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Uruguay: Flat as a pancake with dulce de leche!

mad nomad: Since there were requests for Angeliki to write a little something about our adventures, she penned the following article. Enjoy!

 

The airplane from Greece took us to Buenos Aires, where we stayed for a week, in order to acclimatise and to get a first taste of Latin America! On Wednesday, the 27th of September 2023, we crossed Río de la Plata by boat and thus we entered Uruguay. The river at this part of its estuary is so wide that even the fast catamaran we boarded took an hour to cross from one coast to the other. One cannot even see the opposite coast! The boat arrived at Colonia del Sacramento, which is the oldest city in the country, firstly colonised by the Portuguese. A luxurious double decker bus was waiting for us, in order to take us to Montevideo, the country’s capital. From there we would pick up our vehicles: Don Rufo the van and Cactakis the motorbike, in the following days.

Montevideo

Upon arrival to Montevideo we were greeted by the first full moon to be sighted in the American continent!

The reason we chose to commence our trip from Uruguay was the transportation of the vehicles. Following thorough research, which lasted a while, we opted for the best transportation offer by the company Wave Logistics. As you probably remember, in August we had delivered our vehicles in Marseille in France. The procedure was beyond simple, we handed in the keys at a warehouse and the collaborating companies took it from there. A month and a half later, as we were told, we were at the company’s offices in Montevideo. We signed two papers at the immigration office and two more at the customs and we received our vehicles, which were transported in a container and made it to their destination and to their owners in ship shape condition, with nothing missing.

Vehicles

We were absolutely thrilled when we found out that our vehicles had arrived in excellent condition with nothing missing!

In the week between our arrival in Montevideo and the delivery of our vehicles, we had time to get acquainted to the city and its culture. We were hosted by Sandra, a lovely lady, who we met on BeWelcome, a digital platform for hospitality exchange. Sandra speaks excellent English, which is unusual in Latin America. She works at the Presidency of Uruguay as a proof-reader. She is a thesaurus of information and thanks to her we learned a lot of things about the country, its history and its culture. When she was not at work, she would wander with us. Since she shares my love for food and wine, we enjoyed both of these wonders to the max! Sandra introduced me to chivitos, which come in various forms. The main ingredients of the chivitos al plato we tried are beef steak, mozzarella, bacon, ham, fried egg, chips and Russian salad!

Chivitos

Chivitos are one of the favorite dishes of Uruguayans and tourists alike.

Montevideo is a city with a population of about 1.5 million. It is spacious, with beautiful corners and architectural variations and many interesting details. A lot of buildings are adorned with beautiful murals and vivid colours, which I personally like very much and miss in Europe. Rodó Park is a huge space with lakes, birds, greenery and lots of recreation areas, is the city gem and attracts people of all ages. Since the city of built on the shores of Río de la Plata, there are beaches everywhere, as well as a long a wide sidewalk next to the coastal avenue (Rambla), on which one can walk from one end of Montevideo to the other. This sidewalk is used for a variety of activities by the inhabitants of the city.

Rodó Park

The beautiful Rodó Park in Montevideo!

The inhabitants are largely descendants of the colonisers, as all of the indigenous were slaughtered a few centuries ago. I was impressed by how popular mate is over here. Mate is a bitter infusion which is made out of the dried leaves of the plant yerba mate. Statistically about one in three persons sighted on the street is holding the mate cup in one hand and under their arm a large flask with hot water to fill up the cup with. Personally I love mate and consume it at every opportunity I get. However, I thought it quite inconvenient to essentially incapacitate one of one’s hands in order to carry it about everywhere. I asked Sandra about it and she said that one gets used to this easily and it’s not a problem. Perhaps I should try it someday…

Montevideo

Despite being the country’s largest city, Montevideo is quite small and quaint, with endless beaches that people enjoy in their evenings.

