4 July 2012

Uruguay - July 2012

03/07/2012

The journey started for real today. Spent an hour getting all my gear onto my bike and then set off hoping that it would all stay where I had put it. First impression - bloody heavy, could barely lift the back of my bike to get it down a stair. First few metres were wobbly to say the least, clearly I need to get my back balanced better. Got to the terminal early expecting there to be issues with my bike, but no such problems. A nice man rolled the tank into the ferry and all I could do was hope that it remained in one piece. The ferry ride itself was uneventful, you could barely tell it was on water. Got to watch live Wimbledon tennis. 

Arriving at Colonia del Sacramento about an hour later and off we get. Bike was still in an upright position and all seemed well. Onto the bike and the cycle had started for real now. Directions were fairly easy, Colonia del Sacramento is a small town and there is only one road heading to Montevideo, Routa 1. Initially there was a side road to the freeway which helped me get to grips with the wobbly tank. After petering out, it was time to take ones chances with the main road and all the trucks that traversed it. You takes deep breath and concentrate a little harder on keeping very straight and still when you hear one bearing down on you. Stopped occasionally to look at the odd bird and rest the legs. Not particularly heaving going, the roads are mostly straight and rolling inclines and declines. Time was ticking on and I needed to find a place to stay shortly. 

Peeling off to assess my position and take a much needed water break, I went a little to quickly down a large step at the side of the road. Ping, and my entire rear rack had dismounted. As quickly as possible, I cleared the rack and fiddled with the nuts and bolts that had come loose. Lost a washer in the process, something that will need to be replaced as soon as I can find a likely retailer, maybe in Montevideo hopefully. Back onto the road and time getting shorter to find a place to set up camp. By now my legs were struggling even over small climbs and thoughts had turned to food. With some luck I found an abandoned Mercedes car dealership which had the requisite trees and space I needed to set up my hammock. Not the most secluded spot going, but I was in no condition, not did I have much time to fiddle about looking for a better place. 

Should have practiced hammock assembly more. Wasted 45mins getting the damn thing up to a respectable position before cracking on with dinner. Fortunately I had practiced enough with my stove to have this sorted in no time. Dinner tonight consisted of pasta finished off with a 'Cup a soup'. Nothing extravagant, but quick and easy. 

Covered my gear with a tarpaulin and settled down to start writing this piece. Couldn't be bothered to gets my Mac out, so tapping away on my iPad. Clear skies which means it is going to get a little nippy. Already my fingers are getting a little numb. It is not even 19:00 and it is quite dark. Don't think I can sleep until dawn, so I shall persevere with this and hopefully use up some time. 

Am I excited to be spending my first night 'stealth camping'? I'll answer that's in the morning, let's see how well I sleep first. Am I excited to have started - absolutely, my legs disagree for now, but they'll get used to idea hopefully. After my back rack gave up on me, I am a little concerned that I have not done something correct, perhaps I just didn't tighten the bolts correctly. After a full day cycling tomorrow, I should know how the setup survives. Didn't bother to fill any of my water sacks today, have only a limited amount of water now. Something I need to keep in mind, cycling is thirsty work and cooking uses a fair amount too. So, first priority in the morning is to get more water. Second is to get some miles behind me. Did not cover as much ground I was expecting today, partly because an took a later departing ferry and even with the time I did have, my average km's were quite low. Currently I am 160km from Montevideo, so at least another night out before stopping there. Will probably only stop for one night, get myself and my gear cleaned up and then head off again. No decent birding until at least Punta del Este at least. 

Happy to have started. As the days go by, I will get better at this. Enough typing for now, my body is tired and starting to stiffen up. Some owls are calling now, no idea what they are and certainly not going to look in the pitch black!

Good night

04/07/2012

Can't recall how much sleep I got last night. Struggled for what seemed like hours to find a decent position to sleep in. No sooner did I get comfortable that I felt an exposed inch of skin. Then had to reshuffle to keep the chill out. It was exceedingly cold last night! No sooner had a got half asleep and the shriek of an owl above me had me wide awake again. A full moon provided plenty of light, and try as I might, the damn thing would not show itself when I was watching. My head had barely hit the sack and the owl was at it again. Couple of barking dogs had me a little concerned, but they did not come close. A heavy dew formed, a gust of wind depositing a fair portion on my face - some way to finally wake. 

I was hoping for some more sun this morning, but instead it is grey. Nothing for it but to pack everything up and get ready to move again. I only covered 30km yesterday, so need to put some distance down today. I'll tale one more cold night, but would rather be in Montevideo in two days at the latest. Camp down, thoughts turn to coffee, but I have very little water left. Will need to stock up before I can treat myself. 

Now a light downpour, hustle my gear onto the porch of the abandoned Mercedes dealership. Yet to decide if there is anyone at home, but there seems to be a radio on in there. Rain means that the roads are wet, not something I was hoping for this early on. On the upside, my legs and rear are quite happy - perhaps my hammocks sleeping position allowed my upper legs to get extra blood? My shoulders on the other hand are wrecked. I thought this may be related to lifting my bike, but both sides are equally painful. Most likely this is to do with my hand handlebar setup. As previously stated, this is not adjustable - the shoulders and arms will simply have to get used to it. 

Rain has tailed off, so perhaps as good a time as any to get moving.

That last sentence was written about 12 hours ago. What actually happened in the interim was this : rain bloody rain the entire way. Without the sun, it actually made the ride less thirsty - then again I was drinking half a mouth full with every breath. There was no way that I was camping in this, but my pace was so bad that I wasn't going to get anywhere near Montevideo. There isn't much between Colonia del Sacramento and Montevideo - this is farm country, I had a better chance of buying a tractor.

I stopped at 13:00 for lunch, I figured in these conditions I could do with a hot meal. A small restaurant appeared, replete with roaring log fire. Plenty of pasta and a small amount of protein. Having eaten a particularly good dish and dried off in front of the fire, it took some will power to get my soggy outer clothes back on and head into the rain once again. Especially since I could see the rather long incline ahead. By now my left knee was starting to feel a little tender and I had had quite enough of the rain - I figured it was times to call it quits for today and find a hotel. The largest town between Colonia and Montevideo is Colonia Valdense. Another long incline through the town. Tractor shop, auto repairs, fresh farm vegetables and fruit, another tractor shop, ad bleeding nauseam. 

With some regret I trundled out of town feeling quite sorry for myself. The next landmark was 20kms away, my knee was truly playing up now, it was getting late, wetter and I more irritable. And there it was, opposite a flour mill, a sign that showed a picture of a hotel. Only 4km away in Nueva Helvecia. Into the Granja Hotel Suizo. Jumped a little at the bill, some US$55 a night. I was in no mood to change my mind or barter, so paid up. 

Spent the next hour washing myself and my dirty clothes. Figured they were wet anyway, so may as well wash them and hope they can get somewhat dry by morning. Aircon is currently set at 31C. Knee is more painful tonight than I had hoped. Will have to assess it again in the morning. Feels like I have either strained my MCL or induced Bursitis. Either way, I need to let the knee rest - cycling tomorrow will have to be done in short, relaxed periods. 

I'm done for the night, apparently the sun will shine tomorrow...


05/07/2012

It's now 18:30 and very cold. I haven't been able to find a suitable spot to set up a 'stealth camp', but have found an abandoned farm building which will suffice for tonight. 

The days started off late, I slept in until 09:00 before assembling my gear, half my clothes were still very wet. Had a large continental breakfast, I suppose my accommodation costs weren't all that bad given that this was comp. Made use of having an empty bike to do some cleaning and maintenance. My rim walls had collected a lot of grit and dirt in the rain causing the rim to wear a little every time I hit the brake. Rims cleaned, brake pads cleaned and re-adjusted. Chain and gears cleaned as best as possible and oiled for good measure. Put some more air in the back wheel. Supposedly the maximum tyre pressure is rated at 6 bar, but since I don't have any way of measuring it, I simply pumped until I figured it was hard enough. Problem with carrying some much weight is that even a fully inflated and seemingly hard tyre ends up looking flat when you start moving. Bike sorted, it was time to load and head out.


