Our journey from Montevideo wasn’t the shortest route as we had to first fly across the Rio de Plata to Buenos Aires and from there we flew up to Rio.
We arrived late in Rio at around 10pm so we jumped straight in a cab to our hotel. As this was the last stop on our journey before heading home we had booked a decent hotel right on Copacabana beach to go out with a bang. Hotels in Rio are ridiculously expensive, even hostels are charging over 100 USD per night but we ponied up for a last treat.
When we visited Copacabana in Bolivia we had sung the Barry Manilow song to ourselves even though that time it was misplaced. Now it was bang on the money and we couldn’t help humming to ourselves as we had a late night beer on the rooftop bar of our hotel looking out over the amazingly lit up beach.
We only had 4 nights in Rio and 3 full days to do as much exploring as possible. This meant that we had to plan our time to maximise what we would see and do.
Our first full day was a Sunday and that meant that it was time to explore the beaches. At the weekend the Rio natives all hit the beaches and they are absolutely packed. This is Rio as you imagine it. There was a whole load of sport going on, all zoned in different areas. We saw football, volleyball and footvolley (volleyball played by kicking and heading the ball).
We walked the length of Copacabana and up into Ipanema and Leblon. It’s a great environment with so much going on and plenty of beachside bars to refresh you on the way. Of course it helps that its hot and the sun is shining.
Day two of our Rio experience we caught the subway into the central business district.
Rio is a big city and the central area is very similar to a European city. It is definitely very busy with lots of traffic and lots of people going about their daily lives.
We enjoyed walking around checking out the many interesting buildings and having lunch in a city workers restaurant. After a full day walking around Rio we were knackered so really enjoyed going back to our lovely hotel room.
For our third day in Rio we had booked a tour to get us out to some of the slightly more difficult to get to places (well we were being a bit lazy and without the Beast we had lapsed from traveller mode into tourist mode but we also wanted to fit in as much as possible into our limited time). We got picked up early in the morning and headed off, through the appalling traffic, down the beaches to Sao Conrado beach. This is where hang gliders land having leapt off the platform 520m up at Pedra Bonita.
Our second stop was at the National Park of Tijuca Forest in the mountains above the city. As you drive up the winding roads the temperature noticeably drops and there is a cool freshness which is much appreciated. This has led to a number of exclusive neighbourhoods being in this area. In the forest we walked to a waterfall through the thick green woods. This would be a great place to spend a whole day cycling or hiking but on the tourist trail and with limited time it wasn’t long before we were herded back into the minibus and swept off on our whistle stop tour.
The highlight of the tour was the trip up to the top of Corcovado mountain (700m) where the 30m statue of Christ the Redeemer is situated. It is not possible to drive all the way to the top so we were transferred from one minibus onto another to take us to the small car park just below the base of the statue.
From here it’s a short walk up some stairs (or a lift ride) to the viewing platform at the foot of the statue. The view of the city is fantastic (despite being hazy). The only downside is the hordes of tourists – mostly trying to get pictures of themselves with Christ The Redeemer in the same pose.
After coming down from the top of the Corcovado mountain our tour continued into the Lapa district which is just above the CBD. This is a bohemian neighbourhood (slightly dodgy in parts) with interesting café’s and art shops and famous for the Selaron stairs, otherwise known as the Lapa Steps. These were built by Jorge Selaron starting in 1990 and finally finishing at his death in 2013. He covered the stairs in hand painted tiles many depicting a pregnant African woman whose identity he never revealed.
After stopping for a late lunch in a local café at the base of the stairs our tour finished by dropping us off at the base of the Sugarloaf mountain which it is possible to ascend by way of a cable car to get stunning views of the city. The cable car is in two sections; the first goes to the 220m high Morro da Urca and the second to Pao de Acuar which is 396m high.
It was approaching sunset as we reached the top and we decided to stick around for the view but the Pao de Acuar became so crowded we went back down to the Morro da Urca for the sunset.
The other highlight was the many little marmosets that timidly appeared and just as quickly disappeared over the edge of the hilltop in an attempt to pick up any stray crumbs dropped by the masses.
