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On the road . March 2010 . Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil

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Splendido Hotel [website] Montevideo, Uruguay, 20-03-10
Blest are those who drink beer

We haven't moved for two weeks. And we've had a great time. The owners and staff of the campsite are amazed that we have remained put for so long. Not one mountain trek, no wanders in the forest, not a horse ride to our names. Nada, unless you count cycling to and from the supermarket up the road for daily supplies.

But you know, we don't care. Others, and by others I mean; "non touring cyclists" don't seem to realise that our normal travel life is extremely active. They see our loaded bikes, but it doesn't really sink in what we actually do everyday. We not only see mountains and forests and lakes, but we clamber up them and through them and along them and then we wild camp on and in and next to them. We also contend with all the usual routine stuff that goes along with that, which I can tell you right now, takes up a lot of time. There are only ever a few hours left over at the end of each day and you generally have the nagging desire to fill those with sleep. So, when we stop somewhere for a while, we really do stop.

While the pause button is hit, James comes to visit and unplug the electricity as well. It is simply: a fabulous time. We really have met a gem of guy there and besides just relaxing in the sun, swimming in the icy clear waters of Rio Negro, eating some really good food and sampling the local wines, we pay a visit to one of the local breweries. The waitress at Blest Brew House is most surprised when we all order our own individual beer degustation menu. Yes, I did say a "beer menu". It is a treat that has had Ali keyed up for days. James too for that matter. And I can tell you they are not disappointed: little gleams of joy all over their faces when the tray with 7 beer samples and a hot bread pretzel with fresh butter appears.

At least half an hour is spent sipping away, trying to decide which one will be tonight's treat. It is unanimous: frambuesa wins hands down and after a pint each of this fashionably strawberry coloured, sweet berry with lemon overtones brew, the boys go on to even bigger heights by ordering a jug of the stuff between the two of them for each round there after. Since it is a wicked 7.8%, I move down the ladder to the less head swirling stuff. I choose the Bock, which Ali still insists is "off" due to its smokey aubergine aroma. I quite like it. But then again, I quite like smokey aubergine.

Snacks are consumed and a couple of pizzas as well, while we anticipate the lifestyle of the people that enter this establishment. They are not without money, that is for sure. I'm glad we aren't either, when the 100 euro bill comes at the end of the night. Still, it has been a smashing time, with lots of laughs and we are quite proud of our beer coaster additions to the breweries paraphernalia. Obviously, Blest beer - well any beer really - has the same effect on everyone and weighty waffle, collected from hours, even years of beer-drinking, has been pinned all over the restaurant's walls and beams. It seems profoundness follows a couple of pints: Aaah, Blest are those who drink beer and blest we forget.

This surely is the travel life
San Carlos Bariloche to Buenos Aires (0 cycle days; 20 hour bus trip; 1600-odd kilometres)

James leaves after 5 days and we stay on for a few more. Ready as we are to leave, there are a tonne of things that still need organising and finishing off. After the pub visit, things got a little lackadaisical round the campsite. Mother Earth on the other hand, decides to give us a few more examples of how well she can swing those salsa hips and the ducks soon learn that if they hang around long enough, Ali will weaken and feed them bread. The chickens have already caught on to his generosity and as soon as the three dogs get wind of it too, the table next to our tent resembles a zoo, every time we near it.

The decision to leave on Wednesday is made and Ali books our journey to Buenos Aires. Seeing as the most expensive seats are only marginally more than the semi-luxorious seats, which are just a bit more than the ordinary "get cramp in the back, neck and legs" seats, we up the ante and purchase first class tickets: not only do you have a television and a chair that flattens right out, but there are rumours of champagne as well.

We arrive early, have some lunch and ready ourselves for the arrival of our 3.00pm departure. Dozens of Via Bariloche coaches pull in and pull out, but they are not our transport. It finally arrives 20 minutes late and of course miles away from where our bikes and luggage are situated. I stand with everything as Ali takes over the bikes and then a couple of loads. It is obvious something is up, by the way the driver stares blankly at me and then at the bikes and then at me again. He doesn't say anything. And then, when everyone else has packed their gear in, he turns and points at the bikes and says they can't come on without a box.

Now instead of blowing up and firing every swear word under the sun at you, I'm just going to say. This is why cyclists HATE travelling any other way than by the steam of their own thighs. We have been here since 1.30pm, sitting around twiddling our thumbs; if we had known we had to put the bike in a box, we would have, but nobody told us anything about this rule when we bought the tickets and yes, of course we asked about bikes taking the voyage too.

Phone calls follow when it appears that none of the staff from the Via Bariloche service can speak English. The woman on the other end can, but she doesn't have any listening skills. She is adamant that the bikes must go in a box. Ali keeps reminding her that when he asked if bikes could go on, no-one mentioned anything about a box. She says it was our responsibility to ask them if we needed to box them or not. That's got to be some form of Latino reasoning, surely. But you know while all this is happening, a little cycling loving fairy was waving her magic wand and a bike-box miraculously appears by the rubbish bin 50 metres away. A compromise is met. One bike in a box and the other can slide in next to it.

Good, at least we are on board, but so far this trip is getting zero out of ten for organisation and language skills. And considering we pay 65 Euros each for the posh seats, its being rated on every level. Including the quality of that rumored glass of champagne.

The stools are pretty good, I have to admit, as I sink down into the plush-ness. Playing around with the buttons and movable gadgets takes up a few minutes and things are looking pretty good, especially when I see the road climb forever towards Neuquen. And it is mighty steep in parts.

