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  • Writer's pictureMarion Marquardt

From Buenos Aires to Montevideo and first lessons in South America - Tranquilidad, paciencia, mañana

Updated: Nov 29, 2022

Buenos Aires - European city flair and first impressions of the Argentinian culture
World Heritage - Magical sunsets in the picturesque town of Colonia del Sacramento
Love at second sight - Montevideo's beautiful corners and beach walks
About customs and drug smuggling - patience is the key until we receive our expedition vehicle
A speed bump with consequences - German emigrants help us out of trouble

Finally - we've landed in Buenos Aires. The journey there was not without its thrills. Both flights almost slip through our fingers. We barely miss our departure in Frankfurt because a train from Stuttgart is cancelled. And the connection from Houston, USA, is also calculated extremely tight. As transit is treated like an entry into the USA, we go through the complete entry procedure. Accordingly, like all other passengers, we must queue at US Border Protection. And there is no understanding for connecting flights or boarding. With 2 out of 25 occupied counters, the waiting time can be long.

Whatever, we've arrived! After more than 24 hours on en route, we want to treat ourselves with a taxi to our centrally located hotel. We'll get ripped off first. It's our own fault, because it was written everywhere that you should have the fare calculated in advance at the official counter, so that the taxi drivers can't charge arbitrarily. Well, a little shock is probably part of it. We plan to stay in Buenos Aires for 3 nights. At least that's how long it will take for our container partners Joachim and Resi, with whom our car is in a container, to arrive. After a short rest from the long journey we start our exploration tour through the big city the next day. "Cambio, cambio" (in English "money exchange") is unmistakably called everywhere. Only in hindsight we understand what is behind it. Argentinians are trying to get their hands on US dollars due to high inflation and are trading at a rate almost twice the official exchange rate. They have to do it this way because the state strictly regulates the exchange of domestic currency into foreign one. In addition to the official rate, there is the so-called "Blue Market rate". Kind of stupid if you withdraw Argentine pesos from the ATM. The capital is not exactly cheap at this rate. But with a different exchange rate, the (Argentinian) world looks different :-) Unfortunately, we don't have enough USD in our luggage...

Buenos Aires Michael Marquardt
Marion with heavy luggage in Buenos Aires

In our opinion, there is not much to discover in Buenos Aires. Still, we have a few neighborhoods that we want to see on the list. And then we need local SIM cards. The latter turns out to be a lot more complex than expected; you can buy prepaid cards at every corner or every "kiosco", but the activation as a foreigner is not that easy. We are literally sent from Pontius to Pilatus and feel like Asterix in the house that sends you mad. The whole thing doubles because we deliberately chose two different providers to optimize our network coverage :-)

By the way, we come to San Telmo, a lively, central district. The market hall tempts with local specialties such as Argentinian coffee and dulce de leche (a spread made from milk, sugar and vanilla) as well as international cuisine. Just around the corner, at Plaza Dorrego, we discover what in everyone's mind immediately appears when thinking of Argentina – tango dancer. The fiery couple is dancing across the square to loud music, so clichéd and yet absolutely impressive. The next day we want to visit Palermo, another beautiful district. Unfortunately, most of the day we spend on our mobile phone issues, so we only get there in the evening. The houses there are colorful, we discover hip shops and an incredible variety of restaurants.

Tango dancer in San Telmo at Plaza Dorrego Buenos Aires Argentinien Südamerika big city Highlights dancing
Tango dancer in San Telmo at Plaza Dorrego

The next day we leave for Uruguay. We've seen enough of Buenos Aires. It is only 1.5 hours by ferry to Colonia del Sacramento. We definitely wanted to see the oldest city in Uruguay and a World Heritage Site. Now it is also conveniently located on our way to Montevideo, where we want to pick up our car on Monday. We have fantastic spring weather with a sunny 20 degrees. Colonia is quite small, so we can easily explore the city by foot. However, our first stop after leaving the luggage at our accommodation is a mobile phone shop. Micha's roaming fails at the first border crossing. The friendly employee in the shop explains to us that roaming is never included with prepaid cards. Of course nobody told us that in Argentina and it was not really possible to research it. Long story short, now we both have a Uruguayan mobile phone contract with roaming throughout the Americas and decent data for a fantastic price! The all-round carefree package. This is the first experience in Uruguay and it repeats itself. The people are very helpful, openminded and totally relaxed. Everywhere you see people just sitting in the sun, drinking mate tea. We look for a nice café and enjoy the sunny afternoon. Finally we explore the old town, at the perfect time for photographs. A picturesque setting.

The picturesque streets of Colonia del Sacramento
The picturesque streets of Colonia del Sacramento

For dinner, we're tempted by the chivitos, which are available everywhere - a sandwich with a slice of meat, cheese, tomatoes, mayonnaise and a fried egg. Fast food isn't really our thing, but of course we don't want to miss out on Uruguay's national dish. And what can I say, it tastes great - even better with fries and Uruguayan red wine. The next day, after a late breakfast, we explore other parts of the city. We stroll along the beach walk and enjoy the warm spring sun. It's Saturday and the Uruguayans are romping around on the beach, in the parks or just on the side of the road, typically with a cup of mate tea in hand and often barbecuing at the "Asado". A very relaxed folk it seems. And for us the complete opposite to the hectic vibes of Buenos Aires.

colonia letras strand beach sacramento uruguay playa
The beach walk of ...

