January 2016 archive

Some Uruguayan history

In the eighteenth century, Uruguay was the centre of a land dispute between the imperial powers of Portugal and Spain. Spanish settlers had introduced profitable cattle to the area, but the Portuguese felt the land should be part of Brazil, extending the country to the natural border of the River Plate.

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Fortaleza de Santa Teresa

The Portuguese planned to build a defensive line down the coast of the country in a bid to help secure the land. They named and began construction on the current Fortaleza de Santa Teresa.

The Spanish/Portuguese war put a halt to the Portuguese building work. But Spanish general Pedro de Cevallos ordered the completion of a fortress to defend against Portuguese Brazil. The existing foundations were built upon, leading to the fortress that still stands today.

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Cannons defend the battlements

 

In 1852, once Uruguay had gained independence from Spanish rule and established its borders, the fortress fell into decline due to lack of resources to pay for its upkeep.

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The view inland from one of the fort’s 5 watchtowers

 

 

 

But in the 1920s, historian and archeologist Horacio Arredondo proposed the restoration of the fort, and in the subsequent years much work was done to bring it back to its former glory. Since the 1940s it has stood firm as a museum and tourist site, and it remains one of the few bastions of colonialism across the Americas that still survives.

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Colonia del Sacramento is an interesting town. As the name suggests, it’s a former colonial centre. Founded in 1680 by Portugal, various treaties meant it was tossed between Portuguese and Spanish rule seven times in the subsequent 130 years, before becoming part of the Liga Federal – an alliance of states targeting independence from the Spanish empire. In 1817 it went back to Portuguese rule, before being declared Brazilian in 1822, and finally becoming part of Uruguay after independence in 1828.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the old quarter is a series of irregular cobbled streets, all enclosed by a sturdy fortification wall. There is a town square, church, lighthouse and numerous old houses, all of which retain a romantic charm.

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Typical house in Colonia’s old quarter

A day is enough to explore the town before either catching one of the regular ferry services across the River Plate to Buenos Aires, or heading further into Uruguay.

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An old car that’s become a permanent exhibit

seacatcolonia.comcoloniaexpress.com/ar  and buquebus.com/espanol/argentina are the ferry services across the river. Check out the sites for up to date prices.

Vida! Saúde! Felicidade!

Mike

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River Plate at dusk

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The gate to the quarter

Nine days in Uruguay

I hadn’t known what to expect from Uruguay. I’d managed to subconsciously overlook it when planning this trip, knowing that the plan was to get from Brazil to Argentina. I’d seen it as a thoroughfare, a bridge that perhaps contained some beaches.

In other words, I was utterly ignorant.

The first observation since leaving the border town of Chuy was that the roads were incredibly easy. Smooth, well tarmacked and quiet. Since leaving the border I’d felt very relaxed. The hardest part of the journey was behind me. Ahead were a couple of hundred miles of rolling hills and sandy coastline.

The beach at Punta del Diablo

Fishermen in Punta del Diablo

Punta del Diablo was the first stop. In winter, it’s a quiet fishing village with fewer than 1,000 inhabitants. Come the summer holiday season, thousands of visitors descend and the party begins. I spent three nights there in a tiny campsite, eating freshly caught fish with new friends, trying to surf and relaxing properly for the first time since leaving Rio.

Then down to Cabo Polonio, a picturesque ecological reserve accessible only by authorised vehicles across the 6km of sand dunes. No new buildings can be constructed, and no mains electricity serves the village. A working lighthouse warns ships to not stray too close to the dangerous rocks that surround the peninsular – many have been sunk there over the years. Sea lions laze on the rocks, barking to secure their territory, and the occasional fishing boat hauls in their catch.

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Cabo Polonio’s lighthouse at dusk

Perhaps I’d been lulled into a false sense of security with the regular and rapid bus services that shuttled people to Montevideo and Colonia, with the ferry services beyond to Buenos Aires. My goal seemed so tangible that when I got back on the bike, I was a little shocked to realise it wasn’t going to be easy. A constant and powerful headwind pushed me back. Even going downhill I could only reach 14mph at a struggle – usually 22mph would be easy.

And the sun had a different kind of power to that which I experienced in Brazil: a dry, baking heat that sucks the moisture from you and crackles your skin. I’ve heard there’s a hole in the ozone layer over Uruguay. The heat is exhausting.

A typical rural Uruguayan truck

A typical rural Uruguayan truck

I made it to Pan de Azúcar, only about 60 miles from Montevideo. There had been a story in the news a few days earlier about how a cyclist had been killed on the stretch of road that would take me to Montevideo. The authorities had, presumably with knee-jerk reaction, subsequently banned cyclists from that stretch. My bloody-mindedness encouraged me to continue anyway, as I wanted to cycle the whole way. But fortunately I saw sense and swallowed my pride. I took the bus the Montevideo and onwards to the historic town of Colonia del Sacramento, where I could catch the ferry to Buenos Aires.