Our last day in Rio we booked a tour to visit one the favelas, Rocinha, which is the largest favela in Rio. Favela is the Brasilian word for shanty town and this is how Rocinha started. These were originally lawless and run by drug cartels.
However the government has been pacifying the favelas one by one and investing money in them to bring in utilities and improve standards of living. Pacifying the favela means that the drug cartels have been run out and the police are now able to patrol inside.
We started our tour at the top of the Favela to get some fantastic views of the township as it stretches down the mountainside.
The tour involved walking down through tiny alleys through the Favela and down the mountainside. The alleys were a real maze however there is a main road that snakes its way through the Favela – mostly populated with motorbike taxis which seem the main way of getting around.
The thing that really struck us is that although the favela is not as nice as the rest of Rio, compared to the poorer countries in South and Central America the people living here are living quite well. We had seen far worse on our travels and were impressed by the government and the community’s drive to support, improve and development these neighbourhoods.
Having weaved our way down the hillside and reached the foot of the mountain the tour was over and we were dropped back at our hotel where we collected our bags and headed off to the airport – our time in Rio and indeed South America, was finally up.
Once we’d dropped off the Beast at the port we were free to enjoy Montevideo and we had a couple of nights booked in a central city hotel from which to explore the city.
Our hotel was just round the corner from the central Independence square and this was where we started our exploration of the city. Montevideo doesn’t have the grandeur of its neighbour Buenos Aries, but that doesn’t mean that it is devoid of interest. There are grand buildings but they are interspersed between some hideous 1970’s eye sores.
The centrepiece of Independence Square is the Mausoleo de Artigas, the tomb of Jose Gervasio Artigas, a Uruguayan hero often referred to as the “father of the Uruguayan nation”. Above ground there is a statue of Artigas atop his horse and below ground is the actual tomb with a permanent honour guard.
The other highlights of the square are the Palacio Salvo (surprisingly a mixture of apartments and commercial premises), the Presidential Palace and the Solis Theatre.
Adjoining Independence Square is the Puerta de la Ciudadela (Gateway of the Citadel) which is one of the last remaining parts of the original city wall. Passing through this we walked through the old city and down towards the docks. Montevideo is a really friendly, relaxed city which is enjoyable to walk around however it does lack the spectacular architecture of many other old cities worldwide.
The area around the docks is considered to be quite dangerous after dark but during the day it’s a vibrant place with both locals and tourists visiting. The main attraction is the Mercado del Puerto which was opened in 1868 and was originally a market. It is now full of restaurants that are jammed together and is one of the best places to eat grilled meat in the world.
We loved this place so much that we actually came and ate here two days running. Our first lunch was at the famous “Estancia del Puerto”. We’d first seen this eatery on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations”. We sat at the bar in front of the massive grill covered in amazing looking meat and ordered the BBQ for two.
An amazing bowl of meat was delivered to us and we enjoyed it immensely eating every scrap. About half way through we discovered what two of the items that we had been enjoying were, the large and small intestine of a cow. Actually very nice, although very rich and definitely not something that you find on your plate back home too often.
We liked this place so much that the next day we came back for some massive steaks at one of the other restaurant joints in the Mercado. We were treated to one of the best steak meals that we’ve ever had.
The only downside of the Mercado del Puerto is that the restaurants are not cheap but that does not mean that it isn’t value because the meat is some of the best and tastiest that you will have anywhere. We definitely found that eating here for lunch meant that no dinner was required.
For us two days in Montevideo was definitely enough (even if we could keep going back to Mercado del Puerto for lunch for ever!). Montevideo isn’t a spectacular city but its comfortable, friendly and holds enough of interest for a couple of days.
After our second visit to the Mercado del Puerto we needed to take a taxi and head to the airport. We had a flight to catch to send us on our way to Rio de Janeiro, our last stop on our tour of the Americas.
