A Slice of Nice // Uruguay

Uruguay, to the south of Brazil and northeast of Argentina, is a small country with some big powerful neighbors.  Like Switzerland in Europe, they have chosen strategically how to remain independent and have some of the freest political and labor conditions on the continent.  A slight country with 3.3 million inhabitants (12 million alone reside in São Paulo, Brazil), Uruguay as a nation is like a harbor in the great sea of South America- calm and welcoming.Colette loves her passport.  When we get near a border, she gets all bubbly and excited shouting “Oh, I want to hold my passport, I want to see it!  I want to hold it. Look at me when I was a baby, I was so chubby.  My hair is much longer now.  Where is this stamp from?  Will I get a new stamp here?”  Her rapid-fire questions and adoration of the blue book speak volumes.  She knows the magic it holds in allowing us to travel and see the world; knowing we have instilled an appreciation for this gift we have, makes us so very happy.  At nearly 4, Uruguay marks the 14th country that Colette has visited.

After some time on a well-traveled dirt road, we stopped for a stretch in the vast pampa that comprises most of the nation.  We laid Sierra on her blanket, and giggled as she kept purposely kicking the blanket out of the way until her feet would be in the grass.  She slowly delighted in this sensation, moving her foot in gentle motions over the undergrowth.  She cooed, she sighed, she gave us her approval of Uruguay. Entering a new country is an exhilarating experience.  Not like skydiving type of adrenaline rush, but one of the mind.  Everything you are looking at is new.   The gift of new eyes.  The 4th stream I saw in Uruguay… will I remember this?  Eyes scan near and far for things both familiar and new, taking in the smell of a place, the weight of the breeze- is it dry or humid, warm or cool?  Slight humidity, mostly warm and a hint of cool that inspires a deep breath but not a shiver.  What birds and bugs do you hear? The rustling of a bird in a tree, the far off chatter of a flock flying overhead.  Travel is a full body experience.  It is life.  Can we remember to engage all our beautiful senses more? Can we ask each of these gifts to be a little more present?  Certainly we can learn from our children.  Watching Sierra delight in the feeling of grass on her feet was something wonderful to witness, but also a lesson that can apply to our own adult lives.  Have you felt the grass lately?Like in Brazil, Uruguay also employs the balsa flotation boat instead of building a bridge in rural locations.  Colette is pretty charmed by these rides and truth be told, we are too!  A free, personal boat ride for us and our van? Yes please.  We use the GoWesty swing away system on the back of the van to carry a spare tire, extra gas and water.A bit strange to see this horse drawn carriage in front of an auto part store, but upon further inspection, it was a pet food store, painted in the style of racing logos.  Apparently the owner has a good sense of humor!Huge, heavy drops fell and the rain really started coming down.  Adam suddenly pulled off the highway “there’s a turtle trying to cross the road, it might get hit!”  So he hopped out in the wild storm and grabbed the amphibian for closer inspection.  This little buddy is a South American Snake-necked turtle. At the entrance to Santa Teresa National Park, the guard, not wanting to leave the dry comfort of his casita, waved us through, saying “mañana, mañana”.  After almost a month in Brazil speaking our broken Portuguese, to be back in a Spanish speaking country felt so easy and welcoming!

We drove to Playa Grande at the south end of the park and found a solitary loop to wild camp.  That first night in Uruguay was our wettest in our 2+ years on the road.  It was as if someone was spraying the side of the tent with a hose, the torrents of water coming in at 45 degrees with the wind howling.  For hours the rain blew at a gale that made us think Uruguay was going to get swallowed in all the water, but somewhere around sunrise, the storm began to relent and then slowly throughout the day, coughed and hiccupped the last of its violent temper.

We discovered a small leak from the roof near the air vent that dripped onto Emily’s pillow, which greedily absorbed the moisture, pulling it into the space foam mattress topper, which spread onto the sheets and flannel covered down blanket.   At least down still stays warm when wet.  Coco was warmly nestled downstairs and Sierra was between us two, so the kiddos were fine.  I mean we were fine too, but a little soggy.

