From Uruguay To Argentina


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El Diablo Tranquilo Hostel

Farewell to El Diablo Tranquilo after fourteen nights

Our last few days in Punta del Diablo were mostly rainy. We did manage to get in a walk to the Sta Teresa Park along the beach, which was a nice hike, albeit one that resulted in mild sunburn for me. Apart from that we were mostly indoors and wrapped-up warm. When we left at the end of last week though, it was with mixed emotions: We were in basic accommodation in a remote town which was sometimes trying, but it had also been scenic and restful and the staff and other guests had all been friendly. Watching the flames in our fireplace on the last evening, a part of me wanted to stay longer.

Nevertheless, the next day we boarded a midday bus back along the coast to Montevideo and, from there, a second bus on to the resort town of Colonia del Sacramento.

There seems to be a lot of conflicting advice about Colonia; according to the Internet, it’s incredibly pretty and unspoiled but also overrated and not worth more than a day trip. We hedged our bets and only booked one night there. We made the right decision. The town has its picturesque spots, with cobbled streets, old houses and overflowing bougainvillea. It has a small yachting marina and there are a few ruined walls from an old colonial fortification, but that’s really it. The thing that sticks most prominently in my memory is that you could hire golf-buggies to drive yourself around the streets.


A street scene on Calle Real, Colonia del Sacramento

We covered the sights of the town in a morning and then had a lazy lunch (at the rather lovely Ganache Café on Calle Real,) idly watching the groups of Argentinian housewives, who seem to form the bulk of the day-trippers.

After that we headed to the ferry terminal to check-in for our crossing to Buenos Aires. I won’t say we weren’t nervous as we approached the immigration desks, but we had checked and double-checked US and UK entry requirements and we were fully equipped. As it turned out the border was extremely relaxed. The Uruguayan and Argentinian agents sat side by side. One stamped us out, the other stamped us in, while both continued chatting with their partners at the desk opposite.

We had made it across our first international border of the trip together! <phew!>

After that, the actual journey was uneventful; we didn’t want to buy food or duty-free and there was nothing else to do onboard, so we read and watched the Río de la Plata (which is much wider than I’d imagined) slide by.


Passing the Argentine Yacht Club as we come in to dock at Puerto Madero

Buenos Aires made a good first impression on us. It feels vibrant and diverse, with modern glass-and-steel jostling alongside historic stone and brick architecture. We walked from the terminal at Puerto Madero to the underground (Subte) station at Retiro, picking up cash and a cellphone SIM along the way, equipped ourselves with Sube cards (the BA equivalent of London’s Oyster cards) and headed up to Palermo.

After what felt like two days of solid travel though, I was exhausted so, after a trip to the supermarket to stock-up on basics, we ate a simple meal, fell into bed and slept extremely well.

We  weren’t in any rush the next morning and spent a little while organising the apartment – well, actually, it’s a small studio, so good organisation will be essential to stop it becoming chaotic. After finding a home for all of our belongings, we took a stroll along to a the nearby Rosedal Park to enjoy the sunny day.

Being in a big city, we find we are bumping into familiar brands again. There’s a McDonalds just around the corner from our apartment. In the park we came across another McDonalds, a Starbucks and a CrossFit Box. We’ve started playing Brand Bingo, seeing who can spot the most. (Since then, we’ve collected Burger King, Subway, Milka, Le Pain Quotidien and TGI Fridays, too!) We avoided them all, however, and lunched at a popular-looking local spot.

To be fair though, all the cafes were busy; most of Buenos Aires seemed to be out enjoying the parks in the Sunday sunshine. The Rosedal has an ornamental lake with pedalos on. The road around the lake has a section reserved for exercise which was filled with joggers, skaters, cyclists and skateboarders. There were horse-drawn buggy rides and hundreds of people just out for a stroll.

The Rose Garden in the Paseo El Rosedal

Brett in the heart of the Rose Garden

The park is named for its extensive rose garden. The area is immaculately kept, with neat red gravel pathways and white-painted gazebos winding between manicured lawns and flower beds filled with colourful blooms. We are definitely here at the right time of year to see the park at its best. We managed to spend several hours enjoying all the little byways – and the Rosedal is just one section of a larger park (or possibly a group of parks) in the area. There’s a planetarium and a Japanese Garden to explore in other quarters!

We are in BA for a little under three weeks, so we should have plenty of time to explore.

