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EXPLORING URUGUAY
 
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EXPLORING URUGUAY

We headed to Argentina after selling our Caribbean home in Montserrat. My dream was to see icebergs and glaciers, but our visit to this extraordinary country opened our eyes to so much more. Having traveled first to Ushuaia the Antarctica staging point and worked our way up through Patagonia to Calafate, we had settled into Buenos Aires as if it were to be a new home. But, winter was coming and we'd made a reservation in Guatemala for a lovely home on Lake Atitlan. So...once again it was time to go.

Timing is everything as has been said and our's couldn't have been worse. One of neighboring Chile's volcanoes had chosen to erupt spewing volcanic dust high into the atmosphere. With winds not in our favor, airports in Buenos Aires were shut down for days and maybe weeks. Ever flexible, we opted to travel to Uruguay naively assuming we'd be easily able to fly north to Miami from there and then hop the short flight to Guatemala.

 

We traveled from Buenos Aires to Colonia, Uruguay, thinking to have some adventures in the days along the way to the airport. Everyone in Buenos Aires spoke well of Colonia actually singing its praises. It sounded good and a day later we were off on the ferry.

Loving ocean transport of any kind for us this was the day's highpoint. The ferry was a hoot, a little worn, but showing evidence of a more glorious past. We arrived in Uruguay at a stylish new ferry port facility with shops and car rental agencies where we got a car and were on our way to Colonia, an Uruguay UNESCO site. These sites are not usually our favorite places as they invite the "universal UNESCO" shops and services and most often lose all the character that attracted the UNESCO award in the first place. Colonia proved not to have been too much affected by its new status. It was a simple port side town that had been in existence for some time and it showed every evidence of that. In Colonia one could see what had attracted it's UNESCO award, but it had a long way to go in restoration of its colonial buildings.

We walked the historic district and found a small welcoming guest house for the night. We hopped into our little bed and pulled the covers up. Even with the little heater in the room going full blast, it was freezing!! Having lived in the Caribbean for several years, we were truly unprepared for the cold.

In the morning we drove around the little town, both the tiny colonial section and the more modern section where most people live and where most commerce takes place. We stopped at a small neighborhood supermarket to pick up supplies for the road and were surprised that it held only canned goods and other hard goods. There were no fruits and vegetables, no cheeses, no meats. I don't even think they had bread. When we asked about it they had a giggle and told us "across the street and up the road a bit." There we found just what we were looking for and it seemed surprisingly sophisticated in relation to the supermarket. This would be the tale of Uruguay, a peculiar combination of sophistication and a very rustic rural nature. We were there such a short time it was hard to put the two together.
 
Ocean side residences in the old city seemed to offer few amenities even remembering my youth on the ocean in New England. I imagined these folks were also very cold much of the year, but they had a lovely view and much can be said for that.

 

Some of the more recent changes in Colonia are lovely and sophisticated, again the juxtaposition of rustic and modern. When you read about the unusual President of Uruguay, you get some idea of how different this country is. Here's a President giving back much of his salary saying many of the people of the country have to live on what he keeps so it is only right that he does too. How novel is that idea in today's world?

We drove toward the capital city and the country's major airport hoping to arrange flights out. The news we got wasn't good as the volcanic dust was now affecting flights out of Uruguay as well as those from Buenos Aires. We figured we'd give ourselves a few days exploring and try again.

We were soon on our way north of the city as we always look for someplace a little out of the way. We found it in a little beach side community all but abandoned for the season. We came upon a small guest house still open and checked into a unit with a fireplace and the ubiquitous eucalyptus firewood. We walked the town shut down for winter and imagined what it must be like in the summer. Glorious is what we imagined.

I have to say at this point that the cold dramatically affected our feelings about Uruguay. Many homes and guest accommodations in the country side are heated with wood fires using eucalyptus a wood I am allergic to. I woke in the mornings with eyes burning, chest tight and nose raw from the simple smell of the wood.

On waking our first morning, we went walking around this little summer resort area and this is more of what we found. This alone might be a reason to move to Uruguay. I felt I had been transported to the Cape Cod of my childhood.

 

Leaving the little beach side town, we headed north again following the coast. Eventually we passed through the pride and joy of modern development in Uruguay -- Puerto Plata or Silver Port. This huge high rise beach city was a ghost town at that time of year. We were told though that it is a magnet for the wealthy from Mexico, through Latin and South America. Argentineans who had talked to us about it seemed to believe it some kind of heaven. For us it was a horror and we continued north.

This is what seemed so shocking about the country. Below are photographs of pastoral Uruguay. Trying to put these images together seems an impossibility.
 

 
 
 
Toward the last few days of our trip we passed this ferry across a missing bridge. The folks in the truck beside us were decidedly in the bag and very friendly. I just can't really imagine how they navigated their passage on to and off from the ferry, but they did it with perfection. We followed along and stopped on the other side to see one more of Uruguay's conundrums.

 

Look at this project for "sustainable tourism." Would it surprise you to see something so innovative in San Diego? Not at all.

 
CRAFTS AND SHOPPING
And we drove on and on. We found an interesting cemetery and the farms and farm animals were enchanting. There truly was little else. We did pass through some small towns with crafts for sale though the restaurant options were few. I bought a heavy huge brass bell for the gate on our home's wall in one of these towns. In another we found the yarn for sale and I wished we still lived in a cold climate. It would have made lovely sweaters.

 

 

 

 
I was impressed with the almost primitive quality of the country. It seemed we had passed back a century or so. People were kind and friendly, but not truly living in the 20th century, let alone the 21st. Is that a bad thing? I don't think so, but it was somehow shocking. Reviewing the photographs I took in Uruguay, I am totally rethinking my first impression of the country. We'll go back again and maybe find a home there.

What I remember most about Uruguay is driving. There is an incredible coastline with clean dune protected beaches and relatively small low scale residential developments. There are farms with acres and acres of green grass where calves recover from nursing. Horses run about as in a dream we once had. Sheep are very fat and walk about in fields of deep green food. It doesn't get better than that!

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