Into Uruguay for another day full of surprises.
Today I crossed in to my sixteenth different country since I started this adventure almost exactly a year ago. But it was actually my 32nd border crossing – Not counting going back to Australia at Christmas. It will be my last border crossing – Until I get to Europe, anyway ! . And I have to say it was one of the easiest and most pleasant, although maybe not the quickest.
Lovely camp site “Do Senades”, in between Rio Grande and Cassino. It is part of a family’s property – They have a house and live on one section, while the camp site itself is operated by the son Gabriel when he is not at the local University or working. They are trying very hard, and asked me how they could improve it. They are already in iOverlander web site which many of us use to find camp sites, so not much more they can do, I think. I do recommend it if anyone is passing this area –
S 32.08.721. W 052.11.869
When I left the camp site I had to go and see what was in Cassino at the end of the road – Gabriel told me it is the longest continuous beach in the world. Not sure about that, but I have to agree that it is a long one ! I drove through the sleepy little town of Cassino, and kept going till I hit the beach. And I quite literally hit the beach !! The road through town actually keeps going onto the beach itself, and you can then turn left / north for a short distance, or turn right / south for a long distance !! I drove maybe 10 kms south along the beach and apart from a few fishermen, or locals relaxing under umbrellas, it was totally deserted. It would be gorgeous to just pack up a picnic and head south until there was no one, and then just stop and enjoy it. A very nice beach – With more birds on it trying to catch fish in the shallows than people !
I then went back through Cassino, picked up some bread rolls from the Panaderia, and headed out on to the main road that would take me south to the Uruguay border at Chui – Some 200 kms away. To start with it was the same flat straight road as yesterday, with lots of grain farming evident, with big silos and grain trucks, and combine harvesters etc everywhere. They even give them their own dirt road beside the highway so the big farming equipment can move around without having to come on to the main highway – Very clever.
Then, after only an hour or so, I saw a “Look out for animals on the road” sign, with what looked like a capybara on the sign. Then there was a kind of wetlands area on both sides of the road, and suddenly I looked down and notice all these lumps – There were hundreds (literally) of capybaras everywhere, lying in the mud , swimming around in the water with just their heads showing, or eating the kind of water plants that were everywhere – They look just like hippopotami in the Zambezi !! And some of them are big !! Mixed in with them were all sorts of wild fowl – Some really big, and also very noisy ! I stopped several times on the side of the road to look at them all more closely through the binoculars, and take some photos.
Unfortunately, with so many animals in the area, and wetlands on both sides of the road, there were a number of “dead ‘uns” that unfortunately hadn’t made it across the road. Oddly, they all had one bright blue foot – I can only assume that the local rangers for this wetlands mark the fresh road kill each day, but leave it there so the vultures and other carrion feeders can also exist in this environment. But it was funny to see them all with their blue nail varnish on one foot !
This section of wetlands probably extended for about an hour, and it went back off the road for as far as you could see, so it is a very extensive area, and made for a really different and interesting drive for an hour or so.
As we neared the Uruguay border it was back to lots of grain silos and trucks, and just before the border there was a big windfarm – First one I had seen in Brazil. Then I was into the Brazilian customs area. I had been concerned that when I entered Brazil in Iguazu they hadn’t given me any paperwork to show I had imported a vehicle – Unlike every other country on the entire trip. All they had done was stamp my passport, so officially I had no car in Brazil. So I was a little concerned that, due to the many Argentinian day trippers at Iguazu who are allowed to enter for the day with no paperwork, they had possibly thought I was just going for the day too, even though I had tried to draw their attention to it. Anyway, today was similar – They couldn’t care whether I had a car or not. (Drat, I should have gone faster through all those many annoying speed cameras – As far as they were concerned, I didn’t exist in Brazil !!) Anyway, through Brazil formalities easily, and off down the no man’s land to the Uruguay border post. I went in there and the lady police officer handling my passport noticed I was a Leo and made a joke to her fellow officers about it – Obviously she was a Leo too and was rubbing the other officer’s noses in it. Despite my limited Spanish, I picked up on it and made a comment, and everyone absolutely cracked up – And after that it was just as if we were all friends from way back !
