15th February 2009

Now in Uruguay‏

 Nequen is a large town in the middle of Argentina. Janet should be able to find it in her atlas. Any direction out of here apart from that we came in, is across the pampas with hundreds of miles of nothing. It was time to get a bus out of here.

A fairly short ride to Gen Roca was along a very busy road full of trucks carrying apples as this is the apple centre of Argentina. A bus was booked to take us overnight to Santa Fe which is north of Buenos Aires and on the way to Uruguay.

The bikes were cleaned and partly dismantled as we had previously done for the bus rides, but the driver this time refused to take them as they were not packaged. Joan pleaded with him and shed a few tears before he reluctantly agreed. The trip took 18 hours including overnight in comfortable reclining seats. Food and drink was served as on an aircraft.

Joan had complained of a ticking noise from the back wheel which on inspection was a split rim due to wear. It is a coincidence that this rim was bought and replaced in Argentina seven years ago. A new rim and a rebuild in the hotel garden and Joan was happy again.

The only way across the river Plate to Parana is by a three kilometre tunnel which is barred to cyclists, but the staff at the toll booth run an unofficial cycle taxi in a breakdown truck. The driver refused a tip.

As we are getting to the last part of our trip, the plan is to go into Uruguay and cycle along the coast towards Montevideo to catch a ferry to Buenos Aires. Possibly, if we can arrange it, we may fly back from Montevideo.

It is now very hot. The road south fro Parana was fairly quiet but an overnight campsite in Diamante was not. Loud music till midnight. A campsite further south in a national part was extremely busy all afternoon with day-trippers as it was Sunday but as the evening came, we were the only people there and had a peaceful night.

Heading towards Gualequay, the road was reasonably quiet but the heat and rolling hills made it very tiring. There seemed to be no flat but either up or down with seemingly more up than down but without gaining any altitude. Then came the thunderstorm.

The map showed nothing for 40 miles as a thunderstorm and black clouds started to catch us up. Just as the rain started, Joan saw a holiday park. Luckily we got a room as the only people there. The rain was torrential all the rest of the day and night. Everywhere was flooded and the TV showed villages being washed away as 4 inches of rain fell.

By the morning, all was clear apart from very wet fields and we went on our way in hot sunshine.

Sights along the way now include wild guinea pigs, rheas, and several different snakes and lizards.

Next stop on the way to the border town of Fray Bentos was Gualequaych, pronounced gwollygwai choo. Here, there were many banners protesting against a huge paper plant on the Uruguay side of the shared river. The dispute on environmental grounds has been going since 2005 and has resulted in the closure of the border by protesters many times. We were told the bridge was open.

The road to the border was suspiciously quiet and with a few kilometres to go we were stopped at a protest road block and told that we could not cycle or walk across the bridge to Uruguay.  The alternative was a 3 day detour to another crossing 100 miles north.

We noticed that one or two cars were going through but were told that these were locals, and most soon came back. We finally established that the bridge was not actually blocked and if we could get a lift across it would be okay, but frowned upon as a break of their protest.

So, we waited. No buses or trucks cross here we were told. We could not establish why they would not let us cycle through as our Spanish was not good enough.

Then along came a pick-up truck clearly labelled as Uruguay customs and immigration.

The driver said she would give us a lift and we hopped in and went 10 kilometres to the bridge which was not blocked at all and we could see no reason why we were not allowed to cycle across.

At the border post, our passports were stamped and we finally established that cyclists and walkers were not allowed over the bridge purely for their own safety in case they were blown off in a high wind. There was no wind at all that day.


Regards,

Dave and Joan