Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Montevideo, Uruguay, Mile 1,210, December 15, 2010

Greetings from Montevideo, Uruguay`s pleasant capital city.  Also Uruguay`s only city...

I rode in today 64 miles from Piriapolis.  Piriapolis is almost due east of Montevideo, so I was no longer riding south, but east, with, of course, variations along the way.  Punta del Este is actually the absolutely southernmost point in Uruguay, and Montevideo is a few miles north of PDE.  As has been occurring with dreadful regularity this week, the wind was not my friend today.

Heading out from Piriapolis, I rode along the coast for about nine miles.  First I went east, then I turned north to meet up with the main highway.  Today´s wind was blowing strongly (surprise) out of the north north east.  As soon as I turned north, I got it right in my face.  I rode along a few more miles, and got on to Uruguay 99, which is the freeway (only it´s not free, you have to pay) to Punta del Este, turned east, rode a few miles, and got on to Uruguay 1, an excellent four lane freeway that runs to Montevideo.  Since I was riding east north east, basically, I got the wind obliquely in the face for the next 40 miles.

I moved along, averaging about 9 MPH, and stopped frequently for drinks; to my great happiness, Gatorade is now available almost everywhere (It was not three years ago.) and is the same price as in the US.  I consumed mass quantities.  It was very warm, and the sun was burning (It is less than a week from the southern hemisphere summer solstice) so I slathered this thermo-nuclear stick of sun block that I bought in La Paloma all over my face and right knee.  It looked like I had leprosy, and the sun burned right through it anyway.  The right side (north facing side) of my face is extremely burned right now.  Had I NOT had this stuff on my face, I think I would dangerously burned right now.  Getting it OFF my face was an operation which used up an entire bar of soap when I took a shower at my hotel this evening.

As I rode along, I encountered numerous little beach towns, Atlantida and Parque del Plata being the biggest of them.  As soon as I got on Route 1, I rode through a toll plaza, then crossed a bridge over a river and exited the Departamento of Maldonado, entering the Departamento of Canalones.  40 miles later, I exited Canalones and entered the Departamento of Montevideo.  Departamentos in Uruguay correspond, basically, to counties in the US or Municipios in Mexico.  There are no States; there is a national government and 19 "intendencias", which are the departamental governments.  Each Departamento has an elected "Intendente", who functions as a County Executive does in the States.  I am proud to say that, over the years, I have been to ALL 19 Departamentos, and all of them by bicycle.  I defy any of you to find another American (or Mexican, or anybody) who can say that.

At about 50 miles into the ride, very hot, burned and tired, I rode past the sign that said "Bienvenido Montevideo", and found myself on the Rambla Republica de Mexico.  Montevideo is surrounded by Ramblas, which are pretty boulevards that parallel the beach on both sides of the city.  At this point, I was really tired.  I rode past the Uruguayan Naval Academy, and the old Carrasco Casino, which appears to be being rebuilt from the inside out.  After a bit, I stopped to call a friend who lives in Montevideo, to inform him that I had arrived, talked to him for a bit, hung up, and nearly passed out.  Everything started to go a bit black, so I sat down abrubtly on a wall next to the phone booth, and just stayed there, in the shade, for about 15 minutes until I felt better.  I moved on down the Rambla another four or five miles, saw an ANCAP station (more on ANCAP in a moment), and decided now would be a good time for more Gatorade.  Darned if I did not almost pass out again, while in line to pay for it.  I got out of the store in a hurry, and went straight to a table outside and collapsed into the seat.  To put it mildly, the distance I rode today, combined with the wind, sun, and high temperature, does not seem to have been a recipe for good health.

Feeling better, I rode on, passed the fortress-like US Embassy, stopped at an ESSO station for yet more Gatorade (sans any further drama), and then turned right, rode up a hill, and found myself on Avenida 18 de Julio, Montevideo´s main street.  From 18 de Julio, I moved a block to my right, rode along, and encountered the Hotel Richmond.

Staying at the Hotel Richmond, in a sense, closes a circle.  On my very first long bike ride, in November of 2004, I stayed at this hotel on my first night in Montevideo, before starting out on the first day`s ride of my first bike trip.  Now, after the last day`s ride, on what has to be my last bike trip in Uruguay (There are literally no more places for me to go; no more roads to ride on.) I return.  To my surprise, they remembered me.  (I did not stay here in 2005 or 2007.)  To my disgust, the room that cost me $12 US in 2004 now costs $40, and yes the prices are quoted in Dollars.  I forked over $120 for three nights, and went in and collapsed for a while on the bed, followed by a long shower while I tried to get all the sun block off.  I eventually emerged, tried to use the hotel computer, which looks like it might be ten years old, and acts the same, and then hit the street.  I found a restaurant that claims to sell lasagna, so I may return there later for dinner.

I mentioned ANCAP above.  Like Mexico, like Brazil, Uruguay has a national petroleum company.  Unfortunately, Uruguay does not actually HAVE any petroleum, but, hey, why let minor details like that prevent you from having a nationalized oil company.  ANCAP imports crude oil, refines it, into many products (the second "A" in ANCAP stands for Asfalto.), and then sells it, both through its own service stations, and through distributors, which include ESSO (known to us as EXXON), and Petrobras.  ANCAP also sets a national price, so the price of gasoline is the same everywhere...about six bucks a gallon.  Petrobras does the same thing in Brazil, except Brazil does indeed have oil, and in boatloads, but Petrobras does not set a price, so pump prices vary, drastically.  I had not seen Petrobras stations in Uruguay before; they must be expanding.  If Brazil has half as much oil as they think they do, we will probably see Petrobras stations in the US someday.

Montevideo is a city of about 1.5 million people.  It is the capital of Uruguay, and is also the "capital" of MERCOSUR, so when there is a MERCOSUR meeting, the presidents of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay come here.  Montevideo did not get to be capital because of its innate greatness; it is capital because Brazil and Argentina cannot stomach the thought of the capital being in the other country.  The city is prosperous, and, generally, clean.  Lately the garbage collectors have been on strike, and the President had to order the Army into the streets to pick up trash. 

Tomorrow, I am going to take my bike to the Trek Store for a cleaning and tune up.  Other than that, I have no plans, just take it easy for a couple days.

I will right more, in a day or three.

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