We say we live more in the world than in our van because that is the truth.  Rainy days really remind us of this as we all stretch and scramble over each other in a 3’x4’ walking space. Finally the storm took a break and we all jumped out of the van to explore. When Colette was a few months old, our family nicknamed her “the ambassador of love & joy” a title which has stayed around.  We were wondering one day, what Sierra’s ‘title’ might be, but then- it was so easy- she too is an ambassador of love & joy!  Colette Nova & Sierra Luna: our Ambassadors of Love & Joy!

14 years is a long time to be together.  Adam & I have been many things to each other; we have seen the other change, develop new interests, friendships come and go, seen friends marry and divorce.  Our wild 20’s and a different kind of wild 30’s.  This wild trip as parents.  To watch Adam be a father to our two little girls is by far one of the most beautiful things I have witnessed.  To see the pleasure he takes in teaching our girls, the sweet snuggles they share, the high energy they exhaust playing together. Directly in front of our camp was a wave that caught some energy and formed into some nice sections.  Adam excitedly suited up in his Matuse suit and paddled out.  It is a joy he savors at every opportunity possible.  While Colette continues to grow physically, it is her mental growth that is astounding us these days.    Insights like “I am my cousin’s cousin” or using the word hilarious in the right context make us look at each other and giggle in delight.  These are not small accomplishments to us.

Coco does, however still get things confused.

