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Uruguay. The non-SOG related blog

After spending Christmas with Valeria’s fantastic family, I took a ferry to Uruguay. It’s great because the boat ride is inexpensive and the journey only takes one and a half hours. I landed in Colonia del Sacramento, one of the oldest towns in Uruguay. I had a wonder around this seaside town and enjoyed the relaxed vibe. Uruguay is extremely laid back, the people are friendly and very chilled out. As I walked the streets looking for a hostel, I encountered many a Uruguayan sitting on their doorstep sipping on mate. Pronounced ma-tay. This type of caffeine rich tea infusion is very popular in the south of South America. There are two things that you find absolutely everywhere is Argentina and Uruguay, mate, and dulce de leche ice cream. In my experience, I have trouble passing a day without at least one of these, if not both!

The next day I stuffed my guitar into my pack, hired a bike, and set off in search of a fresh water lake that a guy who works at the hostel told me about. I found the lake easily enough and it felt as if I could have been in my home town Alexandra, at the Lower Manorburn dam, just a miniature version. Dark water, rocks and trees bordering the lake. Even the water felt the same, warm and cold patches on top, and the deeper you go the colder it gets. There was even a rock for me to jump off. I tried to take some extreme selfies by setting the timer on my camera.

There were a couple of guys on the other side of the lake, 60 meters away. One of them swam across the lake to say hi. It was an Argentinian guy called German. Strange name, but it sounds different to the country, when you pronounce it in spanish. He invited me over to the other side for a “mate” with his mates. One of them was a Uruguayan called Fabian. Fabian’s house was about 200 meters away. The only house for miles. He had made his abode by himself from scratch. It had no running water or electricity and had a long drop style toilet. He hadn’t fully completed the residence. It is a long gradual work in progress, but this place was awesome!

I find it truly inspiring how someone can give up all of the luxuries of today’s society and strip it right back to the basics. Fabian has done this, and a lot of people would say he is crazy but I admire him and his dedication to live a life less consumptuous! Fabian made us a meal of tomatoes, spices, rice and potato, and I had an impromptu jam session with German and his ukelele in a hand-made house in the middle of nowhere. It was a very surreal experience, and a great start to the trip.

A stranger from the other side.

The hidden home.

My two new amigos

That night, there was a band at the hostel I was staying at. It was a three piece band consisting of a percussionist, guitarist and saxophonist. An interesting combination and they got the place rocking! There were a lot of people around and I met a couple of Brazilian girls named Fernanda and Mariana. I had been planning on traveling to montevideo the next day. Fernanda and Mariana had a car and mentioned that they were driving to Montevideo the next afternoon. I asked them if I could catch a ride. They kindly said yes and the following day after lunch we set off for montevideo.

The two girls had driven about 2000km from Brazil. They were on a 20 day round trip and were super friendly and entertaining. Late that afternoon we went to the mercado del puerto in Montevideo for a meal. Man they love their meat here!

That night on the roof of the hostel I had a little jam session with a Brazilian guitarist. This guy was very good so it was more him leading the way and me fumbling around, but it was good fun. During the jam, we could hear a lot of African drums playing close by. The following day the girls left to Ponta del Este and I stayed another night in Montevideo. That night I went to investigate the drumming.

I followed the noise and came across a procession walking up the street. There were about 200 or so people crowded around about 50 drummers moving slowly up the street. On all sides were people of all types dancing around the drummers. The drummers were about 5 wide and 10 deep and wearing the large drums by a strap around the neck. Each had a drum stick in one hand, hitting the side of the drum and hitting the top of the drum with the other hand. There were small groups within, playing different rhythms. The sound was immense! I love this about South America – If you are making music in the street, in a park, or even in your house, then you can make as much noise as you want and nobody will get annoyed with you. There is a general appreciation for music from all ages and everyone encourages loud music of any type! Young and old will often join in and dance as a form of their expression. It’s quite beautiful to see. I didn’t take my camera so I have no photos of the action, but here is a photo of old and young shaking moves to a band on the street in Buenos Aires over Christmas. An example of the love for music in this part of the world.

I received a message from Mariana that she left her running shoes at the hostel so instead of her coming back for them, I took her shoes to Punta del Este because it was in the general direction that I wanted to go. I was thinking of staying a night there but when I arrived it felt like a city of the rich and famous and I didn’t feel that this was a place for me. I delivered the shoes to Mariana and got dropped off at the edge of town by the girls. At this stage in my trip I had decided to give hitchhiking a go.

I had intended to hitch a ride to La Paloma. I had talked to a few people about hitchhiking and they had said that there would be no problems getting a ride from the friendly locals. They were right. The second car stopped to pick me up. The lady inside informed me that I was going the wrong way and pointed me to a side street which was the correct direction. So I thanked the lady and turned 90degrees and walked up the street to “take two”. Not long after I got picked up by a dad and his two children who took me 10km closer to my destination. Soon after I got picked up by a surfer who informed me that La Pedrera was a better location so I took his advice and 2 hours later he dropped me at the edge of town.

La Pedrera is a cosy little town with one Main Street and some nice beaches. I spent three days here swimming at the beach, playing guitar and relaxing. I met some really nice people who were either working or staying at the hostel. One guy that I met was named Felipe who actually lived about four blocks from my house in Buenos Aires. He was from Chile and his lovely travelling parter Maria was from Spain. Each night I would sit and yarn over have a wine or two with Felipe. The night before I left there was the most amazing storm with thunder and lightning. The storm sat on the horizon for a good few hours and performed an amazing light show.

I wanted to hitchhike from La Pedrera to Colonia but was restricted by the rain so I had to take a bus to Montevideo. From there I took a taxi to the edge of town to put the thumb out once more. It was about six in the evening, there was plenty of light but the sun was an hour or so from setting. I wasn’t having much luck and started to search for a tree to sleep under. I looked down and realised that I was wearing all black and might not look that inviting to passing cars. My guitar and pack were on the ground so I didn’t really look like a traveler. I picked up my pack and my guitar and stood side on so that both could be clearly seen and alas, after a few cars I got picked up. The guitar trick must have worked because the guy who picked my up was a music producer and mentioned he would always pick someone up with a guitar.

This guy was one of the most interesting people that I had met on this trip. His name was Martin and he was from Uruguay but living in Buenos Aires. His story was intriguing. He used to be a drummer until he had an accident and many operations on his hand. The accident was good fortune because he became a music producer which he said he was better at. His next trip was going to be to chilli with a band to record a documentary. He had previously worked with Pavarotti, Manu Choa and famous Latino band Cafe Tacuba whose frontman he was doing the documentary with. His mum used to be a nun until she met his dad. He had also spent nine months in a hut on the top of a mountain in Peru with his only contact being a girl to bring him supplies every two weeks. He said he was doing it to sort his life out because he wasn’t the person he wanted to be. He took me to meet his girlfriend, Rosa, and her two beautiful daughters, Emma 9, and Violeta 11, in Colonia. Rosa made us a delicious dinner and I shared it with the four of them.

The next day I travelled back to Buenos Aires. The ferry didn’t accept hitchhikers so I had to pay! All in all, a very eventful trip. Great people at every stop. I didn’t get to the most beautiful part of Uruguay which is further up the east coast. Santa Teresa national park, Punta del Diablo and Cabo Bolonia will have to wait until next time.

So, back to work. Food for Thought started on Wednesday. I’m a little surprised that we had twenty children on the first day, so initial signs are good for 2014. Bring it on…