Driving back from Iguazu falls was just as painful as driving up there, except now we are going to Uruguay and not Buenos Aires. Uruguay wasn’t even on the list of countries that we initially thought of visiting. Even when making flags and names in Peru we didn’t think twice about Uruguay and skipped it. So why did we change our minds?
After sending a million and one email about car shipping to Korea AND reading every blog out. Turns out there are 3 possible shipping places: Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. The sources say that Brazil’s customs and port agents are so corrupt that some travelers have been known to wait months to get their car out of the port. Argentina is better, but once in a while people hit a snag that complicates things, plus you know how i feel about Argentina…so we’ll skip that one. In Uruguay you would ship from Montevideo, the capitol and one of the biggest ports on the east cost of South America. Travel reports mentioned great things about the agents and companies working out of Montevideo.
After emailing a few places in Montevideo, we chose the best price/agent combination. We are new to the shipping business and if the agent doesn’t communicate on time, then i dont care how cheap it is to ship, i don’t trust you. We received a decent quote and the agent was on top of his stuff, so off to Montevideo we go. In South America, we relaxed about driving at night completely and crossed the border almost at midnight. Spent the night at some municipal campground and headed to our main destination in the morning.
If you think shipping a car is easy, you just don’t know anything about it. It’s definitely, not just sticking a stamp on it and putting it into a mailbox. We needed to be in Uruguay almost a week before we could pack up the car into the container.
Instead of driving to Montevideo, we found a perfect place an hour outside the city – Hotel Suiza. Just like the name says it’s a hotel, but also a major overlanding stop. People can camp on the hotel grounds, use the bathrooms, wi-fi and pool – all for $10/day. We couldn’t have hoped for a better deal. Tired from driving thousands of miles up and down Argentina, i was seriously looking forward to parking the car in one place and just doing nothing for a WEEK. A whole 7 days of reading books and drinking wine.
Tis but a silly dream. We have been talking to each other that Hodori needs a proper scrubbing, he hasn’t had a bath since Bolivia. And the bugs were starting to blend together into a thick layer of protective paint. The tent was the worst, it’s white, so you can tell that it is not supposed to look gray. I’m not scared of a bit of dirt, but in the last couple of weeks, even i had to wash my hands after closing the tent shell. Gross 🙁
We could have paid someone to wash the car, but i guarantee that i will do a better job myself, plus its a team building exercise between me, Hyein and Hodori. Luckily, the campground had an outdoor water tap and the local handyman even got us a power washer. We must have looked crazy to the other people who were already staying there. Here we just drive in, barely say hello, get out of the car and start scrubbing it like we just drove through a cloud of radioactive fallout. Two hours later and Hodori was getting his shine back. Like a friend’s baby, once they are clean you realize that you have been avoiding playing with them only because they have snot on their face. I didn’t even realize that i have avoided any unnecessary contact with Hodori’s outside. I’m sorry buddy, i will keep you cleaner from now on.
Done with the outside, we will deal with the interior clean up another day. Now, we must enjoy the beautiful weather. Did i mention that this place has a pool? I did? Okay, it also has a diving board with 2.5-3 m deep pool. That means you can do all kinds of crazy stunts from the dive board…if you are any good. Us…well, we can just jump off and make a silly face at the camera while trying not to yell too loud.
Hyein has been practicing swimming since we started this trip and I can see huge improvement already. But she never in her life had a chance to do some diving. We promised to each other that while on this trip we WILL try new things, even if they scare us. But that doesn’t mean that it will not take some convincing.
A mere 20 minute of “Come on, babe! You can do it!” and Hyein mustered up the courage to jump in. Okay, i exaggerate…more like 5 minutes…but when you are standing behind her on the board and battling the urge to just give her a gentle nudge…every second is a lifetime where you have lived out all the possible levels of hell that Hyein will put me in…if i actually push her.
I’m happy to report that i held the urge back and did not have to live through a real life version of Dante’s Inferno. Played around in the pool for a bit, I gathered whatever courage i had left and tried to remember how to do a back flip. Still got it!
Warm weather, swimming pool, bicycles and a clean bathroom – for once it actually feels like we are on vacation. Overlanding is tough, you are in survival mode, always alert and always on the move.
We got invited to share desert and drinks with the other overlanders, we didn’t have anything to offer and didn’t want to pack the tent to go to the store. Found some bikes and went looking for beer. Of course we had to bring a GoPro with us to document our adventures, so that you at home can laugh at us… and then go to the fridge and just get a beer, while we are huffing and puffing to get ours.
Trying ride a bike while holding a selfie stick is not the safest or the easiest thing in the world, so we improvise. Now I look like a dog playing fetch.
