Letters From Latin America: Valizas, Uruguay

6 March 2019
9:12AM
Wednesday

 

Hey you,

I’m sorry it took me so long to get in touch. I tried writing sooner, but found myself in tears every time. I’m now in Uruguay, and the journey here hasn’t been easy. You’d think I’d have gotten used to trading my comforts for the unknown, but this time, it came with a last-minute curveball.

When I first decided to explore South America, it was August 2018. Life was made up of work, gym, and dealing with bouts of unresolved anger and frustration. I felt so ready to leave. It seemed like the most natural thing to do. But six months is a long time. Since then, I’ve stopped working full-time, made peace with my past (and therefore quit the gym because I no longer had anger to release), and as 2019 approached, I fell in love. Hard.

Suddenly, the idea of long-term travelling again became a tough reality to swallow.

I was at a good place. I didn’t want to leave. I wasn’t ready. Yet, despite what we were feeling, we both knew I still had to go. Staying back would only serve as a short-term solution to our happiness. Eventually, I’d yearn to fly off anyway.

The destination; Laguna de Valizas

Engulfed in tears and anxiety, against my heart’s desires, I got on the midnight flight. It was 25th February 2019. Just over 30 hours later, I landed in Buenos Aires and spent a night at the airport before heading to Buquebus Port to take a ferry* to Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay. While waiting to board, I was pleased to pounce on a leftover coffee, and paired it with an expired bun someone left on the plane.

Stepping off that ferry meant it was time to get over myself and properly begin this trip. All I had planned was my first Workaway** destination – Valizas, a tiny coastal town over 400 kilometres away. I checked my offline map app (Maps.me), and walked north towards Ruta 1, with my thumb stuck out.

It didn’t take long for the negative thoughts to start rolling in. “What am I doing here? Why is it already so cold? This is stupid! I’m so stupid! Why am I doing this again?” Hitchhiking constantly feels like a futile endeavour. An endless flow of doubts partnered with some good ol’ self-bashing. So whenever a car does stop, it feels like a miracle. Every single time.

After two hours of walking, my first ride was with Juan Pablo. I know, I couldn’t possibly have come up with a more Spanish-sounding name. In between smiling and nodding, these were my standard opening lines.

“¿Cómo te llamas?” (What’s your name?)

Soy de Malasia.” (I’m from Malaysia.)

“¿A dondé vas?” (Where are you going?)

“¿Estás de vacaciones?” (Are you on holiday?)

“¿Tienes familia en Colonia?” (Do you have family in Colonia?)

“¿Cuál es tu trabajo?” (What work do you do?)

All while noticing his shifty eyes stealing glances at my hands and my bags. However, it was too soon to call ‘danger’, plus I really needed a ride, so I just kept it cool and hoped for the best. He stopped the car about 20 kilometres ahead, then asked if I wanted money in exchange for sexual favours. Thankfully, he was a polite pervert and apologised, ¡Perdón, perdón!” when I turned him down.

Trying to maintain a smile even when no cars are stopping

The next and final car for the day didn’t go very far, but it was comfortingly uneventful. I started at 9:30AM. It was 4PM when I mentally gave up. I’d spent more hours walking than being in cars, travelled barely over 50 kilometres, and had no food or sleep since the night before. I was done. So I set up camp by an abandoned building next to the highway, across the street from a police station.

Oh, the amount of relief I felt simply crawling into my tent. I felt like a turtle retreating into its shell and it was a good feeling. If only for a moment. Soon enough, the temperatures dropped. I was a fool and didn’t pack my winter jacket.

Yes, I can hear you screaming, “What? Why didn’t you?!” I don’t know, okay. My head wasn’t in the right place and would soon notice I missed out on other essentials.

I put on all my clothes, layers and layers of everything I had. I needed to pee, but it was too cold to exit. My feet and back were aching. I was missing the warmth and love from home, terribly so. I was majorly struggling to reconcile with the drastic change of scene from just 48 hours ago. I wasn’t happy.

