Uruguay 2017. Piriapolis including Sierra de las Animas, Montevideo, Carmelo, Salta and a 34th Birthday Celebration

I was still travelling with Remi. Every day with Remi was a gift because so many times we thought our paths were going to separate but somehow we were still going the same direction and had the same ideas on what to do and see.

We caught a bus from La Paloma to Rocha, then to San Carlos and got a local bus into Punta Del Este. Now I have already been here but Remi had not and just wanted to have few hours to see the place, the famous Hand in the Sand sculpture and tick it off the list. Unfortunately just as we got off the bus in the main street excited to have lunch and coffee at the vego/vegan café Remi realised his phone was missing and possibly slipped out on the bus. It was a hectic hour or so as I held the packs and he chased the bus and walked the streets. Through it all he was remarkably calm and quite the inspiration to see how he handled it all.

We had our Buddha Bowls then took a stroll around the coast before getting a late afternoon bus to our final destination for the day Piriapolis. We arrived at the bus station after dark at 2000 and walked into town along the beach promenade searching for our hostel. This was a mission at this hour and we got lost wandering off the main street unable to find it. I popped into a hotel to ask directions and Remi met a local on the street who offered us a bed at his joint. We were both slightly tempted by the offer maybe to create some wild story of our time in Piriapolis but opted for the safer alternative and left for the hostel. My birthday was only two sleeps away and I wanted everything to flow beautifully.

We stayed at Hostel Piria a street back from the main promenade and only visible by a small door beside a pizza shop. The hostel was upstairs one dorm room, two bathrooms and an outside patio with ocean views. The staff was friendly, location perfect and very clean; however on the pricey side in comparison to the past few weeks. It was $17US a night. I had been paying $9-11US since I began in Uruguay.

July 22; my last day as a 33 year old. Remi and I set off with the city map to explore the town and climb some lookouts. We left along the promenade past the marina and took a turn to begin the first stair climb to the Virgin Statue. We followed the winding road to the summit of Cerro San Antonio (130m). There is a chair lift alternative here.

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Walking along the beachfront at Piriapolis, Uruguay

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Walking to the top of Cerro San Antonio overlooking the coastline at Piriapolis in Uruguay

We descended the other side and walked through local streets to the main entrance to Cerro del Toro (250m) and walked in stopping in the grass for some lunch and then proceeded uphill to the fountain. A set of steps led up the mountain behind the fountain to a statue of a large bull and then we split at a fork heading separately up the rocky, slippery track occasionally calling out to each other. We ended up at the top but on separate peaks. Remi came over to my peak and we sat there soaking up the view along the coast and back into the mountains and over to Cerro Pan de Azucar; which we never got round to summiting.

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Cerro Del Toro in Piriapolis, Uruguay

Just to note when I say mountains, the highest peak in Uruguay is 513m, so they are more like big hills. But still a decent walk and offer some stunning scenery.
We descended Cerro del Toro on the other side though a forest of blue gums which I found odd then slipped through a fence into suburbia and re-entered town.

Sunset at Piriapolis was intensely colourful again, the colour of the Uruguayan sky at sunset is something I will never forget and is such a highlight of this trip. We followed that with dinner on the hostel balcony and a bottle of wine.

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The winter sunsets in Uruguay were just divine. This one is in Piriapolis, Uruguay

Happy 34th Birthday to me with a very early start to our day. We were heading to Sierra de las Animas. This is not really spoken of in the tourist books I only stumbled upon it in a website and tried to seek out a way to achieve it. It was a blessing to have Remi for this adventure and to share my birthday.

To get to Sierra de las Animas from Piriapolis we took the bus to Minas getting off at the highway Ruta 9 then walked 2-3kms along the highway towards Montevideo. The park entrance is on the highway and gates didn’t open until 1000 so we had a few hours to chill in the grass. We were surprised to see a cyclist there waiting before us. If coming from Montevideo get off the bus on Ruta 9 at Parador Los Cardos Restaurant.

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The entrance to Sierra de las Animas on the main highway between Montevideo and Piriapolis. This place has two really lovely day hikes.

There were several people waiting at the entrance by the time the gates open and everyone packed into cars to drive in. Two guys in a mini truck told us to hop on the back because it was a bit of a drive in.

Inside a lady who was in a mad panic rattled off instructions for the park, handed out the most budget and smallest map ever then searched our bags to ensure we had 2litres of water each, warm clothing and a bag for rubbish. Remi only had a litre so she made him buy some. By the way she carried on I thought the trails must be pretty difficult. There are two tracks the Waterfall Hike and the Summit Hike. They suggest you allow 4hours for each and the park is only open for 8hours so it seems hectic.

Remi and I set off casually agreeing to just enjoy the day rather than achieve both hikes. We agreed the Waterfall Track would be the one not to miss and began with that one. This took us two hours and we walked slow and sat at each one; three of them. They were petite waterfalls but it was a change from the rest of our trip and a very serene untouched area.

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One of three waterfalls on the Waterfall Track within the Sierra de las Animas Park located near Piriapolis in Uruguay

We reached the junction for the summit hike and decided we could totally make it. So we took this trail and completed it in 3hours. I stopped just before the top because I wanted to enjoy my picnic lunch with the views and we had to make a bus at 1600. Remi ditched lunch and made the summit. Lunch was on a rock looking out to the countryside and chatting with the horses.

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Picnic lunch from near the summit of a trail within the Sierra de las Animas Park near Piriapolis in Uruguay.

We just missed our bus by a whisker as we walked back along the highway and saw it just leaving the stop as we were about 500m behind it. It was a 12km walk back to Piriapolis and we estimated that would take us three hours along the road side which was mostly flat. That was worst case scenario if we could not hitch a ride on the not so busy road.

It took some time to hitch which proved my theory it is much more difficult to hitch in pairs but the walk meant we got to see the Castillo Pitamiglio visible from the road.

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Castillo Pitamiglio near Piriapolis in Uruguay

We eventually caught a ride as we reached the ocean at Las Flores. A couple in a small ute told us to ride in the tray. It was just on sunset as we had the wind in our hair rolling along the road between the ocean and the hills.

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Hitch hiking in Uruguay is always fun especially when you ride in the back of a ute along the coast at sunset.

That night we went out for pizza then shared birthday cake and candles on the hostel balcony. Another fabulous birthday in another country and I am ready to begin my next rotation around the sun.

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Happy 34th Birthday to me from another country this rotation. Piriapolis in Uruguay.

The next day I decided to join Remi on his way to Montevideo, again this was not the plan but with rain looming I forego the option to stay another day and hike out to Cerro Pan de Azucar and instead greet the capital city of Uruguay; Montevideo. It was 2hour bus ride.

We opted to walk to our hostel through the city which was about three kilometres. We are so glad we did because we stumbled upon a vegetarian café owned and run by the warmest Spanish Man who made the freshest and most delicious vegetarian empanadas. We ate there every day while in Montevideo, for the food but mostly for the service this guy was just so nice. The café is called Sinfonia Vegetal on Colonia 1484.

We stayed at Hostel Willy Fogg because it was the cheapest on Hostelworld at $9US per night. It had that cheap feeling about it as in it was basic, cramped dorms but kind of clean and attracted the more budget sort of backpackers that just sat around smoking weed and drinking all day. The guy on the front desk was Australian and I was shocked because I had not heard that familiar accent in four weeks and he was a country boy from Inverell, NSW.

Remi and I ambled the city all afternoon until dark. We walked back streets past abandoned warehouses covered in graffiti and smashed windows, the old train station and had a feed at the Mercado Agricola- fresh food markets. Here there were many fresh food stalls and health food shops. This is my favourite part of being in a city healthier food options.

That night the Aussie guy at the hostel invited us to see a film because the film festival was on and we set off in a group but it turned out to be wild goose chase, because the first one was full, the other one was almost over and we caught the last half hour of some Spanish independent film and then sat outside a bar waiting for… I don’t know what and so we finally left for the hostel. I had a smoke that made me stupidly paranoid for the first time since being in Uruguay so I climbed up onto Remi’s bunk to isolate myself and chill the hell out because my bunk was freaking me out in the small space and then I passed out into a pile of potato crisp crumbs in my bunk.