A few weeks before we wanted to head home we had contacted a shipping agent in Montevideo. We knew that we wanted to send the Beast back to Europe via Grimaldi Shipping Lines and their agent in Montevideo is MHSA Ltda. We tried to contact Grimaldi directly but didn’t have any luck with this. It took a little while to get through to MHSA (problems with their spam filter deleting our emails) but once we were in communication they were very responsive and helpful.
1498 Colon ST., Suites 501, 502 & 503
PH ++ 598 2 917 0056 ext 101
FX ++ 598 2 917 0038
Alejandra was very helpful and after giving us a choice of dates and ports we chose one and were booked in. Her English was excellent. We were not able to ship back to the UK and the ports we had available were in Belgium (Antwerp) and Germany (Hamburg). We decided on Antwerp due to is proximity to Calais and cheap channel ferries.
We were given a quote for costs:
7.5m long, 2.4m wide and 3.5m h
LOCAL CHARGES :
US$ 860 (IT INCLUDES : DOCS, IN PORT ,DEPOT , TAXES, DRIVING TO VESSEL)
Subject to space availability.
Rates are valid for self propelled units only.
We decided to ignore the weight that they had assumed (and this proved fine in the end). The quote was definitely more expensive than we would have liked but there isn’t much choice in the cross Atlantic market. There were to be no charges at the European end.
We had to provide Alejandra with some documents a couple of weeks before departure:
- Copy of Owners Passport
- Registration Document for Truck (V5)
- Customs Form from Uruguay Border
She was very happy to receive scans of these documents. We had scans of the V5 and my passport which we sent straight away but we had to wait until crossing into Uruguay before sending the customs form (obviously). This was quickly and easily scanned using a digital camera. We emailed the file on our first night in Uruguay.
As a result of providing all the documentation up front we wouldn’t need to visit MHSA’s office until the day that we would take the truck to the port.
One concern that we had was payment and we learnt that the local payment was required in cash and in USD on the day that we were shipping however the bulk of the payment could be made by international transfer once we were back home.
The good thing about Uruguay, unlike its large southern neighbour, is that US Dollars are readily available and in fact dispensed by most cashpoints. Our experience in Uruguay was that only the more modern cash machines accepted our foreign cards and the more basic and older machines just wouldn’t give us any money. These modern machines also gave out US Dollars – most of the time. In Montevideo all the machines are new but in the the more rural parts of the country the older machines are more common.
Alejandra had asked us to come into their offices in central Montevideo on any of three days before our shipping date. We decided to leave it as late as possible and deliver our truck the day before the ship was due to leave (a Uruguayan bank holiday did push us down this route somewhat though).
We spent the night before parked at the beach a few miles short of Montevideo and then drove in to the city the next morning to get to the offices fairly early.
MHSA’s offices are in the old town of Montevideo with fairly narrow streets and no easy parking. For smaller vehicles there would be no problem parking on the street or even in a couple of parking garages nearby. We decided to park on the “Rambla” which is the big road running around the sea front and port. There was technically no parking but we didn’t have any problems.
On visiting the office we paid over the local fee in US Dollars and then were told to come back in the afternoon in order to take the truck to the port.
Given that we had a few hours to kill we drove up to Punta Carretas, a small headland park surrounded by water. We parked up by the water and proceeded to wash the truck. We’d been trying for almost a week to find somewhere to get the truck washed for us and completely failed so we thought we might as well do it ourselves. (For those smaller than us there is actually an indoor car park about 50m from the MHSA office which will wash your vehicle – we debated whether we would fit and in the end decided we were just too big).
We were back on the Rambla ready to go at the appropriate time. After popping back into the office we were back in the truck following our fixer in a car towards the port.
Once at the port we had to have our photos taken and get a security pass for the port.
After having the Beast weighed we had a customs inspection. This involved our fixer talking to the customs official for a couple of minutes and persuading him that he didn’t actually need to take a look to which he eventually agreed.
We then drove through the port to a muddy lot which was the holding area for all the vehicles going on RORO. Here we had to leave our lovely home and wave goodbye, crossing our fingers that in 4 weeks time we would be picking the Beast up undamaged thousands of km’s away in Europe.
