March 16, 2006 GMT
Meat Pies

The River Plate is rather brown and big - the ordinary ferry takes three hours to do the direct crossing to Colonia in Uruguay, and the Seacat takes an hour (which is what I did); the Argentinians think the Seacat is very expensive, but an hour's crossing for less than 40 quid isn't half bad by European standards.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect in Uruguay, but my first impressions are good (empty) roads and signs, and friendliness. The driving is very polite (even by European standards), and there's a phone number displayed to ring for free breakdown help.

The countryside is almost classic rolling English, with the exception of palm trees and other large ferny-type shrubbery.

The first toll stop I arrived at had no signs to say bikes were free or showing a go-round (as is often the case in other countries); so as I approached the booth the woman waved me back. By that time it was too late. A fierce policeman came over.

"You have to go back and around the side."
"I can't. The road is covered in diesel and the bike is very heavy."
"No, you must go back."
So I sit down on the kerb.
"Look, I can't unless you help me. I'm happy to pay the toll if that makes things easier."
"No, bikes are free, you can't pay the toll. You must go back."

This went on for a bit, but finally they all agreed that I could pay the toll and go through the barrier instead. Well, U$2 instead of trying to push the bike backwards on a puddle of diesel and then threading through a bypass about an inch wider than my crashbars seemed a good deal to me.

I stayed in Fray Bentos last night after having a look at the old British-owned meat packing plant, which in its time was the largest in the world. No-one in this part of the world understands why British people of a certain age want to go there for a look. It's a bit difficult to explain about the post-war shortages and that we all grew
up with Fray Bentos corned beef and tinned steak-and-kidney pies (almost my staple diet as a student).

Fray Bentos itself is a very small, delightful town, but rather sidelined now even with the (currently blockaded) international bridge across the Rio Uruguay to Argentina as the bridge is at the end of a separate road spur and the town is bypassed.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at March 16, 2006 08:01 PM GMT

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