Although it was still quite cold, the sun was out and I knew that after a few km's, I would warm to the sunshine. My left knee was still a little tender, but much better than last night. So after saying my goodbyes in multiple languages - I have this tendency when I don't know the words in one language to say them in Hindi or Afrikaans??

The first 4kms were pretty much downhill to the main Routa 1. No joy with the knee, within minutes it was as sore as yesterday. I pushed on for a while and attempted to analyse why might my knee be unhappy with me. After 10km's I pulled over to adjust my setup. I figured that the pain in the MCL must be as a result of a failure to fully extend my leg. It also occurred to me at about this time that I had lowered my saddle when getting the bike prepared for flying. So up went the saddle by an inch. The effect was practically instant, knee felt better and I could feel I was getting full value for each pedal. Why this hadn't occurred to me earlier! So while this made an immediate impact on the pain in my knee, it did not fully go away as I had evidently caused some damage already. 

Progress on the road was drastically improved for a number of possible reasons. There was not wet head wind, my back tyre was not looking so flat anymore and I could get proper extensions out of my legs. There was wind today, but it was blowing across me - so no assistance but nor was it a hindrance. The km's rattled by at an average of 15km/h, something that would improve overall to about 17km/h by days end. Targets that I had set at the beginning of the day (40km's), passed by without notice. Soon my outlook had changed from taking another 2 days to get to Montevideo to well within one if I left in sufficient time. As I sit and type, I have just about 50 odd km's to go and given that I eased to well over 75km's today, that should be a walk in the park tomorrow. Particularly given where I am holed up now, there will be no late lie in or lazy breakfasts, the moment I can see what is happening I will be out of here. 

Time was getting tight to find a place to stay, in fact it was already too late to contemplate setting up camp and getting dinner sorted. The next best thing was to get dinner sorted and then see about where to stay. My backup plan had been to sleep in a bus shelter, there are many of them which afford a limited amount of protection from the elements, and given that we were not expecting rain, all I had to do was get myself onto the leeward side. I spent my last Uruguayan money on dinner, luckily I had just the right amount. Belly full, I thought I spotted a likely disused barn behind the restaurant - turned out to be an old toilet block, not that anyone had noticed as it was still be heavily used. Now I was in trouble, I had at best 30 minutes of usable daylight and there was no way I was going to cycle in the dark, it would have got me nowhere anyway. So I pedalled on, more in hope than anything else. With some luck I came across what appeared to be a disused farm building quite near to the freeway. Luckily it was also a decent distance from any human habitation, so I could sneak in without anyone noticing. 


Given the circumstances, I was definitely in luck. Abandoned, but seemingly sound structurally at least. Not that it would have mattered, but there seemed to be little evidence of previous occupation either by humans or animals. How thankful I am that I decided to bring my 3/4 inflatable mattress. Tonight was going to get down to -2 and the floor would have been unbearably cold without it. Tarpaulins down, inflatable mattress, sleeping bag and just for good measure I also hung my mosquito net. Not so much for mosquitos, but just in case the we're any rodents or snakes about, I didn't want them snuggling up to face at least. (I'll come back to this point in the morning should there be any surprises). 

Now just trying to while away a few hours until I get some sleep, no point in trying to sleep for 12 hours. Sun rise is normally at around 08:00 and the day doesn't start warming up until about 10:00. 

06/07/2012

Woke to find that I had slept for two solid 4 hour sessions, only interrupted by a pressing pitstop at around 13:00. Although I was now wide awake at 07:30, it was still fairly dark and very cold. Dozed for another 30 mins before deciding it was time to put the camp away and get ready to go should any farm hands get up early. Camp packed, kettle on the boil - a quick coffee before departing. Given the temperatures, I kept my thermals on.

After less than 7km's, the thermals needed to come off. With no reasonable cover, change I did on the side of the road. It was my fluorescent white bum that probably caused the odd car horn... 

Cycling started easily enough, my knee warmed up to the job and I had made good progress, reducing the distance to Montevideo to little more than 30km's by 11:00. Then the conditions changed radically, the supposed head wind I should have been getting (the prediction was for a westerly) turned into a very cold head wind. Despite the sun being out, the effective temperature hovered at 6C and colder during gusts. Whether it was the wind or simply a reduced amount of energy, I simply could not move my legs very well today. 

Today was also the first time that I saw the coast again. Spent half an hour scouting the wetlands for whatever bird life may be about. Some very good species for the list - Spectacled Tyrant and Black-necked Swan being my personal highlights. No photos unfortunately as most were too far away or in the Tyrant's case, camera shy! 

I had predicted an arrival time in Montevideo of 14:00, and even the weather had not prevented me from arriving near enough to the centre at this time. It would take another hour to make it through the city and to an ATM (I had now run out Uruguayan Pesos). The first ATM had a long queue and dispensed no money. Find another bank with a longer queue but this one did have money fortunately. Money in had I headed off to find a recommended hostel. 

The cold Atlantic wind was gusting at almost a gale by now and cycling flat roads was problematic to say the least. Psychologically I found the ride tougher - I had reached the city and this seemed to have been a cue to my legs that the work was done. Despite being a port city, Montevideo had a few cruel hills left, higher than I had climbed so far. I dropped into the hostel practically done, only to find that it was located on the third floor. At least hey had rooms, even better, the 4 bedroom dorm had no-one else in it, so despite paying the sharing rate I had it to myself - at least for tonight.

Dragged my gear upstairs, bike included and headed for the shower. After 140km's without a shower, I could smell myself! Ate in tonight, need to be a little more miserly with my cash in what is turning out to be a slightly expensive country.

One of the staff (Mathias) who originates from the eastern coast of the country is going to provide me with many camp sites and family/friend recommendations for the upcoming part of my journey all the way through to the Brazilian border. This helps no end, in that I now know how far I can cycle or at least until what time before heading for a known sleeping spot.

More tomorrow, but very much looking forward to my rest day.
07/07/2012

Today was all about rest, no cycling and definitely no strenuous exercise. Having had a decent nights sleep, I awoke rather early and had to be content with dozing for another hour. Nothing happens until at least 10:00 here, it is too cold to do much in any case.


Dived into breakfast, I seem to have a decent hunger on me these days! Spent a few hours editing my blog and fiddling with various maps and research. I needed to get some form of relief for my legs, so a quick trip to the local Farmacia. "Necesito un poco de crema para los músculos de las piernas doloridas". I got most of it out right and it produced the required result. Given that the sun was out and the wind seemed light, I grabbed the camera and binoculars and headed for the beach front area.

This section of Montevideo reminds me very visually much of Durban, but with a Cape Town feel to it. Would comfortably fit anywhere in Mediterranean too. Being a Saturday there we many locals out either walking, running or cycling. There was even a local team playing American Football of all things. 


A gentle stroll produced a large number of seabirds, may of them common. It was excellent weather for photography, the offshore breeze kept the birds close to the shore and coupled with the sun behind me meant that I was able to get some cracking shots. Last night at Hostel Arriba before getting back in the saddle tomorrow and start making way towards Punta del Este - hopefully a two day journey. Nothing else to write about.



08/07/2012


Left Montevideo after a full breakfast - even had cereal. Amazing what your body wants when it is hungry. Spent the first 10 clicks meandering along the Rambla - a delightful paved construction that runs the entire length of the Montevideo shoreline. Being early on a Sunday, the Rambla was populated with other cyclists and runners. Stopped for short break at on of the many beach views. Summer would have these beaches quite full of tourists and locals alike. The wind was up, but mostly gentle, cool sea brease.

Having eased myself into the saddle again, the real work started as soon as I left the city. A large hill next to the airport had me fighting for breath. Having cycled on for a while, it was time for my statutory break. Out came the iPhone and a check on the Map (I am using a cracking app made by Motion X). You can download maps to any magnification and then use the device offline. It cost me all of £2.99 I thin and is worth more than it's weight in gold! Problem was, it was telling me that I had somehow taken the wrong road. So back track we did, only 3 km's fortunately.

By this time, the wind had picked up considerably and I was having problems even going downhill. While most of my route along Uruguay has been coastal, the roads are anything bu flat. More sweeping inclines and declines. On a windless day, this would be great - exercise the legs up the hill and then rest on the way down. Today, it was cycle up and down. Bird life was non-existant due to the wind barring the ever present Rufous Hornero.