The fixer dropped us back at the MHSA office where it was easy enough to get a taxi to the hotel we had booked for the night.
Alejandra gave us some contact details for Grimaldi in Antwerp who we needed to talk to before our ship arrived in order to arrange payment and pickup.Grimaldi Belgium NV (Antwerp) Brouwersvliet 37 2000 Antwerp Belgium +32 3545 9430 +32 3541 4275 firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Colonia is a beautiful city in the South West of Uruguay. It is one of the oldest cities in the country and was established in 1680 as a walled town. The city itself changed hands between the Spanish and the Portuguese before finally coming to rest as part of Uruguay in 1828.
The old part of the city has been designated as a World Heritage Site. It seems sometimes that most of the places we go are Unesco designated some seemingly without too much merit. However Colonia was truly deserving as a beautiful old colonial city.
We found a quiet campsite just outside the city which we could use to easily cycle into the centre and also sort our camper out before taking it for shipping back to Europe.
We did take a small trip in the truck to the massive bull ring in Colonia – the Plaza de Toros Real de San Carlos. This was built in 1910 to host bull fights but unfortunately the Uruguayan government outlawed bull fighting 2 years later so it became a white elephant and is now crumbling and derelict.
This was to be our last few days of camper living, BBQing and enjoying the sun. We took the opportunity to buy some great steaks from a local butcher and our last grill of the trip turned out to be one of the best meals that we’d had in our two years on the road.
I don’t quite know how we’re going to the go back to European beef when we go home after having such amazing steak while we’ve been in South America.
We cycled into town which was only 10 minutes away and enjoyed the old walled town and the small but beautiful historic area. The Chivito sandwich is the traditional dish from this part of the world and we couldn’t resist visiting a restaurant which served the “King Chivito” and very tasty it was too.
The town itself is very leafy and feels quite European. Throughout the town there are a number of vintage cars that are parked up as features and even a few that work !
The downside of this part of Uruguay at this time of year is the large amount of mosquitos that were around seemingly all day (in the shade) and at dusk. After stitching some holes in the old faithful mosquito net up it went once again to provide us with some relief.
We did find a cool preying mantis under our truck – we were hoping he’d eat mosquitoes for us but I’m not sure they do that.
While we were in Colonia we had to get the truck ready for shipping. So we spent part of the week emptying out our cupboards and lockers to throw away all the useless things that we had collected over the last 2 years. We also dumped some things that were at the end of their useful lives such as some clothes and our long suffering BBQ. Our bicycles and remaining food went to the very friendly campsite owners but we did manage to drink all our remaining booze.
After a few relaxing days in Santa Teresa we continued our journey South knowing that we had to be in Montevideo in a couple of weeks as we had organised shipping for the Beast back to Europe.
Driving down the coastal road was a joy with a good road surface and almost no traffic. We stopped at a town called La Paloma.
The town is really the first proper Uruguayan town that we had come across with a supermarket and thankfully the first ATM that we could get to work. There’s also a big lighthouse in town which we couldn’t resist climbing with some lovely views along the coast.
Just outside town situated on a long deserted beach is a huge campsite which has capacity for well over 1000 people. We stayed here a few nights and had the place to ourselves with a lovely shaded site on grass.
The weather in Uruguay was treating us really well with almost unbroken sunshine, unseasonably warm temperatures all coupled with beautiful long sandy deserted beaches.
Our next stop after La Paloma was to move south to the famous resort of Punta del Este. This is an upscale resort which is frequented by the rich and famous of both Uruguay and Argentina. However its only busy for a couple of months a year and the rest of year is off season. Walking around town it felt like we’d missed the zombie apocalypse as the streets were completely empty. We decided to move on straight away as it was too built up for our liking.
Punta del Este is the South most point of the ocean coast but we continued to move towards Montevideo along the coast of the estuary of the Rio de la Plata. We stopped for the night in Piriapolis a coastal resort whose glory days are long behind it.
