The Patagonian winds are legendary. Notables who travelled extensively through the Patagonian steppe—among others the British naturalist Charles Darwin, the American paleontologist George Gaylord Sympson, the French writer and aviator Antoine de Saint Exupéry, and the British novelist and travel writer Bruce Chatwin—described the unrelenting presence of the mighty winds. These are strong winds that blow primarily from the Pacific over the Andes and down through the steppes all the way to the Atlantic shore. For a motorcyclist preparing to ride the entire length of Patagonia from north to south along the foot of the Andes, and then back up north following the Atlantic shore, the winds are a real concern, and in my case, the cause of underlying uneasiness. The roads of Patagonia are likely to add another layer of complication to motorcycle travelling. We will have to ride through long stretches of gravel roads (ripio) with plenty of potholes, ruts, washboard, and the occasional sand trap. Not quite the fech fech of the Dakar rally, but enough skidding and dancing for somebody with my motorcycling skills. It should be interesting.
It turned out that Uruguay provided an excellent training ground for windy conditions. Hot, gusty winds accompanied us during the entire trip making the riding quite challenging at times. Passing trucks can generate enough turbulence to forcibly pull a motorcycle into unexpected and unpredictable directions—that turbulence is exacerbated under windy conditions. We saw fields of power mills by the road suggesting that winds are a regular feature of Uruguay. It was good training for Patagonia although I am afraid we will encounter much stronger winds down there.
From Piriapolis we moved north following route 10 on the Atlantic shore and visited several cute beach towns inundated by Argentineans. For the last two, maybe three, decades the Argentine jet-set and their followers have chosen the beaches of Uruguay for summer vacationing. Several “celebrities” bought or built beautiful houses in small villages on the shore. We visited several of them and made the mistake of stopping for lunch in fancy José Ignacio. We paid fifty bucks for fish and chips with beer on tap! To recover from the expensive meal, that night we camped by the Arroyo de las Conchas near Rocha and cooked hot dogs for dinner. Zillions of mosquitoes emerged from the grass as we set up the tent; it was hard to keep them out.
The following day we continued along the shore to reach the unremarkable border town of Chuy on the frontier with Brazil and then drove west away from the windy coast. On the way to Chuy we detoured onto the village of Punta del Diablo, filled with young people who seemed to had partied really hard the previous night (some were visibly sick). We also visited the majestic fortress of Santa Teresa, built successively by Portuguese and Spaniards on top of a large hill that offers a clear view of the territory around it, including the ocean.
The beautiful savanna-like plains of the Uruguayan interior west of Chuy along route 19 are peppered with palm trees (palmares). Rice seems to be the main cultivar. We stopped to escape the heat in the town of José Pedro Varela and took a nap under a group of cypress trees at the intersection of routes 8 and 14. The shade protected us from the sun but not from the hot wind; it was very hot! At a grocery store we got some water and inquired about the road to Sarandí del Yí. We were told to drive south on route 8 for 17 kilometers and then turn right in the direction of Batlle. We missed the turn and got lost for a while, mainly because Adrian’s GPS (mine died the first day) was telling us to follow a different road. We had a map of Uruguay with very few details on it—neither the road we were supposed to take nor the village of Batlle were on the map. Furthermore, road signs for secondary roads and small towns are generally nonexistent throughout Uruguay. A GPS can be completely worthless if you do not have a good map. Lesson learned! With the help of a truck driver, we finally found the road that turned out to be very pretty. We saw a black armadillo (extremely cool), and reached the village of José Batlle y Ordoñez in the late afternoon. We camped by the side of the road and enjoyed a beautiful sunset and hot dogs for dinner (again!)
Day five was the hottest of them all. At Durazno we were told that the thermometer reached 42°C (107°F). That was the day we stopped to rest under Casuarina trees near a cow feedlot to enjoy the heat, the smell, and the flies! (see Hot Uruguay post). The morning ride was quite pleasant though. We had a nice visit to the town of Cerro Colorado, where we talked to a very friendly man who works for OSE (Obras Sanitarias del Estado). He passionately told us about the environmental impact of the forestry industry in Uruguay. Large extension of Eucalyptus trees have been planted (around Cerro Colorado and elsewhere) and harvested for the production of paper pulp. In his opinion, Eucalyptus trees are likely to ruin the land (Eucalyptus are known to be pretty hostile to other species of plants and also animals). Furthermore, he believes that the production of food (grains, sheep, cows) rather than pulpwood would be a better long-term strategy for his country (people must eat but they do not have to read). A harsh dispute arose between Argentina and Uruguay a few years ago over the construction of a paper mill in Uruguay. The presumably river-polluting plant, Botnia, is currently in full operation near the international bridge we used to cross back into Argentina on the last day of the Uruguayan excursion. That was a rainy and relatively cool day (a welcomed relief from the heat). The rain made the trip longer, but we finally got back home safely.