Three countries in one day
Saying goodbye to Paraguay was hard. It had thrown us some curve-balls, like falling off and losing a bag, but had supplied some amazing roads and friendly locals.
So it was with mixed feelings that we set out over the bridge which separates Paraguay and Argentina, through which we would pedal to Salto in Uruguay.
It has to be admitted that sometimes, for no reason whatsoever, being on the bike is rubbish. I usually struggle on the first day back after a break, as although the legs quickly get back into rhythm my head takes longer to.
I found the first day in Argentina tough. The border crossing was slowed down by having to push our bikes across the bridge; Paddy’s bike had puncture problems; we struggled to get cash and there was no accommodation in San Jose where we had planned to overnight, so we had to cycle on further. Nothing major, but frustrating.
Fortunately, the next day the blues had passed and we started on an amazing road which meandered along the Rio Uruguay. There was no hard shoulder, but for much of the route to Paso de los Libres it didn’t matter as we had the road to ourselves.
We cycled past tea plantations around San Tome, watched cows grazing in flooded marshlands and raced along the flat plains past Alvers, passing our 3,000km mark in the progress. The cycling was fun and we stayed in colonial towns with great bakeries.
Heading towards Paso de los Libres we were flagged down by Juan, an avid cyclist, who invited us to stay with him and his wife Noemi. Warning that the road into town wasn’t the safest for cyclists, he provided us with an escort and 100km into the day we found ourselves racing behind his Alfa Romeo.
We had a lovely evening chatting with them and their friends from the local cycling club. It was a great opportunity to practice our Spanish, which improved significantly after a few glasses of Argentinian wine.
The next morning they helped us in our quest to reach Bella Union in Uruguay, which would see us need to cycle three countries in one day. To reach Brazil from Argentina, however, we would need to be driven across the border as cycling wasn’t allowed. Feeling slightly like we were cheating we bundled our bikes into the back of Juan’s pickup and headed over.
On realising how strong a headwind we were facing we thought about persuading them to drive us all the way to Uruguay. Instead we hopped out on the edge of Uruguaiana (Brazil) and set out to cycle to the southern most town in Brazil and thereafter Uruguay by dark.
The route took in the east coast of the Rio Uruguay and climbed over rolling hills. The sleepy border town appeared from nowhere and we dealt only with the Uruguyan officials, there being no border control on the Brazillian side.
Now in our third country of the day, we headed into the small town of Bella Union where we drew great attention from the kids on school holiday. Our bare knees in shorts made us stand out even more than usual with everybody else wrapped up against the winter cold.
We left early the next morning, having spent the previous evening watching the opening of the Copa America football cup. Argentina had only managed to draw against Bolivia and we could imagine the despair across the river, as there had been much expectation for the hosts.
From Bella Union we were heading next to Salto to meet our couchsurfing host, Andrea, and to recieve Paddy’s longed for replacement clothes, so there was much incentive to push on. Unfortunately, the wind which flew up from the Antarctic had other ideas and we spent two days with our heads down battling gusts that tried to take us off the road.
It became obvious we would have to camp along the road as there were no towns or services directly on it. Fortunately there were some hidden spots and we pitched up for a chilly night in a wood block, waking to find frost on the tent before the final push to Salto.
Our stay in Salto has been delayed due to DHL’s bizarre way of doing business, and we’re still waiting to recieve Paddy’s bag. Fortunately, Salto is a good place to be stranded and we have enjoyed wandering along the riverfront and relaxing at the thermal baths.
Fingers crossed we’ll be on the move soon heading to southern Uruguay. From there we visit Buenos Aires and have a longer stay in Argentina, where we plan to try out more of the wine.