“Poop & pee-pee and water mixed are porridge.” Colette proclaimed proudly one day.  “Ummm, nope sweetie, that is sewage.  Porridge is oatmeal or quinoa or other breakfast grains, we do not eat poop.”  “Oh, right!  Hahah, we don’t eat poopoo, we eat porridge.” (They are an oblique rhyme, but glad we cleared that one up.) Down the road from camp, there was a handsome playground, made entirely of wood.   We all climbed aboard the Coco Express and headed to her ‘garden.’  She led us to many different places as different areas grew different things (obviously).  In the tallest trees- the strawberries, in the low bushes we could find lettuce, in another area sweet potatoes.   Sierra gazes adoringly at Colette, her hero, carefully studying how she does everything.  Soon we will be in the throws of two adventuresses, but for now, we delight in the enchanted time we have with her as a little squishy lovekin. Inspired by all that pretend gardening, Colette was eager to help make dinner.  Her new favorite thing is using a knife.  Eek!  A little scary, but it is just a butter knife and well supervised.  I sat back and watched Colette cut the entire red bell pepper into pieces that were surprisingly consistent!  She was so proud & then excited to eat the chili we made over the coals from the open fire. The girls watched, enchanted as the flames danced.  “Mama, what are those fire sprinkles called?”
“Those are called sparks.”
“Oh, the sparks are going higher and higher and then they are gone!”
“Yes my love, that’s how it goes.”
There was no light pollution to compete with the dazzling galaxy overhead.  After such a violent rain, to have such a calm and clear night was truly awesome. Sunrise over the Atlantic spilled warm light into the vast unending waves.This magical orb is a sea snail egg, caracol del mar, whose inhabitants have hatched and which has now filled with sea water.   Discoveries like this get us so thrilled!  Universe, you are pretty cool.A day like this in California would be packed with 100 guys in the water.  This spot wasn’t on any surf map or report, it just was peeling and Adam had it all to himself.  We ventured off our Playa Grande into the northern section of the park and visited the sublime Lagoon.  As we were remarking how stunning it was, something rather large was splashing in the water.  Actually many large things! Capybara!  Called carpincho in Uruguay, these are the largest rodents in the world.   We saw them in the Peruvian Amazon, but discovering this herd of some 40+ animals was quite a surprise to see!  They are said to be a delicacy, which is why their numbers are declining and why they are a protected species. The manicured grounds of this sector of the park were beautiful but not cloying, made all the sweeter by the bright skies that warmed our backs. We brought our picnic lunch and enjoyed it on a gazebo on the other end of the lagoon from where we spotted the capybara.  Thousands of water hyacinth bloomed their delicate lavender color, contrasting the sharp neon of green as dragonflies zoomed by.  A common plant in floating gardens around the world, it was nice to view these beauties in their natural environment.   A shaded field of dandelions was a welcome resting spot in the intense heat. The organic stripes of the atrium delighted our senses, and we took note for future building projects.  Somehow the eye relishes these small variants, gazes a little longer as the brain maps what we see instead of filling in what we already ‘know’ if something is perfectly created. Colette is having a bit of a dress obsession lately.  The more swirly the better.  She spins and spins, laughing and smiling.  Guess some things about being a girl are pretty fun.Colette really wanted to cuddle the capybara.  While we agree she looks very snuggly, we said no.  “ Awww, but whyyyyy?!?!”
Everything these days is met with the capital W question. Why, Why, Why?!  Sometimes it is really easy to say “NO” and every answer after that to be “because I said so.”  Most times we flush everything out… “Well, that is a wild animal, and while the cabybara looks cuddly, wild animals are not to be touched. “
“Why?”
“They deserve their own space.  She cannot communicate with us in words if she would like to be touched or not, so we don’t have her permission.  Do you like it when people touch you without asking?”
“I will ask her!”
“Also, she has large teeth and sharp claws and could scratch or bite you.”
