Friday, July 19, 2013

Finca life

Our return to San Rafael brought us to our new home for 6 months, a tranquil little finca (= farm) just outside of town, far enough to give it the feel of country living, but with easy access to amenities.  The owners of the finca are from the states and needed to get home for about 6 months.  We hit it off with them immediately, and perhaps just as important, hit it off with their pets, too.

looking up the driveway to the main house and community quincho (San Rafael)
(view of the finca as you turn into the driveway)

A 2 week overlap gave Jill a great chance to learn what life on the finca was all about (Mike was slacking back in the states for most of that time).  The crash course was enough to give us a grasp of what to do, but you know how the unexpected can just pop up...

The first major topic that Jill covered was the garden. They have a nice garden behind the small house that already contained a number of plants (including enough tomatoes to impress a Spaniard in August). Since Jill really enjoys gardening, this piece of the puzzle made sense right off the bat: some weeding, some harvesting, some planting, and lots of salsa making.

Another major topic that was covered was beekeeping. There are about 20 beeboxes housing tens of thousands of bees which provide lots of deep, rich honey. Is it worth it? Maybe...

Beekeeping at the finca (San Rafael)
(those bee suits are great and all, if they are secured well)

3 bee stings makes Jill look like this (San Rafael)
(3 bees to the face makes Jill look like this. And she's not even allergic!)

honey collection in San Rafael
(extracting the honey in a safer environment)

Jill also had the opportunity to learn about taking care of the 20 or so chickens (and a rooster or two). While these strange little creatures can be a lot noisier than the bees, they don't bite (as long as you put the food down quickly).

chickens in action (San Rafael)
(I think those chickens are going to get drunk)

The rest of the farm animals consist of 6 beef cows, not dairy, so fairly hands-off. The overview of taking care of them is to keep them in the fenced in paddock. And words were exchanged with both Jill and Mike about how you can herd them into a new paddock, making it sound like such a simple exercise. Well, we did end up moving them to a new paddock, and to any lucky spectators, the exercise must have looked absolutely ridiculous. We set up an electric fence so that both of the grazing areas, old and new, were surrounded. It made sense to just make a little hallway of electric fence to connect the two areas and walk the cows on through. Sounds so easy. We spent the better part of an afternoon walking around in circles trying to convince the stubborn creatures to go through to the other side. We even managed to get one of the six over there that afternoon, but only for a short time. One cow even jumped a section of electric fence, from the "hallway" back into the old paddock (thankfully he landed back in the enclosure), which we didn't even think was possible. After all that fuss, we gave up on them that evening, but left the hallway open that night (it just crossed our own driveway). Sure enough, all of them found the new grazing land that night on their own. That easy, huh...

hi cows (San Rafael)
(these innocent looking beasts can be quite the handful)

But the truly important animals we are here to take care of are Max and Jezebel, the dog and cat. They are both such good pets and love attention, so we do what we can to keep them happy.

Max upside down
(this is Max ready for some attention)

Jezebel often has her little paws on the air
(and this is Jezebel ready for some attention)

One of those unexpected events popped up when Max got sick in the first week that we were on our own.  Apparently he hasn't been sick for the past 4 years of living in Argentina, and was rarely if ever sick before that.  It just happened to hit him now.  It was a stressful day to figure out how to get him to the vet (chocolate lab with Jill and me would be a challenge on the TA) but once we got him there and got him taken care of, he was back to his old self almost immediately.  Which was a huge relief for us.

a usual evening scene in the main house with Jezebel and Max enjoying the fire (San Rafael)

We will be here holding down the finca until November 1, when we will loop back through Uruguay then check out Buenos Aires before heading home.

It's true. The motojeros American travel adventure is coming to a close. Both of us have mixed emotions about that fact. For now, we'll take advantage of our chance to hang out for the winter in San Rafael.

beautiful sunset in San Rafael

Monday, July 15, 2013

Giant rodents in Uruguay

Uruguay is a small country with a huge percent of its land mass dedicated to beef production.  Cattle outnumber people by about 3 or 4 to 1, and Uruguayans are proud of their English breed cattle (Hereford and Angus).  The industry is so far along that each and every cow is now tagged with a computer chip for tracking.  I don't know much about the industry; I do, however, know that Uruguayan beef tastes great!  (And no, cattle are not giant rodents.)

