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Boca del Cufré

Montevideo

THURSDAY 2nd MAY. Passport on its way to London. Me westbound on Ruta 1 out of Montevideo toward Colonia del Sacramento. I had over a month to kill before having to return to collect my new passport, so there was no rush to go anywhere in particular.

Colonia lies about 170km west but my eyes scanned the countryside when the buildings dissolved into rural green farmland. Scanning for quiet nooks and crannies for pitching a tent for a quiet couple of nights. I had no plan.

New dual carriageway contrasting with Google’s street view of 2015 which displayed a fairly barren single carriageway. Partly cloudy, the sun failed to provide much warmth during its appearances, the onshore breeze winning each dual. I had no GPS since my phone drowned in Brazil I’d been an hour and a half on Ruta 1, which would put me around halfway to Colonia, A sign to Boca del Cufré looked promising, taking me off the main drag towards the coast, I turned left across the vacant carriageway and 15km down to Boca del Cufré.

The wooded area of Rincon de Francisco offered a promising Plan B, just in case nothing was suitable for camping in the village, and I passed beneath the impressive welcome gantry before turning right along the riverside. I paused at the Municipal Mirador for a few minutes to admire the river and to consider the possibility to camp there. Even though the place possessed a post-apocalyptic tranquillity with not a soul in view, it was too exposed and I cruised down the riverside, past dormant houses, passing the Club Nautico to park at the Jetty where the river meets the sea.

Checking the time on the screen on the back of my camera. it had gone 6pm and the sun hung behind distant cloud low on the horizon. Everything looked closed and deserted. Slotting a pebble under the side stand of the Yamaha to stop it toppling over, I meandered lazily down the jetty.

Jetty

The first few minutes arriving at somewhere new are valuable moments of discovery. I’d got a feel of the layout of the village already and this moment along the jetty gave me the opportunity for a broader overview. Looking back to shore I saw no activity and dawdled back picking up pieces of litter, dropping them into the trash cans along the way. To my left, the river Arroyo Cufré to my right, the beach.

Boca del Cufre

I clambered down the boulders to the sand and picked up a stray plastic bag continuing along the shore filling it with cans, wrappers, bottles and caps. When it was full I cut across the beach to the car park and left the bag next to the overflowing trash can.

Limpio

Remounting the Yamaha, I exited the car park and cruised along the seafront, only a couple of basic looking stores shuttered up and lifeless. To my right, a scenic but deserted tree-lined beach with picnic areas, public toilets and showers. Checking the doors… closed.

Boca del Cofre

Cruising back to Club Nautico y Pesca Yacht Club, there’re pinewoods opposite. This was the campsite set on an unfenced block of land surrounded by streets. The lifeless looking office displayed no opening times amongst the bus timetable and notices in the window.

Boca del Cufre

A tired, converted bus next door looked abandoned. I tapped on the door anyway. No answer. Circling the office, the bathrooms and faucets that protruded through the walls were padlocked. I’d seen nobody since turning off Ruta 1 over an hour ago. Bliss!

Boca del Cufre

I remounted and turned slowly off the road and into the trees opening the throttle for the extra energy needed for riding over the soft, pine-needle carpeted sand and pitched my tent amongst the scattered plastic bottles and cans. Power points dotted about offered false promises of electricity but they were dead. A stray dog trotted up to say hello, sniffed around and trotted off. It had a clairvoyant skill to sense when food was out and would return as soon as it was.

Boca del Cufre

Friday 3rd.The late morning sun painting shadows over the carpet of pine needles. I walked across the road to Club Nautico y Pesca. The door was ajar but the TV on in the corner of the empty restaurant suggested life. “Hola?” A young woman responded by her appearance and confirmed they were open for business and I ordered lunch and coffee, took a seat at one of the tables along the front windows. Since I was alone here, I had no worries about leaving my laptop booting up while I took advantage of the only bathroom facilities available to me.

A child rattled toys on the floor near the counter while children’s TV echoed off the ceramic floor tiles and giant window panes. It seemed the family lived here and I felt almost like I was intruding. I was mystified how they made a living with nobody about. I spent the afternoon on the internet waving flies away and scooping the skin off the surface of my cooling cafe con leche. One other person entered while I was there, a friend of the family. No customers.

The next morning, depressing the handle and leaning on the door, the yacht club was locked. Abierto, the sign beamed in its red and blue LEDs. Means nothing in South America, and I strolled through the trees to the store just 50 metres North of my tent to buy some bread and jam for breakfast. The campsite is an eyesore, a real mess with trash strewn around and I set about tidying it up, starting by dividing the site into 9 zones in a noughts and crosses pattern. Left centre and right – top middle and bottom and set about working one zone at a time: big stuff then little stuff.

Once you get started, Eyes home in on smaller and smaller debris like bottle tops and cigarette ends like I was working down a trashy mandelbrot fractal. The impression I had with my nose to the ground was of making no progress until I stood up and looked back. One of the neighbours walking home along the eastern street noticed me, waved and said Gracias, which spurred me on for a few more minutes.