“Oh.”  We spotted a huge German overlanding vehicle.  While the comforts traveling with a vehicle this size would allow sometimes seems desirable- there are so many small roads we have been down that would simply be impassable.  Wedged between two rocky clusters was a perfect inlet for charging some waves as a midday refreshment. Fortaleza Santa Teresa sits atop the hill at 58 meters (Uruguay is mainly a low lying country) strategically constructed as it provided a view between marshes and the sea.   Constructed in 1762, the Spanish & Portuguese battled and the Spanish won (eventually). The front seat Adam built between the two captains chairs still works for now, but we are wondering for how much longer will the seat be exclusively hers… Down the small and beautiful coast we ventured to Punta del Diablo.  Nothing better on a hot day than an icy beverage made to order!  Colette had a maracuya (passionfruit) juice with a bendy straw.  Two caipirinha for us adults- lime and sugar are blended with cachaça– a clear alcohol made from distilled sugar cane sugar.  Rum, also made from cane- is produced from the molasses, not the sugar. Life in Uruguay seems like a slice of time standing still. The importance of stopping to enjoy hot made-to-order churros, rolled in cinnamon-sugar and filled with your choice of fillings cannot be understated.  Adam had chocolate, Coco had dulce de leche, Emily had pastry crème with blackberries.   A skatepark at the end of town was the perfect afternoon exercise. Everyone raves about Cabo Polonio being one of the “truly wild” places in Uruguay.  We barred up the van with Adam’s security system, loaded up our backpack and set off in the 4X4 wagon into the National Park for a look.Our lodging for the night was slightly out of ‘town’- the main cluster of houses and hostels nearest the lighthouse.  There are very few private vehicles requiring special permits and the area is surrounded by dunes.   Nancy & Marcos of Las Cañadas welcomed us as the rain started to fall.  It is a place where every square inch is filled with something.  An old Halloween mask, party hats, a homemade display of local insects, windchimes, non-functioning lights, a shelf housing a collection of empty alcohol bottles, extra keys, flags, scarves, jackets, climbing plants, a box filled with coloring devices, a stack of papers… We had a bit of late afternoon theatre, as Colette put on a show for us we sipped some Uruguayan wine.  Not feeling like venturing out in the rain, we ordered from the in house restaurant that features many fresh items from their garden.  The made to order pizza was delish, but the salad.  Oh, the salad.  That was special.  It was, the best salad we have had in 2 years on the road at a restaurant (Emily’s salads still top them all).  Fresh basil, celery leaves, cabbage, arugula, lettuce, toasted sunflower seeds, cherry tomato, oregano and nasturtium all came from the garden.  As fresh as it gets, made with love & packed with nutrients, yum! Work against the elements is never done at the seaside and as yet another storm rolled in, Marcos welded a patch over our room where there was a leak.We skipped the hot water in the showers, as it was one of the more frightening versions we have yet to encounter.  A hose from the butane tank ran into a small cup, which would heat water that then overflowed onto you as you mixed in the desired amount of cold water to create something just right that flowed out of a rusty tin cup with holes poked on the bottom that came out at chest level.  Get that?  Neither did we, so yeah, cold showers.  But hey, we are used to it.  That is a real fact of vanlife that many of you daily bathers think life on the road is so dreamy.  The reality of it involves washcloths, baby wipes and yes, cold showers when you are so lucky. Morning was windy and cool, gusts of wind whipped our eyes as we ate breakfast on the patio, overlooking the sand and sea. Marcos packed us a herb bouquet to take back to the van- mint, bay laurel, and lemon verbena from the organic garden. When in Rome, do as the Romans- right?  Marijuana has been decriminalized in Uruguay where people may grow 6 plants for their own personal use.  The law was passed in an effort to reduce the profit that drug trafficking creates for organized crime and reduce drug related violence, but the selling of it is still a no-no.  CocoNova our animal lover was enchanted by the frog, who we believe was less enthusiastic than she. We walked down the beach to check out ‘town’, which is a cluster of houses, a few hostels and as many restaurants within the National Park.  The entire community of Cabo Polonio is off the grid, and works by wind turbines, solar power and generators. Colette was pretty excited to see the view from the top of the lighthouse, and distraught when she was not allowed to climb up.  No one under the age of 7 is permitted, so Adam & Emily each took turns watching the kids while the other took a climb and look.  Colette, always up to improvise, decided to climb the small lighthouse that stood sentinel on the lawn.At the point below the lighthouse, a flock of fur seals lazed on the rocks. Upon closer inspection of the colony, we discovered a sad seal entwined in fishing ropes, the sad reality of our human impact on the natural world. Gardens and greenhouses dotted the undulating hills between the small rustic houses. How many hours do people invest in something that brings little benefit to their lives?  What other goals would people achieve if they stepped away from an easy coma and instead focused on something positive?