July 25 in Montevideo saw me doing the three hour free walking tour to get the city’s history from a local and take in the sights on my short timeframe. After that I met with Remi and we went for hot drinks and cake at Café Brasilero which is the first café of Montevideo and opened in 1877. It is a charming little space with a nice vibe and a lot of history. We finished our day with a stroll along the water and of course ate empanadas at Sinfonia Vegetal.

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Cafe Brasilero in Montevideo, Uruguay. The first cafe to open in the country’s capital city; in 1877. It is a great spot for coffee and cake.

Remi departed the next and we had finally gone our separate ways. He was making a journey back home and I still had a week to go. I was surprisingly feeling calm when he left. I did not have my usual feeling of emptiness, I was just thankful that we had met, shared so many similar values and our travel styles were nearly identical and mostly I saw a lot of places I may not have done on my own. Thank you Remi for being a part of my journey.

I spent the day walking. I did the four hour walk all along the coastal promenade from South La Rambla to Cartel Montevideo, past the lighthouse and Plaza Canada Park. It continued along Playa Pocitios to the famous white sign of Montevideo. They love these “Hollywood” style signs in this country.

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I think it is pretty obvious where i am here… Montevideo the capital city of Uruguay.

I went back through the streets through Parque Rodo with the sculptures, tiled bench surrounding a small fountain and a photo exhibition at Fountain Sede de la Secretaria del Mercosur. Obviously I had my lunch at Sinfonia Vegetal and chatted with the Spanish man about my future travel plans and explained where Remi was off too. I ended the day in the Old City area walking up and down the streets. Tomorrow I was unsure where I was going but I just knew I was leaving Montevideo; most likely heading to Carmelo. And this post is already published see Getting off the Beaten Track at Salto del Penitente and Villa Serrana.

I did go to Carmelo after my wild yet relaxed adventure hitch hiking and camping in the mountains. I thought I should really finish Uruguay off so I went to Carmelo for two nights. It was wet and misty rain so I mostly read and enjoyed a dorm room all to myself but did a take a stroll through the town and along the water/riverfront, to the main Plaza and I ate a lot of pastries indulging in my final few days in Uruguay.

I took a six hour bus up to Salta famous for its thermal pools. I camped at La Posta camping located 200m from the Dayman Spa. It rained the entire time and even while I was in the hot pools. In my tent that night the rain pounded down and thunder roared and lightning illuminated my tent; but I stayed dry. Thanks to the Macpac Sololight- great tent.

Salta is a tourist hotspot drawing in travellers mostly those seeking a retreat with a decent budget; I never saw any other backpackers at the spa, town or bus terminal. It was impossible to get English from anyone and there are no hostels in Salta.
Today was my second last day of the trip and it is possibly one of the most horrible days of my travelling experience even more so than when I had food poisoning trying to cross the border from Argentina to Bolivia back in 2013, yet once again some beautiful people emerged and saved me.

I wanted to stay in Salta then catch a bus direct to Buenos Aires in the morning to make my flights. However without a hostel I could not afford it I was almost out of money. A very nice girl at the bus terminal walked me around the city of Salta for two hours trying to find a cheap hotel and the imaginary hostel information suggested. She even asked some friends if I could sleep on their floor. At 1300 I had to leave and I thanked her kindly. The next big town was across the border at Concordia and I was told I could get a hostel there. The bus ride was three hours making my arrival at 1600 with plenty of daylight hours to find this hostel.

Once again this was bogus and Concordia did not have a hostel and I could not find a cheap hotel within my budget. Well I found one but I chose life…. It was scary a box sized room with no windows in an old house with a dark narrow corridor- no thanks. The girls at Tourist Information spoke no English so through the translator app I explained how much money I had left and my situation. They knew of a hotel and drew me a map and I set off relieved. Well another hour and darkness approaching I circled and circled and could not find this place. By now I was in tears. There were no more buses to Buenos Aires tonight and the bus terminal would not have been a safe place to crash to get the 0300 bus. I returned to information composing myself but I could not and I burst into tears.
The two girls hugged me, sat me down got me water and made some calls. They said a man from the hotel would come and pick me up and the cost was my budget. Somehow I think the three of them just did something extremely generous. The man came; he was mid-40s, good looking and friendly but with limited English. The hotel room was nice, too nice for what I paid and very safe. He offered to drive me to the bus terminal to buy a ticket for the morning but I told him it would be alright. I showered, grabbed some comfort food from the local supermarket and watched Spanish TV seeping into a food coma.

Travelling really opens my eyes to some incredible, kind and beautiful humans.
The next day I caught a six hour bus to Buenos Aires. The countryside was interesting at times, wetlands, abundant birdlife, cows, two massive bridge crossings and houses built in communities similar to something from India or South East Asia; basic houses living amongst their own waste, possibly without power or fresh water. In Buenos Aires I chilled on a hostel couch at V & S Hostel; great hostel in BA and got a late bus to the airport for my flight back to Australia.

Five weeks overseas this year and four of them were spent in Uruguay. It was never my intention as I had a full Argentinian Itinerary laid out but it all flowed smoothly; well a few exceptions I suppose but those exceptions led me to more adventures. And for a change I explored a country at a slow pace, visited a country not many tourists really go to and saw the benefits of why we should legalise marijuana in Australia. It really does make the atmosphere more chilled; haha had to through that little opinion of mine in. Uruguayan people are friendly, hostels are cheap, the coastline is stunning, there are lovely hikes and National Parks, hitch hiking is safe and easy and it is a nice escape from the usual populated tourist trails and backpacker spots. Country #35 added to the list.

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Remi and I on my 34th Birthday in Piriapolis, Uruguay. There are very few times in my travels that i find someone i want to travel with; a person that clicks not only with me but my way of travelling and i hit a winner with Remi. It was a pleasure to spend three weeks travelling with this awesome Swiss dude. Sometimes with the right company it is nice to share the journey.

 

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A few hours in the outback mining town of Cobar, NSW.

I was camped up at Nyngan, NSW on the Mitchell Highway (roughly 600kms north west from Sydney) where my first harvest job for the 2017 season was. But due to a little rain I had some down time and decided since I am somewhere I have not explored yet and my travels probably would not bring me out this way I would take the dog out to see what these little outback towns situated amongst the red dirt have to offer.

Cobar is 130km from Nyngan along the Barrier Highway at the junction of the Kidman Highway which opened in 1998 linking Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria by sealed road. From the outback town you can drive south to Mt Hope, Hillston and beyond, north to Bourke, Cunnamulla and Charleville or west to Wilcannia, Broken Hill and beyond.

Cobar is a mining town with a population of 4500 people. In the early 1900’s this boomed to 10000 people and it dwindled to 1000 people after the first mining collapse in 1919 after World War 1. The first copper was discovered in 1870 by Campbell, Hartman and Gibb led by two Aboriginal guides Frank and Boney. This formed the Great Cobar Copper Mine. And from there further discoveries led to the New Occidental Mine, The Cornish, Scottish and Australian Mine- CSA, the Endeavor Mine and Peak Gold Mines.

My first stop was the big welcoming display at the Cornish Rest stop. Then I followed the signs to the Fort Bourke Lookout a further 2km down the Kidman Way. I had no idea after parking the car and taking the short stroll to the platform that I would be looking down 150meters into a giant open cut mine. This is the New Cobar Open Cut Gold Mine. The rich mineral content was easily visible through the layers of colours. This pit was first mined in the late 1890’s and from 2001-2002 it was extended to the size it is now 200meters wide and 150meters deep.

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New Cobar Open Cut Gold Mine, Cobar NSW

 

After reading the information boards I took the advice to follow the Kidman Way another 10km south to the Peak Mines to do the Golden Walk. This very short walk is not worth the drive if you are pressed for time. It is short but there is not much to look at and because most of the mine is underground there is not much to be seen from the lookout. So I went back in the town of Cobar to the Great Cobar Heritage Centre.

This large building was first constructed in 1912 as the administration building for the Copper Mine. It now houses a museum for $12 entry and the information centre. Since I am more of a nature person that a museum person I opted to do the historic walks and take the information sheet with all the history and walking routes.