Following secondary highways  from Rocha took us through some interesting little places in the heart of Uruguay.  As we passed through Minas we saw a town that had pulled out all stops for its rodeo, with what seemed like a huge influx of people that live in the surrounding area going to the rodeo grounds, many of them on horseback wearing traditional gaucho clothes.  We stopped for lunch at one of the few cafes that was open (ahhh, Sundays...) along with many other people.  That poor waitress who had to handle the entire place herself.  It wasn't a fast stop, but it was good.

As we got closer to Montevideo, we realized how big that city was.  We crossed town to get to the theater district, close to old town, to find the hostels that we had noted.  While a few of them had great vibes and super nice staff, parking was a problem in the downtown area.  So we finally found a reasonable  place in the swanky part of town (Montevideo Up in Punta Carretas, ~US$30 total, incl breakfast) that had a gated front yard for our Transalp.  It was a fine place to stay, and had parking, but without the bike we would have rather been more downtown.  No problem though, it gave us an excuse to walk through lots of neighborhoods that we wouldn't have seen otherwise.

along the Rambla, Montevideo
(walking along the Rambla)

Plaza Zabala, Montevideo
(there are a ton of plazas in old town, this one Plaza Zabala, named for the guy who founded Montevideo)

Ciudad Vieja, Montevideo
(Ciudad Vieja = Old Town. Horse drawn collection carts were seen all around town.)

asado in action, Mercado del Puerto, Montevideo
(big tourist destination is the Mercado del Puerto, a literal meat market)

food vendor, Mercado del Puerto, Montevideo
(one of the many meat stands in Mercado del Puerto. Luckily we were there at around 11am, way too early for us to get harassed by the restauranteers.)

fruit vendor, Ciudad Vieja, Montevideo
(fruit vendor in Ciudad Vieja)

Plaza Independencia, Montevideo
(Plaza Independencia)

fountain of love with padlocks surrounding it.  There are two tango dancers in the background that almost got Mike hit by a car as he waited for a chance to snap a picture (their fault, definitely).
(fountain of love with padlocks surrounding it, signed by couples. There are two tango dancers in the background that almost got Mike hit by a car as he waited for a chance to snap a picture with them posed in the background (their fault, definitely). And it still didn't work)

Jill and street art, Montevideo
(Jill and street art)

Montevideo was home to the first FIFA World Cup of soccer ('football' to the rest of you) back in 1930. Turns out Uruguay won it, beating Argentina in the final match. The stadium has a museum, but we walked in to find out more about it and caught enough of a glimpse of the inside. No photo was taken, though.

Estadio Centenario, Montevideo
(Estadio Centenario)

Montevideo was not the site of giant rodents, either. Well, at least not while we were there.

We took the main road over to Colonia to check out that tourist hotspot. Colonia is a very well-appointed city with plenty of places to sit on a sidewalk and drink wine, most likely paired with something beef related. We did not participate in that activity. Instead we gave it an unguided moto drive-by. Jill even got some nice pics off the back of the bike.

palm trees line the way to Colonia, Uruguay
(palm trees line the road to Colonia)

old fort, Colonia, Uruguay
(old lighthouse and fort in Colonia)

The giant rodent evidence we found was along the coast between Colonia and Carmelo. Alejandro (our friend in Rocha) tipped us off to a site where lots of fossils are washed ashore by the Rio Plata. A small non-descript sign turned us to the river from the highway, eventually arriving at a campground.

farm view near Parque Brisas del Plata, Uruguay

entry sign, Parque Brisas del Plata, Uruguay
(campground entry)

