Day 23 – Punta del Este
Sunday March 4 was our last full day in Uruguay. We were 1/2 way done our trip – but 6 weeks is a long time, so we were not feeling cheated.
We rose early to catch the sunrise, which was nice and Michael managed to optimize, but was not as spectacular as we had hoped for. After returning for breakfast at our apartment, we then headed off the check out the ‘tip’ of Este with it’s old church, and lighthouse. We also discovered several abandoned buildings. We suspect they were dance club type buildings and perhaps with the gentrification of the area they are no longer attracting the right demographics – or perhaps the bylaws are stricter? At any rate, they likely won’t last long – there seems to be money here, so surely someone will scoop them up and update / replace them. But for now at least, they provide great fodder for Michaels lens.
After lunch we headed to sit on the beach under an umbrella (still feeling the sun from our lengthy walk). We finally hit a nice restaurant where Michael had ‘baby beef’ – which was huge – and I had seafood spaghetti. Both were very yummy and even with wine and water our bill was about $80 – which is cheap for Punta del Este. The swank restaurant we thought about was that much per person for the meal alone – so we made a good find with this restaurant!
We sauntered around the marina a bit more, and checked out the local artisan market. It was mostly disappointing, but Michael did like the ‘cutout coins’ which involved an incredible amount of work – just not sure what you would do with one…
Then back to pack and ready ourselves for a full day of travel by bus and by ferry to Buenos Aires enroute to Iguazu!
Day 22 – Punta del Este
By Saturday March 3, Roberto finally came through. I had sent messages complaining about the missing necessities. He explained that his usual support person, Raoul, was off and apologized for the breakdown. The daily maid service is nice though – and she brought us the missing supplies (although redundant now). Returning to an apartment with dishes done and having the bed made for you is a nice perk though and helps make up for the bumpy start.
And the ice cream still is fantastic – we’ve eaten it out twice and in the apt twice already – no wonder I can’t lose weight! So time for a llllloooonnnggg walk. We decided to check out the Barra Bridge which is the entry point to Punta del Este along the east coast. It’s a very cool looking bridge, but I can’t imagine it’s very practical for vehicles. We greatly underestimated the heat and strength of the sun to be taking a 12 km walk each way in the heat of the day. But the walk was interesting, starting with the race track setup for the E1 race (formula 1 race for electric cars) and passing many beautiful homes and condos including the under construction Trump Tower. As we crossed away from the ocean side, the scenery shifted to old cars and old horses – this is where the workers who sustain the lifestyles for the rich and famous live. Finally at the bridge we were unable to find transportation back – no busses here on a Saturday, and no taxis either.
Once back closer to home, we picked up some beer and empanadas from a market on the street – so good! So good in fact, that we decided to save some money by not eating out for dinner and went back and purchased some quiche like tuna/olives and cheese/tomato pies. We had enough sun from the long morning walk, so spent the afternoon indoors reading, napping and doing more research on Iguazu Falls.
Day 21 – Punta del Este
I’m skipping March 1 for now as Mike had no regular photos. There are some Go-Pro videos, but more serious editing is needed, so hopefully will loop back later to get them posted. As for diary of the day; well it was another wonderful lazy beach day at Punta del Diablo with not much more to say!
So on Friday March 2, we had to rise before dawn to catch our bus to Punta del Este. Juan was again overly helpful and picked us up at the cabin for 5:30am as he didn’t trust the taxi driver to show up that early! At least the early bus meant that we arrived in Punta del Este at a good time. We are now better versed at the travel routine and picked up our tickets for our next travel leg when we arrived. So ready to head back to Buenos Aires on Monday. We grabbed a taxi and then headed off for some groceries. This was the first airBnB where the host provided zero orientation, no dish soap, no cork screw, not a single map or tourist info pamphlet… and NO toilet paper!!! It was a bit of a challenge to get the wifi hooked but finally got the info from the door clerk. So after some additional shopping – and more shopping to get matches to light the gas stove, it was time for a nap.
We finally managed to get out to explore Punta del Este after our refresh – such a dramatic change from Punta del Diablo! The tip of Punta del Este is a long narrowish peninsula that is isolated from the rest of Uruguay as a pseudo gated community – primarily the wealthier folks here. Lots of high end apartments, condos and homes all along the water front. There is a lovely boardwalk / walkway that wraps all around the entire horseshoe. We walked around much of it that evening, discovering the Imagen de Nuestra Senora de la Candeleria with the many dedicated plaques, the famous La Mano ‘hand’ sculpture on Brava beach, we checked out the local marina with its many yachts and resident “performing” seal, and finally caught sunset at the beach.
