Days 120 to 123
Day 120 (24th March) Punta del Diablo to Santa Vitoria do Palmar (Brazil)
What a difference to the weather when we woke up this morning. It had rained overnight and continued to rain until well into the afternoon, with distant rumblings of thunder. We sat and waited it out as we would’ve got soaked packing up the bike, and also it’s no fun riding in the pouring rain especially when we don’t really have to! We did consider staying another night, but we had started to get ‘cabin’ fever by now in our compact container home!
We made the decision to go when it was only drizzling as it was just 25 miles to the border crossing at Chuy, and then we could find somewhere to stay quickly if the weather turned again for the worse, but best made plans never seem to work for us!
When we arrived at the border crossing at Chuy, it only took about 15 minutes to get our passports stamped out of Uruguay and to hand over the bike permit at the customs. The quick drive through Chuy (which was a tax-free ‘no man’s land’ between the Uruguayan and Brazilian border controls) took no time at all, but it was when we got to the Brazilian border crossing that time seemed to stand still.
Unbeknown to us, today was the start of Holy Week and it looked like everyone from Uruguay was going to Brazil on their holidays. The queue to immigration/passport control took us 3 long hours of waiting in line and then, when we finally went to get the new import permit for the bike, no one really seemed to know what they were doing, so that took ages too.
Once we were through customs it was nearly 7 pm and getting dark – we were now in a strange country with no local currency, we didn’t speak Portuguese and had nowhere to stay for the night! We headed towards the nearest town, Santa Vitoria do Palmar, which didn’t look too attractive in the dark, and stopped at the first hotel we saw as by now it was gone 8pm and pitch black.
Mark had to wake the hotel’s concierge who was asleep on a sofa in a back room, but he was very friendly and showed Mark the room whilst I stayed with the bike. It wasn’t a great room, but certainly not the worst we have stayed in, and we were just relieved to have found a place with secure parking. The concierge recommended the restaurant next door and by this time we weren’t that fussy about what we ate either as we hadn’t eaten since breakfast.
The menu was in Portuguese, the waiter only spoke Portuguese, and I only remembered ‘obrigado’ (thank you) from a holiday to Portugal when I was a child! Anyway, we ordered Milanese which turned out to be battered meat (we think it was beef?) with rice, chips and salad. For anyone reading this from my Weightwatchers group in Deal, you’ll be proud to hear that I took off the batter and only ate the meat which was in fact very tasty! Also, for two huge portions and a litre of beer, it cost a paltry seven pounds!
We will leave as early as possible in the morning!
Day 121 (25th March) Santa Vitoria do Palmar to Rio Grande
We had a low expectation for breakfast but at least the bread rolls were fresh and the coffee hot, but the banana jam was slightly weird! It was still raining but we wanted to get going as soon as possible, as you will appreciate from the photos below!
As we headed towards Rio Grande (possibly not the one you may have heard of as there are several), we saw plenty of interesting bird life and small creatures running across the road, and also those that unfortunately didn’t quite make it! The birds were huge, like cranes, and looked magnificent when they flew overhead, just like Tetradactyl! We also saw numerous wading birds since we were riding along a peninsula with the sea to the east and a lagoon to the west.
We stopped at a service station for a coffee and chatted to three friendly bikers from Uruguay and Columbia, and also a chap who lives in the town we are heading to, Rio Grande. He recommended a hotel with sea views, and he also mentioned that he was the director of several museums in the town. He went on to say that he’d lived in London whilst working at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. We trusted his judgement on the hotel choice in Rio Grande and booked there and then via booking.com as didn’t want another hotel like last night’s!
We were soon on our way again but stopped when we saw that the Columbian guy (who had overtaken us a few minutes before) had pulled over and appeared to be holding something which we assumed had fallen off his bike. When we got nearer, we saw that in fact he was holding a large tortoise which had been in the middle of the road. We were amazed to see one so close, and relieved too that it hadn’t been added to the road kill we had previously seen along the road.
The hotel was great and had a fantastic view of the Lagoa dos Patos, a huge lagoon that leads out to the Atlantic Ocean. There were many large fishing vessels moored along the harbour, which we can see from our room, as well as people fishing along the edge of the quay.
We plan to stay here for 2 nights as we need another rear tyre for the bike. It’s not completely worn yet but as we’re in a large town it should be relatively easy to purchase one here before we head off.
Day 122 (26th March) In Rio Grande
After a great breakfast we walked into the town to locate the bike shops Mark had researched on-line. The first shop turned out to sell only bicycle tyres, the second didn’t have any in stock but they were very helpful and phoned another shop which apparently had what we wanted. Unfortunately, when we got there they didn’t have the correct size (140/80-17) but could order one in which will take a few days, so we opted for that.
Rio Grande is not the most attractive town, but we like the hotel and have decided to upgrade to a suite for very little extra money so that we get more space, a sofa and a small kitchen, enabling us to prepare our own meals for the next few days.
Day 123 (27th March) In Rio Grande
We transferred into our suite and then headed towards the old part of town, where the old port is also situated. We walked through the area where locally-caught fish is processed and sold at the local fish market. There’s also a new port further down the quay which is the second biggest port in Brazil, according to Wikipedia. The town has built-up its wealth from this port, and also has a petrol refinery on the outskirts, so both have secured employment for locals.
There are many old, Colonial-style buildings, many of which have been left to deteriorate over the years which was a shame as they had beautiful, ornate features including tiled walls and detailed wrought iron-work around their windows. When first built, they would have been stunning properties. We also wondered how anyone had been allowed to construct huge, ugly 1970’s buildings next to many of the old, low-rise buildings!
We stumbled upon a Maritime Museum and had a brief look around. Unfortunately, all the display captions were written in Portuguese, but it was interesting to see the collection of maritime artefacts as well as the many small boats which were on display in the huge, former warehouse.
I was personally interested to see a ‘Mirror’ dingy, a small wooden sailing boat. My father had built one of these boats from a kit when I was a child and I had learnt to sail in one in Chichester, Sussex. We knew the designer, Jack Holt, so to see one in Brazil was an unexpected sight!
We strolled around the town for a while and were surprised to see so many shoe shops, where all the shoes had 2 price tags on them. One was for the full price and the other was for paying in instalments! Mark had read that Brazil has a huge shoe manufacturing industry, being one of the top 3 shoe-producing countries in the world, and it’s a shame that there’s no room for me to take any home!
Our new tyre, ordered yesterday, is supposed to arrive tomorrow.