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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.