turned to the left after the village of Riachuelo to take a small road going to Jorge’s. This old single sailor, old friend of Ricardo (our biker friend from Buenos Aires) welcomed us for the evening. The first talks were quite shy. Cabinetmaker for work and passion, it was by chating about wood that the trusting relationship began. While telling us his story about him going from the French high school Buenos Aires to Uruguay, he brought us to the tip of his garden to show us each tree and essences, plus he showed us his nice workshop. There was a nice smell of wood cut. Between the chips and the raw boards, there were beautiful furniture made by the hands of the artist.

We went back to the same path until to reach his home. We discovered a nice living room, with a simple and cosy decoration. The wood obviously was used a lot, plus many sailing object were decorating the walls.

Jorge is passionate by the sea and oceans. Expert sailor, he sailed a lot on the Rio de la Plata with Ricardo during his youth. We spent the evening with good snacks and drinks with a jazz tone by Claude Nougaro in the background. The discussions were about the sea, travels and adventure.

By discovering a nice book about the sailing knots, the discussion changed to this topic. Jorge told us a few stories about his disappointment about them which encouraged him to dive into this bible. In his youth, for example, while he was leaving the port of Buenos Aires with his friends Ricardo ; he asked him to hook the dinghy of the sailing boat up to the back deck. But after a few miles, they noticed the little boat was not following anymore the crease made by the sailing boat. As he didn’t want to accuse his friend of crew, we will never know for sure, in spite of a malicious smile, who was guilty. But, for sure, the dinghy was lost. A few years later, Jorge climbed on a roof with a rope, that was a mistake with the knot which could have cost his life. He needed many days of convalescence to feel better after this fall of a few metres. It was after this misadventure that he promised to himself learning the knots, with the aim of use the most adapted technic to each daily situation.

When we woke up, just the time for the tents to dry after the morning dew, we went with Jorge to share a breakfast with maté and sailing knots. It’s with this tradition that he starts each day and it was with a lot of pleasure that we followed this tradition ; learning with the straw of the maté in the mouth while turning the ropes for making a sheepshank knot before to go back to our journey to Montévideo.

On the Uruguayan borders

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Early in the morning, we left Gualeguaychu, the last city of Argentina. Before the border, we went to the petrol station to give our last Pesos in exchange of a few litres of petrol. 20 kilometres further, we crossed the Argentinian border and the bridge spanning the Uruguay river to reach the country of the same name. Once on the other side, we didn’t except a toll booth before to reach the Uruguayan border. The bridge toll fee was not very expensive, around 1,50€, but we didn’t have any Argentinian or Uruguayan currency in our pockets. We tried to negotiate with the staff of the toll, but without any success. We parked on the side and crossed by foot to try to get some cash in the little Duty Free shop at the border. We asked if we could buy something by card and pay more than its price to get the difference in cash, but no success again. Finally, it was in a little restaurant that a young waiter gave a few Pesos to Marie and Emilie.

A few minutes later, it was with our sidecars that we crossed the toll to reach the Uruaguayan border, the first border post where we didn’t need to go out of our vehicle to get our visa stamp on our passports (we needed to go inside a building for the vehicle importation, though). In these conditions, the administrative process took only a few minutes and we quickly headed to Colonia del Sacramento.

To reach this city having a rich history, we used the small roads in the countryside. The plane trees alongside the road reminded us the South of France. On the way, we saw a rally of old cars. For more than ten kilometres, it was a parade of a hundred of vehicles from another century, driven by passionate people. BMW, Ford and Fiat were the brands the most present. In the last competitors, stopped on the side of the road, looking under the bonnet, the latecomers were facing some unexpected mechanical problems. Under this summery sunshine on the asphalt, the temperatures were increasing giving a tough time for the machines and the riders.

The Fiat brand is actually the most famous one in the country. On our way, we didn’t see the last cars which have just been presented to the automotive trade shows, but the old Fiat Uno. Most of the time, they were resting on a car park space in the shadow of a plane tree. We can recognise them with their particular cubic shape, the small dots of rust on the colourful car bodies, and the interior finishes made of old plastic, colourful fabric, without any electronic object. The Uno is the perfect example of the Uruguayan simplicity, they prefer the discretion of this little car rather than the big 4×4 cars seen in the previous visited countries.