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The Great Cobar Heritage Centre with Museum and Information Centre. Built in 1912 in Cobar NSW

 

The Centenary of Federation walking track is a 7km loop along a bike path; all flat. I took the dog with the map and some water. The track has a lot of interpretive signs detailing history, sights along the way as well as flora and fauna in the area. The trail passes the Great Copper Open Cut Mine then the slag dump where all the molten remains are piled after the gold/copper are extracted. It meanders through bushland past the golf course which became 18holes in 1952. Further along the trail it comes out to Newey Reservoir which is a pretty sight with red sandy shores, abundance of birdlife and a cool spot for Dexter to have a swim or two. This is a bird watchers paradise with many water birds on the reservoir and other birds in the surrounding trees. I used the interpretive signs to assist me naming the few that I saw. It was a really relaxing spot, with picnic areas on green grass, toilets and I think self-sufficient campers can stay overnight.

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Newey Reservoir with grassed picnic areas, bird watching and walking track in Cobar, NSW

 

 

 

The last section of the trail meets the road heading south to the airport at the hospital. I followed this road into town passing the suburban houses some with dusty front yards others with manicured green lawns and flowering gardens and some with some ferocious dogs.

The main street has The Grand Hotel with the biggest beer can on the roof and further down the Great Western Hotel completed in 1898. The pub is 100m long and said to have the longest iron-lace veranda in the southern hemisphere. I had a lunch there while reading the history leaflet.

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The Grand Hotel with the biggest beer can on the main street of Cobar, NSW

 

The most interesting fact for me is not the mining but that electricity was connected to Cobar in 1910. Electricity in Australia always fascinates me because of all my travels throughout the world. I have been to many cities just beyond the outskirts of some big cities where people live with no running water or electricity yet here in Australia even the most remotes communities hundreds of kilometres from anywhere all have power and have had so for over 100 years. Yet so many Australians claim to be hard done by…. Baffles me!

After four hours of exploring Cobar; Dexter was hot and I wanted to make the hour drive back before sunset. I took a quick stroll through the Cobar Mining Heritage Park across the road from the Heritage Centre. The park was completed in 2002 to commemorate the miners who lost their lives in the Cobar mines. There is a stamper battery from the Mount Boppy Mine about 35km east and an Electric Loader, 15m high poppet head and winder, and a gold statue of Rick the Miner using a hammer drill.

The few sights I did not see was the Old Reservoir and Devil’s Rock which is 3km out of town where there is more bird watching, picnic areas and an ancient rock formation sacred to Aboriginal Local Legends; The Devils Rock. Just beyond Cobar towards Broken Hill about 40km is a turn off to Mt Grenfell. Follow a 32km long dirt road to Mt Grenfell and there is a 5km walkabout to the top of ridge and also Aboriginal rock paintings. North towards Bourke and only just short of Bourke is Mount Gundabooka National Park, the newest outback National Park. There is a small camping area, Aboriginal art sites, natural landscapes and a view of the Gundabooka Mountain Range. Another journey for another day for me.

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The Great Western Hotel first opened in 1898 and has the longest iron-lace veranda in the southern hemisphere on the main street of Cobar, NSW

Uruguay 2017. Colonia del Sacramento to Punta del Este, Punta del Diablo and La Paloma/La Pedrera.

My entrance into Uruguay was by ferry from Buenos Aires, Argentina and disembarking at Colonia del Sacramento. I found Seacat to be the cheapest operator. Colonia del Sacramento is a small town that draws many day tripping tourists from Buenos Aires or those en route to Montevideo or vice versa usually pass through for a few hours or the night. It is very easy to see Colonia’s historic prescient; Barrio Historico in a day but it is a nice town to stay an extra day to walk along the coast five kilometres to see the ruins of the bull ring at Real de San Carlos. Time pressed travellers can catch a local bus out and back and also get a picture at the white Colonia sign.

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Welcome to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

 

I stayed at El Viajero Hostel which was nice, clean, and quiet, had a fireplace and a communal dinner on one of the nights I was there. The only downside was when it rains the roof leaks both in the hallway and in the dorms. I came home to a wet backpack one afternoon.

It is easy to do a self-guided tour of the Barrio Historico by collecting a map from the information. The maps are in English and Spanish and provide a brief description of each site along the way. I paid for the walking tour UR$200 which took two hours but because I was the only English person on this tour I felt like I missed out on a lot as she only gave me short, brief statements as opposed to me standing then for an eternity listening to the Spanish descriptions.

Watch your steps as you wander the cobblestoned streets admiring the coloured houses, seeking out the lighthouse, strolling across the Plaza Mayor and popping from one museum to the next.

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Wandering the cobble stoned streets admiring the coloured houses in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

 

I took the bus out to Real de San Carlos because it was pouring with rain and then spent an hour trying to stay dry under my umbrella to view the ruins of the Plaza de Toros (bull ring built at the turn of the 20th century) and get a photo at the Colonia sign.

After two days in Colonia and seeing all that I came for I took a bus to Punta Del Este. I stayed at another El Viajero Hostel for the 20% discount but this was busier, still very clean but all staff spoke very little English so they were not much help to me and the bar guy was a bit creepy always in my face trying to get me to buy a drink or go to a party with him. Then when I thought I had the female only dorm room to myself as I tucked in to bed early at 2100; nine loud Brazilian boys storm into my room with suitcases all hyped up and so I asked to move rooms. No way would I feel comfortable sleeping in a room with nine guys. So much for a female only dorm. The next night a guy moved into my room again.

Punta del Este was not my scene. It is a glitzy coastal town with high rises, restaurants, a café/shopping strip and lots of hotels. However there is a fabulous little Vegetarian/Vegan café and health food shop called Mercada Verde which has yummy Buddha bowls and raw desserts.

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La Mano en la Arena- The Hand in the Sand at Punta del Este, Uruguay

 

I posed at the famous La Mano en la Arena- The Hand in the Sand Sculpture on a wet afternoon which was actually brilliant because there was no one else there. The next day when the sun was shining it was a madhouse there with vendors and tourists.

On the sunny day I walked for about four hours all the way along the coast from the wooden boardwalks at Playa Mansa on the Rio de la Plata side past the yacht harbour where the fishing boats just returned and were tossing the days catch up onto the wharf as the sea lions frolicked nearby hoping for the scraps. Then around the point to the rougher seas of the Atlantic Ocean, snapping a photo of the lighthouse, sitting with the mermaids on the point, saying at prayer at La Virgen a small shrine built on the coastal rocks and back around to La Mano.

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Bright lights and big city- not my scene but it was nice to walk along the coast, around the harbour and beside the Atlantic Ocean at Punta del Este, Uruguay

 

I left Punta del Este by local bus to San Carlos then caught a tourist bus to Cabo Polonio (see separate blog). Its saves a few pesos and doesn’t cost any extra time.
From Cabo Polonio I caught the tourist bus to Punta Del Diablo, changing at Castillo and getting cash out here. This is the end of the road for Uruguay; well Chuy is but it is fairly close to the Brazilian border. The bus dropped me at the terminal outside of the town but it was a nice day so the walk into town was welcomed. I even got a bit warm because I took the very scenic route.

I stayed at El Diablo Tranquillo which is a super sweet hostel. It is clean, the balcony looks across to the ocean, the staff is so friendly, the fireplace is surrounded by comfy couches and every night there is a pay as you feel dinner prepared by a member of staff. There is a vegetarian option too. Every dinner I had was delicious however I could not adjust to Spanish eating times and they were late usually eating 2130-2230. They have decent bikes for hire and in the winter the deal is stay three nights get the forth night free. I signed up for this.

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Hiring a bicycle is a great way to get around and see the sights in and around Punta del Diablo, Uruguay

 

Punta del Diablo is a great base to explore the Santa Teresa National Park. There are many options to get here, walk along the beach from the hostel to the south entrance to the park. This takes 30-45minutes to reach the south entrance to the park. It is a bit further to make it to the middle of the park and then if you were planning to go to the fortress that’s makes a lot of walking but easily doable in a day as it is mostly flat.

The other option is to walk, hitch or ride along the highway; Ruta 9 the 4kms to the park entrance. And over the road from this entrance is the road to Laguna Negra. I did a mix of all these methods.

My first day I chose to hire a bike; the weather was warm and sunny. I rode the bike up to the wetlands area of Santa Teresa to spot the Capybaras and other birdlife. There is an aviary directly opposite if you are interested in caged birds.

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Capybaras in the Santa Teresa National Park near Punta del Diablo, Uruguay

 

I continued my bike ride to the northern end of the park where the Fortaleza de Santa Teresa sits. It is UR$50 to enter. It has well-manicured lawns, old stone buildings turned into museums housing photos and artefacts and I walked the entire wall around taking in the views of the surrounding countryside. It was a clear day so the views extended quite a way especially because Uruguay is so flat.