Late afternoon, I returned to Club Nautico. The door popped open out of its binding frame with a gentle rattle after a more insistent nudge, so Club Nautica might have been open all along. I recharged the laptop over coffee and internet, later returning to the woods to discover a couple of hikers pitched camp maybe 30 metres away. They were focussed on themselves so they never noticed me waiting to give them a wave. I collected wood for preparing a fire for cooking.

Late afternoon, I returned to Club Nautico. The door popped open out of its binding frame with a gentle rattle after a more insistent nudge, so Club Nautica might have been open all along. I recharged the laptop over coffee and internet, later returning to the woods to discover a couple of hikers pitched camp maybe 30 metres away. They were focussed on themselves so they never noticed me waiting to give them a wave. I collected wood for preparing a fire for cooking.

Evenings were gradually developing a chilly bite and I lit the fire near a felled tree trunk so I could sit comfortably and warm myself watching the pasta soften. Eyes watered with the smoke that seemed to find me wherever I sat. My neighbours had formed a circle with logs and camping equipment and sat quietly around their own fire with the clairvoyant dog now orbiting their camp. No meat in my pasta.

Boca del Cufre

Sunday 5th May. Raindrops pattering on the flysheet. Thunderstorms circulated the sky and I stayed hunkered down in the tent. Club Nautico was closed for the day but the store was open. They kindly charged up my laptop so at least I’d be able to watch a movie later.  The showers came and went and I dedicated another spell of collecting trash close by my neighbours in order to perhaps inspire them by osmosis to help out. It didn’t work and was ignored. I stopped for a chat anyway, the guy was alone now and told me his partner departed for Montevideo to get a flight home while he would continue his travel. He seemed happy to remain alone and there was no invitation to share food, wine or company so I continued collecting trash leaving him and the stray dog to whatever they were doing.

Colonia Valdense

Monday. I liked it here in the woods at Boca del Cufré but I would need a shower soon. That would be the main motivator. I struck camp and left to withdraw cash at Colonia Valdense 35km away. No joy. The ATMs were small domestic terminals at small stores and didn’t cater for international cards. Instead, I retreated to Che Paco restaurant for contemplation.

C0oloni  Valdense

Lunch at Che Paco provided the opportunity to search for the next campsite. IOverlander listed somewhere with hot showers that might be free of charge out of season. Only 7km away. it would make for a short day’s travel so I cruised past the tiny village of La Paz to its small rustic yacht club next to the Rio Rosario.

A couple of fishermen stood looking at a boat on the grass either contemplating a launch into the water or loading it on their trailer. Next to the building, a guy turned a handle on a mincing device filling sausage skins. I orbited the clubhouse and into the deserted campsite. Nobody here, so I coasted back to the sausage maker who asked how long I wanted to stay and I replied just one night and he waved his hand saying no problem I could stay for free-gratis. I settled down early enjoying the electricity on the laptop for watching movies until the novelty wore off about 3am.

Tuesday morning, waking to clouds of breath at La Paz freezing cold and humid. I dressed then filled a bowl from the faucet to shaved at the picnic table near my tent. The showers are heated via an open fire but since there were no other people here, there was no fire either. The choice was either a cold shower or nothing. I emerged clean and buzzing, quickly drying and getting dressed.

Seeings I had said I would only stay one night I thought I should pack away and move on, else I would have stayed one more night. I diverted off the main road the 9km to Rosario for cash. No. I tried four banks that had the same network. waste of time but it wasn’t that far off the main road. Lunch at Casa Vecchia. Santa Ana came up with rave reviews as a camping place and had four sites marked. Plan A, B, C and D. 

Santa Ana, picturesque on the coast, consisted mostly of locked up holiday homes. Disappointingly, all the mapped campsite were too exposed, displaying no camping signs.

I probably wouldn’t have had too much of a problem but didn’t want to be so exposed, so I cruised around Santa Ana to enjoy the view before taking off to investigate El Calabrés Beach near Colonia del Sacramento.

The cold wind cut across a bright blue sky and I turned toward the coast before Colonia to arrive at a disappointing car park. These reviews for wild campsites looked all good for motorhomes but poor for tents. A couple of parked cars suggested people fishing off the beach. Probably off the long pier a few hundred metres to the east.

To my left, a couple of hundred meters, a pine forest over a suggestion of a hill. If I could make it through the shrubs, it should be secluded spot and sheltered from the cool wind.

Vague tracks led through the weeds and faded away. I propped the bike on its side stand and trampled a path through the undergrowth and up the slope to the trees. Perfect, If the bike could make it over the soft sand between the shrubs then this spot would be ideal.

I ploughed along a path between bushes and opened the throttle through the soft sand lifting my feet so as to not get snagged by the weeds.

Now sheltered from the low sun warmed my back as I pitched the tent and strung out the hammock. In the distance, to the east toward the sea, the growl of a dirt bike churning through the dunes hacksawed through the tranquillity. The sound ebbed and flowed on the wind as I expected to see it roar through the trees at any minute but never did. I remained perfectly undiscovered.

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Terry July 23, 2020, 9:45 am

    Keep it up Paul. It’s interesting reading.

    • Paul July 25, 2020, 3:43 pm

      Thank you.

  • Richard August 19, 2020, 6:17 am

    Looks like a good place to enjoy solitude.

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