The rocks are protrusive and the lakes artificial. It is contrastingly striking country with low rounded shrubbery filling the landscape where the above mentioned land structures aren't. Barbed wire runs almost the entire length of our journey, which is unusual in the beginning because the land looks totally formidable. Finding a suitable wild camp spot in this area would be difficult, though a few towns along the way offer some form of accommodation. They are however, few and far between. And at this stage, so is the champagne.

Sandwiches and a sweet baby croissant with coffee fills in a few minutes before the video: Die Hard 4, which in its own fantastical way is quite a fun movie to watch on a bus as the sun is setting. Neuquen is a long time coming and dinner isn't served until we are back on the bus and flying along the flats that dominate the rest this excursion.

This is La Pampa, from the native American language Quechua meaning "plains". They are the fertile lowlands to the north of Patagonia, running as far west as the Andes, spreading east into Uruguay and all the way to the province of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil. They are known, especially in the cycle touring world, for their long, flat, hot, monotonous stretches. As its name suggests, this steppe (vast expanse of treeless grassland), is home to miles and miles of pampas grass. Other small hardy shrubs also exist as does the Ombu, the only original tree from this region which technically, is also just a massively oversized bush.

The region is probably most famous for its nomadic horsemen: the Guachos. Quite different in spirit to the North American cowboy, they not only lived off the land, but dressed characteristically apart in their ponchos, flat brimmed somberos, facón [large knife], rebenque [leather whip], and baggy bombachas [trousers], held up with a tirador or chiripá [somewhat resembling an outside nappy]. Besides a lariat or riata [lasso], they carried bolas: a traditional weapon comprising three leather bound rocks attached to long straps, used to entangle the legs of the animal they hunted.

And unfortunately, there is plenty of animal on our dinner tray on the bus too. Don't get me wrong, it is excellent if you are not a vegetarian. While we nibble on the bread roll, crackers and the pineapple mousse, the rest of the coach gets stuck into prosciutto with salmon rice salad, followed by poached chicken and mashed potato covered in a creamy cheese sauce. Needless to say, I had anticipated this slight hiccup and pull out the reggiano cheese, apple, baguette, and peanuts. They go a treat with the little bottle of shiraz malbec courtesy of Via Bariloche . Still no offer of champagne though.

Another movie follows and half way though, the champagne finally arrives. You know, it does feel kinda stylish to be sipping on bubbly in a bus for goodness sake. Ten out of ten for that little creature comfort. Last rating for the evening has to be seeing how well the "bed in a bus" concept performs. The conclusion, we both come to: is that it's an excellent night's sleep considering where we are, though the length factor may be a problem for anyone above midget height. For me, it is just perfect.

Next morning, we go through the motions of breakfast, coffee and a bit more fast, flat driving past the poplar line fields of browning corn and a yellowing crop which I can't seem to place. The rest of the landscape is surprisingly green for the middle of summer and not what I had expected at all. As I did foresee, being in such a steak loving country, there are plenty of cows.

A tired city
Buenos Aires outskirts are also green and flat, but interlaced with a maze of concrete highways bearing sky high billboards of all things modernly consumable. As the city's suburbia comes into view, so do the crumbling buildings of the not so well off. It is a very, very, sad sight in and around the bus station and while there are some majestic beauties with colonial glory oozing from the facades in the rest of the central business district, they are usually shadowed by the dowdiness of what surrounds them. The city has no shortage of staggering homeless either.

The style and layout reminds me a bit of London, with all its boutique stores and highly individualistic shops lining the street grid. You can get everything here, but you will indeed pay for it. The local supermercados are run by Chinese, which is great for two reasons. Firstly, the Chinese are business people and they know how to run a shop. They are quite often friendly, efficient and obliging, which is the complete opposite of usual Latino customer service standards. Secondly, it means that there is bound to be plenty of good - traditional and not some form of bastardisation - Chinese restaurants. We eat really well in one on the first evening. It is delicious, but I also have to say, very expensive.

Grot-box of the year award
Hostel Nativo gets the five star academy award for being the worst place we have stayed in since some of those grot-boxes in India, but in high contrast to the sub-continent abodes, this place stings you with a 25 euro a night fee for a double room and share bathroom facilities. And it is the latter that will have your stomach in turmoil.

Their website advertises "exclusive system of lavatories" and when I read this on internet, I gather it is something to be proud of. In actual fact, they have the most archaic water tanks, broken toilets and seats with dodgy flushing systems, buckets of overflowing soiled toilet paper, slimy and mouldy tiled walls, leaking water, blocked drains and I haven't even begun on the kitchen yet.

As you enter that grime infested room, the bread baskets to your left are enough for you to renege on breakfast: not that breakfast is something to get excited over. The rest is dirty, old and ill-equipped. They also boast writing bureaus in every room; hot and cold water in every room; and individual lockers: it's all lies! And I just discovered dark brown crud caked on our duvet: God know's what that is. There's an old woman running around the place, who has a problem with her waterworks and stinks of urine so bad, that everyone keeps well away from her. This morning, I watch the young girls sleeping in the same dorm-room douse the place with air freshener.

I admit the staff, most of whom are guests getting freebie board, are nice enough and the place is pretty safe, BUT it is so old and so dirty and so unpleasant that we both feel totally trapped. And I was so impressed with their web-photographs of "construction detail". Won't fall for that one again. So, why are we staying here you might ask? Well, I read some details incorrectly and believed that we needed an address to send a parcel from Oz to here. Turns out we didn't and am I kicking myself for that. No, I'm actually punching myself really hard. Even so, it turns out that the parcel never made it past the Australian Post depot either. They returned it to my parents because it contained two lithium ion batteries. Apparently considered dangerous goods these days. Other options now seem too time consuming, too costly and too much of a pain in the neck, so minus my "new" second-hand handycam, we are moving on to Uruguay tomorrow.