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Fortaleza de Santa Teresa within the Santa Teresa National Park near Punta del Diablo, Uruguay

 

I finished my trip within the park at La Playa Moza and cycled back along the highway to the hostel in time to catch the last of the warmth from the afternoon sun in the hammock on the deck.

My next visit to Santa Teresa I did on foot and hitch hiking a ride to the entrance and then hitched a ride to Laguna Negra. This is a 5km dirt road and I could have done it on the bicycle. It was mostly smooth. Laguna Negra is just a lake really. I did not see any birdlife but managed to eat an entire magic brownie and this led me to finding scattered forest trails which I followed and found a few large boulders to lay upon under the cluttered cloudy sky. The wind moved the clouds quickly so playing the cloud game was fun; even on my own.

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Laguna Negra just outside the Santa Teresa National Park about 10kms from Punta del Diablo in Uruguay

 

The walk back was an off road unplanned adventure. It appears I still have my fear of cows which I thought I had tackled and beat after walking the Camino Primitivo last year. It turned out I had not and when I came to cows feeding beside the road I could not brave walking past them. So I went off road trying to get across the grassy field, ended up with wet feet when I fell into a small creek which I tried desperately hard to avoid by walking further and further away from the main road and eventually as it got wider and wider I just had to suck it up and…. No not face the cows I waded across it fortunately only getting wet at the deepest part just above my knees. This detour added an hour and a half to my day and I got home with wet shoes; thankfully the fire was going and I had all night to dry them.

And so the final day in Punta del Diablo I walked the beach entering Santa Teresa National Park at the south entrance. The morning was windy yet clear and so I had a great time chasing trails into the forest and discovering a lookout tower which I climbed to the top off. I stumbled on a rock path leading into the trees and I followed this for a while. The forest was very quiet; too quiet not even a bird could be heard tweeting and the tree roots swirled all over the place. I was unsure where I was going but after 40minutes of this same scene I turned and walked back out. I never found out where it went too.

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Following a rabbit with a pocket watch into the forest within the Santa Teresa National Park near Punta del Diablo, Uruguay

 

At midday the sky darkened and rained bucketed down. I arrived just in time to seek shelter in the Plant Conservatory which was temperature controlled to a warm humid climate and classical music played. I wanted to remain dry so I potted about in there for quite some time enjoying a flute version of Stairway to Heaven and Hotel California. I even ate my lunch but the rain continued so I pulled on my plastic poncho and did the walk at Laguna Peva in the rain, seeking shelter for a short time in the bird watching hide and finally making my way back to the beach. When I reached Playa del Barco the rain had stopped and I had a dry walk all the way along the deserted beaches over the dune and back to the hostel.

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at Punta del Diablo. I do think you need at least three days to take it all in. I did not visit the town but did take an afternoon stroll to the statue and lighthouse at the point where there is an abandoned gutted house with a lot of interesting graffiti; however it also felt a tad eerie so I did not enter inside even though it was daylight. In the summer I could imagine this town would be bustling; but in winter I often only shared the beach with a following of stray dogs. For me this was just perfect. I love having a beach all to myself.

The day I was leaving Punta del Diablo the weather was great so I decided I would hitch hike all the way to La Paloma. I used a sign this time and got picked up within five minutes each time. I caught three rides to reach La Paloma and it only took three hours. One guy on a little motorbike picked me up with my giant backpack which was pretty funny and then a bit scary, but also so sweet of him.

I met up here with Remy. See the Cabo Polonio blog but briefly I met Remy in Cabo Polonio, he is from Switzerland and we had a lot of fun in Cabo Polonio and decided to have some more adventures together. We travelled really well together.

In La Paloma we stayed in Hostel Araza which would have once been a hotel because every dorm has an ensuite. The owner spoke fluent English and he was a friendly funny guy and the German Workaway girl was also lovely. The breakfast is really good too. The living room had a fire place and large television and we watched a movie each night.

The sunsets at La Paloma were spectacular; a different painting covered the sky each night.

We hired bikes for two days. The first day we rode to La Pedrera the next coastal town to the east only 10km away. We chained our bikes at the beach and then strolled along the beach searching for The Valley of the Moon. I read about this place in a brochure and thought I knew how to find it. I did not.

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Cycling along the beach at La Pedrera, Uruguay

 

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A little bit of love in the form of a heart shaped rock upon the coloured rocks along the beach in La Pedrera, Uruguay

 

We had a picnic up in the sand dunes and then followed a road into the forest. I saw a shape; an eroded section of dirt with a lone tree living upon it that resembled what I saw in the brochure. The ground appeared sandy but was very slippery. Wet clay hid an inch beneath the sand so we ice skated our way around, luckily I never fell over but I squealed a lot thinking I might. We accidentally wandered into someone’s backyard but the lady was friendly, spoke fluent English laughed and pointed us in the direction to The Valley of the Moon. We walked a long way past it but the walk through this rural lush pasture with a small wetland and a few large modern houses on a few acres each was a delight. The Valley of the Moon is not well sign posted but it is only a kilometre beyond La Pedrera. It is easier to access it from the highway rather than the beach.

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Eroded landscapes behind the sand dunes in La Pedrera, Uruguay

 

We arrived at this interesting valley of erosion just after 1600. We had enough time to slide around and take some pictures laugh at the fact that we were admiring erosion and questioned whether this place would be here forever or would it one day completely wash away. We made our way back to the beach and to our bikes at the beginning of sunset and the evening cold crept in quickly. I was unprepared for the cold so before commencing our ride back we bought a small bottle of Grappameil (A Uruguayan honey sweetened whiskey which is very easy to drink).

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Valley of the Moon just 1km from La Pedrera, Uruguay

 

The ride beside the highway watching the sunset and the colours flood the sky and reflect in the lakes on the hills was unbelievable. The red reflection in the lakes made it look as though there were small fires on the dark ground. We both were speechless being in this striking moment. But then when I became warm thanks to the Grappameil and also slightly drunk I began dribbling nonsense as we cycled back to the hostel.

Our second day with our bikes led us on the 12km ride to Laguna de Rocha. 7 kilometres of this ride is on dirt, but it is smooth. At this time of year it would be difficult to hitchhike out to the Lake because there were no tourists. I was glad I had Remy and the bicycle. I smoked a little marijuana before cycling out so the ride was a bit slow. I thought I was going fast but Remy informed me that a turtle walked past me at one point.

We followed the road until it ended and then walked out to a shelter to make a picnic lunch and try escape from the wind. After lunch we walked to the ocean and the Laguna de Rocha flows into the ocean at a fast pace cutting a deep trench in the sand and we marvelled at the collapsing edges and speed of the water.

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The point where the Laguna de Rocha cuts its way through the sand to meet the ocean near La Paloma, Uruguay

 

On the way back we stopped and chilled out beside the lake a few times. Once on the deck of an empty holiday house watching the birds, once on the jetty in front of a small community of houses and finally at the last sighting on the lake where white lilies grew under a stretch of dead trees. It would be brilliant to watch the sunset at Laguna de Rocha but unfortunately we could not do it. So instead we sat at the port on this evening. It is nice to stroll along the beach to the port and then come back around the point via the lighthouse.

The next day we caught a bus to Pirapolis.

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Remy and I at Laguna de Rocha near La Paloma in Uruguay

Uruguay 2017. Cabo Polonio; a place to be me and feel completely free.

Cabo Polonio is the reason why I went to Uruguay because and I quote The Lonely Planet guidebook here. “Cabo Polonio remains one of Uruguay’s most rustic coastal villages. There are no banking services, and the town’s limited electricity is derived from generators, solar and wind power” and “…near a tiny fishing village nestled in sand dunes on a windswept point crowned by a lonely lighthouse.”

No cars, no electricity, candle lit rooms at night, people living in shacks, gravity fed showers and did I mention marijuana is legal in Uruguay yet? How could I not visit Cabo Polonio; these are the places I am drawn too. This is the sort of place I will one day settle down in…. settle ugh!!

I caught a bus to Cabo Polonio, which is 4-5hours east of Montevideo. The main entrance to the National Park is where the bus dropped me off and from there I waited for a 4WD truck to take me and several others through the forest across the sand dunes out on to the beach and to the shanty town of Cabo Polonio. It is about a thirty minute rough ride for $UR220 return. The information centre at the main entrance is worth a look.