After some drinks and chocolate, back in the car and too lazy to go get the laptop from the back. But wait a minute, we got a computer right here. I don’t mean to toot my own horn…who am I kidding, that’s exactly what i want to do. When building the car last year i was not sure how useful the carputer (car computer) will be, it surpassed all my expectations. Basically unlimited music selection, navigation, movies, engine monitoring…if you are trying to figure out if you need one, stop you already know the answer.
I spent god knows how many hours fitting the biggest screen i could find into the dashboard. And the saddest thing is that the better you are at hiding the modifications and making it look more natural, the less people appreciate the effort and skill. Whatever, at least I know.
I’m not sure if you noticed all the steak photos from the previous posts…if you haven’t look back through the Argentina posts to make yourself hungry. Either way, we talked to the locals and according to them Uruguay is on par, maybe even better, in the meat department. Hold on guys, let me be the judge of that. Went to the store, got a few steaks and a bottle of wine. Walking through the store i was surprised to see ONLY Uruguayan wine, Tannat, and not a single Argentinian and Chilean bottle. Okay, i get we are in a very small town so the selection is not the best, but come on we are 2 hours away from Argentina…
You can probably guess our menu for the night – steaks with a huge salad and some red wine. The wine…well…uhhh…it actually made me miss Argentina. The steaks, good but nothing special. While we were having dinner the overlanding couple from Switzerland were enjoying the beautiful summer evening.
Our other neighbor had a much bigger rig, based on a Mercedes truck frame with a custom living quarter in the back. Its super comfy inside and the gas mileage is similar to ours, so i think the next time we do this we will go for something like this.
The beautiful weather gave way to days of rain, we had to hide under on a veranda of the old farm-house. And every day there was something to do. First we caught up on some blog posts, then i decided to transfer all the expenses from our journal to the app in the phone. I’m not sure if I have mentioned this before, but we have recorded every single purchase since we crossed the border into Mexico. So it took me almost a day to move everything onto the phone. This way we can travel South-East Asia and don’t need to bring the journal with us. Plus, Ivan, its 2016 time to use a phone for more than just making calls.
This brings up two things: first, soon i will post a full expense report on our spending in Central and South America, so tune in for that; and second, after we ship the car to Korea our plan is to fly from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Singapore, Thailand and meet the car in Korea.
I hate being restless…just cant sit and do nothing. The next day we decided that we need to clean the car before we ship it. We took EVERYTHING out, aired out the bedding, cleaned all the drawers and discovered that our wooden box that holds the water tank is moldy. Shit, i sealed the wood before we left and made sure there are no leaks. Well, it’s not too bad, but i did have to take it out, scrub the mold and dry it out in the sun.
I don’t know, wood is really easy to work with, but not the perfect material for use in an overlanding vehicle. I should look into some lightweight plastics or water-tight laminated woods. Fine, we will deal with that when we get back to the States, now just focus on how clean the floor is.
A week has passed and we still haven’t finished everything we needed to do, but we have to pack the car into the container tomorrow so our last quest is to get some pieces of wood and tie down straps for securing the car inside the container. Not thinking that obtaining wood is going to pose a challenge we left it for the last day, only to find out that the whole country of Uruguay is one vacation…for a whole week. I mean you can find the lumber yard…its in the photo above…there is the wood, just no one to sell it to you. We didn’t want to be thieves like Fernando, so we found someone on the street who was willing to dig through their fire logs for acceptable pieces. We just needed something flat, like a 2″ by 8″, luckily he had just the stuff. And i promised to myself not to wait till the last day to do this stuff.
When you ship the car in the container it has to be secured inside so when the container is loaded or when it is on the ship, the car doesn’t bounce around inside. This process if called stuffing and usually it is just an item line on your shipping quote. But “I AM AN ENGINEER” and i can do this stuff myself…i saw it on youtube once. We have two batteries in the car, so while waiting for the container to be delivered i disconnected the secondary battery and wrapped everything up in electrical tape, just in case.
The car should have as little gasoline as possible, we learned that the hard way in Panama. For the past week, i have been filling up a gallon at a time, trying to gauge just the right amount. I think i underestimated our gas consumption and we almost ran out of gas on the way to the port. Had to stop, fill up, pee, basically got to the port 30 minutes later. But the port workers went to lunch and we had to stand around for an hour and a half waiting.
I’m not blaming them at all, it was hot and i just wanted to be done. According to that one youtube video, you are supposed to back into the container, that way it is easier for you to access the hood to disconnect the primary battery.
Then you get inside and nail two pieces of wood around each tire to effectively box in the car and prevent it from moving back and forth, side to side. It was already very hot when we were just standing around outside, but inside the container with no breeze it was hotter than sauna.