Actually, it is a pity that our last days in Argentina have been slightly tainted by the dirt and stench of spending time in a grovel. We had a fabulous time in the rest of the country: beautiful landscapes and wild nature. To be honest, Buenos Aires has nothing like the relaxed attitude we grew used to amidst the camping culture and great back-country life-style. You felt safe and your gear was safe. You could leave your loaded bike outside supermarkets, your electronic gear plugged into campground electrical points, your cameras and laptops in your tent. You didn't have to worry about a thing. People were incredibly friendly and helpful. And even though the winds were atrocious, some of the roads lacking, we had a wonderful time pottering around the countryside.

Not so pearly
I'm not quite sure what the hype surrounding this capital is all about. There's a rumours floating around internet, though I cannot for the life of me find the original source, that "Argentinians are Italians who speak Spanish, dress French and think they are British". I'd agree somewhat, but then on a scale devised on South American standards, not European. They certainly babble as fast as Italians, so much so that you cannot understand a word, even if you thought you were getting along just fine with the Spanish in Bolivia, Peru and further above. They do dress quite classy here and women wear lots of make-up. Designer sunnies and clothes are obviously high priority on the shopping list. And thinking they are British? I'm not quite sure they what that statement is actually implying. Are they talking about having an "upper class" attitude here or blinded patriotism?

If so, I could possibly draw a parallel to my meeting with a periodontist. In return correspondence with the secretary, I was reminded that the periodontist I wished to visit was "a very busy man". In searching for this particular clinic, I came across several websites: all of which failed not to mention that health services offered in Argentina only incorporate the use of highly trained personnel and the latest technology and equipment. They all go on to say that Argentinian private medical care is equivalent to the same medical care in any developed country.

Unfortunately, if my consultation is anything to go by, then this is far from the truth. For a start, I chose the cheapest on offer of four quotes, but judging the replies, a deep cleaning session in Buenos Aires costs around $US100. As a comparison, I had an hour of expert care in Spain for just €50.00. While I got a very good scaling of my teeth, I am still waiting for my x-ray to be sent to me by email. Seeing as the receptionist wrote this detail down on a bit of paper with squiggles and lines and goodness knows what else drawn on it, it is highly understandable that I have not yet received it.

The reception area too, was rather unkempt. A layer of dust over lower unused surfaces, electrical cords and cables running ad hoc over the floor; no order to anything I saw on shelves or even the ceiling high odds and sods stuffed behind the shower curtain in the toilet. But what irked me the most - and is the bane of having to do this chore twice a year - is the lack of communication between secretary and periodontist. This is most definitely part of the professional service.

I sent previous x-rays, probe charts and a brief history of all that I have been doing in the last 4 years to correct my periodontitis and still the doctor is none the wiser when I walk in the room. He wants to diagnose me all over again. He wants to be the one who tells me that I need to brush my teeth for three minutes in the evening and three minutes in the morning. This particular one even tells me I need to wear a mouth-guard. I tell him I see a periodontist every six months and before I can finish saying that no-one has ever told me this earlier, he is telling me I should visit one every four months and not six months. Of course the subject about implants comes up and I am growing a little weary of these guys wanting to reinvent the wheel every time If only they would look at my history notes, my experiences would be a whole lot pearlier.

Let me take you by the hand and lead you down the streets of San Telmo
Life in Argentina starts late compared to the western timetable and Argentinians really love to sleep. Except on Friday and weekend evenings, when they are only starting to think about dinner at 10pm. They then ready themselves for the night out and rock up to a club at around 2.00am. They come home between 5.00-6.00am. The rest of the week operates on a late start between 9.00 and 10.00am with a siesta in between business hours from 1.00 to 5.30pm. No wonder things don't get done in this country. Buenos Aires is a little different, being the capital and many shops delete the afternoon nap time from their timetable, but in the rest of the country, you find little happening during these hours.

I'd say there are not many "must do" attractions in Buenos Aires. San Telmo is nice enough to walk around, but if you are looking for an authentic market, then here is not the place to be. Most of the stuff they are selling is cheap, but then it looks it too. In fact, I don't think I have ever seen a more diabolical collection of utter rubbish in all my life. Argentinian beer t-shirts; beer glasses; mate tea drinking paraphernalia., scarves like you see everywhere in the world and cheap bead and string jewellery runs on for kilometres long. The antique section which dominates Plaza Dorrego has probably the best selection of goods worth looking at. Dotted along your travels, the occasional store will stick out. One handicraft shop which has wonderfully tasteful artwork inspired by old cultural images and customs of Argentina, is artepampa. I could have spent a fortune in there, but the price tag is a little over our current budget. If you want to get a feel for what San Telmo has on offer then take a look at The San Telmo Guide.

The biggest attraction, and one good reason to venture to this area, has to be the street entertainment: classical guitarists, squeeze box classics, tango dancers, drummers, singers, performers, and magicians: all out to tempt you with their trade. Some are really good; and others not so, but it all adds to the lively vibe of San Telmo.

Otherwise, besides the usual visits to museums, Buenos Aires is a city more akin to the odd roam around; sit in a cafe and sip on an espresso; enjoyment of the late afternoon sun while people watching at a park; or culinary treat by means of a pot of delicious icecream, which Argentinians are known to have a very big soft spot for. The underground system is only 1.10 pesos per trip, so getting around the city couldn't be easier, except in peak hour and then you should try to avoid the metro, if at all possible.