All along this stretch of the Rio de la Plata, fossils, petrified bones and shipwreck evidence keeps turning up. UNESCO has named it some type of archaeological site, but it is more for academic investigations than tourism. Luckily, the young man living at the campground has taken an interest in all of the action. He has met with many of the researchers, has done a ton of internet research, and enjoys sharing his knowledge with visitors. Most importantly, he has walked that length of river countless times and found an enormous quantity of interesting bits. Many of which he has in a storage closet, some he has donated to museums and universities, and we were even lucky enough to be given a couple of small pieces.

archeological site, Parque Brisas del Plata, Uruguay
(archaeological site where so many bones are washed ashore)

our personal tour guide through the artifacts, Parque Brisas del Plata, Uruguay
(our personal interpretive guide. It's been too long since we were there and can't remember his name, but he was extremely kind to share so much with us)

all of this stuff washes up on the banks of the Rio de la Plata, Parque Brisas del Plata, Uruguay
(just some of the findings - backbones, shell pieces, finger bones, all sorts of stuff)

us with some whale vertebrae, Parque Brisas del Plata, Uruguay
(us holding petrified whale vertebrae)

fossilized shell of a post dinosaur creature - we were given the one at right as a souvenir!  Parque Brisas del Plata, Uruguay
(fossilized shell pieces from a glyptodon, a giant armadillo/hippopotamus thing)

shark tooth, Parque Brisas del Plata, Uruguay
(shark tooth)

Many of these fossils are old, dating back to just after the dinosaurs. But of course, a lot of the findings are modern, like the shark tooth, shipwreck items, and whale bones (which are still old!).   This specific area turns up all sorts of interesting creatures though. Including a giant rodent skull dated to 4 million years ago that came from a rodent the size of a bull!

plains of western Uruguay
(picturesque views on our way to the bridge to Argentina)

We had heard a rumor that the Uruguayan side of the border was a nicer place to stay than the Argentine side, so we headed towards Fray Bentos. After a long day and arriving in the evening, we opted for a hotel instead of the out of town camping options. The place we found was nice, let us park in the courtyard, and gave us a great chance to explore Fray Bentos for a few hours. The town is only a couple of streets, so easy to explore with an evening and morning. It is also apparently the birthplace of corned beef. I'm surprised it's not a more popular stop for English travelers.  We opted for some wood oven cooked pizza that was sensational.

old building alpenglow, Fray Bentos, Uruguay
(old building with setting sunlight)

sculpture/monument by the river, Fray Bentos, Uruguay
(riverside monument)

monument, Fray Bentos, Uruguay
(secondary plaza, most likely a statue of Artigas, the leader of Uruguay's independence, but I forget who it is)

The next day we crossed into Argentina with our sights set on a day or two in Rosario before making it back to San Rafael. Rosario turned out to be a great city for a couple day layover, made even better by the hostel staff and other travelers at La Lechuza hostel. Sadly, there was no parking available (tough to find at any of the 4 hostels we tried, including one that had mopeds parked in a wide hallway, but wanted to charge us extra to park the bike - their attitude sent us walking), but the deli next door to La Lechuza had limited access parking (i.e., locked at nights/weekends) behind it that they gave us a reasonable rate on.

long bridges across the wetlands on the way into Rosario
(long stretches of bridgework between Victoria and Rosario kept us above the wetlands)

The Paraná river is a focus of Rosario. There are extensive parks along the water front, many with nice walking paths. As you get out of town there are beaches and easy boat rides to get to some more relaxed beaches on small islands.

Birthplace of Ernesto
(the bourgeois birthplace of Ernesto "Che" Guevara was a far cry from his leather moccasin wearing, jungle camp living conditions at the end of his life)

The downtown area of Rosario has it all, from posh, tree-lined boulevards to gritty, bus-fume filled streets. The town has a university feel to it and has long stretches of pedestrian streets that make exploring Rosario by foot natural. One of its best known features is the National Flag Memorial, an enormous memorial situated in the heart of town. Manuel Belgrano (you see his name on streets all over Argentina) was the creator of the current version of the Argentine flag. He supposedly first flew the flag on one of the islands in the Río Paraná directly across from Rosario.