Trundled along with little to look at and less to think about, so concentrated on keeping my cycling rhythm. Entered the town of Atlantide at around 15:00 and had a minor debate with myself as to whether I should push on for another 20 clicks or find the camp site and take and early night. The wind had taken a lot out of me and it was a simple decision to end the day here. I cycled about trying to find said camp site but had little luck. An hour later and I was still on the saddle looking for something or somewhere to stay. I had already located a half built house that would suit the purpose, so kept on going to see what else was on offer. At the very end of the coastal road I came across a small and seemingly open hotel. It didn't look all that impressive, so I hoped that the cost might be equally low. It was cheaper than most places, but still around US$40.

It would have to do, I made good use of my now infantile Spanish and secured a room. Turned the heating on and went downstairs to have a beer and catch up with the world. All was good at this point. Started to get 'frio' (cold), in fact it started to get really really cold. So I headed upstairs to find my room equally as cold and the aircon unit deceased. Ended up changing rooms, but this aircon did little itself. I figured that these aircons were not reversible, so even if you put the setting up to 31C, it was not capable of warming, only cooling. So my room was a cosy 2C. Then it turned out that they were not serving food either and there was not restaurant within walking distance. Snack food it would be - bag of crisps and a bag of vanilla biscuits. The crisps were soft, probably because they expired 6 months ago. The WiFi didn't reach my room and the shower didn't work at this time. So I gave up and climbed under 5 blankets and went to sleep.

09/07/2012

Woke up early as per usual - this going to bed at 20:00 is ridiculous, and no-one gets up till at least 09:00. Sat in the conservatory and warmed up waiting for breakfast. Breakfast done (only toasted bread rolls and fig jam today - yes, fig jam - I ate that too!). Packed my gear and saddled up.

Today , the plan was to cycle approximately 60 clicks and then decide what to do - go north towards Rocha and have little chance of finding any form of accommodation or head south for Punta del Este and sleep at one of the beech side hotel en route. I made pretty good time, despite a strengthening North Easterly. At some point, Punta del Este came within reach and I pedalled a little harder. Part of the reason for having a crack at Punta del Este, was the large number of hostels on offer. A hostel costs around 300UR (US$ 18) pesos as opposed to between 800 and 1250UR (US$ 40 - 60) pesos per night. My legs felt fairly comfortable, although I was conscious of the fact that warm legs always feel comfortable - it is only at the end of the day that you realise how much exersion you have actually requested of them. My left knee has stiffened up and I cannot feel most of my rear end anymore, so clearly I pushed a little today.

However, it seemed to be well worth it. Very good hostel with a log fire going in the lounge. Hot shower completed - cannot overstate the value of a hot shower after two days of slog. Spread the local version of Deep Heat dangerously close to parts of the body that don't respond so well to the cool burning menthol! Going to head out for dinner shortly - could eat the proverbial horse right now. Tomorrow is a rest day and perhaps some casual birding on the Punta, which should produce a few seabirds. Need to get some washing done, my last attempt has yet to dry and starting to smell just as badly as my decidedly pungent cycling gear. I have estimated (by subtracting my estimated outgoings from my known fluid intake) that as much as 80% of my fluids are exiting as sweat. On a typical day that equates to well over 2 litres!

Dinner and bed time.


10/07/2012

Today was my day off, rest from the muscle straining exertion of Monday. Am holed up in a 3x2 bunk bed setup that is now completely full. The other occupants (all South Americans) don't think about dinner until very late and consequently don't go to bed until mid night at the earliest. This interrupts my sleep pattern as I am awoken a few hours after dozing off. Given the late hours, they also don't wake up very early, so I have to tip toe about just to get out of the room without disturbing anyone. Tomorrow morning should be fun as I need to remove all my gear. I'll give them until 09:30 before assembling my stuff - checkout is 10:00 I think. 

Found a launderette nearby to deal with my smelly stuff. Lady promptly emptied my gear onto her table top and started counting out the contents. I grimaced when she got near my cycling shorts - ''you don't want to touch those'' I was thinking. Either way, a few hours later and my stuff was clean - and more importantly, it was also dry. In the interim, I went for a stroll along the most famous beeches in Uruguay and indeed even Argentina - totally devoid of the tourist masses at this time of year fortunately. A nippy wind blew in off the Atlantic, keeping hands firmly in their pockets. Punte del Este is apparently the spot in Uruguay to watch seabirds, given the wind and swell, I could see why. Taking a seat on a windy vantage point, I didn't have to wait long for a huge Black-browed Albatross to come into view. Well, I could see it through my binoculars in the distance, not so good for any form of photography. Off to a good start, I sat and waited for more action. A few freezing hours later and little had materialised - a juvenile Southern Giant Petrel flew past sharpish at one point, but there was nothing else within my range at least. I had long since given up wiping my nose in the cold wind, something I am getting quite used to as it happens all the time when I am cycling. 

Fun and games over, it was back to the hostel for some much needed research. Having changed tack by coming to Punte del Este - I needed an exit strategy. Having genned up a little, turns out I will not have to double back on myself. The road that I had feared impassable is in fact maintained by a small ferry team. The service costs nothing, although I don't know whether or not they will load me start the ferry immediately! This also shortens my journey quite a bit, meaning I can take it easy tomorrow and the following day and still make it to La Paloma without straining much. Predictions are for a fair amount of wind tomorrow, so taking it easy will be the name of the game. Am going to be navigating my way through 'little Buenos Aires' as it is known here - the majority of the very wealthy there and indeed in the world own property on this next stretch I am about to do. Definitely won't be staying in a local hotel tomorrow night! In fact, despite the shortening of my journey, I still don't have a likely bivouac point yet. Will see how the legs go and hopefully find a suitable spot for the tent tomorrow - too much normal accommodation, time to get back into the bush and actually use all this heavy gear I am lugging about. 

PS : tomorrow is my birthday. While I normally take little notice of the date and care less for people wanting to 'wish me well', I do find myself presented with an interesting statistical possibility. My much beloved bird list stands on the pinnacle of a seminal change - 1999. I need to see one more new bird to enter a psychologically improved twitching state. So, while I don't typically accept gifts and the like, I wouldn't mind the bird fraternity presenting me with a specimen I have yet to lay eyes on. Anything, even what might be described as common or typical - even dull and brown.

11/07/2012

Today, I am 32 years old. What a duff number - not young anymore, not old, not middle aged, nadda. Just allow me one new bird species today and I'll even respond kindly to anyone who should have the temerity to send birthday wishes!

cont/.
I had asked the bird fraternity to look on me kindly today, and indeed they did. The Planning and Logistics department did not. Right now, I sit typing this in the dark, deep inside some random pine forest next to Laguna de Rocha... 


Leaving Punta del Este, the road followed the coast around some very up market resort towns - think of Uruguay as one extremely long stretch of the Cape in South Africa - this was like Clifton, Muizenburg and Hout Bay rolled into one long stretch. This continued for miles, never too large - just big enough. You know that it is not the place to spend a night in a budget hotel when the largest property retailer here is Sotheby's. Then I came to this most bizarre bridge at La Barra - see the photo, words are unnecessary. Very pretty scenery for the first 20 clicks, must be absolute mayhem in Summer. 

The road levelled off and I came across my first lagoon - Laguna Jose Ignacio. Time for my birthday present from the birds. My 2000th bird came in the form of a small flock of Chilean Flamingos. I was unable to get any decent photos, but took a few for the records. Birds came in spurts after that, a lone Long-winged Harrier and some good photos of the White Monjita. I then arrived at the small ferry to cross Laguna Garzon? My luck was not in, I arrived at 12:30 and the ferry didn't start work again until 14:00. So some time to bird a little and have a quick lunch of minute soup and grain biscuits. Birds were decent, Plumbeous Ibis, Amazon Kingfisher, Tufted Tit-Spinetail and a few Chilean Swallows. The ferry started promptly at 14:00 unusually, and we crossed without trouble. 


