Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Long Drive Homeward

Montevideo skyline, viewed from the north
500km (or 300 miles) from Salto to Montevideo.  Because I decided to take the direct route, right through Montevideo to Carrasco International Airport on the other side of the city, it was more than seven hours of driving time through the Uruguayan countryside.
Special aside to my friends from New Jersey:  you would find driving in Uruguay surprisingly similar to the Garden State.  Lots of rotaries, jug handles and full-service gas stations only.

One crucial difference -- from New Jersey and any of the other 49 states -- is how incredibly polite Uruguayan drivers are.  (Well, except for the woman in the Chevrolet Spark who flipped me off driving through Montevideo.  I just smiled and waved.)  They will often get over into the shoulder to let you pass.  They yield at the rotaries.  Drivers don't respect the sanctity of lanes, but they completely respect other drivers.  It was surprisingly easy to drive here.

I got into Montevideo when the sun was still out.  Since I was coming in from the west, and heading southward into the city, I got to see a different view of Montevideo.  For example, I saw this building.  The Telecommunications Tower, also known as the Torre Antel, or Torre de las Telecommunicaciones.  It's the tallest building in all of Uruguay.

Torre de las Telecommunicaciones
I also found out that when the weather is warm, and sun is shining, Montevideo is a beach town.  The Rambla along the Rio De La Plata was packed its entire length, including cars parked in the right lane of the Rambla which was supposed to be a traffic lane.  The beaches and the grassy areas near the beaches were packed with people.  This would be a great city to spend a warm sunny weekend day.

This was a great vacation.  It was not packed with nonstop action and sun-up to sundown sightseeing of incredible sights.  But if a successful vacation is discovering a new place, experiencing a new culture, getting out from the stress of ordinary living, and recharging the mental battery, then this was a successful vacation.

I also finally got to snap a decent picture of the signature building of Montevideo:  the Palacio Salvo.

Palacio Salvo, viewed from Plaza Independencia
And with that, the Vacation Blog is closed for another vacation.  It will re-open for my trip to the World Cup in Brasil next June.  Or maybe I'll take a shorter trip somewhere interesting before then.  Good-bye from Uruguay.  Good-bye to Uruguay.

Morning in Salto (Before the Long Drive Back to Montevideo)

Looking down Artigas
I woke up in my hotel in Salto.  The next bed in which I sleep will be my own (with a long overnight flight in between).

The original vacation plan was to stop and visit another Uruguayan city on the drive back to Montevideo's Carrasco International Airport.  Uruguay's tourist mecca Colonia del Sacramento was the likely victim.  But I'm 12 days into this holiday.  I'm tired of seeing new places.  A slow morning in Salto and getting to Montevideo in time for supper seemed like a better plan.

I found two interesting places to keep in mind for the next time I'm in Salto, Uruguay.

Salto Post Office
The Salto Post Office!  I hadn't seen a single post office location in Uruguay before this.  I was suspecting Uruguay might be like Colombia where no one ever mails anything.  So I didn't bother stocking up on picture postcards.  Turns out, I could've mailed them in Salto if I had only planned ahead (i.e., found a post office before Sunday).

Then there was this dessert spot:

Heladeria Nevada!
La Heladeria Nevada!  The Nevada Ice Cream Shoppe.  It probably was named for the Spanish meaning of la palabra "Nevada," "snow-covered," rather than my state.  But maybe just maybe it's a little bit o' the Silver State right here in northwest Uruguay.

Off to the Termas de Daymán

At the Termas de Daymán
After walking around Salto, my dogs were barking.  And that meant it was time to hit the Termas de Daymán, the thermal springs outside of Salto.

When I was in Montevideo, I would tell people about my Uruguayan travel plans.  I said that I was starting in Montevideo.  I'd get a nod.  I'd say that I was heading next to La Paloma.  I would get a mouth-only smile.  And then I would say I was going to Salto.  People would light up!  Their eyes would get wide and they mention how great the thermal springs were.

There are three major thermal springs developments in the Salto area.  Termas del Arapey, the most upscale, is about 50 miles north of Salto.  Way too far.  And way to upscale.  Termas de Daymán, which is only a few miles south of the city, and is far and away the most popular.  And Termas de Salto Grande, near the Salto dam (Represa de Salto Grande).

I actually decided to head up to the Termas del Salto Grande.  But first I decided to check out the dam.