National flag memorial (Rosario)
(National flag memorial)

Monument to the flag (Rosario)
(eternal flame at the National flag memorial)

Flag monument tower (Rosario)
(one more view. The flag memorial is huge)

Gov't building with flag (akin to Bolivia's indigenous flag) in Rosario
(this government building had something to with human rights or minority rights, so appropriately has this colorful flag hanging, akin to the indigenous flag more commonly seen in Bolivia)

frozen squid (outside Rosario)
(this region relies heavily on the rivers. Here frozen squid in a downtown supermarket)

roadside fish sales (outside Rosario)
(some roadside fish options seen as we were leaving Rosario)

The ride out of Rosario was as expected, flat and monotonous. Thankfully, the municipal campground in Rio Cuarto was happy to host us, easy to find, and cheap. After a long couple of days, we were back in San Rafael, ready to learn more about the finca that we'd be caring for over the next 6 months.

Municipal campground all to ourselves, Rio Cuarto
(municipal campground in Rio Cuarto, right across from the HoJo casino)

the view across the pampas, between Rio Cuarto and San Rafael
(lots of this when crossing the pampas)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Parking Lot Camping our way to Uruguay

Brazil is a relatively expensive country for travel, with gas at US$5-6 a gallon and hotels often coming in at US$30 or more (and this isn't even at the beach!), the days add up fast. So we did what we could to eliminate some of the expense - camping at truckstops. It is a great way to keep costs down!

Nice truckstop campsite.  On the way to Lages, Brasil
(on the way to Lages)

Trucks often overnight at the stops, so there is always a shower facility, usually a cafe, and if you're lucky, even green grass for the tent. Sometimes there are even pets:

Jill with bird on shoulder.  Normal gas station activity.  Somewhere near Lages
(Truck stops can be full of surprises in Brazil)

Our route was extremely enjoyable, taking us through some nice rural areas of southern Brazil (where buffet restaurants sharing the building with the world's largest jean shop were the norm...) before coming to the highlight of our path towards the coast: Serra do Rio do Rastro.

nice ride between Lages and Serra Rio do Rastro, Brasil
(we lucked out with good weather and great roads for the ride east)

Serra do Rio do Rastro is a famous twisty mountain road full of hairpin turns set in a deep. lush valley - ideal for a ride!

Serra do rio do rastro like we didn't see it (from
(this is what we expected for the ride... NOTE: not our photo, borrowed from

Fog at Serra rio do Rastro
(...this is the view we got. You can't win 'em all)

As we dropped in elevation the fog lifted and we had another fine afternoon on our hands. We made good progress towards the coast, but found a decent stopping point at another fine truckstop.

Truck stop camp near Imbé, Brasil
(near Imbé)

The next night we were going to stick to our usual truckstop ways, but we somehow got saved by the business of the location. We were still north of Rio Grande but looking for a place to stay after riding the coast road all day. Which was a fine ride, but really not all that great. Mike decided that Xangri-La was the best town for a lunch stop, and while the food was great, the town name might be overcompensating a bit. Otherwise, the coastal road was a clear view at the economic disparity in Brazil - huge, white, gated, immaculate mansions that may get lived in a few days a year located across the highway from heavily lived-in towns built out of their leftovers.

Anyways, a question to the gas station attendant had us asking if we could camp outside the neighboring hotel. They were nice and said yes, and pointed to a spot just inside their parking lot with a touch of grass, and a steaming pile of fresh dog dookie that had us standing and staring at the patch of grass for a short while. Since we were in view of the hotel person we talked to, he came out to point us to another spot, back in the corner under the protection of the covered parking structure. Suh-weet! The sky looked ominously gray, so any bit of covering was much appreciated. About the time we had the first stakes in the ground, some other employee (turned out to be the head guy that night) was yelling at us through the window. In our Spanish-to-Portuguese way, we told him that we had talked with the staff and that we were approved to camp there. The guy was polite enough to stop his pool game and come out to explain himself better. The spot we set up in was the low spot of the parking lot, and since it was in the corner of the walled in parking awning, it turned into a lake in the rain. He pointed us to another protected spot and man, were we lucky he did. That first spot would have had us swimming.

