Uruguay is small, a lot smaller than anywhere else in South America, similar to the size of Ireland, making it really easy to travel around. The bus services in Uruguay are excellent and not hugely expensive as you are only travelling short distances. We got a bus from Florianopolis to Porto Alegre, then from there, a bus direct to Montevideo. The whole bus trip costs about 200 reais (approx €80). Once you move on from Brazil, you're in Peso country. The currency is crazy in Uruguay, it's hard to get your head around the peso here because its 25 pesos to every €1 so if you're like me and take 7500 pesos out of an ATM (it only about €300), you think you won the lotto. Uruguay is just slightly cheaper than Brazil so it's still expensive compared to other countries in South America. It's very easy to get carried away and blow your budget in the first few weeks of travelling so be STRICT!! Not only do I have to manage my own money but I also have to look after Andrew's, otherwise he would of been home with you 2 weeks ago.
We managed to get the whole way across Uruguay and back again in just over 2 weeks. I recommend to try and do just that, we loved Uruguay (bar Montevideo) and it was on the way to Argentina so It made sense to add it in. Starting in Montevideo where we stayed for 2 days, we went straight to Punta Del Diablo (6 days) which is the other side of Uruguay but still only takes 5 hours to get there. From there, we went to La Paloma (2 days), then on to Punta Del Este (4 days) and finally Colonia Del Sacramento (1 day) which is the main ferry crossing point into Buenos Aires. The weather was perfect the whole time we were in Uruguay, never reaching higher then 30 degrees which was obviously a lot more bearable than Brazil.
Hate would be too strong a word here but we didn't like Montevideo at all. To be honest (which I will always be in these blogs) Montevideo really wasn't much of anything. It doesn't have much character, it isn't particularly beautiful and there really isn't a lot to do. Don't get me wrong, a lot of people like this city and many people we met loved it but we had a bad relationship with it from the start. Part of the reason we didn't like it was because of our hostel. Under no circumstances are you to stay in Unplugged hostel in Montevideo! The staff here were really unhelpful, unfriendly and at times rude, the breakfast was s*** (I know I sound like a fat b**** going on about the breakfast all the time but it is very important), the rooms were dirty and the showers were always cold. There I've said it, I hated the hostel. The funny thing is, it has really good reviews on HostelWorld but I'm convinced they must have paid people to write them. We only stayed in this hostel for two nights and only really needed it to sleep but even that was impossible. The staff who supposedly worked there had all there stupid "hipster" (that just means people who think they are really cool) friends over both nights, all night until early morning. They were blaring horrible Uruguayan Heavy Metal Rock music until 6am in the morning and laughing and talking so loud that I'd be surprised If anyone living on the same street was able to sleep. The worst part was that they took up the whole communal space outside, leaving no room for any of the guests, who are the people who paid to use it in the first place!!! We honestly felt completely intimated and unwelcome the whole time we were there.
Enough complaining about the hostel, now on to the city itself. We arrived on a Saturday thinking "yes no problem, we can do a bit of shopping and go for a nice lunch" but of course that was asking far too much of Montevideo. We walked along the board walk for about 4 miles until we got into the city centre which was actually lovely but that is as positive as I'm going to get here. This "so-called city" was like something out of 28 days later. It was empty, there was no one around, all the shops, museums and restaurants were closed! Will someone please remind but isn't Saturday meant to be the busiest day of trade for retail shops and tourism?? Maybe things are just different here. With the lack of restaurant choices, we both settled for good old reliable McDonalds. You know you're safe if you can see the Golden Arches. I won't usually be going into detailed accounts about our meals but this one I have to mention. I got the standard quarter ponder with cheese meal, obviously expecting "exactly what it says on the tin" but of course, right-smack-bang in the middle of the beef burger and the cheese were.... yes you guessed it, two slices of ham. Maybe Uruguayans quite literally translated a hamburger as just that or most likely the "ham and cheese" obsession had stretched further then I expected. Now we were lucky because the weather was good and when there is sun, you will find something to do even if it was going to the beach which in our case, we did. The beach was nice and of course I managed to get burned. So with a crap hostel, nothing to do in the city centre and limited food options, what else is there to do but drink. We found two willing candidates to join us in a local Mexican bar where they served pretty good Mexican food, things were looking up. Myself and our American friend tried the local beer while The Hairdresser (as I refer to Andrew sometimes) and our English friend had girly cocktails. Next day, we left early - thank god - and headed to the bus station straight on to bigger, better and brighter things - Punta Del Diablo.
