11 months in and I finally made the ferry crossing from Buenos Aires to my last stop on two wheels: Uruguay. But alas it didn’t feel like a triumphant final voyage I’d hoped but rather a pleasant footnote to my journey through South America. The Italians have an phrase cavioli riscaldati (reheated cabbage) for when you try to reignite a romance with a former flame. Suffice to say the cabbage never tastes quite as good after a minute in the microwave. When I put foot to pedal in Colonia – the appropriately named colonial port town across from Buenos Aires – I felt contented and happy, but after the emotional arrival to Ushuaia and the sense of urgency of my hitchhiking trip, I found it impossible to get excited about cycling again. It was one ending too many; the cycling equivalent of that hobbit orgy at the end of Return of the King. Hard to believe but it turns out that after 10 1/2 months cycling the length of a continent, the prospect of a leisurely cycling holiday through swelteringly hot flatlands isn’t so inticing. That’s not to say that I had a bad time in Uruguay. Far from it. But all the best times were off the bike.
And so after a couple of days of rest I hit the road. I was planning to do at least a week of cycling, venturing into the centre of the country before looping round and entering Montevideo along the scenic Ramblas coastal road to the east. Some cyclist friends told me of how friendly and hospitable the Uruguayans are in the small, rural villages away from the touristy beach resorts. I hoped to see this less travelled side of the country and spend time with the farmers and gauchos.
But within an hour of cycling in the broiling heat down the flat country roads I realised my heart wasn’t in it. I couldn’t bring myself to do any more cycling than was absolutely necessary. The landscape was blandly beautiful but nothing new, like Tuscany only without the hills, the cypress trees and all the other things that make Tuscany memorable. The idea of cycling an extra 300-400km detour through these landscapes in the vague hope of meeting some friendly locals just wasn’t incentive enough. I cut straight east to loop around Montevideo as quickly as possible.
5 years prior I’d sworn to visit Montevideo if I survived that fateful ride along the treacherous lakeside road in Northern Italy. Now here I was, a mere 50km from my destination. Yet I felt listless and uninspired. I don’t really believe in fate and I started to question my reasoning for coming to Montevideo in the first place. What was the point? Was it just some romanticised bollocks to make the trip seem more interesting? Then I realised I couldn’t end my trip like that. If I arrived feeling miserable I’d have a bad time. So I decided to pretend that it was all happening for a reason and I’d find some great sense of meaning and purpose in Montevideo. YEAH! FORCED FUN!
Uruguay’s an island of progressiveness and tranquility amid the sea of dictators and economic collapse that stain much of South America’s modern history. Weed is legal, no-one really bothers getting married, crime is low and the economy is the most stable on the continent. My friend Gabriel affectionately called it “the country of parrillas (BBQs) not guerrillas” and I got the feeling that if the rest of the world got eviscerated in a nuclear apocalypse, Uruguay would somehow keep trotting along as if nothing had happened, the people blithely munching steaks and biscochos while the rest of the world burned.
Now I’ve just got to sell this bloody bike.
Tunes: Jeff Rosenstock – Post-, Minutemen – Double Nickel On The Dime, Against Me! – Searching for a Former Clarity, Alkaline Trio – From Here to Infirmary
Reads: Fire and Fury – Michael Wolff, Lonesome Traveller – Jack Kerouac, The Underground Railroad – Colston Whitehead