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince

Can you create a plan for your dreams?  Nobody will gift it to you, action is the only solution. This “Leaning Tower of Cabo Polonio” was a great price! (but a bit of a fixer-upper) Behind our hostel was a freshwater pond.  Adam brought his surfboard but found no waves.  Colette wanted to go for a swim.  Surfing in the pond was the solution for all. As the bus into town drove by, we waved the driver down and thumbed that we wanted a ride back.  He waved and gave us the thumbs up back.  OK, cool, he will stop on his way back for us!  But this being South America, the waiting at the bus station took a bit longer than expected as the bus was packed as the driver just cruised on by as someone shouted ‘all full’. Passing time on the beach waiting for the next bus, Adam spun Colette perhaps 40 times.  Each revolution she was yelling “More Daddy!  Just keep spinning! Mooooore!”   The town of La Pedrera was our next stop & we posted up at our Westy beachfront house.  A hotel is fine now and again, but we really do love our house on wheels. It boggles our mind that sweet Sierra is already 6 months old!  Thank you for coming into our lives little darling, we adore you! Raen Optics keeps our eyes protected on the road- here the Volant in black, which is Emily’s new go-to pair.We have been using the amazing products from GoalZero since day one of our travels to allow us to get out and stay out.   The Yeti 400 solar generator can be charged from our solar panels, the alternator as we drive, and by shore power.  This powerful little box allows us total freedom from needing to be “plugged in” to traditional power sources. A cute little birdy just peeping the view from her solitary home. Being vegetarians (well, 3 out of 4 and Adam very rarely indulges) means we miss out on a lot of local specialties-in Uruguay that means chivitos, steak sandwiches piled high, and asado, lamb or beef barbeque.  One of the culinary delights we can indulge in is the bunuelos de algas, seaweed fritters.   Slightly chewy, a little salty with a bit of fried taste- the fresh lemon was the perfect accompaniment on the afternoon snack. While at the grocery store one day in La Paloma, we ran into Dave- an American expat who we had crossed paths with in Cabo Polonio.  He & his two boys Dante, 6 born in Mexico, and Tai, 4 born in New Zealand, are living in Uruguay for 6 months or so.  Coco & the boys were instant buddies, we piled everyone into the van and went to a gorgeous organic farm he knew about. Marked only by a small sign off the main road under a bush in the opposite direction we were driving, the garden was a delightful discovery.  The kids eagerly picked every red strawberry they could find; we watched as the farmer cut or picked the veggies to our order. Offering some 34 varietals of heirloom tomatoes, we applauded the broad offerings but lamented they were not yet ripe.It was an early Thanksgiving to happen upon this organic garden.  Any chance we get to expose Colette to how and where our food comes from, we relish.  She has so many questions about the process and subsequently, we can get her to eat about anything we have seen growing in its natural state.  When we were back in Cali, we discovered a great site Pick Your Own, where you can locate farms near you!  Emily, with Coco’s help, did so in California for the Puertas Cerradas dinner parties she hosted in September.

We went back to their house to make dinner together- fresh chard, cherry tomatoes and green onions went into the salad, purple opal & genoa basil went into pesto.The kids played superhero, but since there were only 2 masks for Dante & Tai, they made one for Colette using their stickers! Their temporary house had an amazing view of the beach and sand dune, which the kids played in late into the night, the last rays of light clinging upon the horizon until 8:30 or so. A low key affair, Thanksgiving was shared with Jessica, a friend of Dave’s from Alaska.  Our Thanksgiving in Uruguay looked like: roasted chicken (for some), garlic mashed potatoes with veggie mushroom gravy, a monumental green salad and to finish it off, a sweet potato & pumpkin pie with a chocolate cookie crust served warm and a la mode.  Emily secretly starts plotting what delights she can conjure up when we happen upon an oven.  Our Coleman oven was slayed in our purge in Brasil (our friends Sol & Alvaro are stoked) as it does not fit well into the van and we rarely used it.  If we had an outdoor stove perhaps we would have kept it, but any and all unnecessary weight was shed. Next day we went to “El Paraiso” zoo, which is a bit like Uruguay itself… small and unpretentious.  Under the shade of ombú and corona trees, the latter so named because of their garish thorns which resemble what Jesus’ crown would have been, the dappled light shaded a picnic area and playground which the kids eagerly played with.  Their raucous laughs filled the air, shining golden and dust filled in streams of sun that broke through the green cover. Peacocks freely roamed the grounds, maybe 20 in total with 5 or more of them albino. The caretaker who showed us around, was 4th generation on the land, his tata-abuelo received it and the patriarchal lineage has taken little ware on their plot of land.Hidden in a tree above its hand hewn house, a wild feline montaña gato, Geoffroy’s cat, native to Uruguay is about the size of a house cat and oh so damn cute!The only hibernating member of the armadillo fmaily, the pichi is onmivorous, and also quite friendly! Fantastically coloured pheasant, looked like a psychedelic farce.Rhea are large flightless birds we first spotted in southern Brazil, which are related to the emu & ostrich and can run up to 35 miles per hour! Six striped baby piglets, resembling miniature deer more then the hairy boars they would become, squealed after their mother, fighting for a place at her teat. Barra de Valizas is a silky spit of sand where river meets the sea.  The kiddos cooled off in the brackish water and ran wind sprints in the full sun to dry off.  Watching Tai & Dante swim, Coco cried “I wish I could swim” as alligator tears fell onto her newly freckled cheeks. 4pm was the departure at  Monte de Ombues for a boat trip up the Rio Valizas to a privately held swath of land adjacent to the Laguna de Castillos that holds some of Uruguay’s oldest trees- 600 years old was the report.  On the boat ride, we sighted egrets, gulls, cormorants, ibis, kingfisher and a fantastic bird we saw in flight & thought it was a flamingo, but was a pato rosa. Rippling and crawling along the fields, buttresses of the ancient ombú trees form arcs and mounds that beg to be played in, on and around. The male ombú trees produce these flowers. The croissant-like interior of the trees is light and flakey, each branch weighing far less than you might expect.  With poisonous sap, the tree is not grazed by cattle or infected by locusts and the leaves can be used as a laxative.The placid nature sprites in a tree hollow. Tai, Dave & Dante. After the 3km hike through butia palms and , we boarded the boat for a ferry across the river, to the state owned nature preserve, which looked just like the bit we had just hiked in.  The next morning we said goodbye to our new friends and set wheels in motion.  Later in the day we chanced upon this majestic field of flowers; as far as the eye stretched, the yellow flowers dazzled, a carpet of mustard rolling out into the horizon. Outside of Rocha way down a dirt road, a commune started by a Californian sits on a rolling bit of paradise.   Nicolás is pictured here with his Mercedes van, his 5th vanlife vehicle.  Originally from Chile, he moved to Europe at 18 and traveled making pizza on the trance rave circuit.  His wife and 1 year old daughter were arriving back to the commune the next day from a trip to see family in Chile.