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The only mode of transport to get to the shanty village of Cabo Polonio, Uruguay. (or you could walk the 7km through the forest and over the sand dunes)

 

I choose the hostel with the brightest colours El Viejo Lobo for my stay, which stretched from two days to six days. The two girls were warm and welcoming and I settled into my bunk immediately. There was only two other tourists there this night and over my stay it fluctuated from two to maybe one night there were six others. But locals often frequented the hostel and were always chatty and friendly. One man visits each morning around 1000 with fresh baked banana bread, seedy loaves and magic brownies. Everything he makes has a smoky taste, is fresh, delicious and his brownies really had some magic in them.

The hostel has two small dorm rooms of six bunks, two private rooms, a hot shower, flushing toilets, sorted rubbish and compost, drinkable well water, a fireplace, kitchen with facilities, Wi-Fi is on for one hour per night from 2100-2200 and to charge devices is only during sunlight hours. It is warm, colourful and very friendly. There is sunroom where most of the smoking and giggles go on.

It was a wet and windy afternoon so I took a short stroll down to the beach which is only a minute out the door of the hostel and then walked around to admire some of the shanty’s (well snoop I was curious to see how each and every person lived here) and then curled up with my book in front of the fire.

The next day the hostel was empty so I made the most of the tranquillity and comfort to sip hot tea and read all day shifting from my bunk to the couch and back. In the afternoon when the 1530 bus brought in the new arrivals I took a stroll along the beach to the lighthouse and sat on the rocks to watch the second largest sea lion colony in Uruguay in action. The smell was undesirable but they were very entertaining. Who needs television when you can watch sea lions play, fight, and frolic and sleep in very uncomfortable positions?

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Great entertainment watching the sea lion’s of Cabo Polonio, Uruguay

 

This evening I met Remy from Switzerland; mostly because he spoke English. We talked about travelling and our lifestyles as he too is a seasonal worker back home. That evening after dinner and a bottle of wine some of the others were rugging up to do a midnight walk along the beach to see the sea sparkles. Remy and I tagged along. This little stroll down to the beach to see the sparkles turned into a two hour marathon walk and we did not even see any sparkles. Remy and I were chatting and as you know time can fly when the conversation flows so freely and it was not bitterly cold and the moon lit the way but finally I stopped and thought; feels like we have been walking for a while. Maybe go see the others-who were high from smoking the green goodness- and ask where we are going.

Next minute I see a wall of six people do an about turn and Remy comes back laughing, they did not realise how far they had walked. Thankfully the conversation continued to flow and we all tucked in about 1am.

Day 3 I was intending to leave but Remy told me of his plans to walk to Cerro Buena Vista and so I stayed. We set off with our banana bread and packed lunch along the beach heading towards Barra de Valizas. The day was a delight, warm sun with a light breeze; I was wearing shorts and loving the sand beneath my bare feet.
Remy was great. I felt so comfortable with him and we could just talk and talk and laugh, oh did we laugh a lot. I could really just be myself and say all the stupid things that came to my head and just felt free to do so. Mostly we just laughed even more at my crazy thoughts. And then we could be silent. We could walk in silence, or sit on the sand and stare at the sky and be silent and it never felt strange. For me this friendship was something special.

We walked past the point where we reached last night. We were unsure where we were going but I spotted a rock on top a dune in the distance which I named “The Turtle” and made that my destination for the day. Remy however spotted something a bit beyond The Turtle and decided that was his destination for the day. At The Turtle we rested upon the rock and I decided it was not much further to the next spot and the day was just perfect so I ate half of my banana bread and we ventured on over the dunes and came to these remarkable large pink, sparkling rocks of different shapes, sizes and formations.

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Unique rock formations at Cerro Buena Vista between Cabo Polonio and Barra de Valizas in Uruguay

 

Like little kids we climbed over the rocks, around the rocks, found small caves and then up to the top for lunch. We could look across to Barra de Valizas, back to the tiny dot of Cabo Polonio and down to two rocky beaches below us. The area had this intense energy, it was powerful and invigorating. I felt so happy, energised and carefree- the way life should be all the time.

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Another fascinating rock at Cerro Buena Vista, Cabo Polonio, Uruguay

 

We decided to walk down to the beach and walk along it the entire way back to the hostel where the hammocks were now strung and we swung in the afternoon sunshine before setting off for our entertainment watching the sea lions.

That evening we went for a stroll through the town and out to Playa Sur; the south beach to see the beginning of the sunset but it was too cold for me so we meandered back and stopped at the shop to get some wine for the evening. There is a small shop in Cabo Polonio that has random items. There is no pasta or rice but there is polenta. There is wine, bear and grappameil. Grappameil is the drink of Uruguay it is a honey whiskey… I think. Anyway for a girl who cannot stomach spirits this was easy to drink; too easy. There are some fruits-apples and oranges and some vegetables, tomatoes, potatoes and peppers however the quality varies and sometimes you may just need to cut the good bits off and compost the rest.

I stayed another day with Remy and today we both decided to buy the magic brownie. This is funny. When the bread man came around and we bought our usual banana bread he told us about the brownies and we both were like; ah no thanks. Then we went outside to sit in the hammocks in silence and both our minds were ticking away and I could not stop thinking about the brownie. Neither could he. So we went for a walk to find the bread man’s house and knocked at his door. A woman answered and we just said “Is there any brownies?” She smiled and we left with one to share.

We ate our brownies and then set off to walk along Playa Sur. Well what a day! We marvelled at the murals in the sand from where the black river sand was washed down onto the beach and made magic eye pictures in the sand as the black and white sand blended. We gazed at the sea lions and Remy ate half a truck load of food. We read in the hammocks and at night we did our usual sit by the fire and share a bottle of wine with more ridiculous laughing sessions and chatting.

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Magic eye murals in the sand scattered all along the Playa Sur in Cabo Polonio, Uruguay

 

Yes I am still in Cabo Polonio because I was told by the guy who works in the hostel that we must go into the forest. I had my brownie for morning tea; one time was enough for Remy. We walked through the sandy streets once again snooping/admiring each little shack making our way to the forest in the distance.

The first section was across the sand dunes and I felt like we were crossing the desert. Then the pine forest appeared and we walked in. I felt like we were wandering for a long time and then I spotted this open meadow where the trees had cleared, a stream of sunshine lit it up and it invited me to come and lie down on the soft green grass. There was more forest walking and then we exited to see the Cabo Polonio lighthouse in a position neither of us had expected.

I was baffled by how far away it was. I sunk down to rest and eat thinking we had a six hour walk back and Remy could not fathom why we were so close to the Playa Sur and not closer to Cerro Buena Vista. We both needed to sit down and laugh about it.

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The perfect place to just be at peace. In the forest a meadow appears lit by the sunshine. Ah how I love Cabo Polonio, Uruguay

 

We walked back making the lighthouse our focus and left only a trail of our footprints on the bare sand dunes. Out here there was no sense of distance, things that looked far were close and things that looked close were far; and no not because I was high. Remy felt the same way. Like when we walked from one dune to the next, I thought it was miles away but it only took two minutes. And from the lunch stop back to Playa Sur and the lighthouse only took us an hour. It was another world in those dunes and in the forest.

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Crossing the sand dunes of Cabo Polonio, Uruguay

 

We returned to Playa Sur and walked amongst the holiday homes of Cabo Polonio in the Barrio Gabasol area; which is on the point between Playa Sur and the lighthouse. These were the white houses, with covered outdoor areas, neat interiors and completely deserted in the winter. Today is definitely my last day so we ended our walk by watching the sea lions below the lighthouse.

The full moon was visible on the beach in the evening but we never did see the sea sparkles.

I departed Cabo Polonio that next morning. Remy and I were heading in different directions but had the intention to continue travelling together in a few days. I left a little piece of my heart in Cabo Polonio. And no not because I fell in love with Remy… for a change there is no sexy romping or mini love story; I just loved the way of life at Cabo Polonio and most of all how it made me feel; completely free. I really felt like I could settle down there for a little while…..maybe even a lifetime.

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Lighthouse and sea lion colony at Cabo Polonio, Uruguay

Uruguay 2017. Getting off the beaten track at Salto de Penitente and Villa Serrana.

