02/04/2019 Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward is nomadonanomad
The journey from Montevideo to Durazno to get to my placement volunteering on a farm there was difficult to say the least. My hosts Fede, short for Federico, and Fefe, short for Stephanie, were hosting a couple there through ‘Warmshowers’, which is the cycling equivalent of ‘Couchsurfing’. The invitation for me therefore was, ‘any time after Friday’. Had I been able to set off on the Tuesday as I’d wanted to, I would have enjoyed tailwinds pretty much all the way over the two days it was going to take me. By the time I set off on Friday, aiming to get there on Saturday afternoon the winds had turned through 180 degrees and was blowing hard in my face. You’d guessed that anyway, hadn’t you? Another difficulty, and a recurring theme I find with cities is that they are easy as hell to get into, but usually impossible to get out of and I came close to a meltdown in the middle of Montevideo before finally escaping.
My aim was to get to Florida, (no, not that one) this one is pronounced ‘Floreeda’, 107 kms from Montevideo before doing the remaining 90 kms to Durazno on the Saturday. The wind, coupled with the terrain made it bloody hard going and the 2 weeks slobbing around in Monte hadn’t helped any as my legs just didn’t have the same ‘pop’ in them. I was only able to average 12 kph which is extremely slow even for me, and I took the decision to wimp out and make a stop at Canelones, about half way, and call Fede and tell him I would be a day late. Even a Uruguayan sandwich failed to put any zip into my pedalling, and I can tell you Uruguayan sandwiches are approximately the size of a small house. Uruguayans are not small people!
Anyway, I try to find a couple of places listed on the ‘chocolate teapot’ (Google maps) and the only place I can locate is the most inappropriately named Hotel Oasis. It’s a weird motel style building which here in Uruguay is a series of garage doors into which you drive your car, and the door to the room is at the back of the garage. Strange. Just as I saw the door to reception a bloody pit bull saw me and went beserk. Now I love dogs, but I didn’t love this one. I wasn’t quick enough to get the bike between me and it, but I was quick enough to get my knife out of my frame bag, it’s always kept handy just in case, and take it out of the sheath. The first bite and I would have very definitely defended myself with gusto and the knife. The dog’s owner appeared very quickly but didn’t seem too bothered, even when I told him ‘perro muerte’ with as much conviction as I could muster. I wasn’t so much scared of the dog, more the shit that would have hit the fan, for me as a foreigner, if I’d had to defend myself to the point of killing it. Not to mention the doctor’s bill for me, as I’m sure I would have not been unscathed and the assholes at ‘staysure’ insurance would have found a way to wriggle out of paying my claim, probably arguing that I’d provoked the dog by riding a bicycle or some similar bollocks. (Don’t insure with these bastards, about as trustworthy as financial advisors, and that says a lot!)
The owner led the dog away and I put my knife back in my frame bag. Just about to ring the bell at reception and the dog comes back, even more worked up than before. Again, I couldn’t move the bike in between us but the knife was out sharpish. (Pardon the pun, but it is) I’m very aware that pit bulls, when they attack go, for the groin so I pushed myself up against the bike with my back to the dog, waiting for the first bite when things would have kicked off. It jumped up on my back a couple of times but didn’t seem to know where to sink it’s teeth into and so I still wasn’t bitten. The owner came back again and I shouted at him that I would kill the bloody thing if it bit me. This time he got the dog away and I wondered why I still wanted to stay here, but I needed to lie down and sleep as I was totally knackered.
I rang the bell for reception and a woman appeared and I asked in my best Spanish if they had a room and what was the price. All she seemed to want to know was when I wanted to check in, ‘err, now’, and when I would check out, ‘err, let’s guess at 9.00am’. It then occurred to me that the rate was ‘by the hour’ and it was a ‘knocking shop!’ She told me she had to make a phone call, already this sounds expensive, and she disappeared. When she came back the price turned out to be 3,000 pesos which is about $90US or £68. I declined with as much sarcasm as my Spanish would allow and left. I was then faced with another 50 kms, into the wind to get to Florida where a proper hotel awaited. When I arrived, shattered and cramping up despite drinking lots of liquid and eating a couple of large bags of crisps, I settled in with a long shower and then went to eat a proper meal. Whilst waiting for my food I went onto Google maps and posted a review for all to see about Hotel Oasis, Canelones, Uruguay. It goes something like, ‘got attacked by a pit bull and then was told 3,000 pesos was the price for a room by the woman in reception. Dos perros locos!’ (Two crazy dogs) Check it out. Btw, Google, in their infinite wisdom rate me as a ‘local guide’.
Photos. The only pic I took that day but I deserved more so I’m showing it twice because it’s my site, so there!