Doing Nothing


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So, the “doing nothing” is going well.

These two weeks were intended to be total switch-off relaxation and, while we are not quite such slugs that we spend all day sleeping, we are taking things nice and slow and enjoying the self-indulgence of having that option.

Beyond basic foraging for our survival (at the local supermarket) we have tried to get out on a regular basis, mostly taking walks along the beaches.

There is really not a lot to the town. As far as I can tell, it is centred behind the fishing beach, but most of the buildings are seasonal-use only. I don’t know what the resident population is, but I’m guessing not more than a hundred or two. There are a few fishing boats which are still used commercially, but most of the town is setup for the summer tourists, so is closed/for rent at the moment.


The weather is mostly sunny and warm

Torrential thunderstorm in Punta del Diablo

Torrential thunderstorm in Punta del Diablo

The weather isn’t quite as pleasant as we’d hoped; it’s a cool October compared to the average and we’ve had a couple of days with rain and thunder. Mostly though the days are warm and sunny and it’s only the evenings which are cool. The fireplace in our room is getting a lot of action as a result; we spend most evenings in front of a small log fire, watching an episode of one of the various TV shows we have on file.


The monument “De Artigas a Bolivar”

At the start of last week, I took an afternoon stroll along the beaches with my camera and came across a couple of the local fishing boats being unloaded. There’s also a small monument on a rocky point at the end of the fisherman’s beach, commemorating one of the Uruguayan founding fathers, José Gervasio Artigas, which was just asking to be photographed too.

Last Wednesday, we rented bikes from the hostel and rode along to the nearby Santa Teresa National Park. It was a longer ride than it looked on the map – or maybe it just felt longer, as Brett and I are both quite out of condition for cycling. Anyway, we made it there and back and I found the park more varied than I’d expected.

The Invernáculo (Hothouse)

The Invernáculo (Hothouse) in Santa Teresa National Park

It is a combination of well curated grounds with areas which seem to have been left entirely wild, but with walkways and refuges built for the tourists to pass through without interfering with the habitat. There’s also a camping area and a spot described on the map as an aviary (pajarero) but in practice has been extended into something between a reserve and a petting zoo, where animals moved freely between public and fenced-off areas.

While there were peacocks around the grounds and parrots, rabbits and a few baboons in the enclosures, there were also species that I had to look up later to identify. As well as the Capybara that everyone seems to have mentioned to us, there were peccaries (small, quite hairy, pig relatives) roaming the grounds, several Rhea; an endangered South American relative of the ostrich and emu, and species of chicken and duck that I didn’t recognise.

A capybara sunning itself in the Refugio Silvestre

A capybara sunning itself in the Refugio Silvestre, Santa Teresa

There is a fort in the park which I had wanted to see, but almost as soon as we arrived in the area a fog started rolling in from the sea and by the time we got up to the fort, the visibility was quite limited. Given we were a bit sore from the riding we decided we’d wait for better viewing conditions and come back another day.

Back at the ranch, in between outings, there’s also a fair amount of reading going on. Brett has been deep in his coding references and podcasts. I’m getting on with, “The Edge of the World: How the North Sea made us who we are,” a look at what was going on in Northern Europe during what we know as the Dark Ages. (Quite a lot of note, it turns out!) I’m also working through an online photography course which, while it’s covering a lot of stuff I already know, has some good tips and is helping me rediscover my picture-taking mojo.

Alongside that, I’ve been looking ahead and starting to plan our time in Argentina. We are now booked overnight in Colonia del Sacramento (a picturesque port town on the Uruguayan coast) and then on an evening boat across the Rio de la Plata the next day. We have an apartment in Buenos Aires’ Palermo district, which is described as a bit bohemian (and the hub of Argentina’s tech startups) and that will be our base for several weeks of exploring the Argentinian capital. Expect lots of Evita references…

Sunrise over Punta del Diablo

Sunrise over the ocean, Punta del Diablo

Punta del Diablo

Between jetlag, the visa issue and cloudy weather, my time in Rio was pretty anticlimactic. Copacabana Beach was picturesque but, apart from that, Rio was mostly rainy and on the whole I was glad to be on my way when the time came. Brazil is a huge, diverse country though and definitely worthy of a more thorough and better-planned exploration than I was able to give it in a layover.

My arrival into Uruguay was just as effortless as Brett had described over Skype; they took my picture and my fingerprint and stamped my passport and I was free to go. We had booked a cheap hotel for the night (and we got what we paid for!) and the next morning, we headed for the bus station to catch our coach along the coast.

Uruguayan bus travel was just as slick as we had been told; modern coaches, fairly spacious seats and, despite the number of on-demand stops, kept quite well to schedule. The coach had Wi-Fi on board although, like the UK intercity trains, it was virtually useless. I didn’t much want to be surfing the web anyway and my phone (newly equipped with a local SIM) was fine for occasional checking-in.


The reception at El Diablo Tranquilo

The weather, which had been grey and damp in the morning, brightened as we got further north and was warm and sunny by the time we reached our destination, Punta del Diablo, on the Atlantic coast.

Our hostel, El Diablo Tranquilo, is quite lovely. A beach-surfer-style construction of wood and stone, but modern plumbing and a comfortable, warm bed. We’ve paid a bit extra for a private room, with en suite facilities and a balcony, and it’s worth it; we can watch the sun rise over the ocean from the bed and there’s a hammock on the balcony which gets the sun all morning.

It’s still spring here, so when the sun goes in it gets cool. The other neat feature of our room is the fireplace; the local supermarket sells cheap firewood and the last two nights we’ve built a fire in the evening, which has been really cosy. There’s something deeply satisfying about building a fire and then just sitting watching it.

Our plan while we’re here is to do very little. The aim is to decompress a bit from London life and also get into some long-term travel habits. So far, we’ve spent most of our time in the hostel, enjoying our fireplace and hammock and generally soaking up the sun. The average high is low-to-mid-twenties Celsius (in the seventies Fahrenheit) which is just the kind of temperature we like.


Playa de la Viuda; backed by dunes and washed by the surf

We’ve taken a few strolls along the beaches which are quite clean and undeveloped. There are three main sections of sand within striking distance of the hotel; the one at the end of the road, which is very accessible, and a smaller one to the south which completes the arc of this bay. That one seems to be both a small working fishing community and the hub of the tourist catering facilities, with a few shops, bars and restaurants. Beyond this bay, across a narrow rocky promontory, lies a larger, uninterrupted arc of sand, called Playa de la Viuda, backed by forty or fifty meters of sand dunes. We took our lunch and had a sunbathe over there on Sunday. It seems to be popular with locals coming for a day out by the sea, and with surfers.

There’s a national park, Santa Theresa, nearby and the hostel advertises horse trekking excursions through it which look enjoyable, so we’ll probably do that one day. For the most part, though, we are happy just enjoying the warm weather, relaxing with a book and not really having anything pressing to do. It makes such a welcome change.




Best Laid Plans

This isn’t the “first post” I’d been hoping to write. The first post of the trip was supposed to be about our wonderful time in Rio de Janeiro, doing the sites and maybe hanging out on the beaches, before jetting onwards to Montevideo to start our journey proper. That was the plan.

They say no plan survives first contact with the enemy.

This is particularly true when the plan is flawed from the outset.

We started planning our Big Trip back around March this year and soon settled on Uruguay as our first stop, followed by a roughly clockwise circuit of South and Central America, then Oceania and on to points Southeast-Asian. We checked passport validity, visa requirements, proof-of-onward-travel needs to make sure we were covered.

There are no direct flights to Uruguay from London, so we needed to add a waypoint. The likely candidates were Madrid (which we’ve visited several times) and Brazil (Rio and São Paulo.) Since Rio has a number of iconic sites, we decided to break our trip for a couple of nights there to see them, instead of just changing planes.

We flew British Airways and had a very pleasant flight. Rio was dark and drizzly on arrival but, hey, it’s the start of our great adventure, so we were feeling good. The immigration queue wasn’t long and the guy stamped my passport without a word. He flicked through the pages of Brett’s passport.

And then he flicked through them again, more deliberately.

“Visa?” he asked.

“Yes, please,” we said.

“No visa?” he asked again and then disappeared off into an office.

Well, you can see where this is heading. When adding the stop in Rio, we hadn’t re-checked visa requirements and Murphy’s Law came into play: Brazil is a country which does require a tourist visa for US Citizens.

captureOne of the local British Airways staff explained the situation; without a visa to enter the country, Brett had to get on the next flight back to London. We asked about him possibly going straight on to Uruguay but that wasn’t an option. (I recall something about international transit regulations; you have to be repatriated by the carrier to your point of origin.) Consequently, less than an hour after disembarking the plane, Brett was back on it, heading back to the UK on a full-fare ticket (ouch!).