When you are rudely awoken at 0650 to the smell off shit because a guy in your dorm hasn’t quite made it to the toilet and has food poisoning running down his leg, on the floor beside your bunk leaving a trail to the bathroom where your hear painful cries coming from behind that door it is enough to make you go “F*#K this! I am over the hostel scene I need to escape into the mountains all on my lonesome away from the tourist trail, without a guidebook and go find my peaceful place.”

Well that is how I felt at 0702 after the girlfriend of the guy mopped up the shit beside my bunk.

Let me give you some background here because if you follow my blogs you may feel a little lost because my last post was from my pear picking job in Tasmania several months ago and now I am escaping into the mountains of Uruguay.
I have already completed my five week adventure in Uruguay. I did not blog on my trip because I just wanted to immerse myself in my own life, my adventure, my surroundings and whatever opportunities came to me.

Now it is over I can write it up, re-live the journey and I am writing in no particular order just for something different. Nothing about this entire trip was planned. When I saw the cheap flights on a television commercial two months ago my intention was to see Argentina because I flew into Buenos Aires but somehow I ended up in Uruguay and stayed there for the full five weeks. And you will soon see why I just fell in love with this beautiful, chilled, friendly and unique little country between Argentina and Brazil in South America.

Let us return to my escape from the poop beside my bed in the hostel incident and continue. So by 0715 I was packed up and walking to the bus terminal in Montevideo with a vision in my head but no idea how to make it a reality. I was travelling with my tent, camp stove and the basics to be self-sufficient however up until this point I have been in hostels because well it is winter, the off season, occasionally raining and the hostels are cosy with fires going at night, quiet because there are not many tourists and they are dry. But now I visualised me in my tent, reading my book, staring at the stars, feeling the sun on my skin without another human in sight. Could I do it??

I went to tourist information in the Tres Cruces bus depot in Montevideo and with my limited Spanish and his limited English we kind of found the same page and I left with a map and a bus ticket to a town two hours north of Montevideo called Minas.
I arrived in Minas just after midday and the sun was strong today. It has not been this warm since I began three weeks ago. At the tourist information in the bus depot I didn’t get very far with the girl. She said there was no camping around the area. Slightly disappointed but not quite ready to give up I sat in the main plaza and sprawled my pack out to make a little lunch. Maybe there was a hostel in Minas?? (For future reference there is but it is $US25 per night. On average I was paying $US9-15 per night)

After I refuelled my body and packed up I was leaving the plaza and spotted an artesian shop with a little “I” in the window. I went inside and asked the lady at the desk is this tourist information?

She said “Yes, yes but I speak very little English. How can I help you?”

I explained my camping idea and that I had tent and could hitchhike anywhere. She handed me a map and circled two spots where she said I could camp but said getting there was difficult because not so many buses run that direction. I told her I would be fine, so long as there is definitely a place to camp safely. She assured me there would be someone at both places.

I began walking out of Minas picking up a bag of pasta and some apples from the supermarket on the way. I did not want to be weighed down by food in case I had to walk the full journey to my first spot roughly 20-25km north of Minas. It took about an hour to walk out of the town to reach the highway. On the way I needed water and I asked a man who was gardening if he could top me up; damn it was warm today. I was grateful for the sunny days but it made my pack heavier as all my warm gear was strapped to it and I was wearing the lightest clothing shorts and a singlet.

I reached Ruta 8 and because it was already just after 1400 I needed to get a ride as soon as I could to ensure I got set up before dark. It was about 10km to the junction and then 11km to my destination.

My first ride came after an hour. Ruta 8 is not very busy. But I walked to gain ground. A guy in a little ute picked me up and dropped me at the junction KM134 to Salto de Penitente and about 500m after I began the walk in a young German guy travelling with his mum picked me up taking me all the way to the car park/sights/camping.

It is an 11km road winding up and down the hills. It would have been a hell of a walk but also spectacular. The hills were bursting with rocks protruding up through the earth. It was quite an interesting and unexpected landscape.

I paid $UR120 which is about $US5 for a campsite. There is a toilet, cold shower and also a small dorm with a few bunks which is $UR300. But I wanted to be in my tent. It was perfect weather to camp too. I walked from the car park about 500m to the open field with horses grazing, green grass, scrub bushes and the sound of water flowing. There were no other tents, it was just after 1600, I pitched my tent and then set off to explore the area before sunset. I was already feeling so relieved and at peace.

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My campsite at Salto de Penitente, Uruguay

 

Salto de Penitente is a 60m waterfall, fast flowing water gushes over the top and plummets into a pool below surrounded by hills; I would like to say mountains but the tallest mountain in Uruguay is 513m, so they are really just hills. It is a naturally beautifully and tranquil location and I sat in the late afternoon sun on a boulder gazing across the valley.

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Salto de Penitente; a 60m waterfall set amongst the hills of Uruguay just north of Minas

 

Just before it got too dark to see I prepared my tent, cooked my dinner and then curled into my sleeping bag to listen to the sounds of horses chewing, sheep baaing, and the river flowing as I read my book. That night I slept soundly for twelve hours. That is a very big sleep for me but I obviously either needed it or just felt so relaxed; probably both.

The next morning I sipped my tea in my tent as the friendly birds got up close bouncing almost inside my tent as I sat there. Slowly I packed up and decided to move on. There was not much else out here and I could possibly have a big day of walking if I could not hitch back out to the highway. Thankfully the only car that was at the falls this early picked me up after I walked an hour out.

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The friendly birds came very close while I lay in my tent at Salto de Penitente, Uruguay

 

Just to note at Salto de Penitente there is no drinking water but a small kiosk sells chips, alfajores (a sweet biscuit treat filled with Dulce de Leche-sweet caramel spread) soft drinks and water.

Back on the highway I walked about an hour before a man in a large van stopped and gave me a ride to KM138 the first entrance to Villa Serrana. If you go to KM145 the walk in is much shorter. However it was just before midday the sun was shining and well at the time I did not know this so I just told him to stop when I saw the Villa Serrana sign. I had a 4hour walk to the town, up the hills, into the bush along a dirt road the odd local drove past- well I only saw two cars the whole walk. I made a picnic at the top before the descent into the village. And on the way down while day dreaming I fell in a pot hole came crashing down upon my knees and grazed them pretty badly. This accident caused me a small amount of grief the rest of my trip. I did not allow it to ruin the trip but you all remember as kids when you graze your knees and when it scabs up how hard it is to bend or straighten your legs. It was slightly frustrating because I kept busting them open.

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Perfect picnic lunch stop overlooking the hills and the village of Villa Serrana in Uruguay

 

It was 1500 when I arrived in the village of Villa Serrana; there is a gorgeous still lake, dammed up to create a waterfall in the base of the valley. I used my map to find this camping place, going completely on trust by the lady in Minas. The house had a sign on the gate La Calaguala refuge and camping. However no one was about. I sat out the front and waited for a while but as I felt the day slipping away I felt a slight sensation of panic creep in… where will I sleep tonight?

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The centre of Villa Serrana separating the two sides of town is a still lake dammed to create this little waterfall

 

I went for a walk back to the village. This is a fifteen minute walk. I found an open door and asked about camping. The lady said no camping. We had to use Google translate to communicate but she helped me on my way by ringing this place and checking if there was a place for me and there was so I walked back again.

There was still no one around so I sat out the front and waited. A guy on a motorbike pulled up and told me she was home and he would get her. I was knocking at the wrong part of the house. An older lady with a little English directed me where to camp, explained the shower and toilet situation and left me to walk up the hill to the back of the property. There was a flat area next to a stone building which was where the hot shower and toilet was. I pitched my tent facing out to the hills and west for the sunset.

I made a new friend; Waikie the puppy who never really left my side whenever I was at the house. He came to the shower with me, toilet with me and snuggled beside me when I was in my tent. He was such a little sweetheart. I was pitched, unpacked, settled in just on sunset and I was at peace again. I would stay here for two nights. The cost is $UR350 for a four person campsite but she charged me $UR300 which I felt was a bit high but when I thought how serene it was, all my freedom, the space, the hot shower; I did not care. It was worth every cent.

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My little furry buddy that kept me company when I was in my tent at La Calaguala in Villa Serrana, Urguay

 

The next day I woke up smiling; what a sleep again! I casually strolled into town after several cups of tea while reading. I found a mini market that stocked a few basics and continued down to the lake. I followed trails into the forests beside the lake and then followed signs to Om Shanti and Bano de la India. Om Shanti was a vegetarian food place according to the signs and Bano de la India I had no idea but wanted to find out.