Represa de Salto Grande
The dam is actually the border crossing between Uruguay and Argentina.  Like Hoover Dam, you actually drive across the top of the dam to cross a border, although it's a bigger deal to cross the border from Uruguay into the Argentine than it is from Nevada into Arizona.  So I couldn't walk across the dam.  But I could climb the observation tower.

View from the observation deck
The green land on the other side of the Uruguay River, once again, is Argentina.  So close.  So far away.

I couldn't find the Termas del Salto Grande.  Or maybe I did and it was attached to the hotel I saw.  If that was the case, it was very very small.  And that gets boring fast.  So back into the car to drive to the Termas de Daymán complex.

The Termas de Daymán complex is huge.  Two thermal springs complexes.  Huge number of small hotels.  Plenty of restaurants and souvenir shops.  It is a complete resort complex.

One of the greatest things about Uruguay?  Plenty of free parking everywhere!
I parked the Chevy Corsa and wandered the area, finally going into the larger of the two thermal springs parks.  There were about a dozen pools, of varying water temperature, with people just standing in them.  No swimming.  Just soaking.

Mostly it was people either standing in the pool, just soaking, or sitting on the lawn, drinking mate.  There was a LOT of mate drinking going on.  Everyone (but me) brought their gourd and herbs.  And here was a machine to facilitate your mate drinking:

Canarias brand mate machine at the park
This machine did not dispense mate.  Much to my disappointment.  It dispensed hot water.  To fill up your thermos.  So that you can fill your gourd with scalding hot water to make more mate to sip through your bombilla.

I had no gourd.  I had no bombilla.  Obviously, I was no Uruguayo.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Walking tour of Salto

Nuestra Senora de Carmen church
OK.  So here I am, in Salto, with the whole day ahead of me.  Salto is tucked way up in the northwest corner of Uruguay, about 500 km from Montevideo.  "So why come here?", you might be wondering.  I wanted to visit one city in the interior.  And Salto is known for its thermal springs.  And soaking in thermal springs -- like "whiskers on kittens" to Julie Andews -- is one of my favorite things.

I am staying at a small hotel called the "Art Hotel Deco."

It's actually more B&B than hotel as it has only four rooms.  It's also somewhat misnamed, as the decor is antiques and wood.  The whole feel is a few decades longer ago than the Art Deco period.

My room.  MUCH bigger than my room in La Paloma
I was talking with the owners last night.  The place was built in the 1890s as the private residence of a wealthy family.  I suspected as much.  The current owners are a German couple who've lived in Uruguay for the past several decades.

One of the multiple sitting rooms on the property
The place looks great.  The staff is so over-the-top attentive and accommodating that it's almost embarrassing.  When I asked if they had an electrical adapter I could use (Uruguay has weird outlets, using round plugs spaced wider apart than my European adapter), the clerk went to the office area, unplugged a piece of equipment and gave me the electrical outlet strip that had some plugs that could accommodate my laptop.  It's almost too much.

The fresh fruit left in my room for a late night snack is a nice touch,

Anyway, this morning is to be dedicated to a walk around the downtown of Salto.

Plaza Treinta y Tres
Heading in the general direction of the river, I go through Plaza de Treinta y Tres, which has Nuestra Senora de Carmen on one end.

Nuestra Senora de Carmen (only this time shot from farther back)
It's Plaza 33 because the number 33 is important in Uruguayan history.  It's akin to the number 500 in the history of Sparta, only smaller.  I'm not sure of the particular akin-ness, but I figure you can wikipedia it as easily as I can.

I posed for this shot hoping (why I don''t know) that the church bell towers would look like devil horns
But Plaza Treinta y Tres is a few blocks inland.

Government buildings on the other side of Plaza Treinta y Tres, directly across from Nuetra Senora de Carmen
Which means I have to keep walking to get the next plaza, which is riverside.

Plazoleta Roosevelt.  Not sure if it's Teddy or Franklin Delano.
Just above the white fencing you can see a sliver of blue.  That's the Rio Uruguay.  And the green land on the other side of the river?  Argentina.

Stray dogs congregating in Plazoleta Roosevelt
I have now twice been close enough to the Argentine to see it, but I have yet to go there.  It's not some "Moses can't enter the Promised Land" thing, as I certainly don't think of the Argentine as sometime sort of Promised Land.

