In blogs you probably don’t read how boring a country can be. Experiences must be great, exhilarating and fantastic. Not on this blog. Uruguay has me waking up in the mornings thinking how I can make this day a memorable one. I have to come up with my own ideas to have something like, still far removed from, an exciting experience in Uruguay.
Setting up camp at a grazing pasture means cows, as usual when I trespass. I leave my bicycle locked at the fence and camp within a meter from the fence. When I have set up the tent, two gaucho’s appear. With a big smile they let me know my camp spot at their pasture between roaming cows is perfectly fine, ‘do I have enough water?’ and with a calm trot they move on.
I meet them again the next morning, again with a bright smile on their faces. Dressed in a woolen poncho, an authentic pair of trousers, known as the gaucho pants, and an intricate patterned belt from copper and leather, where his knife is tucked in from the back, leather handmade boots, the typical headdress and a bunch of cowhide lasso’s, Gaucho Alfonso is not handsome. But he is curiously attractive! And my need for being tossed into a more social life in the countryside with a talkative sort of gaucho seem to reaches a height.
His brother comes by car to the farm Gaucho Alfonso lives on, with his wife and two kids. The owners live in Punta del Este and have another house in Montevideo. The privately owned campo counts 1800 cows and 100 horses. Both are for export, meat production. Minimal on hormones, negligible on antibiotics. Meat as meat’s supposed to taste.
The sun shines. I am happy again. The boredom is suddenly gone.
It starts to dawn on me that I need more socializing. I noticed that after meeting people I feel more enlightened. I even start to enter places with camera in hand, intention focused on making contact. I notice I often start long talks with the people I have photographed. When the police halted me, I was not annoyed, but happy someone talked to me, visiting their office just to get my socialistic fix. I notice how much I laugh when I am invited to have food with the men in my hotel, how much real fun I have with 77 year young Tomas. More so, I make a huge detour to visit a newly made friend. When I meet gaucho’s I am excited, almost intoxicated by some of them. Not all.
Not that Uruguay is a beautiful country, there is nothing really to see. Natural environment is killed long ago. And I guess a small country, rather rich and probably independent enough, must have something to trade, will it be successful. That is eucalyptus wood and meat for the rest of the world. A country deprived from natural abundance, and I cycle through it, over tracks pointed out by a lady who hugged me ‘buen suerte’ at the tiny grocery shop in Guichon.
I say farewell to my initial plan and take route 25, fully unpaved yet has much more places to stock up with food and water. I pass Merinos, Morato, Tiatucura, Piedra Sola and Tambores, all with about 40 kilometer interval.
Not surprisingly there aren’t much animals to be seen. Sounds are pacifying once the sun gets down, and transport me into an immediate dreamy sleep. Smell is another thing: one skunk manages to suffocate me in the night with its stench! For hours long I am choked with a natural poison and from now on I think twice to scare off animals with sounds or movements.
Hardly any traffic on the Ruta 25 makes me satisfied, the boring landscape has the opposite effect on me: I want to get out of this!
It occurs to me I had Uruguay on my mind since Patagonia, and by cycling through the Pampas in Argentina, I really did get my share of boredom, though I enjoyed it much. By thinking Uruguay would be comparable to Paraguay, which in my mind was, inaccurately so, one immense highlight, I expected much from Uruguay.
The people, that’s why one should go to Uruguay. Though they appear very timid at first, sometimes even wary.
The Ruta 25 is about double as long as the highway. Having awfully lots of bending and curves, the roads are not depicted on the map. Each day I stop exhausted. Sometimes in a muddy pasture, not able to find anything else. The only positive vibes are the cows grazing in the cold, foggy morning.
Sometimes I try option upon option, finally ending at the best: an abandoned house. With a stack of wood, many trees, and that which reminds me so much of India; whitewashed walls with gray blackish mold. I could stay an extra day here, was it not I have not enough food.
I could do without the massive bull roaming around at night, but that’s what he does.
A house like this is the cherry on the boring day. The landscape can not enthrall me, and even though the jumpy young lambs, all the cows I pass, the birds with their fascinating nests, horses and a gaucho now and then, do rapture me, I feel I either should stop cycling, rest, work and continue somewhere else later on. But the thought of reintegrating back in the Netherlands has me shivering with fright and concern.
It’s hard to push aside these thoughts when boredom takes over. When being happy and playful all that counts is the moment.
Another deadening day embellish itself to the string of weeks in Uruguay. Sometimes, so much unlike the desert, the nothingness around me feels inconsolable, even hopeless. I guess it is the man-made nothingness, the abstract nature, for only one sake: to feed humans.
When I speak to someone asking me where I am going, I tell him I will leave Uruguay as soon as possible. He agrees that there is nothing much to see here, except for cows and sheep. He ask me whether I go to Patagonia; the thought alone fills me with horror. Thát, and Uruguay, never again.
Cycling in this part of Uruguay reminds me most of an endless circle of the man-made countryside in the Netherlands. It is like I am circumnavigating a Dutch row for brain-dead marmots.
Cycling through Eden Valley, unworthy of photo’s. Except for one:
I end in Tucuarembo, my end destination in the middle of Uruguay. A hotel host me for about half the original price, and here I ponder what to do now?
The thought of traversing the stony tracks with at the end of the day another plate of pasta, however much I try to be creative, it is never really original, does not make me all too happy. The thing making me smile, are the bobbing woolly back-ends of sheep running away from me. By now, I greet every group of sheep, cows and horses: ‘Hello darlings!’, ‘Hello dolls!’, ‘Hi beauties!’ The sounds at night are of a tremendous orchestra, as is the sky filled with stars and a Milky Way on top of it all. Quietness and a very low artificial light spectrum are things treasured. But something start laying heavy on my nature loving heart. I feel I need something else altogether, and that is exactly what awaits me…
When it is offered to me, I grab it.