At the beginning of December it was finally time for us to return to South America for a last period of travel with Miles before we go back to normal life. Ralph found a job starting in January, so we decided to ship the car back to Europe. But not before we do a little bit more driving!
After a long flight we arrived in Montevideo. From here it was still 120km to get to Miles. Since the bus connection was not optimal we decided to hire a rental car for a day. While Ralph got the car I went to buy a local sim card in my best Spanish, which is luckily still there! We where pretty efficient with the extra car, which meant we could arrange shopping and insurance for Miles on the day of arrival. Therefore we managed to get on the road the day after we arrived! This was actually quite welcome because we had quite a lot of kilometers to do the next weeks. We were doubting between staying in Uruguay for the 18 days we had, or to make the drive to Iguazu Falls in Brazil and then drive back through Brazil along the coast. We decided to do the latter, also after many people telling us these are one of the, if not the most, beautiful falls in the world.
Our first stop was still in Uruguay, near Salto. A long drive of more than 400 kilometers, which took way longer than expected because of long stretches of very bad road conditions. We read about thermal pools with a camping, getting amazing reviews. And it was indeed a very nice place! Termas de San Nicanor is a beautifully located small resort in the country side. When we stayed here 2 nights, we had the place to ourselves! The owner of the Termas has two very sweet dogs. The dogs decided to take care of us during our stay, which meant they never left our side. Really cute! This also meant that during the night they where still on duty, and a couple of times per night they would start barking and running to scare the foxes away. They took their job serious, but it is not too good for your night rest ;-).
After a relaxing day at the Termas it was time to move on, and to cross the border with Argentina. We had another 660 kilometers to go, another long day of driving! It was a long drive through the large farmlands in this part of South America. Flat and green fields everywhere. But suddenly the landscape changes into lush green hills, which lots of palm trees. It is clear we are getting closer to the jungle! Near the town of San Ignacio we found a nicely located campground next to the Parana river. It was also a typical Argentinian campsite, with garbage bags for shower curtains and reggaeton at loud volume out of the car trunks, just how we like it! ;-). The next day we decided to put some culture into the mix by visiting the Jesuit Mission in San Ignacio. This area of Argentina is famous because of the Jesuit Missions. One of the best preserved ruins is the San Ignacio Mini. It’s striking to see people living in ‘modern’ dwellings with tin roofs next to the impressive ruins of the Jesuit buildings. Not sure if civilisation has made progress here…
Afterwards it was time to drive the last 250km towards the Iguazu falls. We arrived early enough to go directly to the Argentinian side of the falls. And it’s indeed amazing! It’s so impressive to see all the water falling down, everywhere. Pictures just don’t do justice compared to what you see and experience being there. The Argentinian side of the falls is pretty well organised with different trails to see the falls from different angles (and even a little train to transport you to the different trails…). Luckily it was not too busy and we could enjoy it without large crowds. Afterwards we crossed the border into Brazil. When we wanted to get our temporary import documents for the car the people at customs told us the system was down and it was not possible. But it was OK to enter the country and to come back in the morning the next day. And all of this mostly in Portuguese! We were happy to get our Spanish skills back a bit, but Portuguese is a total new level! :P. We found a nice hostel and campground close the the Brazilian side of the Iguacu falls, where we finished the day with a cold beer in the swimming pool.
After we finally arranged the import papers at the border the next day we went to the falls again. Unfortunately it all took a bit longer than expected, and we arrived in rush hour at the Iguacu park. It was really busy and it almost felt like being in line for an attraction in a theme park… The Brazilian side is basically one trail that everybody walks from view point to view point. It was a real traffic jam of people. Luckily the falls are still impressive, seeing them from this angle. I can only say, enjoy the pictures :).