Day 19 – Punta del Diablo
We totally lost track of time in this laid back hippie turned hip paradise. We spent the first half of the day under the false impression that it was our last full day here. Only when I texted Roberto at our next BnB did we realize that we had another full day here before we had to leave. Quite the nice surprise!!!
So with time on our side, we spent the day beach bumming and watching the waterfront activity (primarily fishing boats). And of course we visited our favourite smoothie / caipi beach hut. The Maracuya & Manga (passion fruit and mango) are my fav’s and at 2 caipis for 150 pesos (about $6.50Cdn) – it was hard not to have ‘just one more’.
Before dinner we went spent time on one of my favourite beach activities, ‘rock scrambling’. We started out at Playa de la Viuda (Widow’s beach) and made our way to Playa de Los Pescadores (Fisherman’s beach) for sunset. The rocks are quite interesting; some grey, some pinkish with occasional quartz. There are large boulders and the odd ‘multi-fractured’ ones that look like brains. Some reminded us of the Olgas, others reminiscent of moguls on a ski hill. Lots of fun and no scraped knees.
Dinner this evening was at the last outstanding recommendation from Juan and again did not disappoint. So NOW we have one more full day left in Punta del Diablo.
Days 18 – Punta del Diablo
After a couple of days of leisure, we were on the move again. Feb 27 started early for Michael. The morning sunrise was so tempting, he rose early and took a ton of photos as the light kept changing every time he lifted his eye from the camera. So lots of early morning shots 🙂
We decided to catch the bus to Fortaleza de Santa Teresa and then hike back. It was a well orchestrated plan until Michael realized, as we sat waiting for the shuttle van to take us to the bus terminal, that he had failed to put his memory card back in the camera (again!) So I went ahead and sat at the bus terminal and people watched while Mike ran back to the room and caught the next round of the van.
The fort was very impressive – a blueprint right out of Spain. It had fallen to disrepair and was restored from the 1920’s through to the 1980’s – quite the undertaking. One of my favourite components were the ‘hanging’ outhouse toilets which hung over the outside wall to drop below, outside the fort – very ingenious! The horse corral was also unique – it was designed to allow only one horse at a time to exit to avoid a stampede inside the fort. We had a quick lunch at the little restaurant outside the fort – very nice with the requisite resident dog.
From there we took the long walk back to Punta del Diablo. The first half of the journey was through the park – quite strange to walk through tall pines on one side, overflowing with pine cones, and giant eucalyptus on the other side along with palms and pampas grasses (not the photo here however). It was a very nice park with camping and beaches throughout. The 2nd half of the hike was a beach walk. It started on loose sand and gave us quite the workout, but the sand finally firmed up and the walking got easier. There were several interesting finds along the deserted beaches – mostly dead unfortunately! So 2 1/2 hours later we were back home feeling quite pleased that we taken the journey after several warnings that it was too far. Another successful day in paradise.
Days 16 & 17 – Punta del Diablo
We managed to wake early on Sunday and the bus drove up to our stop just as we arrived. The bus was almost at capacity before 8 in the morning – we needn’t have worried about the Sunday schedule! The trip to Punta del Diablo was long but uneventful. We managed to text Juan en route and he met us at the bus terminal to take us to our cabin – and I even remembered to buy our next leg ticket this time 🙂 Our cabin was reminiscent of a rustic cottage rather than a hotel, but all the basics and even decent wifi, so no complaints. Juan, who was very much a senior hippy, gave us a quick tour of the town – highlighting local spots to eat, shop and where to get food and find the ATM. He was extremely helpful – he and his wife spend 1/2 the year here and the other half in Spain – pretty nice setup!
For the next two days (Sunday & Monday) we basically beach bummed and I fell in love with Punta del Diablo. We toured the town, checked out the unique local ‘architecture’, walked the beaches with their old fishing huts and amazing rocky outcrops, watched people collecting clams and seaweed, sat on the beach and read, and sun worshipped. The beaches are wonderful – not white powder sand, but the water is clear and clean and the beaches are long; particularly Playa Grande.
We tried a couple of Juan’s recommendations with good success. And of course we fulfilled our duty to keep the local caiparinha peddlers in business. The local dogs provided quite the entertainment. Each seems to have its own restaurant territory and occasionally a turf war arises when someone tries to stray into another’s territory. The dogs go from table to table very subtly. They lay low and look at you with big puppy eyes, and they only stay as long as you drop them food (or not), and then they quietly move on to the next table, or go for a lie down – they are not annoying at all.
We met some younger folks from the hostel – one girl had been on our bus from Montevideo. There is a mix of local Uruguayans, other South Americans, as well as international people here (met Aussies and English also). We met one young English fellow who is spending 5-10 years travelling around the world running his online business on the road. After his travels he’ll pick a favourite spot or two and settle there. There is a wide range of ages of people here, although mostly free spirit types as it really is a laid back vibe through the whole town. And as you can see from the photos, this old fishing town turned beach getaway has tons of character. Did I mention I love it here?
In keeping with the laid back vibe, we took a bit of a break from photography and diary keeping, but we did still squeeze in a bit…
Day 15 – Montevideo
Well Friday evening was quite the scene on our street – and turned out that Saturday was going to be a repeat. Friday evening had street partying until after 5am Saturday. It’s kind of nice at 11pm, but not so much as time goes on. So Saturday morning was a slow one, but we wanted to check out more sites including the Teatro Solis, so off we went. We started at the Montevideo Metropolitan Cathedral dated 1740 for the original brick structure which remains in one corner. The current building was completed in 1804 and is quite spectacular – no restoration needs at the main cathedral!
Saturday brings out the market vendors and the squares were hopping. We had a very nice coffee with gluten free treats in an organic health shop. We even managed to pick up some gluten free groceries for our pending trip to Punta Del Diablo.
Next we went on a hunt for a museum we wanted to check out, but we could not find it on our own or by asking. However, we came upon Museo Torres Garcia which was fantastic. As a rule, I am not a big fan of constructivism, but most of his works I liked. The gallery itself was quite interesting. Only 2 rooms per floor – but 5 or 6 stories tall. It worked well to separate the phases of Garcia’s work. The top floor of Garcia’s work was intriguing. He had done portraits of his heroes / the monsters who sculpted him as a person. There were several composers, philosophers, artists, religious figures – and a sailor with a pipe, which I quite enjoyed the idea of. Also of interest were some of the framing techniques used (which I captured in my diary).
And the very top floor of the gallery was another artist – Claudio Taddei. He is both a painter and a musician. He does 8 foot plus works on packaging paper which gives them an interesting wavy textured surface. There was a video of him producing his art, which he does to his own music with both hands at once using large brushes (brooms) first, then with smaller ones as he progresses.
When we made it back to Teatro Solis, they confirmed what we suspected – the theater is closed for tours when there are performances on – and they are booked (and have been booked) all week. So we were able to walk around the lobbies, but that was all. There was an interesting fibre art contest/exhibit on display but we didn’t get to look into the theatre – disappointed as the photos on the walls from the 1930’s looked impressive.
We headed back to pick up some stuff – but given our lack of sleep the night before, a nap became the priority! So after picking up some cash in preparation for Punta del Diablo (only 1 ATM in the whole town!), we headed for an ocean side walk along the Ramblas where the mate drinkers were out in numbers. And a lack of snow doesn’t stop the local kids from tobogganing – just grab a sheet of cardboard and head for the nearest grassy hill! We waited for sunset to produce it’s full colours before heading back to pack for our early departure… only to discover that the street band was in full swing (as it was till the next morning at 5am again). They were actually quite good – and the side entertainment was projection of people gaming which was quite hilarious. Unfortunately, we had an early day on Sunday and were already beat. So given the noise level, it was time to pop a sleeping pill and set the alarms in prep for a full day of travel tomorrow to get to the beaches at Punta del Diablo!
Day 14 – Montevideo
By Feb 23 we were getting pretty adept at leisurely mornings. We arose about 8:30 and had an omelette, plums, and cafe con leche at the apartment and then headed out to the Palacia Legislativo which was unfortunately only open by organized tour and none were available till 2:30 (in Spanish) – with English at 3:30. So we walked back which was not so bad as it was a pleasant walk with many photo ops for Michael. The Basilica of Nuestra Senora del Carmen was yet another lovely church – but as with many of the South American ones, it has only been partly restored and is in need of repair. On the walk back Mike discovered that he had been shooting in jpg only mode since our trip in to the bus terminal… ah the joys of learning a new camera.
