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

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