Punta Del Diablo
Arrived late to Diablo, stayed in a hostel called De La Viuda (€8 a night), really nice hostel and very cheap for all you got with it. There was a huge common room with a big kitchen perfect for cooking in. Also huge outdoor space with a pool and plenty of places to relax. A hostel isn't complete without resident dogs, in De La Viuda's case, they had 4, including the cutest little puppy who was very popular with all the guests. The owners were really nice and very helpful - they even drop you to and from the bus station. We planned on staying 3 nights here and ended up staying 6 - Diablo is basically a small hippie beach town. It's really beautiful and it's the perfect place to relax. There are not many places to eat out in Diablo so it's probably a better place to cook or just eat the food the hostel makes which is usually some sort of BBQ. There are some good bars and coffee shops though. There is a lovely preserved national park called Santa Theresa here. You need the whole day for this so leave early in the morning. Also be aware there is a lot of walking to do! Andrew wouldn't talk to me all day because I subjected him to 8 hours of constant walking. They have a small wildlife park, waterfalls and Fortaleza which is Uruguay's largest historical fort. I loved it, Andrew hated it. We spent most of the days here at the beach relaxing. Chuy is another small town about 2 hours from Diablo and worth a visit. Its about €5 for a Return bus there and you'll only need a couple of hours for the full visit. It's full of big markets and shops where everything is really cheap. Definitely worth going out to and picking up a few bits. We went out on the 2nd last day we were there and got loads of cheap things. I got Havianas for €3. Drink and food is really cheap too so it would be worth going early on into your stay and saving some money. You can get a litre of vodka for €5 or whiskey for €6.
We nicknamed one of of the girls in our dorm "pig". I've never seen or met a messier/sloppier person and most of you know my brother. The girl.. Yes girl... Smelt really bad and left dirty clothes, food and drink everywhere. You couldn't even see her bed it was that covered in clothes. She would come in really late at night every night and make as much noise as possible just trying to find something. Maybe if she cleaned her bed up, she might have had more luck. Anyway the reason I'm bringing this up was that she snored really badly, like the room shook with the sound of it. This was the first time we experienced a "snorer" in our dorm and you might as well forget about sleeping if you have one. With that in mind - the absolute one thing that I couldn't recommend more for traveling would be a good pair of ear plugs. We've had to settle to listening to either Damien Rice or Jack Johnson with our iPods until we find decent ear plugs. Another memorable room mate was 49 year old tennis coach extraordinaire Joe-Joe from the US who befriended Andrew. We had only arrived in the hostel 5 minutes before he was bringing us up a welcoming present of beer. We got a lot of mileage out of Joe-Joe. He had some famous, very american phrases like "catch you on the bend", "oh I think I'm just going to jam on my guitar, do you jam Sinead?" and my personal favourite "Andrew, how do you feel about shooting some pool?".
There is one thing you can't escape in Uruguay and Argentina for that matter and that is Mate - they are obsessed with the thing. Mate is a type of strong tea that they all drink in wooden cup like things with steel straws, they all drink it here, its almost like a common ritual. We saw one guy on a moped with his 3 year old son sitting in front of him and his girlfriend hanging on at the back while all sharing this one cup of Mate - no helmets may I add too!!
So moving on from Diablo to La Paloma - I'm running out of space here so follow on to part II for the rest on Uruguay....