The road was now dirt, although I expected this to change shortly. Finally I found a flock of Saffron Finches - supposedly common bird which I just hadn't managed to find until now. The dirt road kept on and on - my gear and me rattling around like loose stones in an empty tin. By now it had dawned on me that this road was not going to become tar at any point and I would just have to bash away at it one bump at a time. Not too many miles down the road and a few Greater Rhea and two pairs of Whistling Heron. It was now approaching 15:30, generally my signal to start looking for somewhere to stay. 

I came across a sign indicating that Laguna de Rocha was now only 10km's away, so I figured I would go for that, hopefully they would have a camp site, or I could get across to La Paloma which I knew was only the on the other bank. While I was trying to get a move on, it was difficult not to stop and gaze at a flock of Southern Screamer, a few Chiloe Wigeon and a heap of Wattled Jacana. This wasn't doing my time any good, and I carried on cycling even when I saw some Capybara - they would have to wait until tomorrow. 

Then I saw it - a large lagoon with no bridge nor ferry. Across the lagoon, I could see La Paloma - but I could not get there and it was too late to back track. Just as I was looking for a convenient camp site, a local warden found me and told me there was no place to stay around here, I would have to back track to Rocha. The 'No se puede acampar' (No Camping) sign at the end of the road wasn't helping me either. Back tracking at this already late hour wasn't going to happen, so as soon as I lost the warden I dived into a spot I had identified earlier. Tomorrow we (my bicycle has started to assume the societal principles required of another person and thus the use of the term 'we' is now valid) will have to backtrack to the turn up onto Routa 9, into Rocha and then head south into La Paloma. Hopefully tonight does not get as cold as it has been recently. At least I am somewhat sheltered in the forest - don't think I will have a problem with dew either, just hope the wind doesn't pick up. Wow, just looked up from my screen for the first time in 20 mins - it is so dark I cannot see my finger 2 inches from my eye!


Nothing else to do now. Time to climb into the hammock and try to get some sleep. Early start tomorrow and then I can bird Laguna de Rocha and rest up in La Paloma for a few days.

12/07/2012

I've been needing to pee for the last 5 hours, but couldn't be bothered enough to get myself out of my sleeping bag liner, sleeping bag, hammock, put shoes on and then reverse the entire process again in the pitch black. Half doze, half sleep until I can just about see dawn. 

Time to pack up, not enough water left to even make a coffee - will have to ration the remaining 50ml or so for a while. The wind is a howling southerly, directly into my face. The small amount of rain that fell earlier in the morning has turned the dirt road into a sticky goo. It is absolute murder trying to cycling in goo and into the wind. My right achilles was already irritable last night, now it is straining heavily. I no sooner start cycling and a hare runs alongside me in the field. This is really odd, I know that hares do not occur in South America - even the Tapiti (Forest Cottontail) is not supposed to be anywhere near Uruguay. Will have to investigate this a little further when I have found the right people to speak to about this.

After a few gruelling clicks, I take a break at a small wetland - adding a few more birds to the collection. White-winged Coot, Spot-flanked Gallinule, Silver Teal and a displaying South American Snipe - drumming in the early dawn. Then it is back to the pedal, aiming for the hardest piece of wet ground, minding the rocks and potholes - careful with the wind. Wind is a beast, it acts against you in different ways. Into your face is simply murder, it whistles through you - exacerbating every movement of your leaden legs. Balance becomes an issue, one needs to lean into the direction, but also be careful that the moment a lull occurs, you over balance and start falling. So wind not only attacks you physically, but also mentally - it requires 100% concentration. 

Takes over an hour to reach the turn off. It also means that the wind is now blowing broadside, which is a little easier - but makes for balance control issues. Gusts are reaching at last 30km/h otherwise it is a constant 20km/h. This section of road proves to be a littler firmer and we start to make relative progress, until the site of the first hill. Up until now the road has followed the coast more or less and the road has either been a slight incline or decline - but nothing severe either way. Now that I am moving inland, this has changed into one hugh climb and decline. I barely crest the first few hills and now start to become conscious of my barren water situation. I cannot work these hills too much. So the scene is set for a repetition of freewheel, cycle as far as I can up a hill, dismount and push to the top, start again. We do this another 7 times before reaching Routa 9. 

Tar McAdam, never before have I been so happy to see a hardened deck. Whats more, I would now have a tail wind. Oddly, when you have a tail wind - you cannot hear it 'working'. Wind is quiet when it is with you, which is a psychological nightmare - you feel that the wind has died down as soon as you are in a position to take advantage. It certainly hadn't become 'quiet', I sat tall and let the wind hurtle me along at 30km/h on the flats alone. On downhill I was having to brake - I was starting to get speed wobbles!

By now, my dwindling water supply was empty and I my only concern was finding more. Rocha was still 10 clicks away, I would probably make that - but I did notice that the water sodden verges and rivers suddenly had a magnetic pull to them. I had the gear of course - water filtration, UV lights, even Chlorine tablets if necessary to drink just about any water I could find. What stopped me was the hassle of it all. Stop the bike, unload various bits and pieces from different bags. The whole process would have taken me half an hour and by that time I would be near enough to Rocha in any case. Not that a mental note was required - but i was not to allow my water situation to end up like this again!

Entering Rocha, a large services greeted me. It was still 2 clicks away at least - but I had some idea of what stragglers in a desert feel when they can see an oasis. I had to mentally remind myself not to pedal faster - just keep the rhythm going for a few more minutes. Upon entering the store, it turned out to be the size of a large Waitrose. There was more stuff on offer here than in most 'Supermercados' I had used to this point. Two litres of water, a 500ml Gatorade, a few chocolate bars - surprisingly my first since arriving. Water bottles filled, I still had half a litre of water left - so that and the Gatorade were emptied into my mouth along with the chocolate bar and a packet of Oreo style biscuits.

Satiated, I got back on the saddle and made for La Paloma. According to my GPS, this would only be around 12 clicks. A lazy peddle to rest the legs - then the first road sign, La Paloma 22. Damn GPS, this is not the first time that it's scale has been off. I had no sooner stomached the damage when the next road sign about 3 clicks down the road now said it was 26 clicks to go. I think I quite loudly asked if this was some type of sick joke - did the road planners have me and fellow cyclists in mind when they stuffed up the distances? Do they know what type of mental torture it is to increase the distances when you are supposedly narrowing them? Bastards!

I was not with the wind anymore, it was mostly blowing across me. More hills to climb, but at least these were tar - there wouldn't be any walking up these. Even on very long climbs, I can stop pedalling and rest one leg for a few seconds while free wheeling to near standstill. Then cycle for another few hundred metres and rest the other leg. Has served me well, even on climbs as long as 3 clicks. I stopped for my mandatory break with about 17 clicks left. While dawdling next to my bike, another cyclist came past and enquired (I think) as to my wellbeing and whether or not I had any technical issues. I greeted him and gave him a thumbs up with some loud 'no, no' when he looked at me quizzically. With that he said good bye and pedalled off again. I passed him a few miles along the road - in the opposite direction this time and he waved and smiled again. Chap must have been mid-70's at least and he was still shifting!

The weather was getting nasty now. Dark clouds had rolled in, the wind was strengthening and rain seemed imminent. The last 4 clicks into La Paloma was all downhill, nice for now, not so nice when I have to leave eventually. The rain held off, it never did start actually. Now it was just a case of finding my hostel. Which turned out to be easier said than done. They had a decent map which I had downloaded, but it wasn't making things any easier. They were located practically on the beech - which meant lots of beech sand, which also meant that I got to fall off a few times. Heavy bicycles don't like loose beech sand. Having found what looked to be the back door of the hostel, I persevered in locating the front of it. No such luck and after falling again, I went back to the rear entrance come what may.

Equally confusing about this particular hostel, they have one name on the internet, but display a different one on their sign boards! The rear turns out to be the front after all that. No one is at home - not surprising at this time of year. Within minutes a friendly face appears on the balcony of the bar across from me. Talk about a view - this bar sits on an elevated platform overlooking the Atlantic and huge beech between. Fernando introduces himself and shows me about - gets me all sorted out. His brother actually runs the place and he would be along later. 