The sun was a delight again as I slowly strolled the dirt roads soaking in the views around me. I cannot express how tremendous I was feeling being out here. And then when I finally found Om Shanti I thought pinch me this must be a dream.

Om Shanti is a colourful house with an octagon shaped wooden hut in the yard which is a yoga and meditation room. A small shack below the house had an outside deck with two tables set and Robert invited me to sit. He offered me freshly squeezed orange and apple juice and homemade hummus with bread while he made me some lunch. My lunch was homemade pasta parcels filled with cheese and herbs with a shitake mushroom sauce. We had very basic conversations with my limited Spanish and his English but somehow we talked for an hour or so.

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Om Shanti; a delicious eatery serving homemade vegetarian food in a tranquil setting run by very warm people in Villa Serrana, Uruguay

 

He told me to go and see Bano de la India which was at the base of his block. It is a small waterfall and stream below the hills. I had a little siesta before returning to Om Shanti for tea and cake.

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Follow the wooden signs scattered all around the town to Bano de la India and you will find this hidden stream and waterfall  tucked below the valley in Villa Serrana, Uruguay

 

Full of food and warm from the sunshine I strolled back up to my tent where Waikie was waiting for me and took an afternoon siesta. Just before sunset I went to the mini market and tried homemade banana whiskey and then lay under the sky and watched the beginning of the sunset and the transformation the sky underwent as the sun sunk behind the hills filling the sky with colours. This trip has offered some stunning sunsets and I have always had the time to sit and watch them as they unfold and fill my world with colours and constantly changing painted tapestries in the sky.

The next morning after my usual tea and reading I packed up and began the walk out of Villa Serrana. I could have stayed another day or two but rain was due and hitch hiking in the rain is not my idea of fun. I took the road out to the highway at KM145. It was an hour walk on bitumen between the hills and nowhere near as nice as the journey in. I am so thankful I made the full loop and came in over the mountains two days before. At the highway; the deserted Sunday morning highway I walked for a few kilometres into the dark clouds and just as they burst down a dear elderly man in a maroon mini truck picked me up and dropped me to the bus terminal in Minas. The perfect end to a perfect escape all of which was prompted by some guy who could not hold his bowels in my dorm.

It is funny how life takes a path we did not expect because of the actions of another. But that is why sometimes we just need to go with the flow and follow our instincts or take an opportunity that is presented to us. We don’t need to know where the journey will take us, we just need to trust in it and enjoy it.

Reducing my Waste even while Living out of my Car

It has been twelve months since my experiment to produce (almost) zero waste for three months and over twelve months since I started using the mooncup. I am still very conscious of my waste and still collect my waste from each job I work to see how much I am using and where I can reduce. The mooncup has been the best thing for my body and obviously the planet that I have discovered in my path the help our planet. I have not purchased or used a single tampon or pad in over a year and my “girlie bits” feel so much better for it too. It is brilliant for hiking too.

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Using the Divacup (Mooncup) saves you money, produces zero waste and is so much healthier for your body-intimate girlie areas 🙂

 

This blog was prompted by a fabulous young lady who is currently fulfilling her dream of living out of a van with her boyfriend and is travelling around Australia. She asked me the question; What do you do to minimise waste while living on the road?

From the previous blog of my zero waste experiment I have continued to shop at bulk food stores as much as I can. Things have really stepped up in the world of bulk food stores because now you can get laundry powder, dish liquid, cleaning products and I have seen shampoo. As well as my usual olive oil, apple cider vinegar and coconut oil I also buy rice, pasta, lentils and nuts. Loose leaf teas are available and also many stores are stocking spices and herbs. I simply refill my spice jars. I have also been introduced to muesli and oats; cheap and filling. I will be making my own. I have the idea to take a cup into my next shop and make my muesli in store adding what I need cup by cup to my oats with some pepitas, almonds, dried fruits and chia seeds.

Bulk food stores are spreading too so from last year where going away required a fair bit of planning and estimating what I need, it is getting a bit easier. I was surprised on my recent travels through Tasmania how many small towns are hiding bulk foods. Towns like Deloraine, Geeveston, Dunalley, Premaydena even if they only stock the basics like rice, flours and some legumes or nuts- every little way to avoid packaging helps.

I still travel with my glass jars and reusable snap lock bags which I use until they are almost dead even when the snap lock dies I just put an old hair tie or band around it. Obviously I have cloth bags but I also carry an old banana box for shopping too. I use this mostly when I am in one place for a few weeks while working to put all my fresh food in. Actually I will be honest here. I am going to try getting rid of glass jars and try storing in the snap locks and paper bags for space. Glass jars are rigid and as the product empties I am carrying air, so bags seem more practical BUT only because I live in my car and this way I can store more food in my food box.

I have a food processor now so I make peanut butter every three months, way cheaper and no packaging. And when I am stopped for a job I make my own kim chi and hummus.

I still endeavour to avoid the big supermarkets seeking to shop at farmers markets and small grocers. In fact this is growing too. In Tasmania and also NSW I am noticing the spread of fresh food grocers, from Griffith, to Narrandera and Dubbo in NSW; Dubbo also has a bulk food store on the main street and then in Tasmania Sorrell, Cambridge, Burnie to name a few with fresh food grocers. By shopping at these places I limit my support of the big supermarkets and limit packaging. It also helps support local farmers.

I do not use rubbish bags or find a need for them. I use some packaging from something else and I keep a small box which I empty frequently. I try to separate on the road too. Some towns/cities have recycling bins in public places especially in Tasmania or I drop them into bins on the kerbside. While working on farms where there is no council collection I now keep all my rubbish and take it back to a town when I can because on farms (and it is not all of them) I know a lot of farmers dump rubbish in a hole and burn it; and I do not want to be a part of that practice.

I use bamboo toothbrushes and have recently discovered bamboo cotton tips. I still support the shampoo bars from Lush and coconut oil and almond oil for skin, deodorant and sunscreen. However I found that coconut oil is not moisturising me enough throughout winter, it just doesn’t sink into my skin in the cold so I blend it into a natural moisturiser and the last one I bought-yes came in plastic- is still going after six months.

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NO packaging whatsoever thanks to LUSH and their range of shampoo bars

 

I buy friends Who Gives A Crap toilet paper (when I crash on their couch for longer than a week)and take a few rolls for the road and also you can pick up this lovely & ethical loo paper in health food shops. This stuff breaks down so quickly and has a great story behind it. From the website… “40% of the world’s population does not have access to a toilet, and we think it pretty crap. That’s why we donate 50% of our profits to help build toilets to those in need. AND tree-free is the way to be. That’s why we use only 100% recycled paper fibres, bamboo or sugarcane in our products. It saves water, carbon emissions and trees. Trees are better for hugging than they are for wiping away”.  www.whogivesacrap.org

 

 

Tasmania 2017. Picking Pears on the Tasman Peninsula

After five weeks of travelling in Tasmania and three weeks before that on the mainland it was now time for me to stop and work again. It was sixty six days in total that I travelled for; the longest time in Australia that I have been camping for about five years. But I got the itch again and I feel that a few more road trips are on the cards for this year.

I have returned to the pristine Tasman Peninsula to the pear orchard hidden behind White Beach on Parsons Bay where I worked last year. I truly adored my time picking pears last year so that is why I have come back. I like the people that I work for, the basic but cosy shacks where we stay and most of all the lifestyle of working Monday to Friday starting work at 0800 allowing me time to walk along the beach each morning before work and finishing at 1630 allowing me time to return for an afternoon swim on the warm days. It is a nice break from the big days during grain harvest.

The pear season started a little later this year and also went almost double the duration. We picked into the eighth week but did have some time off for Easter. I drove the tractors a bit more this year and also used the cherry picker from time to time.

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Not just another day in an office. My view at work across Parsons Bay while picking pears in the sunshine in Tasmania

 

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Operating a cherry picker to pick the high pears at my job on the Tasman Peninsula in Tasmania

 

But most of my days were spent picking the ground level pears which I appreciate the most. I like using my body and being able to walk around, have a chat with the other groundy and soak up my surroundings without the purring of an engine under me. I also had a terrific crew again this year; the same two older guys from last year and a very lovely Estonian girl-Triin. For one of our weeks we had a groovy routine where we managed to keep our tractor close by so we had a portable speaker blasting music all day which got us motivated and the days flew by. I did not tire of the job until the last few days; by then I was completely over picking and people.