What made it even worse, is that i got some REALLY shitty nails that bent if you hit them…ugh…Ivan? Aren’t you supposed to hit nails with the hammer? Yes, you are exactly right, but these piece of crap bent if the wind blew on them. On top of this, a few pieces of wood were so hard that these butter nails refused to even go in. Extremely hot, sweaty, annoyed i had to look around the port for some other wood…i later asked Hyein how i handled this stressful situation…she said that I’m definitely improving.
Of course, we found something lying around. You always find a way out, it’s just hard to see that in when it is happening to you. So don’t stress out next time, everything is going to be okay my brother. I have to be honest with you, in the above photo I am not securing the car properly. If you ever have to do it, you put the tie down strap through the wheel.
Then you crank them down until they sing…actually don’t know the guy came in, pushed on it and told me that it has to be tight but with a bit of give. Done, the car is nailed and tied down from all four wheels. Lets hope everything will be exactly the same when we open it back up in Korea.
A farewell hug and a kiss for our Hodori before he goes by himself on the ship. Hang in there, buddy. We will miss you.
The container is shut and sealed, take a photo of the seal number, make sure that you have everything you need and now we are just backpackers…
We have to live out of these two little bags for the next month. Here my OCD kicked in and i had to dig through the bag one more time to check one more time that we have our passports with us and not in the sealed container.
At this moment it hits me just how good we have it with the car, this thing is heavy and now i have to walk with it?
Excited to start a new chapter in our adventure.
But first things first, by doing the container stuffing ourselves I earned or saved, whichever way you want to look at it, a bunch of money…so lets go spend it on delicious food. Oh and i need something cold, otherwise i’m going to have a heat stroke and an aneurysm all at the same time. Our shipping agent so the pain on my face and recommended a market just outside the port gates.
HOLLY SWEET BABY JESUS! Where have you been all my life? If you are a vegetarian look away now… Do i even need to try to come up with some witty analogy for the smell of this place, or do you just get it?
The wood logs burn up in the back of the pit, as they turn into charcoal the pit master shovels them to the front and spreads them out to create even heat without flames. The fat dripping from the cooking meat flares and smokes the meat above it. They have pork, beef, fish, lamb, poultry, sausages, veggies, you name it.
The one thing that you absolutely should try is called “lomo”, it is the most flavorful and the most tender piece of meat that we had on the trip. The funny thing is that in Peru and the North of South America there are dishes that have “lomo” in their name, so we ordered them, tried them and were severely disappointed, it was dry, too salty and very shoe-like. We saw “lomo” on the menu for the past 3 weeks and didnt even think of ordering it, by chance saw someone else eating it at the market and decided to order it…man, did we miss out some good stuff. Lesson to people traveling: lomo in Argentina and Uruguay good, lomo in Peru – bad. Dont mess those up!
This is no ordinary market, this is a market from heaven if you like meat and fire. I believe this is what the local were referring to when they compared their meat to Argentina, not that measly steak I had last week. The lamb was so tender that we both had a “When Harry Met Sally” moment right there, there will be a plaque hanging over our table when we come back to Uruguay in 10 years. But we don’t care what other people thought of us…reaaaaally stopped caring about other people’s opinions during the trip. Don’t be rude, but don’t be afraid to enjoy your life.
That night we went home, took a much-needed shower and walked around the city a bit. It was getting late and gloomy so we saved all the photography for the next day, hoping it would be better. And yay, it was. We stayed in a hostel/hotel about 20 minutes away by walking from the port, in the “historic” part of the city. Uruguay is tiny and their capitol is accordingly small. You need just one day to walk around all the historic parts and you are done. Probably because it was the “vacation” week, but the city just felt empty, underutilized. Back in the day when dinosaurs roamed earth or 100 years ago to be exact, the building you see in the photo above was the tallest building in all of South America.
Okay so that tower is now behind us and we are looking in opposite direction. We see some statue of a dude on a horse, of course, how can you call yourself a nation if you dont have a due on a horse in your capitol?
The more interesting thing that we noticed in Montevideo is the current women’s shoe fashion – it’s all about platforms here. We are talking, 1-2.5 inch platforms, something like the raver boots from the 90’s. I know that fashion is cyclical, could we just skip this part? And move on to somethings else?
If you have been with us for a while you know that we travel with our stomach…yeah, yeah pretty buildings are nice, but lets see what they can do in the gourmet department here. Quick search reveals that the thing to eat in Montevideo is the “Chivito” sandwich. So head back to the market to see what the fuss is all about.