It is always interesting to us how other travelers make their dreams of wanderlust a reality.  There really is no one formula, it is about transforming your talents and interests into a sustainable life. A mural inspired by embroideries of the Shipibo people of the Peruvian Amazon adorned the large walls in the courtyard of the main house.  On the sprawling land were 20+ structures, an artist center where at high season the various residents come to make crafts to sell. Looking like it was plucked from a postcard, a picturesque dock stretched out into the man-made lake.  Colette eagerly blew up her floaties for some mid-afternoon swimming.  The water, sun warmed on the top foot, flowed cold below.  We swam and laughed and lounged on the dock.  Sierra opened her eyes wide in delight and smiled a drooly grin as we submerged her tiny self into the water.  Once her lips turned a violet shade, we pulled her out and wrapped her in a sun-warmed towel, Emily nursed her for a minute then she promptly fell asleep, her mouth slightly agape in a bliss that only babies know.  Kissing her cheek, Coco lilted “Oh, sweet baby sister, we love you so.” A river wound lazily through the greenery clustered at its shores. Houses and windmills, man made lakes and a natural river, rocky outcroppings and groves of trees- it was a welcoming slice of life on the range- we could have easily set up camp and stayed for a month… or forever. A scene from rural life: a man, wearing alpargatas (the traditional gaucho shoes that Toms has made popular stateside) slices into their freshly slain sheep, which will no doubt be dinner later.  The wife sat sipping mate, the dogs sat in wait patiently, the daughter played in the yard, the son paying careful attention.  Just a passing moment we witnessed, tradition in action.Learning moments come often and unfold naturally on the road.  This monitor lizard, still warm and without any insects on it, must have been hit just before we came upon it.  Colette asked if she could hold it, listened attentively as we talked about cold and warm blooded animals and as she diligently studied his claws remarked “these sharp nails must be good for digging and climbing.” Then sighing slowly “It is so sad someone hit this lizard, but it is nice that we got to see it.”