Whisked though customs (At least they gave me a piece of paper for my car this time !), and then I suddenly realised I had no Uruguay money and there hadn’t been a cambio man at the border, so I asked my buddies (!) in customs and they said I had to go back into the little town of Chui to get money as there were no banks on the road ahead. Having already been stamped into Uruguay didn’t seem to be a problem, so off I went back into town to get money. 10 minutes later, money in pocket, I came back to the border post where there were now about 20 cars queued up waiting to clear customs. The customs guy saw me coming, moved cones out of the way, and waved my straight through, past all the other people, who must have wondered how come Australian vehicles didn’t have to stop and be inspected before entering Uruguay !! What a hoot !
The down side to all this is that when I got the money out of the ATM in Chui, it never registered at the time that Chui is officially in Brazil, and it wasn’t until I was counting the money again tonight that I have just realised that I got more Brazilian Reals out !! So I still don’t have any Uruguayan money, and will need to find a bank tomorrow to change it all again !! Grrrrrr
The camp site I was aiming for was only 20 kms past the border, and I turned down towards Punta del Diablo not knowing what to expect. I saw the camp site which as usual at this time of year (summer just finishing) was empty, but didn’t stop and decided to go into town and see what was there. I found this AMAZING little town on the beach that I just can’t explain. Sand roads, with 100’s of ramshackle bars and restaurants along the beach – It looked a bit like a West Indian seaside resort from the 70’s ! Lots and lots of apartments for rent, in everything from a lean to hut to some really snazzy places. One was even a thatched cottage !! Along the beach are all these little fishing boats – Most of them obviously still in use – Just not this I couldn’t believe it – What a great little holiday town – I can just imagine it last week over Easter – It would have been packed. Anyway, back to the camp site – And it was all locked up !! I found a guy and he suggested I go 5 kms down the road to another place – So I did. Turns out it is a National Park, and in Uruguay all National Parks are operated by the Army, the Ejercito ! So I am trying to ask this female army officer At that point two male officers rolled up in an old 4 WD that looked like it was ex Russian military – And the engine sounded (and blew black smoke) like it too ! Anyway, he too tried to tell me something in Spanish, but eventually he just said “Follow me”, and off we went through the park. It is enormous ! Left, right, down dirt tracks, back on the road again, and eventually, after about 10 minutes, he stops and points to an area where there are a few tents and vans and says “You can camp here”. Then he points to all my stickers on the car and asks me for some of mine – Which I do not have. But luckily I had some spares and gave him an Aussie flag and a couple of spare Canadian Mountie stickers, which he loved. He then promised to come back in the morning with a Uruguay Army sticker for me, and then drove off in a cloud of black smoke, waving goodbye and tooting his horn at me ! All the other people camped there looked in amazement as this weird Aussie car got a personal escort from the army to his camp site, and the officers waving goodbye to me as they drove away !!
I then went for a wander down to the beach and found another delightful little resort, this time with lots of holiday Cabanas that you can rent out if you are not the camping type. But all pretty much deserted again at the moment.
Today, yet again, was an example to me of the real advantages of being in your own car on a trip like this, and also not being tied tightly to a schedule where you know pretty much what you will be doing and seeing everyday. Everything today has been a total surprise to me – The great camp site last night, the unexpected wetlands and animals beside the road, the fun at the border crossing, the amazing little town of Punta del Diablo, and then the incredible Army escort to my camp site ! It is the surprises like this almost every day that really make a trip like this a real adventure, rather than a tour.
What a day J
What am I going to do and where am I going tomorrow ? I do not have a clue. I do not even know (or want to know) what is around the next corner. And that is just my point, what makes life so much fun, and why I so enjoy adventures like this. As I quoted Forrest Gump yesterday – Life really is like a box of chocolates………
All I do know is that tomorrow I have to find a bank somewhere to try and change all my Brazilian Reals into Uruguay Pesos !!! ROFL.