I made it most of the way. Rio de Janeiro to Buenos Aires: 1,695 miles of cycling. One month, one day.

This sunset actually happened!

This sunset actually happened!

And now a week in Buenos Aires before meeting Sophie. I’m super excited about her joining me! There have been many times in the past month that I had wished she were here to share the experiences. The past few weeks have been rich, and I’m certain the following weeks will be richer still with her.

As ever, if you’ve enjoyed reading these posts, or if you see value and a challenge in this trip, or if you’d simply like to support a wonderful cause, it would be great if you drop a little sum towards my fundraising goal for the Teenage Cancer Trust. Head over to https://www.justgiving.com/Mike-Edmondstone/ to get involved. Thanks :)

Vida! Saúde! Felicidade!

Mike

Obrigado Brazil. Tem sido um prazer!

Three weeks ago and the road for me began on Copacabana Beach, the sun under the horizon, the air cool and calm. Through stunning coastline and tasteful resorts of Rio de Janeiro state, the lush and pure national parks, the sweaty humidity of the Mata Atlantica, following winding coastal roads up and down sharp hills, pristine beaches always a short detour away.

To the hills near Curitiba, with the day-long climbing and the pouring rain. To be rewarded with an unexpected ten mile descent through the Serra Verde, fruit trees and vertiginous drops lining the cobbled road.

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Into the hills!

And onto the tourist paradise of Florianópolis, with the surfers, hipsters and holiday season out of towners: Brazilians, Uruguayans and Argentines all seduced by the wealthy European atmosphere and world-class beaches.

Southwards, to Rio Grande do Sul and the low-lying sandy peninsula separating the Atlantic from the ginormous Lagoa dos Patos and Lagoa Mirim. The flat, windswept marshland and pine forests, gaucho ranches and sparse, timber built villages strung out along the mostly silent, smooth road, straight to the border.

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the flatlands

The road has taken me from the carefree vibrancy and musical pulse of Rio de Janeiro to the slow pastoral simplicity of those small Southern communities. I’ve eaten my body weight in buffet and bread, fallen in love with the fruit, cooled off under waterfalls, slept in hammocks and managed to get away with only one puncture.

I’d love to visit Brazil again someday. It’s such a huge and varied country with so much to offer. The ecology, the music and dance, the sport and the melting-pot mix of black and white, African, European, native. I read on a poster somewhere that the two cornerstones of Brazil’s future should be Environment and Development. Let’s hope it can find that subtle balance in the years ahead.

Brazil, tem sido um prazer. Muito obrigado para todos. Tchau!

Quick note: if you’ve enjoyed reading these posts, or if you see value and a challenge in this trip, or if you’d simply like to support a wonderful cause, it would be great if you drop a little sum towards my fundraising goal for the Teenage Cancer Trust. Head over to https://www.justgiving.com/Mike-Edmondstone/ to get involved. Thanks 🙂

Vida! Saúde! Felicidade!

Mike

Brazil – a playlist

Brazil is famous for the musicality of its culture. Rio de Janeiro is frequently described as a city ‘dancing to a samba beat’, and music and dance are never far away from the fun loving people of this country.

Take a listen to some of the songs I’ve enjoyed along the way – a soundtrack to Brazil.

Vida! Saúde! Felicidade!

Mike

 

 

Taking the rough with the smooth – and a fundraising plea

On most of the main roads in Brazil, there’s an acostamento – a hard shoulder. Great for cyclists, as it gives relative security away from the traffic. But there’s a drawback in that the surface is usually rough and bumpy. You have a choice of the rough acostamento, or risking the smoothness of the road with the cars.

Everyday on this trip there have been things that made the ride easier, and things I wished would be different. The main road may get you places fastest, but you have to deal with fast traffic. The sunshine may be pleasant, but it dehydrates you quickly. The rain is cooling, but visibility is awful. There’s always a rough with the smooth.

And the past fortnight hasn’t been easy, if I’m honest. The days climbing uphill have been physically tiring, but the hardest times have been on the BR101 – an arterial North/South road in the pouring rain. Awful visibility and fast trucks make for uneasy riding.

All this to say, this ain’t no holiday. There are two reasons I’ve been eating the miles that I have been: firstly to ensure I’m in Buenos Aires with time to spare before meeting my girlfriend Sophie on January 25th, but also because this is a great opportunity for me to challenge myself in a bid to fundraise for the Teenage Cancer Trust, helping provide expert care and support for teenagers diagnosed with cancer.

I’ve left it until now to start the fundraising as I wanted to get half way, mainly so I could be absolutely sure of myself that I’d be able to complete the challenge.

It would mean a huge amount if you were able to donate on my Just Giving page, at the link here. Every penny will go directly to the charity. They do a wonderful job, and your support would be a massive help.

Vida! Saúde! Felicidade!

Mike