Monday, January 20, 2014

Expatriating, The Nomadic Way: Uruguay to Patagonia

article from December 29, 2010
The continuing saga of how we got to where we are
By Jamie Douglas

We arrived in Colonia del Sacramento after a quick and uneventful crossing of the Río de la Plata from Buenos Aires. As we moved away from the metropolis, we watched the brown haze disappear on the horizon behind us. I am glad we did not add too much of that to our lungs!

Known simply as Colonia, this city’s Barrio Histórico is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it was immaculately maintained, with many of the buildings painted in various shades of pastels, and most of the cobblestone streets were traffic free. There were several museums, and for a small fee, you could get a ticket that would allow you to visit all of them over a few days time, which we did. From a photographer’s point of view, it was really fabulous. We enjoyed excellent meals, tried the Uruguayan Tannat, sipped local artisan beers at the riverfront, and found that the laid-back reputation we had heard about Uruguay was true.

But after a few days, it was time to head on in our quest to find a place to live for a while. First, we went to Nueva Helvecia, also known, Colonia Suiza, where the early Swiss immigrants started a thriving dairy industry, which today makes cheeses that rival any coming from Europe. The bus ride from Colonia was a very congenial affair, taking us through lovely farming countryside right to the town’s central plaza. We marveled at the colossal monument to the early Swiss settlers (designed by an Italian), but because that was about all there was to see, we realized that this town was way too tranquil for us.

Next, we headed off to Montevideo, which has one of the most buzzing bus terminals I have ever seen, with a fine restaurant that served us world-class meals, at travelers’ prices, y muy pronto. An hour later, we were on our way to Rocha, where the plan was to hit the beach the following day, but once again, the plan changed en route, and we went straight to La Paloma that same evening.

La Paloma is a vacation town, designed as such by an architect with wide boulevards and streets named after classical Greco-Roman deities. Lo and behold, the day after our arrival, we found a vacation house for US$80 per month at the intersection of Eros and Adonis, in the shadow of the lighthouse. The casco viejo, where we lived, was virtually abandoned, but it was not far to walk to the center of town, where a few stores and businesses stay open in the off-season. We were practically on the beach, where we encountered Magellanic penguins, and an occasional sea lion. The rock formations that make the cape so dangerous for ships are absolutely amazing.

For the most part, during our nearly seven months there, it was cold and sometimes extremely windy. Our roof was secured with 100-kilo boulders, so they were obviously used to the wind. As the summertime tourist season neared, we started looking for a place to rent year round, but nobody was interested. All of the houses are rented out by the day or the week. In the end, we were forced to move to Rocha, where we rented a house from a friend who worked in La Paloma and had relatives she could stay with for the season.

We got to see all of the funky little beach towns between La Paloma and Chuy, Brazil – La Padrera, Cabo Polonia, Punta del Diablo – and we also took a trip inland to Minas, in “the mountains,” and, of course, we spent some quality time in Montevideo. But after almost nine months in Uruguay, we heard the real mountains calling us back. So we packed our meager belongings and hopped on a bus to Montevideo, ate at our favorite bus terminal restaurant one more time, then rode an overnight bus to Córdoba, Argentina. This city’s architecture, history, and culture are so interesting that there will be a separate article to come.

Another overnight bus ride took us to San Rafael in the wine country of Mendoza Province, and yet another all the way to El Bolsón, in Patagonia. And thanks to our friend Miguel at Don Celestino Cabañas, whom we had met the previous year, we found our proverbial paradise: a relatively new house on an isolated farm in a valley within a valley, with a lovely family that took us in like long-lost relatives. We now have a garden, a view onto snow-capped mountains, fruit orchards, dogs, cats, chickens, and peace of mind. We are here now, feel at home and are enjoying ourselves, but we are also aware that we are nomads, and that the world is round, and we are also acutely aware of how big South America is, and how little of it we have really experienced. To see it is one thing, to live it is another. Someone once said: “A tourist knows where he is going; a traveler knows where he’s been!” And to that I add, “A nomad never knows what the hell tomorrow brings!”

Live your life, because you never know what the hell tomorrow brings!
Jamie Douglas
Patagonia

[All photos by Jamie Douglas]

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.