After spending the night around Colonial del Sacramento, we continued our trip to Montevideo. On the way, we stopped in one of the several little shops mzde randomly, alongside the road. We bought some cheese and fig jam for our next breakfasts. The entry of the Uruguayan capital symbolised the end of our adventure on the roads of South of America. We cleaned a last time our sidecars in a car wash. A charming young man was cleaning at the rhythm of a music. With a reggae music from an old speaker hanged on the yellow wall of his “parcadero-lavadero”, making to dance his dreadlocks. The sidecars were looking brand new, ready for the big crossing. The one which will lead them from Montevideo to Riga in Latvia.

Montevideo and the Uruguayan coast – 7 days – 43 metres above the sea level

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It was after crossing the bridge spanning the Uruguay river that we entered in the last country of South of America for this trip. After a few kilometres, it was lunch time. We stopped in the small city of Dolores. We opted for a sandwich in a little shop. We met Zuleika, the beautiful young lady working in a snack shop ; and Bruno, a true character, who was living here or there, we are still not too sure. With passion, he told us the stories of his trips by hitchhiking in Uruguay and in the adjacent countries. At the time of departure, he offered us red ribbons that he tied up around our wrists which were supposed to avoid jealous people.

We arrived in Colonia del Sacramento at the beginning of the afternoon, a city is famous for its disconcerting tranquility. Located by the Rio de la Plata, in front of Buenos Aires (that we can reach by boat in an hour), this old bastion was founded by the Portuguese in 1680. During almost one century, the Spanish people were fighting against them to take the city. Finally after one century of fights, the Spanish won. The promenade with the nice little paved streets, in the old citadel, allowed us to discover the nice treasures of the historic borough and the old colourful houses, the exotic plants and the seawall where many fishermen were fishing. A place where we enjoyed relaxing, having a break on a terrace of one of the several little squares, and watching the ocean next to the Uruguayan teenagers who were sat down on a bench with the maté under the arm.

We continued our trip until Montevideo, a cosmopolitan cry overlooking the ocean. The following day of our arrival in the capital, we popped by the offices of Wave VS, the company taking care of the shipment of our sidecars to Latvia. We took this opportunity for walking in the adjacent streets offering a nice preview of the old historic town centre.

However, the following days, it was mainly the opportunity to prepare the vehicles for this long trip. Days were organised with the different sessions of: laundry, cleaning the bivouac equipment and mechanics.

Three days after our first steps in the capital, it was time to load, which actually changed our status from bikers to pedestrians in only one instant.

We enjoyed the end of the afternoon to visit by foot, helmets under the arms, the surroundings of the port. We walked up to the huge square of the legislative palace, impressive building with an architecture inspired by the Ancient Greece. It was on the square of Juan Pedro Fabini that we ended our walk and went back by bus to the place we rent.

The following day, after a lie-in, we continued our visit of the city from where we stopped the previous day. We went to the same bus stop. We explored by walking the historic area and discovered the street-art of the city. We began our exploration by the main square of the Independence, before to adventure in the nice street of Sarandi and to discover the market of the port. These old storages have kept their industrial architecture and became a nice place for great local food. They contain many huts where you can have tasty Asados. A delicious smell usually escapes from these buildings where there is a popular and festive ambiance all the day along. Once we passed the point symbolising the beginning of the Montevideo’s Bay, we continued to walk along the seawall before to climb up to the 22nd floor of the municipal palace to enjoy the panoramic view over the city.

For our last day in Uruguay, we decided to go the airport to rent a car and to visit the coast located at the North of the capital. We left to go towards Piriapolis, a little seaside city without a lot of charm but with a beautiful sandy beach.

We saw the arrival of the last cycling competitors of the Tour of Uruguay. A competition more accessible than our Tour of France, where the simplicity is a keyword and the winners are interviewed on the sun loungers. Looking these sportsmen made us hungry. Alongside the sea, we were tempted by tasting a Chivito (a generous local sandwich made with beef, bacon, cheese, roasted peppers, tomatoes and a fried egg) in front of the ocean. 

Back in the capital, we saw the sunset from the top of the lighthouse of the Punta Carretas before to go packing for our tomorrow’s flight. A new chapter will begin. 

Where to eat?

The market of the port

The Mercado del Puerto, in its original version, is a foodie stop for all the meat lovers. Very touristic due to its location in the old city, there is still a popular and festive atmosphere. Take a seat at the couter, in front of the barbecues and enjoy generously delicious meat.