The centrepiece of the town is the Hotel Argentino which was a post-war gin palace frequented by the monied from Buenos Aires. After a night in an empty campground – well empty apart from swarms of very hungry mosquitos we moved on the very beautiful old fortified town of Colonia.
Our first stop off in Uruguay was just over the border at the small seaside town of Barra del Chuy. We found a massive campsite with over 500 pitches which was completely deserted. This was to become a theme in coastal Uruguay during our visit.
It seems that Uruguay has a three month summer season of December to February and outside of that there is no one around.
The beach at Barra del Chuy was big and empty but we didn’t stick around too long to enjoy it.
Just 25km down the coast is the Santa Teresa National Park which was set up to protect a fortress which was constructed in 1762 by the Portuguese. The park is not just about the fortress though as there are a number of big wild beaches in the park as well.
For overlanders Santa Teresa is a wonderful place as there are hundreds of camping spots in shaded woodland. There is even a section between the fortress and the beach which has power and water for which there is a small charge. There are many other free camping spots throughout the park which are free and provide lovely shaded sites.
The area where we camped had two other overlanders and a couple of Brasilian groups. However it’s a big area so we didn’t feel crowded. It’s a really beautiful and relaxed place to spend a few days, however we were there out of season and things may be very different during the high season.
In the massive park there are a number of beautiful beaches and some great surfing and if that’s not enough there is an ornamental garden and a small wildlife park with some amazing coloured birds as well as some of the indigenous mammals.
While staying at Santa Teresa we also visited Laguna Negra and Punta del Diablo which is a laid back beach town just outside the park. It was deserted although we did find a small supermarket to stock up our fridge with some great steaks for grilling. Preferring the peaceful beachside campsites in the National Park we decided to head back there and chill out, although it looked like there may have been some great free camping in the dunes to the South of the town.
As we’d been driving down the coast and because we wanted to visit the Northern beaches in Uruguay the quiet border at Chui (the Brasilian spelling) or Chuy (the Uruguayan spelling) was our best choice. The road to the border in Brasil branches at Pelotas with most of the trucks heading the opposite way – this meant that we found the border at Chui to be quiet and relaxed.
As with all of the borders in South America we found the crossing quick and easy. The people we came across were friendly and efficient.
We first arrived at the Brasilian border post where we were directed to park just off the road (albeit blocking another loop of the road) a few metres before the border building.
The building itself was very organised with numbered signs above each window indicating the order of the steps to be taken. As usual the immigration was first up followed by customs. The process went quickly and smoothly although the woman at customs did want to check the VIN (identification) number of the truck.
Once through the Brasilian side we continued along the road which forks to the town of Chui or to Uruguay.
The town of Chui is slightly strange as it crosses the border with the main street marking the split between the two countries with signs in Portuguese on one side and Spanish on the other and of course the shops on one side of the street price everything in Reals and the other in Pesos!
We took the fork in the road to the border and soon came across the border building where there is a big concrete construction built over the road. We were flagged down (by a bloke in plain clothes who we were initially quite suspicious of!) and directed to park just in front of the concrete construction and hopped out of the truck to visit the building on the right.
We were quickly stamped in at immigration and then moved to the customs table where the ‘suspicious looking’ man who had flagged us down processed us and turned out to be the chief official! He was very friendly and filled in the forms to give us a Temporary Import Permit.
He wanted to come out and check out the truck and we initially thought this was going to be a food inspection and that we might lose some of our stores. Other people have had food inspections coming into Uruguay (at other borders) and these have been quite strict. However it turned out that the customs guy was thinking about buying a motorhome and just wanted a look inside!
After this we were done and drove off. We were hoping that the road would lead to the town because we needed some money from an ATM. However the highway just headed South so we turned around – back down the highway, past the border and back into the town.
We didn’t have any luck getting money on the Uruguayan side of the town as the only cashpoint we could find didn’t accept foreign cards. Not to be thwarted, we crossed over to the Brasilian side where there were several banks doling out Brasilian Reals, filled up our wallets and crossed back over the street to one of the hundreds of moneychangers and finally, in a roundabout way, we managed to get our hands on some Pesos.