Back at the apartment we ‘beach prep’d and then took the “D1” bus to the posh beach area in Carrasco, but not before finally sampling the highly rated Tropical Smoothie shop around the corner. While there I had a rather nasty incident dropping my wallet in the toilet…. YUCK! Lots of scrubbing and sanitizing followed needless to say!
Once at the resort area, I crashed on the beach while Mike went walking. There was lots of German and English influence in the area in both architecture and language. The casino / swanky hotel is the highlight of all the spectacular buildings along the beach. So after finally getting a day on the beach, we headed back for a shower, a couple of beers and a late dinner – this time Sushi as we needed a change from beef!
Day 13 – Montevideo
February 22 we had a nice leisurely morning before heading off for a walk around old town Montevideo on a warm clear day. There is a mix of renovated and ram-shackled buildings. In some places the original buildings have been replaced with new modern ones, but mostly the original buildings persist. There are surprisingly few churches, especially compared to Spain where there seems to be one on every block. The town squares with monuments and beautiful trees are common place however, and make for very pleasant city spaces. The architecture is consuming – so different from our North American style, and Michael loves to try to capture his unique perspective. So we spent much of the day looking up!
We sauntered by the market with lots of leather and animal skins, but no ‘amazing’ deals so haven’t jumped on anything yet. We did come across a stall from a woman who raised sheep, and made some beautiful felted scarves where I did break down! As we wandered around, we kept running into Portuguese speaking Brazilians. Then as we approached the harbour the reason was obvious from the massive cruise ship in port. We ate our big meal at 2pm and of course, had to try the asado at the Mercado del Peurto. The amazing building is an entire warehouse full of parilla (bbq) stalls and every possible cut of beef is available. We went for traditional asado and Mike was able to pre-test his Portuguese listening skills with several Brazilian table neighbours. Beer is the big drink here, not wine. But it is served from a large bottle, in an ice bucket – very classy.
We needed to head back to the main bus station to purchase our next leg of the trip to Punta del Diablo. The bus trip from our BnB to the station was so convenient, fast and easy that we will be able to skip a taxi ride when it’s time to head out – so having to make the extra trip was not a bad thing after all!
Day 12 – Colonia / Montevideo
After an early breakfast we left our lovely apartment and easily grabbed a taxi to the ferry port. That was a challenge however, as we were taking the less common ferry service SeaCat, not the Buquebus. In the end, they actually left out of the same terminal building but we only found that out after our poor taxi driver had to ask a half dozen people for guidance. We did get some form of entertainment at customs as a large family unit had several temper displays when a young boy in their group was denied entry to Uruguay. All seemed to resolve in the end, but I think the whole family just stayed behind. Not sure if the boy didn’t have custody papers to travel (most likely), or whether his name was perhaps on a no-travel list (there was a list that all the customs agents were looking at and laughing). Not funny at all, but watching the actions and reactions of all the players (family, customs agents, police) involved and not knowing the language made for a great way to pass the time while waiting in line.
Once in Colonia, we picked up our luggage and put it into storage, bought our tickets for the bus to Montevideo, hit a bank machine for local funds, and got a SIM card for our phone for Uruguay. A word about the bus system… It is very comprehensive and the buses are comfortable with preassigned seating, but one big limitation is that in order to pre-purchase tickets you must have a local credit card; otherwise you must be at the terminal you are departing from to purchase your ticket – very limiting! So at every arrival, we have to purchase our next leg of the trip ticket.
Colonia del Sacramento is one of the oldest cities in Uruguay, first founded in 1680, and has bounced between Portuguese and Spanish control until Uruguay took over in 1828. It was constantly being taken over due to its strategic location at the Rio de la Plata delta. The old town is full of ruins with several digs currently underway. The Basílica del Santísimo Sacramento – the Basilica of the Holy Sacrament, was built by the Portuguese in early 1800’s. The lighthouse and Convent of San Francisco ruins are from the 17th century. And if there are old cars to be found, Mike will find them 🙂
And after a 3hr bus ride to Montevideo, we quickly grabbed a taxi to our BnB in the Ciadade Vieja…so quickly that we forgot to buy our next bus ticket…DOH – needed to return next day! Once settled we headed out for more asada – but this time we shared a steak and split an order of vegetables and papas frites!
So after a long day of travel, ready for some zzz’s and to head out to check out Montevideo tomorrow!