Palms in the evening light at the beach of Colonia del Sacramento Uruguay Must See Highlights Top Tips
Palms in the evening light, at the beach of Colonia

After a long walk we enjoy the sunset in the old town, together with countless other people. A veritable sunset tourism takes place here. And understandable - the place is very similar to Key West in Florida. An absolutely magical view.

Sunset Extreme in Colonia Del Sacramento Must See Uruguay Top Tips Hihghlights
Sunset Extreme in Colonia

The next afternoon we continue to Montevideo, because on Monday morning at 10 a.m. we have an appointment with our agent Edoardo to pick up our car. In the evening before we meet our container partners, who have now arrived with a little delay. We meet on time at Edoardo's office. Documents are diligently copied until we find out that we still need a so-called Certificado de Llegada. We shall get that at the registration office around the corner. There is a queue in front of it that goes out onto the street... that might take a while. It's not entirely clear to us what order or logic is being used here, it seems rather random and quite confusing. After almost 3 hours we finally have the document in our hands. We are eager to see what happens now. After all, we still want to do food shopping today, fill up gas and drive to a first campsite just outside of Montevideo. We proudly present the document in Edoardo's office when we learn that customs have blocked our container. We're a bit surprised. Wasn't that known beforehand? And after all, the ship has been in port for a week... Customs is apparently doing random checks because of the smuggling of synthetic drugs from Europe - congratulations! Drugs were found on our ship. So we got lucky. What can we do now, we ask? Waiting is the answer. And nobody can tell us when we can open the container. Tomorrow, the day after tomorrow... We learn the most important words in Uruguay "Tranquilidad, paciencia, mañana", which means calm, patience, tomorrow :-)

So we'll stay in Montevideo for one more night. The city didn't exactly convince us when we arrived on Sunday, but what is the alternative? The weather is beautiful, a sunny spring day is waiting for us. First we stroll to the market hall at the port. Here too, as in Buenos Aires, we are seduced by the smell of grilling and many national delicacies. We opt for cappuccino and a torta alfajor (editor's note: a layered cake with dulce de leche). Then we stroll along the beach promenade. The later the afternoon, the more people are out and about drinking mate tea, skateboarding or fishing. We spontaneously decide to go jogging after so many days in cramped hotel rooms. That feels so good! And the beach promenade is very nice. From time to time there are small sandy beaches, green parks, a skate park - it's bearable here.

Skatepark at the Ramblas of Montevideo Highlights Uruguay MustSee Top Tips
Skatepark at the Ramblas of Montevideo

Also on Tuesday we have the whole day to explore Montevideo. We walk a little further along the beach promenade to the pretty district of Pocito. Great at these temperatures. At the end of the day we get a message from Edoardo that we will meet at his office tomorrow at 2pm to go to the port together. That sounds promising. We cautiously hope to get our car. And that's how it happens. After short waiting, our container is unloaded and we can open it. Everything seems fine. By the way, there are no customs or police officers to check anything. This was done in advance using X-ray technology. As a reward for patiently waiting, we are charged port dues for over a week of container storage. Well, arguing doesn't help anyway. We are glad that we have received our car and can drive off.

Montevideo Hafen Eduardo Kessler Verschiffung Expeditionsmobil Container
The boss takes care of unlaoding from the container

After refueling, we first stop at a large supermarket to stock up on supplies. And that's where we are again caught by surprise. We know from numerous restaurant visits that Uruguay is expensive, but food shopping exceeds all expectations. Even in Switzerland we would have gotten a better shopping basket. Everything but cheese, wine, meat and (non-exotic) vegetables - meaning everything that has to be imported - is practically not affordable. Just a few examples: Lindt chocolate (300g) 20 euros, ordinary shampoo from 10 euros, potato chips from 5 euros.... Let's give up a few habits. As a compensation we stock up on mate tea and dulce di lece - a bit of local culture is a must :-).

We continue our way to TerraVentura, a popular campsite for overlanders, run by Germans. It's already dark now. The roads are really okay for South American standards, but navigation is not that easy. When we finally arrive, we find that our rear box, which we mounted on the bike rack, has ripped off. Oh my god! That must have been the speed bump that Micha hit at full speed. Luckily we had the box additionally secured with ropes. That could have ended badly... And thank God the guys from TerraVentura also have a car repair shop. This could be our luck. We talk to Felix the next morning and he can mount the box directly on the back wall for us the following day. Phew! We use the waiting time to stow all our luggage and make a few minor interior repairs.

TerraVentura UY Storage viva la familia Montevideo Uruguay
The guys from TerraVentura quickly fixed our rear box issue

Now the aventure can finally start! We are very excited to see what Uruguay has to offer outside of the cities.

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