Weight off our shoulders
The last vision before wheeling our bikes out the door, is shit smeared on the toilet seat. Needless to say, leaving the hostel is a hefty weight off our shoulders. Getting through town might be bit of an obstacle course through traffic and the ad-infinitum amount of traffic lights, but nothing too dramatic. The morning is bustling with pedestrians, none of whom are staying at our hostel: guaranteed, everyone there is still sound asleep. The ferry terminal is easy enough to get to, getting tickets though is another story. I wait outside while Ali spends an awful long time inside, joining up with four different queues. First line gets you your ticket booked; second one is for paying for the ticket that you just booked; and third queue for checking in your luggage, which doesn't apply for us, but he still has to do it and receive a baggage sticker for our bikes. Lastly, the fourth point of congregation is immigration. We do that separately while each of us takes it in turns to watch the bikes.

The Buquebus ferry trip to Colonia del Sacramento, the oldest city in Uruguay, lasts 3 hours. We pass a bit of time browsing in the duty free shop, getting really excited about the 350 peso price tag on a Panasonic Lumix point and shoot camera and the measly 110 peso for the iPod shuffle. The cloud-nine enthusiasm morphs into basement dropped jaws when we discover that prices are actually in US dollars. So much for that wonderful daydream. The iPod goes back on the shelf quick smart, but a camera we really need: our Sony Cybershot is already in the rubbish bin. While its a hard decision, to pay double the going price in the US for this particular camera, since it's three times the price on the street, we bite the bullet and fork out. Whopping import duties, luxoury taxes and backward market trends do not make South America a prime spot in the world for buying electronic goods.

Just as easily as we rolled our bikes on, we roll our bikes off and into Uruguay. The officials are too busy checking inside everyones' cars to worry about us cycling past. Colonia del Sacramento is a quaint town and the laid back feeling so incredibly different from Buenos Aires just across the Río de la Plata. The prices are anything but laid back and we get such a shock in the first supermarket we step into that we leave immediately, believing it must only be that store. But the next and rather bigger establishment confirms our worst fears: no more beer or wine on the menu; cheese will now be rationed; no more alfajores or chocolate bar snacks and the diet curbed to a sober array of basic vegetables. Mind you, that's about all you can get as far as veggie produce is concerned.

We stay at one of those Hostelling International places which is really quite a treat considering it costs the same as the pit in Buenos Aires. The bright and airy room, with fresh sheets and towels and polished floor boards is more than pleasing. The kitchen is quite poorly equipped, however the wifi works well and the bathrooms are clean and orderly. Its a good nights sleep, before our first ride in nearly three weeks. Oooh, I think our bottoms are in for a bit of a surprise.

Rodrigo and Gisele's beautiful home [website] Viamão, Brazil, 08-04-10
Coastal tripping

Colonia del Sacramento to La Paloma (6 cycle days; 2 rest days; 469km; 2223m)

Colonia del Sacramento to Ecilda Paullier (76km; 576m)
Ecilda Paullier to Montevideo (106km; 370m)
Montevideo to Jaureguiberry (84km; 345m)
Jaureguiberry to Maldonado (50km; 314m)
Maldonado to 4 km before Laguna de Rocha (80km; 245m)
4 km before Laguna de Rocha to La Paloma (73km; 373m)

We're going to the zoo tomorrow and we can stay all night
Ali gets chatting with a German man in the courtyard before we leave, who expertly conveys that the prevailing wind will push us nicely along the highway today. Ali says the road is flat and so between the two of them, we are in for a treat of a ride. Contrary to their optimism, the road is hardly ever flat, though the undulations are far from difficult and under normal circumstances the journey would have been a cinch. Unfortunately, the guy on duty at Wind Headquarters, who obviously looked at his clipboard and saw that Aaldrik and Sonya were on route today, decided to change the normal run of things and send in a peculiar north easterly. It is therefore a real grind.

The information Ali found on internet regarding campgrounds along this corn and sorghum farmland stretch turns out to be very unhelpful, so we won't link that website. The police in Ecilda Paullier (76km; 576m) on the other hand, are more than obliging. They give us permission to stay at the village zoo. Well, zoo is a rather big word for the area housing an itchy red bottomed baboon, numerous chickens and their noisy male counterparts, a peacock minus most of his flamboyant tail, an emu with very strange behavioural problems and a young mother with her four itsy bitsy kittens. Making up for the lack of larger animals, the mosquitoes are in plague force and have us gyrating in all sorts of weird patterns throughout the evening. Maybe that is what is wrong with the emu. Just running forever, up and down the wire fence, trying to get away from the bite of the insect. That is certainly what is wrong with the baboon: poor guy. I sit and watch while he preens his magnificent silver grey midriff-coat, getting most upset when another creepy crawly attacks him.

A thunder storm has been rumbling over the coast, miles from where we are, but still the lightning flashes are strong enough to completely illuminate the old gums in the forest next to us. Up until bedtime, the wind has kept the squall at the distance. As soon as we crawl in the tent, the breeze ceases and within twenty minutes the storm is on top of us: its cracking thunder reaching the depths of your chest and blinding light that leaves lasting green silhouettes before your eyes. My first thoughts go out to those adorable newborns under the tree log, however the river forming in the front of our tent soon takes precedence of any other consideration. Ali does a bit of rearranging and we settle for a sound night's sleep, once again in our Helsport tent: one of our best camping investments.

A city with a heart
Besides being attacked by a million mosquitoes in the morning, the day gets off to a good start. We have more than 100 kilometers to pedal, but it looks as though there's another guy on shift at wind headquarters and finally prevailing winds will help us into Uruguay's capital. We both check on mum and the kittens and everyone is doing fine; the baboon is a bit irritable and has scratched himself red raw, but then if anyone knows what that it like, it's me. I only have sympathy for his caged-in plight.