I have to fill in a form, pretty much the same as most places - only this time I get to do it myself. Couple of problems I had yet to encounter cause me to stop and think for a bit : Occupation - Retired?, no, Itinerant (will anyone understand that - possibly better than saying retired, doesn't imply a vast amount of money). Home Address - Itinerant again - no, that will only cause more questions than answers. So I guess I have to put my parents home address down. Without having thought of this up until now - I suppose I have become South African again, it is the only place I have a responsible fixed address. I suppose I could use my brother address, but he could move at some point and probably not think of telling me for a while. Lets face it, there is something much more interesting about listing 'Bela Bela, Limpopo' than there is about 'Wimbledon, London'. Telephone Number - N/A, still don't have one. Coming from - a wooded forest opposite Laguna de Rocha?, no, we just put Rocha to be safe. Nationality - South African & British? I'll have to think about that.

So far I have used my British Passport to get through borders and then put it away. I have used my South African passport as a form of ID for everything else. Better still, everyone here knows that it is quite possible to come from South Africa and be white! I tell them that this is not the case with the Americans. They look at me quizzically, 'you mean the Yankees?'. I am given a short introduction to status identity. This is how it works - everyone from the Mexican/US border south is referred to as 'Americans', Canadians are Canadians and the bit between them are known as Yankees, NOT Americans. The locals seem to have little animosity towards the Yanks, they don't like many of the same things that most people outside of the US dislike, but generally they are seen as very useful and friendly tourists - even if the butt end of most jokes. 

Speaking of Yanks, I met a few the other day in Atlantida. Two retired yachtsman who have houses out here. Friendly fellows who switched from English to Spanish at the flick of tongue. Seems that Uruguay is creating jobs and infrastructure by selling tracts of land to developers and foreigners alike - I'm guessing that there are stipulations about development time frames, minimum expenditure etc. So far, the coast has not in my opinion been destroyed - the large lagunas seem well protected and the building work is not overtly ostentatious. Hopefully it stays that way - although I do winder about where all the water is coming from for these houses. 

The hostel has a dog too, one of those dumb things from the toilet paper adverts you see in the UK - Forlan (I assume in honour of Diego Forlan the footballer). Dumb it might be, but it is a pleasure to have a big friendly dog want to play. Forlan turns out to be a 'chewer' of things, so everything including the bungees comes off the bike. He doesn't take much interest in my bike, only wanted to have a go at my shoes - they probably smell tastier than his various bones. Licked most of the salt and minerals off my neck and face while he was at it too. 

Talking dogs, Uruguayans love dogs - proper dogs too, not those small ratshit furless handbag things. Every second farm and house has at least one large German Shepherd. As anyone who knows me, a big vicious German Shepherd remains one of the pinnacles of my life. So it is with much relief whenever I am walking about or passing a farm when one comes bounding over. He probably set off to see how I tasted and instead got a big hug and cuddle. And then had someone talking to him in a funny language. One of the major concerns I had from reading many cycling blogs through South America was the constant problem of dogs attacking the bike. Might sound a it of a laugh, but when a dog has a go at you - any swerving or miscalculation has all 170kgs of you and bike on your arse - normally it would involve the breaking of something too, either you or your bike, neither of which is good! So far I have found the dogs quite easy to handle - keep cycling and pay them no attention. They bark a lot and run behind and next to you, but not even the scariest Rottweiler part Pitbull part Bengal Tiger I have come across so far has attempted to take a nip of my ankles or bike. 

Time for a very hot shower, followed by much cream on my knees and ankle. I now have a new injury to worry about - while my left knee seems to have recovered quite well, I have a serious strain of my right achilles tendon. Serious enough that walking is troublesome and even my boots are painful to wear. Will have to be careful with that - so an extra days rest is in order. Given the prediction for very strong winds on Friday and Saturday, this is not a bad thing in any case. 

Spend the rest of my evening in front of a log fire working on images and updating various bits and pieces. 

13/07/2012Wake up at 08:00 with the light streaming into my room. Not that it is warm yet - that will take a few more hours yet. Mother has emailed to ask how my birthday birding went - realise that I have not published the last few days of my blog. With nothing doing today, I shall concentrate on getting that sorted out and attending to what technical work is required. There will be no walking about or fixing of bikes etc today. The achilles is no better, will have to strap it later and start moving about on it. Do not want it to stiffen up to badly. Meanwhile, the fire is on again and the room is starting to heat up. A few mugs of coffee and perhaps later I will go down and see what the chaps are working on today. The two brothers who run the house have other jobs too it would seem - particularly during the quiet winter periods. I am still the only person here - probably been the first person in days and unlikely to see anyone else it would seem. 

We have much to talk about - both are avid surfers and have travelled to most of the worlds prime surfing destinations at some point. Neither has been to South Africa, the have a healthy fear of sharks! I attempt at convincing them that statistically they have more chance of being killed by humans than eaten by sharks there - but realise this is probably not the way to sell a country to anyone!


13/07/2012 cont.

Nothing doing today. Wind is blowing a gale (35 - 40 km/h, gusting stronger). In any case, my right achilles tendon is too painful to even walk on, so I wasn't going to be going anywhere in any case. Spent the entire day on my fat ass updating my blog, drinking hot chocolate and generally keeping up with the world of news, cricket and whatnot. 

I have the entire place to myself, Santiago and his brother are busy building his house down the road. Frustrating to sit about doing nothing, can't even go out and look for birds - they don't like the wind either. Early night, stuff my face with savoury biscuits and mayonnaise.

14/07/2012

No change in anything. Wind is still blowing a gale and my tendon has shown no sign of responding to vast amounts of anti-inflammatory cream and stretching. I cannot sit about doing nothing again, so today is the day to get everything cleaned and set for the next cycle section. 

I'm convinced my various injuries are being caused by my seat position. So spend a while researching - all looks positive, but I have no way of measuring the various angles they describe. So I have to wing it and make small changes and see how they work out. Roll the handlebars a little forward to ease the pressure on my hands and shoulders. Drop the seat slightly and move it a little forwards too, raise the angle of the seat. Check and tighten all the various nuts and bolts before proceeding with a wash. All the wet sand and soft beech sand around the town has turned my chain into a piece of sandpaper - this is not good! 

I don't have any degreaser with me, which would be rather handy in getting all the oil of my chain and cogs, so dish washing liquid it is. Toothbrush and dishwashing liquid make a marginal impact, but after many repeated cleans, the semblance of a chain emerges. Clean the cogs as best as possible. Now it is time to clean the wheels, the side rims are also encrusted with sand, meaning that my brake blocks are grinding those down too. Back spokes and rim of black with dirt. All in all, it take about two hours to get the bike looking reasonably newish. 

Now for my clothes - most have lost the new washed sheen they had from Punta del Este already. Mostly because it was very cold and wet which means I tend to wear most of my cycling gear at the same time. My nylon reflective jacket (something I never thought I would ever use, but bought it along as it didn't weigh much has proved invaluable - compliments to Tracy Wedd for buying it for my own safety!), also keeps me warm, but causes a lot of sweat as it doesn't breath much. Sweat is the lesser of two evils right now, cold is the bigger, especially when it is accompanied by wind. 

Turn the shower into a wash basin and get to work. My long pants that I wore while battling the wind and rain are full of bike grease on the inside right leg. Much to my own surprise, a bit of effort and the grease has just about disappeared. In this wind, the clothes dry rather quickly. Tomorrow I will change into the washed clothes and give the stuff I am wearing the same treatment. Unpack all my gear and hang the hammock and tarp out to dry. Sleeping bag gets an airing and my bags are emptied and cleaning out too. 

Now I feel as though I have accomplished something, though I can no longer feel my fingers due to the cold. Back indoors and more hot chocolate, stoke the fire again. It is possibly time to try out my ankle now, so with that I am off to the shops for some food and a walk. My ever present companion Forlan comes with for the adventure. I don't particularly like Labradors as most people know - I consider them rather dumb dogs, but am taking to Forlan. His original owner had no sooner got him as a puppy before signing a football contract in Italy. So the poor muppet was dragged from Montevideo to his current residence. Santiago decided he was not going to be a standard house dog, so he has the run of wherever he wants to go. He is still a young dog, only about 7 months - so very friendly and easily over excited. However, he seems to make friends with just about every dog we pass. He evidently knows about German Shepherds as he gives them a wide berth and they just stare at him, not even a bark is necessary to scare the hell out of dog and man alike from a big Shepherd - my favourite dog!

