A smiling giant of a Uruguyan chucked my, Katy and Katie’s rucksacks into the boot of his funny little cab, and herded us in to the car to wait for the others to be ready to leave. While we were sitting there, awaiting the mysteriously absent taxi, he starts flipping through his case of CDs looking for something he thinks we’ll like. I’m waiting to see what local Uruguayan or South American musical speciality he’s gonna treat us to as the disc slides into the stereo… I couldn’t have been further off if I’d tried. What could be more surreal than sitting, half asleep on a border at stupid o’clock in the morning and being greeted with a whole magical CD full of…dun-dun-duuuunnnn….POWER BALLADS. Yes. As Bonnie Tyler kicks off the morning with ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ and you hear the words ‘Turn aroundddd…’ screamed at you, you start to wonder if this travelling lark is really a good idea? Is this a message? GO BACK! No border crossing for you… But this wasn’t even the beginning. Oh no.
The two girls in the back of the car need to use a loo. We’re in the middle of nowhere. All there is a police ‘station’ and dust for miles around. Not looking good. Taxi driver speaks to Yogi, Yogi tells him to DRIVE us the 20 METRES to the police station, where taxi driver then has to negotiate for the girls to use a toliet…the unofficial one, round the back of the station. I’m glad I didn’t go with, because, quite frankly, it sounds revolting. And I’m not going to inflict the details I was treated to by two traumatised girls on you, too. I was sitting in the cab, as the sun made an appearance on the ice-cold morning, giggling the whole time at the ridiculousness of the situation. The day hadn’t even begun, and already, Uruguay was looking…erm, promising?!
After we finally made it across the border (loooong wait at border control – of course, my passport was the last to be stamped. I know, I look dodgy or something) we headed to our hotel in the spa town of Salto. Had a nightmare changing money, so one of the girls had to pay for all of us to get the bus out to the spa. We’d been looking forward to the treat for days (my roomie Tracy had already threatened not to speak to Yogi for the duration of the trip if she didn’t get her massage that day!) and to say we were disappointed might be an understatement. Say the words spa to me, i’m likely to think of The Sanctuary, or something similar. This place was not quite on the same level. Inside there were these warm hydro pools, (actually really relaxing) and a bunch of odd-looking chambers which contained equipment that looked more like torture instruments than relaxation-provoking spaces. After a nice enough, but fairly underwhelming, day lounging in the sunshine (and wandering the streets in bikinis and towels looking for ATMs…raising a few eyebrows as we went) we headed back on a local bus, with the local ‘I’m-so-effing-hard-you-better-not-look-at-me’ chav, who melted as soon as Scottish sweetheart Louisa waved at him as he got off the bus. Hilarious.
After a very short sleep and a 5.45am start, we headed across to Montevideo. Actually a lovely city, with really friendly people…who seemed very amused by the fact we were all in shorts and t-shirts (shivering pitifully). It´s autumn here, and the locals are all wearing full-on winter clothes. We learnt from that mistake pretty quickly, as we headed out that night in more layers to funny little cocktail bar called La Pony Pisador, recommended by the grungy guy in Urban Outfitters, where half the Brazilian navy, who were also in town, decided to hole themselves up when they saw a gaggle of girls approaching. Cue another odd evening, being taught to dance Brazilian-style by a sailor who speaks only pidgin English, to my atrocious Spanish. It was possibly one of the weirdest conversations of my life.
The next day was all about exploring the city. We headed towards the local beach (some people biked, we walked), and I started that day off in typical Free fashion… Walking into a blind man as we both turned the corner. I jumped out of the ways as fast as I could, mortified, saying ‘I didn’t SEE him’. To which Norwegian Julie, who I was walking with, said ‘He didn’t see you either!’. Oh, so inappropriate, but I couldn’t top laughing. It makes me giggle even now. Anyway, we all got a bit burnt (again) at the beach before, the best bit, eating the most amazing cake in a place called, appropriately, ‘Cake’s’. It’s famous apparently. I’m not surprised. We couldn’t stop talking about the BRICKS of baked goddness (mostly rammed with chocolate and dolce de leche) they served us. Can I just take this moment to ask those crazy people who said you lose weight when you travel, how that is actually possible?! Is it because the trekking bit of my trip hasn’t started yet? I’m convinced I’m going to come back DOUBLE the size I left the UK! Eeeeek!
Anwyay, the rest of the time in Montevideo passed pretty quietly. We moved on to Colonia (for a single day) the next morning…and THAT is a WHOLE other story. One which deserves a post of its own. Give me a couple of days to get over the trauma, and I’ll have a lovely tale to tell you. Let’s just say, horse riding has never been quite so eventful.
Til then, Ciao!