The highway is considerably flatter today and not only the wonderfully wide shoulder, but all the thumbs up and friendly tooting from locals makes it a really pleasant journey. Patrick and Elaine stop us close to lunch time for a quick hello, some cold water and even a peanut butter sandwich, had we been hungry. They are from Florida and are heading to their apartment in Piriápolis. The offer of looking them up for a warm shower in the little beach-town stands, as we part after a quick exchange of pleasantries.

To be honest, the farmland scene from the highway gets a little monotonous towards the end of the day, though everything is green and clean. Except Santiago Vazquez, the little town just before the last stretch of highway: here it is filthy. Entering Montevideo is extremely easy, which is more likely due to the three lanes on each side of the road and relatively little traffic. Osvaldo stops up the road and walks back to greet us a few kilometres before the city centre. He insists on escorting us through town to where we intend to stay. It is an incredibly lovely gesture and we are quite overwhelmed at the heartfelt friendliness here in Uruguay. People are really sociable.

Possibly not everyone, as Ali finds out when trying to organise a room at Hotel Palacio. The woman is pretty rude and they only have one room left on the disco side of the street and at a price way higher than is quoted on internet. With the help of a local street-wise guy, who seems to be captivated with our mode of travel, Ali finds Splendido Hotel, just down the road still in the heart of Montevideo (106km; 370m). It has a share bathroom facility for 2 nights only and then we have to shift to a private room. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem, but the $SU35 and $US45 per night respectively for each room is a little daunting. Still, we are right in the heart of the city and you couldn't ask for nicer people running the place: helpful, obliging and with an eye for detail, though the establishment is definitely not as pristine and elegant as their website would have you believe. I can therefore empathise with those booking via internet. Their expectations would be higher than what they receive. We are perfectly satisfied with what we get.

Montevideo has an old vibe to it: not just the strong retro or secondhand influence, but the feeling that it is gloriously old fashioned at heart too. The buildings certainly have an antiqueness and Teatro Solis, right across from where we are staying, exudes this as much as any you will see throughout the city centre. On Saturday, I go on a guided tour of the building. It is stunningly opulent with its glass chandeliers, gold leaf and red velvet box-seating. Since October 1856, a red beacon has shone from the roof of an evening to announce that a performance will take place and since this time, it has resulted in navigational mistakes from ships entering the port in the mouth of the Rio de la Plata.

Had it not been for the Portuguese man, who insisted on letting everyone know that his country folk were the first to discover Uruguay; and the Spanish guy, who had worked in theatre all his life and apparently knew more than our two guides about the place - which does makes you wonder why he came in the first place - the tour was well worth the 40 pesos.

The street we are staying on, Bartolome Mitre, is renowned for its evening frivolity and rowdiness. Close to midnight, the thump of bass and laughter of those enjoying one or two - you know how it goes - beverages on one of the tables lining the cafe and music-bar street begins to heighten. While the noise is enough to send a light sleeper totally round the twist, we hardly notice it. Mind you we are on the other side of the building. Besides, had we had a bigger budget, we might well have indulged in a bit of nightlife fun ourselves. For the rest, I wander ever so slightly around the town, though its not that interesting really and we make good use of the internet connection at the hotel.

Quiet exit
Saturday was quiet enough on the streets, but Sunday is even more so. It's easy to exit this city by just following the coast. Lining the boulevard are young and old, either exercising or slurping the mate [tea] through the bombillo [straw] with the thermos of hot water carefully tucked under the arm. The beaches are beautiful with their long stretches of soft white sand. The water still has a pink-brown sheen to it, though over the next few days that will gradually change to a green shade of blue.

We pass a little bit of suburbia complete with Geánt, Macro and Tienda Inglesia super-stores. The rest of the pedal is interspersed with well-wishers and curious onlookers: wanting to know where we have come from and where we are going. There is nothing much interesting with regards to scenery along this trip. Late afternoon and we turn down a dirt track heading to two supposed campgrounds. They turn out to be an educational site and a road workers lodgings. So, we move on towards the river mouth at Jaureguiberry (84km; 345m) and closer to the brewing storm. While setting up the tent in a tree sheltered section of the dunes, the storm hits. It continues all evening long. Perfect weather for an evening inside, going through our bags with spring cleaning fervour. We prepare yet another parcel to send back to Perth full of travel paraphernalia and video tapes.

Death by DEET
How invigorating cycling can be when winds are pushing you effortlessly along a scenic coastline. Even the grass is happy to grow in the ocean here. Ruta 10 doesn't have much of a shoulder but then there is only light traffic to contend with. Beach town after beach town line the waterside: all a bit run down, but certainly quaint and quirky. Quite a predominance of older generations roaming around these parts all looking quite fit for their age mind you. The almost 20 kilometres per hour average sets us mid morning in Piriápolis. Unfortunately Patrick and Elaine are not in, so the coffee and chat are exchanged for a quick shop at the local supermarket. After a small heart attack at the price of products here, prices seem to be increasing, we head back out of town and through farmland in the direction of Ruta 10.

A few kilometres before Maldonado we turn left and clamber up a hill towards Camping Punta Ballena (50km; 314m). The owner had handed us a pamphlet out of his car window when we were leaving Montevideo. It is 140 pesos per person and really, besides the swimming pool, not much to get excited about for the price. It is old and run-down and not at all clean. No tables or chairs and in the evening, no light in the camping area. All other facilities like the supermercado are closed for the season. We, two other couples and an army of mosquitoes are the only ones on the entire grounds. And the place is massive: so large in fact that I would hate to see it in the height of season. It would be total madness.