We decided to do another long drive on the same day to get closer to the coast, so we added another 500 kilometers. We arrived late at night at a ‘pousada’, which had places for camping as well. Even though we arrived late and in the dark we were welcomed very kind by the owner. But again all in Portuguese, which is pretty tough! We left the following morning for the last drive in the direction of the coast. Another 500 kilometers led us through the lush green hills that you find here in inland Brazil in the South. We arrived later in the day in Florianopolis, and on the Island Santa Catharina. Our first impression was not too good: it was very busy, driving on the island was one big traffic jam, and the towns looked not as cosy as I expected they would… The first camping we tried was also not much, just an open field in the village, with a concrete wall around. It did not help that it was really stormy weather, which meant we would need to have some kind of shelter for our rooftop tent. We ended up at a much nicer campground in the forest, 500m walking from a beautiful beach. We stayed here a couple of days, enjoying the sun, beach, a bit of surfing, and the nice villages on the island. Then it was time to move on and get closer to Uruguay again. We made a stop for a day in the National Park Aparados da Serra, where there are beautiful canyons to visit. We visited Canyon de Itaimbezinho, apparently Brazil’s deepest canyon with 700 meters. From here we continued our way to Uruguay. We wanted to make sure to be back in Uruguay as soon as possible, to avoid the risk of getting short in time before shipping the car. We had to make sure to be able to deliver the car prepared in the harbour at the right time. The south of Brazil is beautiful to drive through. Very green, with lush vegetation and hills. When we where driving through a valley full of banana plantations we decided to buy a couple along the road. Manon went out to buy 8 bananas and a pineapple. The total price was 3 euros, which was fine. But then the girl gave the whole rack of bananas! Apparently here you buy 100 bananas, or none :).
We made a stop for the night at a small campsite next to a lake. In the evening we were invited by our friendly neighbour for some drinks and snacks, and we tried to have a conversation in our best ‘Portoñol’. In general we have only met very friendly people in Brazil. Everyone is very interested in hearing our stories, even though the language barrier makes the conversations quite a struggle sometimes. We definitely see ourselves returning to this big country to explore some more! (when our Portuguese is a bit better :P).
When we arrived back in Uruguay the weather changed, which made us skip quite a lot of towns along the coast since the waves were to rough to surf for us beginners. We had some relaxing days in La Barra, just next to Punta del Este. Here we met some fellow Dutch overlanders who were about to go the same direction as we went earlier this year, so it was nice to be able to give them some tips!
Then it was really time to go and prepare the car for its return journey. We first stayed a night at campsite Paraiso Suizo, where we started our trip exactly one year ago. Here we stored the wood that we used to cover all our things in the car. Luckily the weather turned better as well, so we could clean the car inside and out. We heard good stories about a place closer to Montevideo from fellow overlanders: La Chacra Hollandesa, owned by Jan and Marieke from The Netherlands. We decided to do our last two nights of camping at their place. We really had a great time here. Jan and Marieke decided to move to Uruguay 3 years ago. Now they own a big piece of land, with a couple of little houses, vegetable garden, and three lovely dogs and a cat. And they are very hospitable! We immediately felt at home here :). We had some great days together with the other campers. Betty and Gerard , a couple from the Netherlands who have traveled large parts of the world in their Landcruiser and were about to start their trip in South America (Exploringtheworld). Jacik and Dominic from Poland, who just arrived after driving through Africa for 15 months. And Martin from Switzerland (Viaje.ch), who has been on the road for years as well. We had lots of wine and talked about all our experiences while traveling. The last night we had a big asado together, with Ralph appointed as El Asador. A perfect end of our overlanding trip in South America!
Then it was time to drop off Miles in the harbour of Montevideo, and enjoy the city for two more days before heading home for Christmas. We enjoyed walking the streets of Montevideo, ate lots of meat (as you do in Uruguay) and finished with a very nice dinner in a quirky museum, together with live Tango music. We will definitely miss South America!
Now we finished our travels in South America we can also make up the balance. During our travels we never had big break downs with the car (even though we drive a Land Rover…. :-P). We never experienced issues related to safety. Most likely because we always have been very careful. We locked the car everywhere every time, making sure the windows were blinded and all valuables were out. We never wild camped in areas which we thought were not safe, and we always avoided big cities. But I’m sure there is a bit of luck involved as well. During our travels here we have met many nice people. The people in this part of the world are friendly and very hospitable. I don’t think it’s everywhere you will spend Christmas dinner with a family you just met! South America really has a special place in our hearts now, and I’m sure we will return one day.
Also the overlander community is amazing. You always make time to have a chat, join for a beer or even for dinner. We got really inspired by other travellers’ stories. Not only the destinations where we could go next, or the configuration of each car or camper. Also by the different lifestyles many of those people have: early retirement, making money with photography or traveling around the world for sportive expeditions. Each story is different, and each is very inspiring. That only makes us excited for the next trips!
Saludos and Happy New Year!!