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Relaxed lunch time reading under the pear trees in Tasmania

The highlight of the season was the night of April 11. I had taken this day off work to celebrate Willy’s Birthday; hard to believe he would have been 34 this year and it has almost been four years of life without him. I still remain true to my promise to take this day to just remember him and do something special on my own- time out from the world for a day or at least a few hours and enjoy a piece of chocolate cake of course. So after my day out attempting to surf for the first time I came back to the orchard and asked Nick (The German boy also picking pears whom I became great friends with) to come for a late afternoon walk along White Beach to hopefully catch the full moon rising at dark. As we strolled along the beach we noticed the water’s edge was a thick, transparent pink colour like someone had dropped paint on the water. A passer-by told us it was an algae that appeared from time to time.

 

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White Beach, Tasmania. Just before dark the “Sea Sparkles” rest along the waters edge

 

But as it got darker something magical occurred. Dexter ran into the water and I noticed blue sparkles following her. Then under my feet with each step the sand illuminated with blue. We were witnessing “Sea Sparkles” which is the pretty and simple name for phosphorescent/bioluminescence/dinoflagellate- I don’t know which scientific name it is exactly.

I called up the two Estonians and they came down to the beach. It was now dark and for almost two hours we played, splashed, swirled the water, danced on the sand, threw sticks for Dexter and treasured this incredible natural wonder. My camera was no good at taking photos and to be honest I did not care because I was just so happy enjoying it for myself. It is one of the most spectacular events I have experienced and what a special day to have seen it.

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Terrible photo but the best example I captured of the magic that appeared on April 11 at White Beach in Tasmania. The Sea Sparkles were spectacular after the sun went down.

We were quite fortunate during our time working at the pear orchard because there were several more occasions when the sea sparkles were at White Beach. Another night that I witnessed it; the colour was a mix between green and blue and the sea was rough so with each crashing wave a shimmer of green/blue light lined the shore.

 

There were many perfect mornings for paddle boarding at White Beach and even up until Easter which was the end of April the water was still nice enough to swim in. I had a nice paddle board at Sloping Main which is just beyond Saltwater River one Sunday afternoon.

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Dexter keeping a watchful eye as I paddle board at White Beach, Tasmania

One Saturday, Nick and I went out to Doo Town for lunch at the Doo-lishious food van and visited the Blowhole, Fossil Bay Lookout, Tasman Arch, The Devils Kitchen and walked the one hour flat trail out to Waterfall Bay. If you are ever down this way you must get the ice cream from the Doo-lischious van; berry ice cream with fresh berries is delicious.

 

On Good Friday Nick and I went down towards Port Arthur to see the Remarkable Cave and went on to walk the track to Crescent Bay. It was a cool and windy day on the three hour hike and just as we approached the car upon completion it poured with rain. The walk was fairly easy and we climbed to Mount Brown for views along the coast and across Crescent Bay. We went down into the Remarkable Cave and watched the waves roll into it.

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One of the magnificent views from the top of Mount Brown on the Crescent Bay walk near Port Arthur in Tasmania

 

On Easter Monday we walked the full length of Sloping Main Beach which is a lot longer than White Beach and deceiving to the eye. The walk is about two hours return but very pleasant. The water is so clear. Triin- The Estonian girl went snorkelling here and said it was interesting, lots of weed, and rocks and a few fish along the coastal cliffs.

For a few weeks I was going to Yoga on a Sunday morning at Eaglehawk Neck. The class was taken by a very gentle, softly spoken young guy named Ben. The classes were always different and I was so thankful to be getting my weekly yoga fix, especially good for the body after a week of pear picking. After yoga we would go up to the Cube Coffee Van for a yummy warm drink and savour it while looking over the eastern coastline of the Tasman Peninsula. From the lookout you can see all the way to Cape Huoy.

On Monday evenings there was a community dinner at the Tasman Eco-Village. I attended for the first half of my time on the Peninsula but after daylight savings ended I was less motivated to go out after dark in the cooler evenings. I did meet some very interesting and welcoming people at the dinners and had the best feed of my week on a Monday night. Each person attending would contribute a plate of food so it was a delicious buffet dinner and a lot of vegan/vegetarian options were available. I am fascinated with the concept of the Eco-Village and living there. But right now I am not willing to make any big commitments to another property.

There was one negative side to my time on the Peninsula this year. I debated whether to throw it in because I dislike putting in the crappy stuff; but I don’t like to make out that my life is always so glamorous. So this year I had to share my room; which from the start I was not overly happy with because I do like my own space but I was open minded to the experience from the day the young German girl moved in. She was a nice enough girl but not my cup of tea. She could complain. After her first few days of work she would come home and spend so long complaining about the boss’s wife and his son and I found this extremely uncomfortable and disrespectful. Then she would be too hot, too cold, too tired, too sore, sore foot, sore back, wet feet and I just did not want to hear about it. So I just would not talk to her. Eventually she got the hint and stopped making conversation with me.

Fortunately I made friends with Nick who lived in the next shack and he was an angel sent to me. I loved spending time with him and this helped me escape my room. I never felt overly uncomfortable in my room but after a few weeks I could feel the black energy in there and it started to affect my mood. So I was starting to feel like I was not enjoying my time there anymore and this made me sad and confused. In the end; much to my surprise because she was not a very independent or resourceful girl she moved out. And the last two weeks were a delight again. Nick and I spent a lot of time together and I was at peace in my own room.

From this experience though I learnt a lot about myself and discovered a large area of weakness within me. First of all I allowed the behaviour of another to disturb my mood and my inner peace. Then I wondered why I allowed her complaining to irritate me to a point that I did not even want to talk to her at all. Why couldn’t I just listen and still be polite? I know that partially it is because I believe that my time is precious and I like to be surrounded by positive, happy and inspiring people. I am happier to sit alone in silence than to be in the wrong company. And so I would rather ignore her than listen to her. I know I need to handle the situation a bit better in future but I also realised that this doesn’t happen all that much; most of the time I either prefer to keep to myself and not interact with other co-workers or I like everyone, accept all the differences and actually get curious about new people and their beliefs, choices and lifestyles- so I am trying not to be too hard on myself but I will definitely do a little more inner work on myself to make my internal peace stronger.

It was difficult to move on again after eight weeks settled down. I had a comfortable routine going and really enjoyed my working days with Triin and the two older men. Then I prized coming home to Nick to play guitar, watch movies, listen to music and hang out. But I know after a few days I will be ready for the next adventure; which will be more work again and I will meet new people, see new places and have a new work routine. And I am going through Melbourne so I will get to see all my best friends for lots of cuddles and catch ups.

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Sometimes it is the people that make the job even more fun. Triin from Estonia and Nick from Germany were a delight to work with. I will miss them both as we all venture on to our next adventures.

Before I finish this is a little bit sad; regarding my Dexter. We have been on the road for nine years now and she is eleven. Dexter has always been this bouncy, full of energy and crazy dog. But in the last two weeks I have noticed a change in her. She is starting to slow down, takes a little longer to get up in the morning and walks about ten meters behind me. From time to time in the last two years I felt she was a burden to my lifestyle because I would love to be overseas a lot more but at the same time she has been a blessing to my lifestyle for the company, friendship and running/walking buddy on my travels and at my remote/rural places of work. I have always known our relationship would not last forever and this I can accept. But I never thought I would feel so sad watching the changes in her as she slows down. It has prompted me to slow down to meet her needs and also to treasure what time we have left. It may be months but it may still be years.

 

It is also a reminder that we are all getting older and we will all find struggles in the things we once did with ease. That is why I live my life to the fullest each day NOW. I don’t put things off until later or I am older. Right now I am at my healthiest, fittest and strongest so now is the time to do all those crazy things. I am not saying that I won’t still be able to hike, travel, and paddleboard at 50, 60 or 70 but it is important to realise we don’t know how much time we have, we don’t know when our bodies will start to break, slow or struggle. Life is precious and each and every day should be lived like it may well be your last. Don’t put off your dreams for the “future” start living them today!

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My precious best friend; Dexter relaxed and happy at White Beach, Tasmania