Having said our goodbyes and seen Brett on his way, I was left with nothing to do but hightail it through the airport, get to our accommodation and try and get him a flight to Uruguay at short notice.

The options were limited. I didn’t want to risk routing him via Brazil again – at least until I checked what impact his repatriation would have on future attempts at entry – so Madrid was the only option. As it happened there was an affordable Air Europa itinerary from Gatwick via Madrid that would get him to Montevideo about twelve hours ahead of me, so I booked that.

The connection was a tight one, though. A flight leaving from Gatwick at 5:30pm is a bit of a risk when you don’t arrive into Heathrow until around 1pm. Things like flight delays, long immigration queues, transport disruption and simply the distance to be covered makes it uncertain.

That said, there was no other practical option, all other flights either took considerably longer or cost considerably more. We were stuck with Air Europa, so I mailed Brett the details, along with a bit of research on transfer options, ready for his arrival in London and finally went to bed.

I didn’t sleep long or well and got up still a bit punch-drunk from the previous day.


The statue of Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado…

I made an attempt at sightseeing, but the weather wasn’t on my side. Although the beach was sunny, Corcovado was shrouded in mist so there was only a dim suggestion of the statue of Christ through the murk.

Once Brett landed in the UK, we were in sporadic contact by Skype, so I was able to follow his progress. It was a dreadful few hours waiting to see if he’d make the flight. As I said; there were no other good options; if he missed that plane, there would be a huge amount of further expense and delay.

I have never felt more relieved than when, sitting in the little café under the statue of Christ, having just finished an unremarkable cheese(?)burger(?), I got the message saying Brett was aboard the flight to Madrid.

Sure enough, he made it to Montevideo as planned and we met up some hours later with the agreement that we should make sure nothing like this ever happened to us again.

Although we were both really dispirited at the time, now it’s all in the past, we see it as part of the adventure; it’s a life-lesson worth learning about attention to detail and double-checking data. It wasn’t a cheap lesson; zig-zagging over the Atlantic Ocean cost us a big chunk of money. Not enough to put the trip in jeopardy, but enough that we will have more limited options in future than we might have liked.

It’s also incredibly embarrassing. As someone who views himself as an experienced and capable independent traveller, it’s a glaring newbie error; a shadow cast on my credibility. I did contemplate not mentioning it in the blog, just glossing-over the fact that Brett wasn’t with me in Rio and picking up in Uruguay, but that wouldn’t have been honest. This blog, dear reader, is as much for me as it is for you; it helps me crystallise my thoughts and remember the details which fade with time. For better or worse, this thing happened and it’s a part of the journey.

So, from the comfort of our hostel in Uruguay, where we are both now happily ensconced for a couple of weeks to relax, the moral of today’s story, kids, is always double check you have the visas you need for entry before you get to the border. You’ll feel really stupid (and a lot poorer) if you don’t.

Imminent Departure

When we wrote the Do Over post, I fully intended to write several more posts over the succeeding months to document progress in preparing for our Big Trip. However it turned out that, between being very busy at work and the logistics of getting rid of most of our belongings and storing the rest, I haven’t had sufficient time or motivation to write anything.

So it may be a bit of a surprise to read this and discover that we fly to Brazil on Tuesday!

south_america_pAfter our layover in Rio though, the next few weeks are going to be fairly quiet on the travel-blogging front, so I will put together a few more detailed posts about our itinerary plans (such as the are!) and our packing lists, to give you an idea of what we are doing.

As a very short summary, though, over the last few months we have managed to substantially downsize our belongings, leave the remainder with my parents for safe-keeping and rent out our flat for the year. We’ve just got the farewell parties with work, friends and family to go this weekend and then we board a British Airways aircraft bound for Rio de Janeiro.

We have two nights (one full day) there before we fly on to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, which is where we are spending two weeks decompressing at a hostel on the coast before really doing anything. Towards the end of October, we will move on to begin our adventures proper, probably in Argentina. That said, so far, nothing is set in stone; we want the flexibility to travel at our own pace and be spontaneous.

So, watch this space. Even while we are chilling in Uruguay, I am going to try to post a photo to Instagram each day and there will probably be shorter informal updates posted directly to our Facebook page from time to time.