The next day the wind was still the same, as was the terrain. It’s never flat, just up and down to the point of tedium. I’m convinced that someone took a giant rake to the landscape here and dragged it across every future route, and then the roads were built. It just goes up and down all the time. I’m sure that car drivers here would never be seasick as going up and down, at speed, would make you immune to the gentle rocking of a boat. This leg of the trip was just as tough but thankfully 17 kms shorter and the only thing of note was when I got collared by the village idiot in a little place where I stopped for a drink and a bite. He was harmless enough but gabbled away to me non-stop despite me telling him I didn’t understand what the hell he was on about. As I got up to leave he said the only words I did understand which were, ‘bien viaje, good journey.’ It takes all sorts!
Getting really tired now as I home in on Durazno. Stops for a rest are down to every 10 kilometres, and I’m still sick of getting to the top of a hill and finding another waiting for me. Also, in the direction I’m heading are some enormous black clouds and I start thinking that the day could get infinitely worse. I keep checking my phone, but no signal, so I can’t even call Fede and ask him to pick me up from wherever I can find to shelter. Somehow the rain holds off despite the clouds getting ever more threatening and I get to the town and look for a gas station where I can sit down, get some wi-fi and contact my host when a pick-up truck pulls alongside and a voice calls out, ‘are you Simon?’ I did feel like saying something like, ‘are there so many idiots on touring bikes around here that you have to ask?’ but I didn’t as I was so relieved to have bumped into Fede and Fefe. We arranged to meet in the next gas station after he’d taken Fefe somewhere, and I hobbled into the place, ordered a coffee, and then the heavens opened! How lucky was that? But with the law of averages it was about time I got a break!
The rain stopped as quickly as it came and we loaded the bike and bags into the pick-up and headed off for the farm, 4 kms into the countryside. Some initial disappointments for me were that the two dogs were no longer at the farm. One had died and the other had been kidnapped by Fede’s mother. Next was that Fede and Fefe were no longer living at the farm either, and had moved to a house in town, next to their bicycle shop. A bit of a blow to my hopes of my Spanish coming along quickly. Then the farm itself. ‘Overgrown sub-tropical jungle’ might be a better description, with the only animals being two cats who were terrified of humans despite getting fed by Fede. He told me that he was going to get a couple of sheep in to take care of the vegetation. I told him, ‘you need ten!’
The ‘guest accommodation’ comprised of three totally seperate parts. Bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. The bathroom was part of the main house with only one door, from the outside? Couldn’t work that one out, and let’s just say it needs some cleaning! The kitchen. Well look at the photos! I opened the cutlery draw and a frog jumped out! Then I opened the freezer and found one of the frog’s relatives frozen solid after probably thinking it had been victorious in the last game of hide and seek. A lot of work to get this place in shape, but what the hell, I’m here now. Then the bedroom. We had to carry the bed from the main house, why I don’t know but we did, and that room was full of junk including a bicycle, a tricycle and a fussball table. What a shame I would have no-one to play with? Thinking though, if I get really quick I could run around the table and play against myself. New fitness trend emerging? I also realised that this would be the first time in my life that I would sleep under a thatched roof.
Photos. Bedroom first, then bathroom, kitchen and finally a few of the overgrown sub-tropical jungle. I hope to show some ‘after’ pictures soon after the application of a serious amount of elbow grease.
Now before one of my best friends jumps in to remind me of the times I’ve stayed over at his family’s delightful thatched cottage in leafy Leicestershire, there, when I lay in bed in the guest room and looked up, I could see oak beams and a proper ceiling. Here it’s a thatched roof, and that’s it, complete with all the creepy crawlies! The first morning I was just waking up when something ‘fluttery’ landed on me and caused me to jump out of bed mucho rapido. It was a moth. Now I prefer proper animals, apart from vicious dogs, and know very little about insects and that sort of stuff, but I had heard about a moth called a Death’s Head Moth. I don’t know if this was one, but after 5 minutes of me doing a good impression of a whirling dervish it could have maybe been called a ‘dead Head Moth?’
Anyway, a bit of hard work and I will make the most of it and you, my very few, but wonderful readers can, I hope, enjoy reading of my hardship! Also, Fede and Fefe are smashing folks, Fede speaks great English, comes from Argentina and likes a beer, so he’s ok in my book. Fefe doesn’t speak any English at all but I get a strong feeling we will all get along. Fede and I blew the froth off a few cold ones on my first night there and he loved the idea of my nickname, ‘Abuleo Loco’, (crazy Grandpa) particularly when I showed him the newspaper article from Gualeguaychu. He told me that the local newspaper here were keen to meet and do a piece on me. That only goes to show that I’m in another place where not much happens!
So, enough for now, but with something to explain to anyone who hasn’t read, or remembered, my very first post, about a year ago, when I explain why I always end with, ‘and may your God go with you’. It’s my way of paying respects to one of the greatest comedians ever, Mr. Dave Allen, who always ended his shows with that expression. He was brought up in a fiercely Catholic home in Ireland and sent to a Catholic school complete with the ‘Nazi Nuns’ as I’m sure I remember him describing them. He always used to say it was the best way of making atheists! I assure you, you could not find a more committed atheist than me, so the expression is just me taking the piss out of those who believe in the sky daddy. And NO apologies!
Anyway, as always, thank you for reading this far and may your God go with you.
Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward.