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Friday, 01 March 2019

Uruguay: Cycling on the Other Side of the World - Page 2

Written by Dale Fehringer
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Punta to Punta

We journeyed a few miles up the coast to explore the resort city of Punta del Este. Alicia, a local teacher and bicycle tour operator, led us around Punta del Este on bicycles, showing us the highlights of this beautiful resort city, which stretches for miles along the coast. She arranged a bird-watching expedition and a visit to the beautiful, white, rambling complex of Museo-Taller de Casapueblo, a museum, studio, house, and hotel designed by and dedicated to Uruguay artist, Carlos Paez Vilaro, a local legend. We were fascinated by his work, which is sort of a cross between Gaudi and Picasso.

Uruguay 1

The next morning we were a little nervous when we met Alicia and Marcelo, a local tour guide, to set off on our four-day cycling tour from Punta del Este to Punta del Diablo. We fitted out bicycles and panniers, and Marcelo led the way as we cycled north up the Uruguayan coast. In our panniers we carried enough clothes for our ride.

Uruguay 19


The first day’s ride was around 40 miles along fairly flat highways, with ocean beaches on our right and rolling ranchlands on our left. We stopped often to photograph the fabulous summer villas, beautiful beaches, upscale resorts, and swanky nightclubs in and near Punta del Este. The nearby beaches are popular destinations for tourists from Argentina and Brazil, and the building boom is expanding from Montevideo up the coast past Punta del Este, La Barra, and even to Jose Ignacio.


Day two started with an excellent breakfast of fresh fruit, toast, and yogurt in our charming hotel in the coastal town of Jose Ignacio. We were about finished when the waiter asked us if we would like scrambled eggs. When we hesitated, he offered: “Como no?” and we agreed. We enjoyed the eggs, climbed on our bikes, and headed out into a cool, cloudy day. It was easy, scenic riding on asphalt roads for the first couple of hours, then suddenly the asphalt ended and we were cycling on bumpy dirt roads. We slowed, gripped our handle bars harder, and squinted in the dust when the occasional cars passed.


We were making good time, but during a water break Marcelo noticed that Patty's pannier bag (with all her belongings) had fallen off her bike. He rode back to find it while we went ahead to a lake we needed to cross. When we reached the lake we noticed that my bike had a flat rear tire. Marcelo found and retrieved the pannier, he and I changed the tire, and we rode on to the lake, which was so low the people who normally ferry cyclists across it had gone home. So we pushed our bikes in the soft sand three miles around the lake. If you’ve ever pushed a loaded bicycle in soft sand, you know how hard it is, and we were exhausted when we reached the other side of the lake. Fortunately, a tiny cafe was open, and we rested, ate crab empanadas, and watched flocks of ducks, gulls, cranes, and swans dive for their dinners on the lake.


Our ride wound up at a seaside hotel in the coastal village of La Paloma, and it began raining just as we arrived. We quickly took off our panniers and ducked into the hotel. Dinner that night was at an Italian restaurant (they eat a lot of Italian food in Uruguay), which we followed by a soak in the hotel's hot tub. We bedded down for the night with our heads filled with memories of an adventurous day and our bodies only slightly worse for the wear.


Day three started off well, as the rain that had been forecast fell during the night and we woke to a heavy fog, which shrouded the lighthouse outside our hotel window. As we were preparing our bicycles we ran across Roy Harley and his wife, who were also guests of the hotel. Roy is one of the 16 survivors of the plane crash in the Andes in 1972 that killed most of the passengers and inspired the book and movie (both titled “Alive”) that depicts the 10-week ordeal in the fuselage of the plane and ultimate rescue. Roy is 66 and a very friendly man with a family and a fairly normal life.


Our ride along the coast was beautiful, and we stopped to take photos and admire the hedges of yellow daisies, and the nearly-deserted beaches. We reached the national park of Cabo Polonio late in the afternoon, stored our bikes, and climbed aboard an ancient truck for a wild ride up and down sand dunes to the small beach community of Cabo Polonio. A group of 10 Argentinean cyclists shared our ride, and their exuberance (and dangling legs) amused everyone on the bus.

Dangling Legs

There is little electricity in Cabo Polonio (solar-powered only) and no wifi, so we turned off our cellphones and hiked around town, admiring the sea lions gathered on the shore rocks and the groups of young hippies attempting to re-create the 1970s. After the sun set we used flashlights to walk to a local restaurant, where we enjoyed an excellent dinner of ceviche, fresh local fish, and gnocchi. When our waiter asked if we would like to see the dessert menu, we answered “Como no?” We were learning.


The final day of our ride started early, as our hostess, Carmela, showed up at 7:30 with our breakfast of bananas, coffee, and bread. We caught the 9:00 AM truck back to the national park entrance, retrieved our bicycles, and headed north, battling a headwind that would be with us most of the day. We cycled over hills, past rolling green fields filled with cattle and sheep, and for the first time saw palm trees. Marcelo told us they are natural to this part of Uruguay, and some of them are hundreds of years old.


The afternoon involved a long ride into the wind, and we were relieved when we arrived at Puenta del Diablo a little after 5:00, with 48 miles under our belts. The welcome sign at the edge of town is covered with stickers – a tradition of cyclists, motorcyclists, fishermen, and others. A long, hot shower and dinner in a local restaurant renewed us, and we were happy to tuck into bed with the “Punta-to-Punta” cycling tour behind us!


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Last modified on Thursday, 28 February 2019

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