Hey guys, doesnt a sandwich involve bread? Cuz all i see is a South a pile of meat and bacon on top of french fries. No…NO, im not complaining just confused. This like an upscale version of Carne Asada fries that we have in San Diego, except this is Adriana Lima of the carne asada fries world. A note for anyone in this part of the world: for some reason if you pay with Visa then you don’t have to pay the local VAT, aka Value Added Tax, which here amounts to a nice 20%. Its true…and not a scam, as far as i know.
“Cant visit Montevideo without dropping by the famous “Cafe Brasiliero”, here the culture elite gathers for an afternoon cup of good coffee and writers come here for a piece of history,” is something that Anthony Bourdain would say as he would sip on a cup of seriously delicious coffee by the window. Okay Tony, to be honest, you dont need to be a part of the cultural bourgeois to come here, this is the only decent place with a clean bathroom for miles.
This place was frequented by Uruguay’s famous journalist and writer, Eduardo Galeano. “But Ivan, we have never heard of him!” I did say Uruguay, right? Not, United States? So don’t freak out and think that you are an uneducated slob who knows nothing of the finer things in life… The cafe is old though, founded in 1877, and you can feel the charm in the creaky wooden interior. Reminded me of some of the older cafes in San Francisco.
The whole city has a very San Francisco vibe, just much more mellow and definitely better weather. In the infamous words of Mark Twain, that he never actually said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco”, SF can be a bit brutal to the naive tourists that come in shorts and t-shirts in July. Fools, its parka season here and don’t forget your mittens. Montevideo doesn’t have this back-stabbing nature to always catch you off guard with the weather, it also doesn’t smell like urine in a lot of places. Come to think of it, didn’t see any homeless either or many people in general. So how is it similar to SF? I guess just a port city, small streets, old buildings, a bit of hills but everything more toned down, more manageable.
We were first introduced to the idea of “mate” in Chile by those French guys that we met in the hostel…if you don’t remember read the Torres del Paine post. Okay, whatever. Mate is an herbal tea that people in Argentina and Uruguay drink. Not like coffee in the West, one cup and you are done…this is an all day ordeal.
They carry around a cup filled with the herbs, a filter straw and a thermos bottle with hot water. The herbs are much finer than tea, so to avoid sucking up most of them through the straw, the straws have a strainer at the bottom.
As just a rough estimate, i would say that 1 out of 10 people you see on the street is carry a cup and a thermos bottle. If you think about it, just imagine walking down the street in your city…since we dont drink mate, we will use another addiction, how many people do you see smoking while walking? 1 out of 10, 20, 30? These days probably 1 out of 50 and we call them addicts.
Here the owner of this set of his drug kit disappeared somewhere, probably to score another hit of the herb…they call it “yerba”, pronounced “jerba”.
Here we can see the drug paraphernalia being out in the open. A set of straw and cup will set you back about $5-10, depending on the quality and they give the first hit of that sweet “jerba” for free to get you hooked. We couldn’t get the camera out in time, but we a saw a lady in full-on running outfit, spandex, sports bra and cap, running along with a cup and thermos bottle. Thats a bit too much. I think its the sucking thing, right? Isn’t there a psychologist that proposed the idea that we never really grow up and that all our needs are still basic children needs? So here people transfer the need to suckle on a milk bottle waaaaaaaay into their adulthood, just substitute the bottle and milk for straw and mate.
Just as we were heading back to the hostel for the night, Hyein spotted a tango performance in the park right by the hotel. I didn’t seem like a government or city organized event, just some locals with an ipod and speaker and desire to move together in unison. Seeing tango was on Hyein’s bucket list for South America and we finally managed to cross that one off.
Not surprisingly, the Montevideans did not let go of their mate even here. You saw almost everyone clutching their little sippy cup and thermos.
Their bodies and minds are probably so used to carrying all that stuff around that it doesn’t seem like a hassle anymore. I CANNOT imagine carry all that stuff with me all the time.
Here you can see they gathered together to hit that sweet mate and pass it around in a circle like a peace pipe.
I kid you not, all these photos are just from around the tango performance, taken within a 10 minute interval.
Texting, talking, walking, jogging – all with their mate.
This family was probably not happy because the dad finished all the hot water and didn’t share with the rest of the family. Only the little baby looks fine, cuz it is not yet corrupted by the “jerba”.
Went into an Uruguayan version of fast food places, that more like “Denny’s” rather than McDonalds. I ordered the chivito…bad idea, should have kept my memory of that beauty pristine. This one was bad…old bread, old eggs, cardboard meat and no flavor. If you want to try a good Chivito, go to the market.
Bonus, silly photo of me to lighten the mood after that chivito…urgh.
We are done with Uruguay and our overlanding part of South America, as you can see not much “relaxing” was done in Uruguay, busy as usual. We don’t complain, we inform you.
Next we fly to Sao Paulo, Brazil for a week and then to Asia.