Minas, a small town of 40’000 inhabitants, sits along the national route number 8. This is an inland road, connecting the coastal capital Montevideo to the Brazilian border in the north. Located 120 km from the capital, Minas is a laid back place, where locals hang out in restaurants around the two main parks, the Plaza Libertad and the Plaza Rivera. Upon arrival by bus from Montevideo, I boarded the shuttle to the campground Arequita (bus runs out there at 10:15h, 14:15h – except on Sat&Sun: 15:15h – and 19:30h).
I figured out that I had a lot of new freedom, becaus I own my new Russian tent. Not worried about whether there is accommodation in town, I know in advance that I will have at least a proper rest for the night in my sleeping bag and in a tent. The campground in Minas is located next to the Cerro Arequita, which is a volcanic hill of about 230m height. It features a large cave, which I visited on the day of the arrival. A bit tired, I did not actually climb the hill, a thing which I did regret later on, because the sunset was spectacular. I guess that the views from the top of Cerro Arequita must have been great.
A bit further north lies the Salto del Penitente, which is a waterfall of about 50 meters high. The pool at the bottom of the waterfall provided a welcome refreshment for me and some locals. I had to hitch both ways, but this wasn’t really of a problem since this is a popular spot among people from Minas. Another sight is the Santuario de la Virgen del Verdún, which is a shrine sitting on a small hill about 5km from the town center. Every April, about 60’000 pilgrims visit this place, which – I’m being told – is the most important religious place of Uruguay. Back into the city, I went to the Cerro Artigas, which features a giant statue of a horse-rider and a decent view of the town.
Minas is located in the district of Lavalleja. It has a lot of other interesting sights to offer, which I was not able to visit, due to my short stay and lack of own transportation: Solís de Mataojo (small picturesque town), Parque de Vacaciones UTE – ANTEL (park founded in 1947 containing exotic plants and a small beach resort at the river banks) and Parque Salus (mineral water springs and a large forest) are all located south of Minas. On the north would be the Villa Serana (European style villa built in 1945, in a beautiful surrounding next to a dam – Ventorrillo de la Buena Vista – which is a fishing paradise).
Getting a bus north to the town of Trenta y Treis wasn’t much of a problem. It is well connected with Minas and there is a choice of daily buses. This allowed me to arrive early in the morning in Trenta y Treis, visit a bit the town and then leave the same day to the next town en route: Melo. This said, I just had time to visit the downtown area of Trenta y Treis. There, a giant monument in the town center commemorates the historical event of 33 men who exiled from Argentina to secretly land in Uruguay and fight for national independence. This happened on April 19, 1825. Obviously, many, many, many streets in Uruguay carry that particular date in their name.
Probably, I should have stayed longer in Trenta y Treis, in respect of the many other sights this town has to offer. But I already had bought the onward ticket to Melo upon arrival at the bus terminal, since I was eager to keep going. Therefore, I arrived a couple of hours later in my next destination. Melo was the first town where I could not get hold of a tourist information office. But people in the bus terminal were very helpful. They pointed me to a small hotel, where an old lady was telling me in Spanish that I was the first Swiss to visit her place. Since I know that hotels sometimes dub as brothels in this part of the continent, I wasn’t sure whether her remark was referring to me as a tourist or as a customer.
Anyway, the lady made very clear – from the start – that I had to decide whether to stay in my room or to visit the city. She kept the only key to the house gate like a hen and was not be willing to open the gate every half hour or so for me. So I decided to visit the town, which was nice enough to keep me busy for a while.
When I came back after dinner, the old lady was very relieved to learn that I did not need her key services anymore. It was almost as if she pushed me back into my room and made sure that I would not leave it until next morning: She explained to me every possible button on the television remote control in my room and put a strong emphasis on the fact that many shows were broadcast in English.
Oh yes, I got a telly in my room! Haven’t watched for a long time. Coming at 7 US$, this hotel was about half price of what a dorm bed would set me back in any hostel in tourist places in Uruguay. I didn’t mind the grumpy old lady of the house. I actually should have stayed more than one night here – just to catch up with all the soap operas…
So I left again a small town after just one night. But I seriously wanted to cover as much as possible of the Uruguayan Hinterland. I was enjoying this part of the country, a bit raw and unpolished – but honest and authentic. It’s a complete contrast to the glitzy tourist cities along the sea shores, which are not really that much different of any beach city in Europe. People in the pampas are as curious about me as I am curious about them. The walls of their houses sometimes crumble, but they try to keep everything as tidy as possible inside and outside their home. Their cars are very old with huge trunks – making me wonder what on earth would be transported inside. Oh, this is really the kind of world I like. You see me smiling in the sunshine a lot.
Well, the city of Rivera, sitting on the border with Brazil would be my next destination. Not knowing the possible transport options from there, I was absolutely open about what to do once I would arrive: Going to (expensive) Brazil and its superb beaches near Florianopolis – or staying in the Uruguayan pampas. Which means a tough decision to take in my next blog report…