Beached cow?
We can't get out quick enough in the morning. Mosquitoes are in tow as we fly down the dirt road and the few kilometres into Maldonado, where we intend to post a package to Australia. But as we well know, our intentions are not always accomplished and today, the woman behind the post-office counter is set on hindering our process. She is adamant that we can't send anything with metal in it, which means nearly everything in the box except for the clothing. It all seems quite ludicrous really and we decide to try our luck in Punte del Este. Luck is however nowhere to be seen today as we soon discover that this resort town appears not to have a Post Office at all. I admit that the town has a simple population of 7,300 people, but during the height of season, it can often increase by a whopping 150,000. And you can't tell me that not one of these holiday makers doesn't want to send a postcard home to the family saying how much of a wonderful time they are having. It all seems too weird for words and we give the assignment up altogether and just continue doing what we know best: cycling on.

Just before José Ignacio we lug the bikes over a sand dune and onto the beach for a swim. Could have hung around all day there really, but we should really move on. The area is quite an upmarket tourist spot with its succession of boutiques, cafes and Billabong and Ripcurl advertisements enticing you inside surf shops. Posh houses lead up to and away from José Ignacio.

At the roundabout, we continue straight on along the coast, while the left hand path leads to Rocha. Our route takes us through a barely inhabited stretch of road sidling up against the ocean and plenty of beach side blocks of land for sale. A short and free ferry takes us across to a well maintained dirt road, which we follow for approximately 17 kilometers until the turn-off to highway 9 where a couple of yard workers are convinced Laguna Rocha is only 4 kilometres down the road. The signpost a hundred metres after the roundabout clearly states that it is 10 kilometres. Hmmm...who to believe?

The area is pretty well fenced off and no wild camp spots are accessible until we have pedalled nearly 7 kilometres. The land opens up again and we dive across a field towards the ocean and pick a prime spot overlooking the ocean 4 km before Laguna de Rocha (80km; 245m). It takes just two seconds for the mosquitoes to find our whereabouts and annoy the dickens out of us until the sun is well and truly set and the stars are out in force.

Today has been one very absurd day indeed. Probably the strangest occurrence of all, is finding a calf on the beach. Not the sort of place you'd expect a cow to be basking. He's lying down, just where the waves are lapping up onto the sand and on closer inspection its clear he's got a nasty gash in the side of his leg. I try to chase him back to the herd, but he's quite stressed and exhausted and collapses half way. My efforts of cycling through the blanket of mosquitoes trying to find a farmer in any one of the houses within a kilometre radius are also fruitless. Hot, sweaty and bitten all over I give up and return for a soothing swim in the ocean.

On the way back, I spot the calf's mum, who is almost as distressed as her youngster. Though, for some reason, she doesn't want to move any further a field. Ali finds this out later on in the afternoon, when he tries his hand at cattle herding on a push bike. In the end he gives up too and instead decides to push the resting calf in the direction of his mother. After quite a bit of exertion, mother and son are finally reunited and we can continue on with the usual and in comparison, quite boring evening chores.

Mosquito coast
It is a mosquito powered exit up through fields and back along the same 6.6 kilometres of dirt road. At the roundabout we make the right hand turn for the 12 kilometres and 130 alti-metres bringing us back to Ruta 9. The track is in pretty good condition, though there is little in the way of water along this stretch. We ask to fill a bottle or two at a police post after we make it back on the main road. Rocha's outskirts are just 19 kilometres away, where we will try once again to post the package to Australia. The experience with post-office staff here couldn't be more removed from the last encounter. While one woman suggests getting the package down by 300 grams so we can post it for the special price of $US20, another is ripping tape from her own supply and assisting in sealing the parcel.

Before turning off the Ruta 9 to face 31 kilometres of headwinds all the way to the coast, we stop at the tourist bureau outside town for information and to pick up some maps of the area. The campground at La Paloma (73km; 373m) is again old and falling apart, though it is a fraction cleaner than the last one. It is also only 100 pesos per person per night. After choosing a quiet spot close to the ocean and setting up camp, Ali gets to enjoy his first beer in Uruguay. Quite unusual for him to be 9 days in a country and not to have sampled the local brew. Unfortunately, beer prices are sky high, which has resulted in the dry period. Even though the facilities are in need of a bit of tender loving care, the shower is quite amazing and good enough reason to relax by the ocean tomorrow and stay one extra night. The mosquitoes have a completely different idea about exactly how long we can relax for.

Given that the country is four and a half times bigger than The Netherlands and only has a population of nearly 3.5 million - of which 1.3 million live in its capital - it is no wonder that Uruguay is a really laid back place to visit. And with its gorgeous stretches of remote coastline, it is certainly no surprise that many Europeans and North Americans are buying up property here and making this South American country their annual holiday destination. Though it must be said that everything is expensive here: far more expensive than anywhere else on this continent.

Food is pretty limited in Uruguay and vegetables especially lack variety and quality. Many products come from Argentina as well as Paraguay and Brazil. And if you are hopping across from Argentina, you'd do well to pop a couple of bottles of the favourite wine in the bags: Uruguayan wine is above all expensive but also quite inferior to the fermented grape juice produced by its western neighbours. The name Uruguay apparently means river of the colourful birds. And they certainly have plenty of feathery friends flying their vibrant splendor around. Unfortunately, the country is plagued with another, less attractive flying animal as well: the mosquito.