When morning arrived, my mood was still in the dumps. I didn’t know which route to take. One route is shorter, but possibly has less cars. Another might be more popular, but it heads into the capital, Montevideo, and getting out again would be a pain. Or maybe I should just buy a bus ticket from there? Why am I even putting myself through this when I can afford not to?

I decided not to make a sign and leave my next destination up to chance

Sorry I’m ranting so much. My head isn’t a very nice place to be in sometimes. Although I did realise that I’m not as fearful this time around. Maybe because I’ve only heard good things about Uruguay.

Since I couldn’t decide on a route, I didn’t make a sign. Just going to leave my next destination up to chance. About an hour in, a white van stopped and reversed. A woman got out of the car. Hallelujah! I ran towards her. She was headed to Montevideo first. Then to La Paloma, Rocha. The same province as Valizas. ¡Mucha suerte! However, ‘very lucky’ was still an understatement. An entire long journey with a woman I could feel comfortable with doesn’t happen very often.

This lovely lady is Rosanna, and she owns five clothing stores across Uruguay called Punto y Gamelan. That’s why she’s driving across country; from one store to another. Conversing in a mix of broken Spanish and English, I tagged along for a day full of errands, then she kindly offered her floor and a mattress for the night. Overfed me too. The day couldn’t have gone any better. What a difference a day makes indeed.

Fed and kept warm at Rosanna’s

Rosanna and her friend, Mikaela (she’s so pretty!), dropped me off right at the doorstep of my Workaway place in Valizas. Not before picking up four other hitchhikers along the way. It’s always encouraging to know there are others doing the same. ‘Hacer dedo’ is their term, roughly translated as ‘to do the finger.’

It’s my sixth day here. The sun is shining. The beach is five minutes away by foot. I’ve got kittens frequently jumping on my lap for a cuddle. There’s a huge black dog who farts a lot and just wants to be hugged. Here is good. This camping ground is called Villa Invisible, cared for by Marca and Marco, who are super nice and were excited to meet their first Malaysian. They’re radiant with comforting parental vibes. Occasionally, I’m given some gardening work to do, besides that I’m told to just relax and enjoy myself.

Barra de Valizas beach, only five minutes away on foot

The tears have stopped. My Spanish has a long way to go. I’m still feeling rather anti-social. But I’m definitely doing much better overall.

You know, ever since I landed in South America, the sudden shock to my system caused even my bodily functions to shut down for a week. However, after visiting the beach, on the second morning of being at Villa Invisible, my body accepted that this will be home for a while, and I could finally poop.

So all’s good now. Don’t you worry. I’ll write again when I can. Abrazos y besos!

 

Con todo cariño,

Petrina

 

P.S. TRAVEL TIPS:

Ferry
While researching about ferries from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Colonia, Uruguay, I came across a lot of mixed reviews. From different prices based on date of purchase, that booking online is cheaper, that some places don’t accept foreign credit cards, that most websites are fully in Spanish, there’s a one-hour ride and a three-hour ride, it was a lot of information.

Then I came across a blog which suggested this site – Colonia Ferry. It’s in English. They help you book and accept payment through Paypal or card. I’m not sure what the usual cost is, but I paid USD60 for a one-hour ride.

Workaway
Do you already know about Workaway? I tend to assume that almost everyone does, but in case you don’t, it’s a site where you can find hosts all around the world to work for in exchange for food and accommodation. No money is involved, so no work visa or permit is needed. The type of workplace ranges from hostels to plantations to surf centres to babysitting, anything really. So if you’re on a tight budget, well, give it a go.

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Occasionally referred to as a hobo, Petrina happily sleeps on cardboard boxes at petrol stations, digs through bins for food, and can go without showering for days, when necessary. She has terrible sense of direction but believes that getting lost can be pretty fun too.

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