As we found out, Uruguay is fairly expensive. The prices, as well as the salaries are similar to those in Greece. It is also called the “Switzerland of Latin America” and rightly so, judging by the cost of living (besides electricity and other fixed charges). Geographically however, it is not at all reminiscent of Switzerland, as the country is completely flat! Outside of the cities (which are not many), the country is made up mainly of vast farms with cows, sheep and horse. Because of its location, a large part of the country is bordering both Río de la Plata and the Atlantic Ocean, so it has a long coastline and this is where most of its 3.5 million population lives. Since it’s only slightly larger than Greece in size, it is especially sparsely populated, which we liked a lot.

Dancing

Our friend Stefanos, from Thessaloniki, Greece, took us out to experience the nightlife of the capital!

Besides Montevideo, we visited Colonia del Sacrament, which both of us like the most. The town was built by the Portuguese, who have left their mark, so architecturally it’s quite different to the rest of Uruguay. It is also built on the coast of Río de la Plata, with gorgeous nature, harbours and grassy areas, where people sunbathe. On the day we visited, there happened to be a dance meeting, with people from every part of Uruguay, who were wearing traditional outfits and were dancing traditional dances. I had a dim hope of finding Portuguese sweets, but to no avail. I’ll have to wait until we make it to Brazil. I did however buy merino sheep yarn and crocheted a very warm infinity scarf, which came to much more use than I initially imagined.

Colonia

In Colonia del Sacramento we came across a traditional dance festival!

On Thursday the 5th of October 2023 we said goodbye to Sandra and Montevideo and headed east with Don Rufo and Cactakis in order to explore the rest of the country. We were driving by the coast, made it nearly to the Brazilian border and then headed towards the interior of the country. We stopped at several spots, camped next to many lakes and fought a lot of cold and wind. We passed through Punta del Este, the most cosmopolitan spot of Uruguay, which we didn’t think much of however. Huge flat block with holiday flats are being built everywhere and I couldn’t help but wonder who would buy them. The beaches were pretty enough, but the waters are no match for the waters of the Mediterranean.

Beach riding

The highlight for Elias was the route from La Sirena Beach until Punta del Diablo: 30 km of beach and sand dunes!

One of the highlights for me was our visit to Cabo Polonio. A seaside hippiesque community is set up there, in a protected park, where one is forbidden to go by car. Transport to and from the community is done by specially modified 4×4 trucks and the route through the sand is quite fun! Up until recently there was no electricity in the community, the houses are DIY, built with a variety of materials and very colourful, while on the rocks by the coast the second largest sea lion community of Uruguay can be seen! At first we were unable to locate them, but we did stumble across a couple of dead ones. Finally we discovered the living ones as well and Elias spent quite some time taking their photographs with the excellent equipment sponsored by Photoagora! It was a beautiful afternoon in a very special place. Some other time I will spend longer there.

Cabo Polonio

In Cabo Polonio we came across the second largest colony of sea lions in Uruguay!

Our next stop that stood out was the Santa Teresa National Park. I was in a frenzy, because I saw again my beloved capybaras, as well as the first llamas of our trip! I spent quite some time with them and in the evening we camped inside the park. On the following day we visited a fort, which is built inside the park, we visited the capybaras again and we set off for our journey in the inland. Right in the middle of Uruguay , next to the artificial lake Lago de Rincon del Bonete, which fuels with water the whole of Uruguay, lies the small town of San Gregorio de Polanco. This town is famous for its artwork along the beach, but more so for its murals on numerous buildings and houses, which are indeed beautiful. It was Saturday, and in the evening the small – but dead otherwise – town came to life with live music in the restaurant where we had dinner and a wild disco party at a bakery (where we didn’t go).

San Gregorio

We camped on this peninsula which staying in San Gregorio de Polanco.

Moving on, we headed north towards Tacuarembó town, which is considered the capital of the guachos, the cowboys of Latin America. We visited four different museums and camped (again) next to a lake, a few kilometres outside of the town. It was time for the last leg of our trip in Uruguay, to the border with Argentina, since this was the next country we were bound to visit. The natural border between the two countries is the Uruguay River, on which a massive hydroelectric factory with 14 turbines is built! This factory is shared between the two countries and provides for over 50% of Uruguay’s needs in electricity! An equal amount of electricity goes to Argentina. After visiting the hydroelectric factory, we crossed the border to Argentina. The process lasted a good few hours, because the queue was enormous and also because there was an I.T. problem. We made it though and without having to speak a word of English! Just before leaving Uruguay behind, we spotted the farewell capybara.