On the way to mosquito head quarters
La Paloma to 24 km. after São José do Norte (6 cycle days; 0 rest days; 432km; 691m)

La Paloma to Aguas Dulces (65km; 168m)
Aguas Dulces to Punta del Diablo (48km; 223m)
Punta del Diablo to Santa Vitoria do Palmar - Brazil (81km; 141m)
Santa Vitoria do Palmar to 95 km. after Santa Vitoria do Palmar (87km; 54m)
95 km. after Santa Vitoria do Palmar to 9 km. before Rio Grande (116km; 80m)
9 km. before Rio Grande to 24 km. after São José do Norte (34km; 25m)

Ambling eastward to sweet waters
It is a usual start to the usual routine this morning before the amble along the coast begins. Costa Azul is a lovely beach village even though everything is up for rent or sale, which gives the impression that the place is deserted. This road goes for 8 kilometres before it hits Ruta 10 and we are immediately back into farmland again. The amble continues and slight headwinds make sure that it never gets anywhere above just that.

Apart from the constant wind drone, it's a casual ride along bitumen for 54 kilometres to Agua Dulces. Views of corn, sorghum, yellowing fodder and cattle grazing amongst the palm trees are about the extend of the journey. Plenty of birds keep us company. After the turnoff to Cabo Polonio, rolling sand dunes are visible to our right and Laguna de Castillos stretches far away on our left. The campground in Agua Dulces is closed, so as soon as we have stocked up on water at the tourist info booth, we venture further in search of a suitable spot to spend the night. For a beach path, it's reasonably good and we get quite a distance away from the town before the sand gets too loose to ride. We turnoff into the dunes. The best spots are of course across a small creek, which takes a bit of maneuvering trying to lift the bikes up and over the embankment. one of my boots gets a dunking, but its worth the wet sock as the spot we settle on, near Aguas Dulces (65km; 168m), is close to perfect. We not only have fresh water to clean with, but pristine sand dune views to marvel at.

Something to be said...
There's something to be said about waking up and drinking the first cup of coffee of the day staring at blue skies and white dunes; hearing the waves pounding the beach and the call of gulls floating on air currents. There's even more to be said about enjoying a vegetable and cheese bake in crusty baguette while the sun rises in the sky and casts morning shadows across the sandy hills; listening to the gentle breeze rustle the palm trees and the song chitter of local birds.

Everybody should be allowed to wake-up like this. Though I suspect, unless you are into cattle farming, or you are able to live for a year off a couple of months of tourism, then there is not much else to earn money from around here. So, you'd still have to jump in the car or on the local bus and ride several kilometres to then begin the usual humdrum. Doesn't really make sense does it?

Following the abnormally pleasant start, there's nothing particularly different about today's journey. We still have strong side winds, it is still the same countryside vista of cows and palms, grassy fields and gums and the occasional farmhouse. For some reason though, there is plenty of fast and furious traffic, which is quite out of the ordinary for Uruguay. A quick glance at my watch reveals that it is Saturday and obviously, everyone is off to the coast. I don't blame them one iota, it is warm enough for a day at the beach.

Our cycle is pretty easy and by 1.50pm, we have reached our destination: we stand outside the campground in Punta del Diablo (48km; 223m), debating whether to pay the 12 euro fee or cycle on. We both decide to stay and after being fingerprinted - which shows how seriously they take camping security in this establishment - we search for a good spot. There are none really to be found anywhere- which shows how twisted their priorities are when it comes to spending money on the place. A semi-flat area, with a cement table and seats fairly close at hand and a power point that stretches our electrical cords to their limits, is the best we can do. The showers and toilets are again antiquated constructions, but the water is hot and they are cleaned regularly. Pity the maintenance doesn't extend to the campsite area too, because there's quite a bit of rubbish to be tidied up there.

Uruguay would have to have been one the most relaxed cycling countries we've ever visited: with its decent roads and wide shoulders, excellent quality of dirt tracks and very minimal traffic. There are amazing stretches of untouched seashores and the small beach villages dotting the coastline add to the quaint and friendly ambience about the place. You feel completely safe in Uruguay too. Not only are the people incredibly open, but they are enchanted with anyone taking the time to explore their country. It has been a wonderful experience and one we shall not forget.

The downside is the cost of living. Even with all the wild camping, we average €38 per day, which is the most we have ever spent in a country. And for the outrageously expensive goods and services here, the quality of products is quite poor in comparison. The other little factor - which I have mentioned a million times by now - that dampens the sunset view of immaculate sand and bubbling surf is the plaque proportion of mosquitoes. They are not just at the beach, but in the fields, along the roadside, in campsites, in cities, villages, towns: basically, everywhere in the country. And these blood sucking insects will pester you with concentrated intent. That I can assure you of.

Here a cow, there a cow, everywhere a cow...
It is more like a slow-motion glide when we get rolling at 10am today. There is still enough wind preventing us from really speeding. Campgrounds are within short intervals all the way along the coast until Barra del Chuy. Basically, it is a flat, easy 40 kilometres to Chuy, known for its duty free shops. I just can't get my head around these shops. The stuff inside all seems incredibly expensive. If you are like me, unless it is a really special occasion, you normally purchase a low grade cognac for, lets say $US20. Well, in a duty free shop, there's no such thing as a bottom of the barrel brandy. No, they have the ones that are sitting inside diamond encrusted decanter crystal and of course the cheapest one is at least $US60. The same applies to wine; and if you are looking to buy electronic equipment in Uruguay or Brazil, all I can say is... don't. It is the biggest rip-off and on average two to three times the price in the United States.

Even knowing all this, well and truly before entering Chuy, as soon as Ali has changed money over, I venture inside one of these shopping traps to see if they have an MP3 player. They don't have a single one in stock anywhere. I leave as quickly as I entered.