In a rainstorm, we camped along a spit of land between the ocean and a lagoon, our wheels sinking into the soft sand as we drove down the hill to the fresh waters’ edge.  Inside our small abode, we stayed warm and dry through the storm, our interior led lights making our van a tiny beacon in a field of grey.  We ate turmeric-tinged lentil soup eaten with a crusty-in-a-good-way fresh baguette, read books to the girls and then ourselves and tucked into our down comforters.  Camped in the rain with no facilitites- we don’t call this ‘roughing it’, we call it home. In the morning, Adam lowered the air pressure on our tires to 15, and cruised right up the wet and sandy hill that would’ve plagued our heavy 2wd setup at 40psi.  We took another balsa ride across a river as the rain continued to fall through the day and into the next. Punta del Este is reputed as the Monte Carlo of South America.  We haven’t been to Monte Carlo (yet) but imagine it a bit more grand and flashy than what we saw.  Rain continued to come in bursts then peter off into drizzly mists as we cruised up to the Mano de Punta del Este that Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrázabal made in 1982.   On the other side of the continent, in the Atacama desert of Chile, the other hand of the giant sits.  We missed that one due to a navigational error (my bad!) so we were sure to stop by this for a photo op. Colette was surrounded by a group of Brazilian schoolgirls who took selfies with her and shrieked in delight when she responded “California” to one of their questions queried in Portuguese.  The current President of Uruguay is José “Pepe” Mujica, in office for the past 5 years; as a member of the Tupamaros guerrilla movement in the 60’s and 70’s, he was a political prisoner for 12 years spending two of those at the bottom of a well.   He actively exercises his dedication to equality and is described as “the world’s humblest president”- donating more than 90% of his monthly salary to small entrepreneurs and the poor, refusing to reside in the presidential palace, he remains in his modest home with minimal bodyguards and drives a 1987 VW Beetle.  While in office, he has raised the national standard of living, legalized abortion, same sex marriage and decriminalized personal use of marijuana.

Montevideo was the center of all the action the day we entered the capital city, population 1.3 million, as it was election day.  Their system of democracy, like the US, is actually a constitutional republic, and unlike it that one member must win by more than 50%.  If a candidate is not the majority leader, there is a run-off between the top two contestants.  Can you imagine the freedom people have from getting to vote on their true conscience the first time and then having to choose between two at the end? It was exhilarating to be in the small capital on this momentous day.    Mujica is followed in office by Tabaré Vázquez- who was already the president of Uruguay from 2005- 2010 and will take his second term in office from 2015- 2020.  He is considered more moderate than Mujica, but welcomed back to office broadly.  The streets in Montevideo were filled with young and old celebrating the success of the leftist president whose first term brought the poverty rate down from 35% to 20%.  Vázquez fliers rained down in the streets, people popped balloons, waived banners, and tooted horn in a storm of jolly celebration. Hotel Lafayette in the center of Montevideo was a bit of a luxury: a hotel mini-suite with a clean bathtub, faster than most wifi, heated swimming pool all to ourselves, and parking right our the front door (as we were too tall to enter the parking garages).  We caught up on emails for work and attended to some chores that can only be completed in a city, but we did not see much of the city proper.  While we are traveling slow, we also have our hearts set on making it to Patagonia for the South American summer.  Down in those parts it is a short season to enjoy the best weather- we have met so many lovely friends and been tempted to stay many places for weeks unending- but each place we depart in peace, knowing our dream of seeing one of the worlds last wild places is near.Spotted this amazing van and made us think we might need a new paint job! So, onward we went to the Buquebus to inquire about the boat from Montevideo to Buenos Aires.  They said yes there was room- and now!  We had discussed driving to Colonia del Sacramento, a short 3 hour passage to the UNESCO city, but the long line of passengers snaking in front of us through customs and onto the behemoth boat felt like an omen to depart.  And so we did. We drove the van onto the ship to cross the massive Rio de la Plata to Buenos Aires, Argentina… our time in Uruguay was short but oh so nice, a sweet slice of paradise.