Glad to have sheltered campsite on a super rainy night, Camaqua, Brasil
(where we eventually ended up for the night, Camaqua, Brazil)

We have been reeling ever since we lost dolly crossing into Chile at Agua Negra. Thankfully, Brazil and its fine animal products gave us some comfort for the ride back across the plains.

Roadside sheepskin stand! (southern Brasil)

family (or school or herd?) of capybaras, southern Brazil
(these animal products are still alive. Lots of capybaras in the wetlands along the southern coast)

In all of our riding in southern Brazil (didn't see these so much on the Transamazonica or BR-319...) we have passed a ton of these radar traps. Most often they are entering/leaving towns. But sure enough, you will see them in the middle of nowhere. I think we got a ticket at all but two of them, but I have no idea where those tickets were sent.

Brazil is absolutely full of picture radar, especially at the edge of cities.  This one in the middle of nowhere (and 50 kph ain't that fast).
(50 kph is just unnecessary in the middle of nowhere)

At our last lunch stop before crossing into Uruguay, David from Boulder, Colorado, happened to drop in. We had heard about him from some travelers in southern Colombia, and even exchanged emails with him while we were in Ecuador. It's a small world.

David found us at our lunch stop, just north of Chuy.
(here, saying our goodbyes. Soon to see each other again at the border)

Chuy was an interesting border town, seemingly existing in the no-man's land between Brazil and Uruguay. It's main street had shops, groceries, restaurants, and money changers - what else do you need in a border town? Turns out we needed a phone so that we could call our friend in Rocha, but there was nothing south of the Uruguayan border control until the small town of La Coronilla. So we eventually got in touch with Alejandro, who we were in touch with through ADVrider, and he immediately invited us and David out to his place.

Uruguayan flag at Chuy

David, Alejandro, and Mike as Alejandro grills up a feast.  (Rocha, Uruguay)
(David, Alejandro, and Mike at the asado. Alejandro was a fantastic host!)

Alejandro not only met us in town to lead us out to his place, he insisted that we not worry about running to the grocery store to contribute food for the meal. And he cooked up a feast. It was super kind of him to let us drop in like that. The next day David and us rode to Punta del Este, the famed beachfront celebrity hangout of Uruguay. David got checked into a hostel, but we headed back to Alejandro's place to enjoy his company and return the favor of a meal and wine. We still had more than enough time to check out Punta del Este (which is not exactly our scene...).

Fishing operations on the way to Punta del Este
(we took the scenic way along the coast to get to Punta del Este)

short ferry on the way to Punta del Este
(luckily we got to this little ferry a few minutes before its hours long afternoon siesta)

entering Punta del Este
(beachfront highrises were the norm)

sand hand, Punta del Este
(perhaps Punta del Este's most famous landmark, The Hand, by Mario Irarrázabal. We missed his sculpture in the Atacama desert of Chile, but saw this one)

this store was not what it seems.  Punta del Este
(sadly, this store was not what it seems)

The ride between Punta del Este and Maldonado is very short, but exciting. The Motojeros Award for World's Most Fun Paved Bridge to Drive Over (that we've seen) goes to:

Side view, most fun bridge to drive over.  Punta del Este

Hands down award winner:  most fun bridge to drive over.  Punta del Este
(if you go fast enough, it's like a small rollercoaster that you are actually controlling)

We were happy to be back in Rocha after just a few hours of the beachside scene (and thankfully we were there during off season).

street corner market, Rocha, Uruguay

Alejandro's motocross track (Rocha)
(Alejandro is big into dual sport and motocross bikes. His ranch is a moto-ranch, including the motocross track pictured here)

Alejandro's place (Rocha)
(his cattle get to enjoy the rest of his ranch)

Some backroads took us to Montevideo after our short but enjoyable stay with Alejandro. It was time to get moving again to make it back to San Rafael in time!

leaving Rocha towards Minas