 

mad about Americas is on!

After four years of preparations, hard labour, disappointments and delays due to covid, the time had finally come to hit the road again! Before setting off on my previous missions, to Asia and Africa, I couldn’t sleep on the final night, not because I was anxious or stressed, but because I had so much to do until the very morning of my departure! This time though, the preparations had lasted so long that everything had been completed by the final evening. There was nothing more that had to be done and I even had time to go out and say my goodbyes to friends that I will probably not see again for several years…

On Sunday the 23rd of July 2023, disregarding the civil protection messages about the heat wave, we got together, as per usual, at the White Tower of Thessaloniki for the final farewell. Relatives and friends had come not just from Thessaloniki, but all the way from Larisa, Athens, even from Patras! After opening the customary champagne that my friend Kostis brings on each one of my departures, we rode with Angeliki the ready-to-roll XR and set off to Pades along with Giorgos Grintelas, who also travels by motorbike.

Thessaloniki

The departure from Thessaloniki’s White Tower on July the 23rd, 2023

We had spent two winters in Pades, a small mountain village, on the foothills of Mount Smolikas. Naturally, it holds a special place in our hearts and we spent two days there in order to recuperate from the struggles of the last months. After bidding our friends there goodbye, we set off to Igoumenitsa, where the van was waiting for us, in order to be loaded on the ship heading to Italy. By the evening of the same day we had arrived in Brindisi and our wheels were rolling on Italian ground!

Igoumenitsa

The van, with the motorbike in its guts, is ready to embark on the ship to Italy!

I was not worried at all about the motorbike… After all these years, I know it like the back of my hand. We had done a lot of trials with the van, but the expedition had now begun and we were in a foreign country. My main worry was whether everything would work the way I had designed it to, whereas Angeliki was worried much more about whether she would be able to use all the equipment properly. Luckily, everything worked perfectly well, so as the days went by, our stress would decrease and our enthusiasm would increase, as we came to realise that all these years of work on the van didn’t go to waste!

Alberobello

Since the Middle Ages, the houses in Alberobello were being built with these domes (trulli), so that they could be disassembled in order to avoid the heavy taxation imposed by the Kingdom of Naples.

Both myself and Angeliki had visited the cities and tourist attractions of Italy before. This time round, we wanted to visit places that we hadn’t seen before. We started off in the picturesque Alberobello and the old town of Matera, prior to driving up the Apennine Mountains, Italy’s backbone. During this time, we cooled off the summer heat and discovered beautiful, isolated mountains! Our favourite spot was above the small town of Capistrello, on a green glade in the middle of a forest, which we liked so much that we stayed there for two nights!

Matera

One of our first stops in Italy was the old town of Matera, in South Italy.

We continued on on Tuscany’s rural roads and made it to the ancient spa town of Saturnia, in an otherworldly landscape! After a stop at the picturesque castle town of Cortona, it was time to descend the Appennines. We crossed the plains that were of little interest to us and headed towards the Alps, where we would spend two of the three weeks that we had at our disposal for the short European part of the trip.

Saturnia

The thermal springs of Saturnia are exactly how we like them: outdoors, free access 24/7, impressive scenery and lukewarm waters!

It was time to start the hiking! Although we were well into August, the Alps made us forget it was summer… At night, the temperature would drop down as low as 6o Celsius and Angeliki kept saying how wise of a choice it was to install a cabin heater and a water heater in the van! The sceneries were beautiful, but packed with tourists. Thankfully, the 4×4 would allow us to get away from it all and spend quiet evenings in the mountains. It was clear that Europe is not our cup of tea, as we had to always keep in mind the various rules and laws that govern peoples’ lives in these countries. Italy, however, is very well organised for motorhomes and nearly every city has free facilities for them, so we never had to spend a night in a camping or a hostel. We spent every night in the van, since we had everything we needed in there. We had a toilet, hot water to shower, endless energy, our kitchen, our warm bed and whatever else we could think of!