The Argentine
There's a $150 cover charge just to enter Argentina nowadays, so that's why I didn't just bop over there to get my 19th country visited.

Museo Historico del Rio Uruguay sign
I mosey down closer to the river.

Museo Historic del Rio Uruguay
The Historic Museum of the Rio Uruguay did not appear to be open.  So I gave that a pass, as breaking into historic museums after hours in foreign countries is frowned upon.  So I go.

Exiting the Museo Historico del Rio Uruguay
 Next stop is an iron pier that juts out into the Rio Uruguay, getting me closer yet to the Argentine.

On the Antiguo Muelle Ferroviario
See the guy in the black shirt?  He's holding a mate gourd and a thermos of water.  I saw a lot of that Montevideo, but up here in Salto?  All the time.  Everyone is carrying their gourd and thermos and sipping on mate nonstop.  All day and all night.

Looking into the Argentine and singing Elvis Costello:
"The transparent people who live on the other side /
Living a life that is almost like suicde"
Don't know why Argentina makes me think that thought
The antique iron pier, or whatever is the literal translation of Antiguo Muelle Ferroviario, is a good place to see the river and what's on the other side.  Which is the Argentine.  Which is as close as I will get to it.

Wandering back into town I find Jesus.

A big Jesus inside a barrel-looking ring
 Literally.  A statue of Jesus inside what appears to be some sort of barrel ring.  Somebody left him an offering of a 2L Coca Cola.  Right near Jesus was this building:

Translation:  National Headquarters of the Revival
I don't know why it's pink.  I don't know why it's shaped like a castle.  I'm just glad its both.

I saw on the map that there were some nice viewpoints of the river further downstream.  It turns out the walk to the river was nicer than the view.

Tree-lined walking paths are always a good thing
 I headed back into the heart of town:

Store near my hotel
And I saw a small store all geared up for Christmas, with Santa and a store-full of decorations inside.  I guess the USA isn't the only place that starts celebrating Christmas way too early.  By the way, I heard my first Christmas song on the drive up to Salto the other day:  "Last Christmas" by George Michael who may or may not have been recording as Wham! back then.  First Christmas song of the year and it's not even one of the good ones!

The streets of Salto
I am walking toward Plaza Artigas.

And here I am:

Heroic style statue with Artigas on board a horse
Plaza Artigas.
Closer view
 And right across the plaza is another church, Catedal San Juan Bautista.

Catedal San Juan Bautista
The sign said it was closed for today, Saturday.  I'm hoping it'll be open for Sunday mass (misas) tomorrow.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Roadside Uruguay: Zooilogico del Futuro

Right there.  In a traffic circle.  Somewhere just south of Trinidad, Uruguay
There's probably not much I love in this world more than Cardinal baseball, late 1970s/early 1980s new wave music, and metal animal sculptures.  So imagine my surprise as I am tootling down the road through Western Uruguay when suddenly I see that.

Weird metal animal sculptures!  In the middle of the road!  In the middle of Uruguay!

I am quite a fan of Roadside America.  I don't roadtrip without first checking it out to see if there's anything interesting on (or not far off) my route.  If there had been a Roadside Uruguay website, I would have checked it, too.  Turns out I didn't need to!  The best of Roadside Uruguay was right there on Ruta 3 just south of Trinidad, Uruguay.

And what is it?

The sign says, "Zoologico Del Futuro"
Zooilogico del Futuro!  The Zoo of the Future.

It was an awesome sight to behold.  Below are my pictures of the various "zoo animals," posted without comment.  Can you believe this place isn't listed in any of the Uruguay guidebooks I checked?

Note the Chevrolet Corsa rental car.  It is not one of art works 

I think this is my favorite.  I think it's a beaver and a saw

The artist's signature
Thank you Martin Arregui of Flores, Uruguay, for your hard work and your dedication, assuming you are the artist responsible.  You didn't know a metal animal sculpture loving tourist from Las Vegas, Nevada USA, would one day be driving past, but you made that tourist slam on the brakes, turn the car around, and photograph up a storm.  The smile lasted the rest of the day.

EDITED:  I have edited this to correct the gender and prepositionizing of the name of the artistic installation.  It is not "Zoologica Futura" as originally posted, but "Zooilogico Del Futuro," Zoo OF THE Future.  And the late Martin Arregui (who died tragically young in his mid 40s) is indeed the creative genius behind this unique roadside art installation.