The ankle still has a major twinge, but at least I can walk on it. Arrive in town at about 14:00 forgetting once again that this is siesta time. Everything is shut until 16:00. Bollocks, but at least a restaurant is open and I have a decent hunger on me. Fumbling through my now shambolic Spanish, we end up just nodding 'si si' to whatever is offered. I make out the word 'cannelloni' so at least I have some idea of what I am getting. A couple of other mutters and my man gets to work. A few minutes later and I see that I have agreed to takeout, my cannelloni is wrapped up and I am U$130 pesos lighter (US$6.00) and off I go back to the house. What a bunch of cannellonis though. For next to nothing, I have gotten 3 spinach wraps covered in tomato sauce and cheese. Does just the job, for that type of money I might visit more often too. 

A few hours later and I am back into town, Forlan thinks this is his lucky day. Buy some groceries and a rather decent stout beer they make here called Patricia, quite sweet, but I rather like it. To it I am actually going to cook - a whole lot cheaper than eating out. The other day I had half a pix and a Fanta in Punta del Este for over U$400 pesos! Pasta, peas, maize, mushrooms and tomatoes - something very healthy. I would have added some beef or chicken to that but I have yet to work out how to order any of that. Have been dying for some cheese too, but unlike the shops in the UK, they don't package stuff like cheese and meat - you can only get it from the deli and the butcher. Today is my lucky day as I find a block of cheese pre-packed.

Home James and time to setup dinner. The canned beef in my bag has been sitting there for says and I cannot see myself eating it on the road, and it weighs a lot. So I figure I best make some sandwiches out of it. Bedrolls out, ample layers of corned beef and some large slices of cheese to top it off with. I realised something was horribly wrong after my first bite. This wasn't cheese - I had bought a damn block of butter. That kind of put a damper on my bread rolls and the corned beef doesn't really have much taste. Waste it I didn't, but now have more motivation to work out how to order some cheese and meat. The phrase book doesn't have quite what I am looking for, but a word from here and a word from there seem to go together well. Then I remembered that very useful tool that Google has, Google Translate. Words committed to memory hopefully, will give them a run over tomorrow and see what I get it of it.

Another guest rocks up, chap from Brazil. Also out travelling on his own, can't work out why he is in Uruguay in the winter, but I suppose he thinks the same of me. Spend the evening researching places to go and checking on the weather. I have spent 2 days now doing nothing, the whole purpose of coming here was to visit Laguna de Rocha. Tomorrow is the day for this.

15/07/2012

An earliest start and Santiago has breakfast waiting. Some nice bread rolls and quince jam (you better believe mum, I am getting some fruit down me). Finished off with a strong black coffee - the coffee they get here is awesome, though I don't drink much more than two mugs a day. By comparison, I used to go through 10 - 12 a day of that weak crap in the UK. A few custard buns and we are ready for our walk to the Lagoon. I say we,, because there is no way I am getting more than 20 yards from the house without Forlan sniffing a rat and coming charging along for the walk. I'm not sure he is prepared for what I have in mind today - it is going to be a good 20km+. 

Off we go, the ankle seems to be holding up just fine even though it is still a little tender. I resume my normal march and clip along at a rate. The lagoon is supposedly a good 8km from the hostel, so I don't waste too much time in getting a move on. Forlan has found that the road side verges are all chest high with water - his new favourite thing. Every puddle gets jumped in and the water tested for taste. At least he has the decency to shake himself off far away from me - any water on my bins or camera and he may not get to see another puddle! He seem to have understood this, although he does have the irritating habit of wiping his nose of my calf when he thinks I am not paying attention to him before scampering off before I can give him a clip. 

Through the village we walk and my first birds of the day have me creeping into the forest for a better look. Before I can lays eyes or bins on anything my trusty companion has come charging through causing everything to scatter. Today could be a long day. 

After many more kilometres, we come to a turn in the road. Take a right and the lagoon is another 2kms away or walk across the incomplete golf course to the road on the other side, which I know goes to the lagoon (courtesy of my my fantastic Motion X mapping app.). Being a Sunday, I cannot imagine that anyone is about, so we hop the fence or simply go through it Forlans case. Across what might end up being a golf course one day and Forlan's bird chasing has just shown its useful points. He flushes a Spotted Nothura, something I have seen only fleetingly from my bike, so it is very rewarding to see the bird taking a long flight and giving me a much better view. He had to take a long flit as Forlan didn't give up on him for a while!

Then came a small problem with my plan. Between the golf course and the road was a large farmers field. I generally avoid trespassing if I can help it, especially a working farm. We have come this far, and I had no intention of turning back, besides it was already getting on for 12:00. Through the fence we went and smart clip to get off the field ASAP. Them I saw the rather large herd of cattle, at about the same time as Forlan. I have a healthy respect for cattle having been chased a few times by some playful young bulls. Forlan on the other hand saw an opportunity to make lots of new friends. Conveniently he forgot how to obey English at this point and went charging off causing the cattle to stampede. All I needed now was for Farmer Garcia to emerge and see this. One cow stopped and gave Forlan a grunt and that was him done, tail wrapped firmly between his legs he came hauling back to me for help. Not that I wanted to get involved in this mess, I started to move a little quicker and get off the field cursing bloody Forlan all the way.

Finally emerging from the Private Property, we could relax and stroll the rest of the way to the lagoon. Just across from me I caught a glimpse of a Limpkin, an oversized ibis. I had seen them before in Cuba and the US, ,but never close enough to get a photo of. Camera poised and shutter about to start moving before I noticed the poor birds eyes enlarge rapidly before taking to flight. You guessed it, Forlan saw another 'friend' opportunity. What to so, there was no way he was leaving me and we were way to far from home to turn back, I would simply have to accept this as part of the bargain. 

On arrival at the lagoon, a handy signboard notified me that we still had another 6km to go to reach the bird hide. So we trundled along and birded as best as I was allowed until it seemed pointless walking for the hell of it. The tide was up and the bird hide wasn't likely to have much going for it in any case. It was already 14:00 and we needed to start heading back. I did manage a few birds, although photos were not possible. Forlan did flush another useful bird, a Correndera Pipit. I figured we were not crossing the farmers field again, and opted for a short cut across the beech. Good work out for the ankle this soft sand. Forlan now had plenty of playmates in the various gulls and oystercatchers to chase which he did - every single last one of them. For all the walking I did, which amounted to a little over 20km's, he must have done at least 5 times as much, mostly at rate of knots. Not that he was getting tired either - every bird got the same hellish sprint that the previous one got. 

On getting home, my legs were aching and I was frozen. Hot chocolate on and polished off the remaining corned beef bread rolls. Forlan had a few mouthfuls of water and promptly went to sleep for an hour. Spent the rest of the evening updating my twitch lists and planning for my departure.

16/07/2012

Felt quite odd leaving, I had spent the best part of 3 days here and rather grown used to it. Another good breakfast and some final goodbyes to Santiago and some of his friends, and one last lick from Forlan and I was off. First 10 km's breezed by without any effect. Legs seemed fine, ankle was holding up, bum wasn't aching in the saddle. A few more km's and it became apparent that I had angled the saddle too high. Quick stop to adjust that and off I went again. Pleasant warm morning without much wind for a change! 

Just as I was starting to enjoy the ride, my tendon started to play up really badly. 3 days of damn rest and it was now in a worse position than it had been. I now faced quite a dilemma. Cycle back the 25 odd km's to La Paloma where I knew there was at least a hospital or carrying on for the next 35km's and try to make Agua Dulces. With previous injuries I have tried resting them and then generally out of frustration I have simply carried on through the pain. One of two results is thus possible - either the pain goes way or I damage the damn muscle/tendon properly so that it needs proper intervention. Personal frustration won the argument without much hesitation. Although I did make a concession and lower my saddle slightly. Now I would also have to keep an eye on my left knee, as this injury I believe was originally caused by my saddle being too low. 

Some very painful twinges, but I cycled on regardless. By now, I had taken to thinking about and even commentating as if I was riding the Tour de France. My luck that it is on at the moment and provides something to draw inspiration from. Eventually the achilles either gave up whining or I had managed to block it out of my mind. The km's started to reduce rather quickly and I even stopped a few times to look at a few birds. Three Giant Wood Rails, normally shy birds of the wetland reeds were standing I the middle of Routa 10 - rather brazenly they barely budged as I cycled by. I couldn't miss out on this photo opportunity and reeled off a few shots. Some Bare-faced Ibis were nearby too, so they also got some of the camera treatment. 

At about 15:00 I rolled into Agua Dulces, a tiny fishing village that seemed void of humans. Most of the properties here are vacation only, so there was little going on. For the first time, an managed to find my intended residential target at the first offering. Hostelito del Gato, the Cats little hostel or something to that effect. There I met Emiliano, a charming Uruguayan who spoke as much English as I did Spanish. We were just about making sense when two people I had passed on the dirt road arrived. This was in fact Emiliano's brother and wife. This is where it got a little tricky, her name was Emilie (half French and half Norwegian), now living in Uruguay and mother to a tiny little baby (Matteo was 10 days old). Turns out that the website at had found the hostel on was the original owners, who had now sold the business and unbeknown to me - the hostel wasn't really open for business yet. What with a new baby to look after and it being the middle of Winter, the new owners hadn't figured on guests for some months yet. 

That was quickly put aside and I was welcomed to stay. I wanted to camp, spent too many nights indoors and was feeling rather guilty about this. They were ever so happy to sort a room out for me, but I besides wanting to camp, I really didn't want to impose. Not that at could have know at this point, but I was about to receive the type of hospitality that one occasionally reads about but never thinks might happen to oneself. 

Hammock up and things packed away, an went for a stroll into town to buy a few provisions and see what the place was all about. It was a very simply tiny little hamlet on the sea - quite literally houses were built dangerously close to the high tide mark. I had seen so many lovely beech by now that they no longer entertained me. With the sun starting to set an headed back home, but not before stopping to investigate what seemed like a hive of bird activity going on in small copse of trees. The usual thrushes and Rufous Horneros were in attendance along with a stunning species I had been looking for, a Blue-and-Yellow Tanager. Some high pitched seeping drew my attention, although I already knew what I was looking for. Such seeping and buzzing could only be hummingbirds. Problem was, they were high up in the tree and didn't look much bigger than a Bee Hummingbird (having seen some, I can attest to the fact that such beasts really are the size of a Bee, the smallest bird in the world - endemic to Cuba). Hummingbirds that are not on feeders are notoriously difficult to see, they barely sit still for half a second before buzzing off to the next flower or zipping after another hummingbird that they don't like. However, I also knew that once you find a spot where they sit and preen, you can be sure they will return again. Having found said spot, I got my camera focused as best at could on some high up twig and waited. I dare not even drop my arms for fear of missing the little bugger when he landed, but after much arm ache one did oblige me for a few seconds - long enough to get off a few shots anyway. White-breasted Hummingbird - ticked. With that I was on the board with the hummingbirds, only another 250 to go. 

Very satisfied with two stunning birds, I head for the hostel with dinner preparation in mind. My hosts were having none of it however, I was invited to have dinner with them. Emiliano was cooked crumbed fish and vegetable rice. I wasn't about to say no, so sat down and chatted with Emilie (who operated as a translator for her husband? and Emiliano). Got to know more about them and just how they had ended up here. Emilie had come out to travel around South America and at some point bumped into a bloke, they travelled together and one thing led to another. They now own a small hostel in the a tiny village, have a small family and seem to absolutely love life. 

It was reassuring to meet another European person who went off to explore and ended up leaving one life behind for another. Not that I am planning on getting married and having kids, but it is good to know that if you take things one day at a time, decide you want to live somewhere here, that it is certainly possible. She speaks a number of languages which helps, Spanish, French, English, Norwegian I presume too.

Dinner was served and in I climbed. Not a big fish person, but this was excellent stuff - did not reject another piece once at was done. Sat in the dining room afterwards getting warm by the fire and chatting till late - my curiosity with Matteo ended up having him dropped in my lap for a while. Unfortunately, he was now getting hungry and in no mood to sit still and behave for a big person that couldn't provide him with his munchies. 

Departed well fed and very warm to my rather less warm hammock. I was definitely avoiding the temptation of staying in tonight - Brazil was not going to have many places to stay every few days, so at had better get used to the idea. Have two more nights in the hammock when I get to Parque Nacional Santa Teresa tomorrow. 

17/07/2012

For the first time, I managed to sleep through the night. Few drops of rain fell early in the morning, but not enough to cause any concerns where an was lying. Dozed for a while, waiting for the sun to peak through. Checked my phone and decided that it was after 08:00 already this damn sun should have been up already. It was, but stuck behind some impenetrable cold fog. Camp came down and started packing, but everything was getting wet in the fog. Some useful wire clothes lines were available, so hang most of my stuff over that and figured it should be dry by the time I have had breakfast. 

In I went for breakfast and some spread it was. Best breakfast at had been offered all trip so far. Fresh whole grain bread, Dulce de Leche (caramelised toffee spread - don't know how I will survive without it. Commonly found in Uruguay and Argentina only unfortunately), fresh fruits, ham, cheese and tomatoes. Emilie wanted to make me some sandwiches for lunch but I respectfully declined, their hospitality was just too much for me - can only take so much before I feel like I am taking the piss! Needless to say an pigged out on breakfastI was hardly going to need lunch. Had no sooner finished and out came some freshly baked muffins just to round things off. 

A finer end to a finer set of hosts simply was not possible. I had quite literally been welcomed into their home as a family friend. If they run their hostel with even half the hospitality they have shown me, they may not be very profitable, but will make many people very happy. I do wish them all the best, such fine people deserve to have a fully booked hostel! I will most certainly be keeping in touch and spreading the word.

With that, I headed off for the trip to Parque Nacional Santa Teresa. Not a long trip, perhaps only 50kms today, so no rush. First turn out of Agua Dulces and a monster of a hill, just what I did not need on a partly warmed set of legs. All the way to Castillos, the hills got bigger and steeper, but my legs kept their peace fortunately. Going down one hill at speed, I got the fright of my life as some car wizzed past and hooted repeatedly. Out of the window came a hand waving at my. Emilie and family were on the way to the hospital for some checkup to junior - one last goodbye to me! Not that I could wave back unfortunately, going down hill at 40km/h is no time to be taking a hand of the steering column. Huffed and puffed up most of the remaining hills, but the final one into Castillos was more than I could manage. Out of the saddle and pushed for a few hundred metres. This effort was filed at the back of my mind - struggle up a small hill at sea level, cannot wait to see what I end up doing going up proper mountains thousands of metres asl in the Andes. 

With only a few km's to the park, I stopped at the first shop I had seen all day for a few provisions. While desecrating the Spanish language, a fellow shopper asked if I spoke English and he helped me get what I wanted. I had by luck run into someone even more bits than myself. Rafael, a Brazilian, perhaps in his late thirties (may have been older?) was running from Montevideo to Sao Paolo. He was on holiday and running for the dam sake of it thousands of kilometres. Standing in this shop, we were exactly 299km from Montevideo. It had taken him a little over 4 days to get here - he runs near enough 70 - 80km's a day. I don't even cycle that bloody far in the same time frame and he was going to carry on doing this to Sao Paolo! It took me 9 days to travel the same distance as him, albeit with some enforced stop overs due to injury, but he had run in that gale force wind, the same stuff I had avoided. We exchanged emails and blog addresses, very keen to see how he gets on. I think by now I am an experienced enough nutter to be able to pass judgement on someone like Rafael - an even more serious nutter is the only way of describing him! Glad to see I am not the only one who has taken leave of their senses. I have no idea as to why he is doing this, but probably for that very most important of all reasons - because he can. Damn good luck to you Rafael, I hope you carry on with your motivation intact and without injury.

Having bumped into Rafael, it only reinforced what I already thought but few of the people who know me think - what I am doing is seriously no big deal by comparison to others. The cycling had been easy after Castillos, a light head wind but the roads were mostly flat. Arrived at PN Santa Teresa at about 14:30 to be greeted by a soldier. This is after all a military complex, although not an active one, the military still take care of it. 

Went to Recepcion to check-in and pay for my campsite. Despite it being the appropriate hour for business (I lucked out on this occasion), but there was no one home. Siesta is taken quite seriously, no one is late in leaving for that, but coming back on time is much more open to debate. Near enough 15:00, the receptionist showed and had be booked in. Off I went to find my camp site. True to form, I had the entire place to myself again. The downside is that all the shops and restaurant as well as most of the rest rooms were shut. At least I had the pick of a very large campsite. Having found the appropriate set of trees to hang my hammock, I wandered about appropriating some logs for a fire. I figured I might save myself the trouble of getting my petrol stove on tonight and make a decent fire - something that could keep me warm for a few hours while I caught up with my blog. Dinner was to be more extravagant than my usual pasta and cup of soup, I had an onion, pepper and chopped tomatoes which an intended on pouring over some dehydrated potatoes (something akin to Smash). Fire start, and the billy boiling for scup of coffee. Started work on the Smash, although the directions were all in Spanish, so I made things up as I went along.


Turns out I put too much water in, but after 45 minutes I had something that tasted like mashed potato even of the consistency wasn't quite right. Fried up the remaining ingredients and had  myself a tasty meal. Needs some work, but something I will attempt again soon enough. Certainly much easier than dragging around some heavy potatoes and doing things the hard way. My pot is now buggered though, hard baked and encrusted with potato style cement. Will need some elbow grease tomorrow when I get around to washing it.

For the last 3 hours I have sat in front of my very warm fire tapping this all away on my iPad. Is definitely a little chilly tonight, but the fire is at least keeping half of me very warm. Occasionally I look up at the sky, the most amazing stars I can ever remember seeing. Having learnt about the night sky in the southern hemisphere, I at least recognise most of what I can see. Southern cross and Orion in all their splendour. Scorpio blazing bright with a super red giant at it's core. While I never go into astronomy is in any major way, it is pleasing to be able to observe the night sky and at least have some idea of what is going on up there. All such knowledge I owe to my nature mentor - Dr Hamish Campbell, his legacy will live on in the many of us he lovingly nurtured. I'd like to think he would be proud of where I am right now, such a pity he passed away some years ago. 

That is it for the night, a useful way to while away some hours of darkness when normally I'd be fidgeting in my hammock with nothing better to do. It is now 22:15, time to put the fire out and curl up for the night. Tomorrow I can get down to business and looks for some some birds. Will ave another roaring log fire to look forward to and hopefully improve on my Smash production. Tomorrow I shall try the dehydrated Butternut instead though I think.

18/07/2012

Must have gotten really cold last night as I woke around 04:00 rather chilled. Reshuffled myself and went back to sleep. The hordes of resident Monk Parakeets woke me at around 08:00, time to get up and do some birding. Took a wander from the camp in the direction of the Recepcion, around 5km's away. Other than the Parakeets, all other birdlime was still soundly asleep. I stuck to the sunny areas as best I could, it was still near enough to 2 degrees even by 09:00. Birds slowly began to emerge, a large mixed flock of Black and Turkey Vultures - wing stretched and attempting to warm themselves. A large flock of Guira Cuckoos puffed up and oddly quiet for a change. 

Some nearby action had me into the wood edge, decent photos of Blue-billed Black Tyrant, and some frustrating half shots of a pair of Chestnut-backed Tanagers. I pulled put my trusty pen to record said Tanager and realised I was unable to grip the pen let alone write. My hands had become so cold they were immobile. On went the gloves, not without some struggle though, my hands seemed to have expanded and the gloves were not giving much. That was about it as far as the birds went. Trundled down to the recepcion in the hope of finding the local shop open. It was indeed 'Abierto', picked up some supplies for dinner and some biscuits for breakfast. Said hello to some of the local soldiers, much confusion and giggling as we attempted to mix our bare grasps of each others languages. 

Filled with biscuits, I made my way over to a bird hide overlooking a small lake. The usual suspects, some more Giant Wood Rails, as brazen as ever. More frustration as I struggled to take some photos of a Diademed Tanager. Quite stunning birds, but I was unable to do them photographic justice. The walk home came alive with hummingbirds, even to my naive ears I knew that these were not the White-throated's from yesterday. After much waiting, one did finally oblige - a Gilded Sapphire. Up above them, another noisy and large species, a Black Jacobin. More hummingbirds on the list, 248 still to see. A distant Blue-and-Yellow Tanager defied the camera lens, but is easily recognisable - a very flash species indeed. 

By now it was already getting on for 14:00 and a bit of basic house keeping was in order. Cleaned all the dishes from last night, got the fire ready and uploaded the days photos. My wood source now had occupants, so I was going to have to find an alternative poaching source. I had forgotten that today was a public holiday and the park was much busier than yesterday. Most of the bungalows were now occupied, but one remained empty, at least it seemed so. I nipped in and grabbed as much wood as I could carry and made my escape. I'd have to search the grounds for naturally fallen logs, not risking another trip to the bungalows now. 

With little else happening, I got the fire going and decided to have dinner ready and eaten before it got dark. This evenings meal is pasta and a bunch of canned stuff, mushrooms, meatballs and some extra tomato purée. The poor pot just about managed the canned produce. Dinner down, I am now quite stuffed. I have even gone so far as have breakfast arranged for tomorrow morning - hot dogs. I'm getting better at this at least. 

On the injury front, the right achilles has not seemed to have changed - still stiff with the odd twinge, but at least it is no worse than yesterday. Still battle to kneel on my left knee, while there is no pain, it doesn't like having too much weight on it when bent. Overall I'm in fairly decent nick by comparison to most of this trip. Just gone 18:00 and the last natural light is ebbing away, fire is going strong and providing some warmth as the temperature starts to fall. Must say that I am looking forward to southern Brazil, it will probably be much wetter but it will also be a lot warmer. Carrying a limited amount of gear means that I have a limited selection of clothes. I have been wearing most of my warm gear almost all the time, this means there is little time to give the stuff a  wash. So after two nights of wood fires, I not only only smell of the usual sweat and grime, but now also a not so pleasant smoky eucalyptus fire residue. Hopefully there is a 'Lavadero' in Chuy and I can get my stuff cleaned before heading off for a much sparser Brazil. 

That was about as simple as things were today, tomorrow is a 40 odd km ride to Chuy where I will spend the night before crossing into Brazil on Friday morning. 

19/07/2012

Woke up to the sun this morning, first time I have slept that late. Much warmer, but I also knew that this must be because there was a northerly wind blowing - not good for present cycling direction. Camp packed and up a few hills before exiting Parque Nacional Santa Teresa. Perhaps knowing that there was not far to go today impacted me psychologically.

Spent the entire cycle on the lower end of my drop bars, normally only used when I am going uphill. Every piece of the road looked marginally up hill and the wind was brisk into my face or slightly across me at best. Legs were sluggish, but the ankles and knees were not playing up for the first time in weeks.



Arrived in Chuy a little after 12:00, got checked in and headed straight for the shower. How much better that felt after days in sweaty and wood smoky clothes! Spent an hour walking about town picking up a few provisions and exchanging money. At least we get back to reasonable numbers in Brazil. Exchange rate is around 2 Reals (pron. Hey als) to US$1. Rest of the afternoon is now reserved for sitting on my backside (comfortably) and drinking beer. Tomorrow it is off to Brazil and who knows how long before I see civilisation again. The nearest large town of Rio Grande is just under 250km's, about 4 days of cycling if conditions are favourable. 

This is likely to be my last comms for at least a week, until then. 


2 comments:

  1. Just wondering how and what you use to get online like this?

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    Replies
    1. Hi Peter,
      I have a combination of devices. Am carrying my iPhone as well as iPad and Mac. In terms of connectivity, depends on the area, but so far very good opportunity and all free. I know that even some camp sites in Uruguay have WiFi. I expect this to change somewhat once Ieave Uriguay, then my comms will become much less frequent.

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