Coming into Uruguay

Santa Teresa Fortress

Friday, 23 January 2009, Puerto San Julian, Argentina
We arrived in Uruguay on December 31st, stayed exactly 1 week, and have now been in Argentina for the past 2 weeks. As a child I was always told by my elders that "all good things come to those that wait", so I'm sorry to those of you who regularly check the site looking for updates, but here it is...
Uruguay is a tiny country, slightly under 407,000 square kilometres - perhaps the size of a station in the Northern Territory! It probably deserved more than the week we spent there. There were a number of reasons for this speedy visit and principal among them is the need to reach Tierra de Fuego before the summer is completely over - if they indeed have one? Another factor affecting us was the time of year - summer holidays bring as many people to the Atlantic coast of Uruguay as we had experienced in Brazil. It is a popular holiday place for Argentineans and Brazilians, as well as Uruguayans. So the beaches were busy, the campgrounds were full and a quiet, relaxing spot was well-nigh impossible to find.
We spent the first 2 days of the new year in the Santa Teresa National Park. This is not a national park as one would expect it to be. It is more like a huge camping ground with pleasant, planned surroundings. Its reason for existence was originally the fort of Santa Teresa and now seems to be a place for summer holidays by the sea. The fort is quite interesting as it was built by the Portuguese and then taken by the Spanish. There was some doubt for a while which of these countries would succeed in colonising this region. We visited the fort before we left and found it very well preserved and quite interesting.
The campground was busy, but not as noisy as one would have expected, particularly on New Year's Eve! Both of us were interested to see more of the huge camping set-ups we had already seen in places in Brazil, with full-size refrigerators and stoves set up in the kitchen tent. Often there were a number of small sleeping tents under common cover of an enormous tarpaulin. All the comforts of home set on a floor of sand. It really looked like they had moved in to live permanently. They probably come back to the same place every year and even try to set up on the same site.
When we left we were on a quest to find gas. In Brazil we had found it difficult to re-fill our cylinders - they just told us they couldn't do it because they didn't have the right connection, and we couldn't convince them because of the language barrier, so we waited for Uruguay where we thought it would be easier. Now it was getting desperate. To explain the desperation: our fridge runs on propane/butane gas or 110V electricity so, if we are not actually plugged into mains electricity, it runs on gas. Since we have a well-stocked freezer most of the time, we certainly didn't want the fridge to cease to function. I also couldn't really do without my coffee in the mornings and gas is all we have to cook with. Following the coast, we arrived in the next major town - Castillos - where we couldn't even extract cash from the one ATM in town, let alone hope to find a gas plant.
So on to Rocha, which promised to be a bit larger. We decided to drive along the coast road and check it out with the possibility of returning if we were successful. Valizas was a nice little coastal town with a lot of alternative types and funky houses, some of which were almost buried in the sand dunes. It had a bit of a hippy feel to it, although there were also lots of families there on holidays. We also stopped in at La Pedrera, which was much busier and not really that inviting; although we were interested to see some rental accommodation on the main road with incredibly well thatched roofs. Juergen is familiar with these from Germany and we are a bit curious how this technique ended up in this part of the world. Arriving in Rocha we discovered the tourist information right on the highway. Upon entering we found a woman working there who spoke quite good English. This seemed very promising. She made a number of phone calls for us and came back with the news that it wasn't possible to get propane, or even butane, in Uruguay because they only used natural gas - which is a complete no-no for our system. She found us a site in La Pedrera at a campground, which was almost fully booked, with power for the night, so we reluctantly returned to that town. The campground was almost full because there was to be a rock festival in nearby La Paloma the next day, but we needed the electricity so decided we would have to grin and bear it. And we were almost convinced we would have to make a run for Argentina in the morning to get the gas we needed.
The next day was Saturday, and there was no point in arriving in Argentina before Monday. So we left the very noisy campground as early as possible towards Montevideo, just in case we could find a solution along the way. The next small town we arrived in was San Carlos. We stopped at a shop that exchanged cylinders to see if they could tell us where these were filled. The guy wanted to be helpful, but his cylinders had been filled somewhere near Montevideo. He did suggest we try the service station, which was a few blocks up the road. There Juergen found some very helpful people who sent us directly to a place that could help us. We had both of our cylinders filled with butane - it was the most expensive gas we have ever purchased but it was such a relief to not have to spend the weekend rushing to Argentina. During the next four days we toddled along towards Colonia del Sacramento, from where we took a ferry to Buenos Aires.

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