Hiking

Hiking on the Route of the 52 Tunnels that were constructed in 1917, during the First World War.

After visiting the beautiful, mountainous tax haven of Livigno, where we filled up with diesel for just 1.27 € per litre, we decided to enter Switzerland for a little bit, since it was next door. It was a good opportunity to visit a picturesque village that we missed during the winter of 2018, when we lived in Geneva for a few months. The village is called Guarda in the Romansh region of Switzerland, and it is full of restored houses with beautiful murals!

Guarda

The Swiss village of Guarda is famous for the beautiful murals on its old houses.

Upon our return to Italy, we headed to Lake Como. The time had come to try out the Italian part of the Trans Euro Trail (TET), a largely off-road route, which has been designed for motorbikes! Riding an unloaded motorbike, which was unheard of in my past trips, I enjoyed amazing mountain routes and found myself in incredible places! Angeliki was, of course, driving the van on tarmac and we would reunite in the evenings.

Riding TET

While exploring the Trans Euro Trail on Italy’s mountains, I found myself in amazing places!

I was naturally dying for a flight on my paraglider on the Alps! At Mount Belice I had the chance to do so and flew for over an hour, reaching the clouds! The days were going by quickly and it was time to enter France… We chose the Colle dell’ Agnello Pass, at an altitude of 2,744 metres (9,003 ft), which I liked much more than the famous Stelvio Pass, since its curves are much more satisfying, there are barely any vehicles, the scenery is majestic and we even saw chamois!

Paragliding

It was time to see the Alps from above!

After a short wander around the French Alps, we made our way to Marseille, where we had to deliver the vehicles to the company that would ship them on a vessel to South America, to Uruguay. We loaded the motorbike in the van, which we dropped off at a warehouse, we signed a document and that was that. Carrying a backpack each, we took a bus to reach our hosts’ house, who would host us in Marseille for a night, before flying back to Greece. The vehicles would arrive to South America a month and a half later, so we would return to Greece for a month, before flying out to Buenos Aires.

Shipping

Our vehicles with all our belongings in a container, to be shipped to Uruguay!

Don’t forget that you can see our correspondence from every place we visit on LiveTrips, while you can also follow our journey on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube!

 

Mosko Moto is our choice for the saddlebags!

Another dream of mine has become a reality… This time round I shall be, finally, using the saddlebags I have always wanted! They are safer for the legs, lighter, more durable and more waterproof than aluminium panniers! Since this time I won’t have to carry and lock all of my belongings on the motorbike, I won’t be needing the aluminium panniers and thus will be able to use saddlebags instead, which are much better for off-roading.

 
Front view
 

I picked the Mosko Moto ones, which I consider to be the most durable and smartly designed! I was impressed by the way these products germinated in the mind of two American motorcyclists, who were traveling the world. Mosko Moto’s current saddlebags are the result of years of improvements, as well as hundreds of comments and recommendations from motorcyclists, accumulated through the pages of the ADVRider.com forum.

 

Mosko Moto

 

The company provides countless products and accessories for every use imaginable. I picked the Backcountry 35L Pannier Kit, since I have a rack for panniers. By using a set of numerous bags, small and large, the idea was to adjust my motorcycle to each individual expedition. This way, I will be able to carry with me just the essentials, when exploring rough terrains, while leaving the rest in Angeliki’s van. When, however, we part for a few days, I will use the saddlebags and the duffle bag in order to load my camping, cooking and photographic gear, as well as food, water and clothing.

 
Rear view
 

The first trials were encouraging… I massively enjoy my much lighter motorcycle! This way I can savour all of my XR 250’s charms on the dirt roads and trails of the American continent! Mosko Moto’s products are not available through shops or dealers. They can only be purchased through the company itself via its websites in Europe (https://moskomoto.eu) and America (https://moskomoto.com).

 


 

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