TUESDAY 23RD APRIL, I awoke indoors blanketed in a comfortable bed for a change. The spartan breakfast in the cool alfresco space of the RocaMar courtyard let a little air out of my buoyant start. The thing about Booking.com is that you have to understand it’s written in marketing English as opposed to regular English. The “Good” in “Good Breakfast” isn’t an adjective, it’s part of Booking.com’s extended noun for the common term of “Breakfast,” which could equally mean “bad” or “hardly-any,”
“Ask about our optional extended menu.” boasted a sign on the counter.
“No tengo!” came the reply, which means how it sounds.
The optional menu was applicable only for high season, and the sign was left out for low season purely for decoration.
I mistook two of the staff for guests, halving the true occupancy, the hotel being virtually empty.
Marketing trick No.2: During online booking, an alert often pops up “Last one available,” designed to nudge you toward clicking the “Confirm” button, bearing no relation to the stark emptiness regularly discovered upon arrival, and confirmation by the sparse selection of tableware set out for the morning’s “Good Breakfast.”
I soon downed my bread and orange squash and retreated to the dorm to revel in warmth and comfort to blog all day and browse the internet. This otherwise boring activity became a contrasting treat due to the scarcity of electricity, communications, and comfort out on the road.
The next morning, wandering out of my sanctuary for the promise of more good-breakfast. The treat of the day was my first shower since Quebraba a week ago. It’s not as bad as it might sound since Uruguay, being temperate and dry, isn’t the sweaty tropics and we are entering Autumn. The first shower in a while feels almost orgasmic, groaning with pleasure from within the cloud of steam, and the deluge pounding my scalp and rinsing away the dust and odours of the road like the first rains at the end of a long dry summer.
I used to shower every day back in civilisation and suffered from dry skin. Not any more. I think my body has found a natural equilibrium now. Although seemingly a less sanitary lifestyle, it feels a lot more healthy.
Without the luggage, the bike feels light and responsive and I wobbled and darted my way along the empty sea-front into the city in search of cash and information. Few things are as satisfying as replenishing your wallet from an ATM except perhaps a good meal.
The hombre at the empty Tourist Information office warmly welcomed me and listed the top attractions to see around the city. He recommended the rotary restaurant across the road, which I could see if I stuck my head out the door and looked upwards. Eager to please, he telephoned for the opening times. It was closed because of a holiday or maintenance or something so I started my wanderings with a stop off at the harbour just 2km down the road to visit the pampered sea-lions. Fat and lazy through easy pickings – becoming a tourist attraction in their own right for their keep – they burped their fishy breath shunning the fisherman’s excess offcuts being waved at arm’s length by the visitors. I’d never been this close to them before and it felt like being near pets than wild animals.
Lunch at the cheapest cafe I could find: “The Family” next door to the more cosy looking “Rustic,” cheaper but which still boasts European level prices. I cruised a lap of the peninsular before committing to visit Casapueblo at Punta Ballena, 14km west. I didn’t feel like riding much but ample time spread before me able to be wasted. I looked across the water for ten or fifteen minutes, in contemplation.
Punta del Este marks the boundary between the Atlantic Ocean and the Rio de la Plata, which seems odd since its still 220km across its mouth and the opposite shore cannot be seen. Juan Diaz de Solis explored the Rio de la Plata in 1516 in his search for a route to the Pacific which would remain undiscovered until Magellan’s voyage in 1520. Rio de la Plata is the confluence of two mighty rivers: The Paraña and The Uruguay. Much history and, almost unbelievably, I was here now: an ordinary bloke from Northampton on a small motorcycle.
The straight and empty coastal dual carriageway felt further than 14km perhaps because of the lack of visual features and the cold steady wind blowing across the Rio de la Plata urging my mind for cravings of warmth and shelter.
Casapueblo was the residence of the famous artist Carlos Páez Vilaró, who’s son was featured in the true story Alive when flight 571 carrying a Uruguayan Rugby team to Chile crashed in the Andes. The search was called off after a week but the survivors endured for 72 days until the weather warmed enough for two of the party to hike the 35km across the mountains and get help. Carlos would have been here for two months believing his son to have died.
What a great house, built by this artist and inspired by nature. There’s not a straight line anywhere on it. The place was busy but not crowded, artworks tastefully lit and displayed throughout the rooms. Coffee and cake on the cafe’s patio was a real delight and worth the stretch of my budget.
I sipped frothy cappuccino looking out across the patios and the sea imagining what it would be like to live there. Tranquil but lonely if it were just me… like a monk in a cave. I’d have to run an AirBnB or something but for today I simply loved the moment, and stayed until dusk before returning to RocaMar.
Thursday the 25th, I considered staying one more day but WiFi died in the night, so no, if I’m going out for WiFi, I’m moving on altogether…
Expecting La Vista Restaurante Giratorio to be open, it looked firmly closed and I rattled the sliding doors to check. I’d parked my fully loaded bike in the empty car park across the road next to the Tourist Information office and sat amongst the Transformer sculptures on the forecourt, counting down to the noon opening time. After ten minutes, the doors slid open and I walked up to the desk to be greeted by a US$10 entry fee… even before the opportunity of ordering a coffee.
Nah, “Muy caro” I said, span on my heels and walked back across the road, mounted up and hit Ruta 10 along the, now familiar, Baie de Maldonado sea-front, past Casapueblo turning left off the main road as soon as I could diverting along the quieter coastal route through the tranquil resort towns of Punta Colorada and Piriápolis.
Montevideo is only about 135km from Punta del Este: Three hours, easy. but I wanted to savour as much of the coast as possible since it was unlikely I’d ever be coming back this way, so reminded myself that I had plenty of time before the July Solar Eclipse in Argentina and to follow the road less travelled as much as I could. A constant battle with the hangover from the culture I’d grown up with of saving time, I guess.
The wilds were long-gone now, well behind me to the east. This coast was more commercial. Bought, paid for, and fenced off: stained by civilisation. I passed through sleepy Punta Colorada and Piriápolis. Entering Piriápolis reminded me of an English seaside town and I rolled on through without even putting my feet down. Nice enough but holiday resorts aren’t my thing.
15 KM further west, Solis, a couple of promising looking campsites pinned on iOverlander. A quaint, quiet village of mainly locked up holiday homes punctuated by barking dogs in the yards of the few interspersed permanent residents. The camping spots I had looked forward to proved disappointing in reality and exposed too much to local eyes. A dog growled through a wire fence as I dismounted and explored on foot, and a young motorcyclist sitting on a barrier next to the river eyed my meandering reconnoiter, so I retreated inland to the “Ahora Si” cafe for a long afternoon lunch and to latch onto WiFi for forming a Plan B.
Just across the river, Jaureguiberry hides quietly in the trees. A sleepy neighbourhood of narrow lanes cutting between woods and scattered rustic homes. The camp marked close to the bridge wasn’t marked; I added that later.
Probing the riverside accesses, I discovered a grassy area behind some trees next to the river. The usual evidence of humans: trash and bonfire marks. One man fishing at the riverside didn’t seem to notice me and I didn’t advertise myself. I dismounted and kicked around the grass collecting litter while searching for a flat and level pitch sheltered from the wind eventually settling down in long grass amongst some bushes as the sun began to set.
A catamaran drifting at anchor in the river mouth cast my mind back to my time in the Caribbean. I felt just as happy in the bushes. Over the rustle of leaves in the breeze, as darkness crept over, all I could hear was the light hum of the occasional car crossing the bridge.
Although not a picturesque camp, it felt snug and private. As I’d imagine a chick snuggling under a bird’s wing for the night.