The Uruguayan immigration was a kilometre before the town and the Brazilian equivalent is a quick 2 kilometres after the city centre. The main street, crammed with duty free shops and touristy goods stalls, officially divides the two countries. On the Brazilian side it is called Avenida Uruguay and in Uruguay - you guessed it: Avenida Brazil.

Another easy border crossing: I don't have to be present for the stamp to go in my passport and Ali says the woman doesn't even really look at him either. Food inspection is zilch, even though they have one of those "you can't bring this in" posters sticky-taped to the window of the customs department. And by 1.30pm we are comfortably pedalling our way down Hwy 471, with just an inkling of guilt that our Spanish never made it past beginner-beginner status, in our 43rd country.

While the language might have changed, the scenery hasn't and we are again surrounded by farmland punctuated with lots of cows. Santa Vitoria do Palmar is about 20 kilometres from the immigration post, but it is completely shut up for the Sunday afternoon. At first we think spending the night here would be a good idea, but that is quickly erased from the possibility list when prices quoted are more than €20 for the night. On our travels, we find a mini-mercado proprietor smart enough to have his establishment open, when all others don't. Prices are quite reasonable and not anywhere near as expensive as other travellers have made out.

By this stage, three locals have told us that it is 200 kilometres to Rio Grande, but as we cycle out of town and pass the first signpost, it says 230 kilometres. We get to 7 kilometres after Santa Vitoria do Palmar (81km; 141m) and see if all the rumor is true about being able to camp at petrol stations in Brazil. And it is. Absolutely no problem at all. This has been explained to me by a local, who said, that due to there being no decent train system and that all goods have to be transported by truck, the service stations allow truckies to camp overnight, rest or even take a shower in their establishment. The invitation is thus extended to all road users and judging by the first taste of hotel prices, we are ever so grateful.

A little on the boring side
About the only interesting events today are when a number of ants attack Ali's ankle during a bus-stop break and we see some extremely large storks, which actually intrigue Ali more than me. I am amused though with his silly remark that they are the kind that bring babies. In the same breath he also informs me that they are partial to frogs, which I didn't know before and can now add to the long list of world trivia filling my head. I should also include sampling the five different sorts of cookies we bought from the mini-mercado as another excitement of the day. This is definitely one of our more favourite tasks when entering a country for the first time and even at this early stage, Brazil is up there among the current leaders: Turkey and Mexico, when it comes to biscuit satiety.

For the rest, there are plenty more cows to see, lots of flat pastures and straight and boring roads, though having not much of shoulder in the beginning of the day does keep us on your toes. Roadworks along the way are endeavouring to change that. People are curious and friendly and even when we tell them that we speak very little of their language, it doesn't matter one little bit, they just continue on enthusiastically in Brazilian as if we understand every word. We just nod and say "si" [yes] an awful lot.

95 km. after Santa Vitoria do Palmar (87km; 54m) we stop at another petrol station and again it is no problem to camp there. We choose the inside of the abandoned restaurant, hoping that the mosquitoes will take longer to find us there. Yes, the damned things are in Brazil as well. Just no escaping those irritating little insects.

The other thing that hasn't changed is the yerba maté [local herbal tea] custom. I thought that we had left the thermos hugging-gourd swigging habits behind in Uruguay. But no, they not only practise this tradition here, but they have the biggest gourds and the biggest bombillos [metal straws] I have ever seen: it is like, welcome to the land of giant tea drinking equipment. And just out of curiousity, I looked up a bit about this herb on internet and found out that it is really high in caffeine, which accounts for the really bitter taste of the tea and I suspect for the incessant, day and night long sipping.

Surprise, surprise
Expecting the same fairly boring run again today, we are pleasantly surprised when we find ourselves smack bang in the middle of a really happening marshland reserve. What makes this trip particularly special are not the dozens of crocodiles we spy, or the noisy and attractive quero-quero birds, but the oversized hamsters called capybaras. They are the largest rodent on earth and they certainly live up to this colossal record. Even more surprising is the way that they and crocodile apparently live side by side, but as a local recently pointed out: there are so many capybaras, that the crocs rarely go hungry. I suppose he has a point.

As soon as we exit this natural paradise, the wind picks up behind us and we are off like shots along the flat highway in the direction of Rio Grande. The promise of a petrol station after 100 kilometres eventuates, but it is unsuitable for camping. We filter water, just in case and move closer to the city. The highway is incredibly busy with heavy vehicles and although we have to make timely dashes across the skinny bridges, we can otherwise pedal confidently on a wide shoulder.

None of the petrol stations up until 9 km. before Rio Grande (116km; 80m) offer anything appropriate in the way of safe camping. This particular gas-stop though has a green field out the back and once again, when we ask if we can camp, it is as though they are used to being asked this question everyday. We set up close to a tree on a soft grassy patch in the shade. Locals are curious and all of them hold lengthy conversations with us, of which we undertand about 20%. Still, they walk away content, as if we have both fulfilled great intellectual exchanges.

A shopping expedition; an interview;, a ferry trip; and one hell of an evening battle
It is a leisurely beginning to the day, as we allow the tent to dry as much as possible before heading into town. It is a busy ride, but not as heavily laden with trucks, at this time in the morning, as it was yesterday afternoon. Plenty of bicycles on the road too, which means the traffic is used to seeing two-wheeled-non-motorised forms of transport on their turf as well. Everyone is actually courteous.

We make a stop at a Maxxi Supermarket, which by the time I've finished piling the stuff we need for three days in a small carry basket and am standing in one of the not so small queues, I realise is a very bad move indeed. And I can tell you, I hope I never again have to set foot inside one of these mega-monster establishments. Besides being a Wal-mart affiliate, which I am not a particular fan of, it is full of very large people, with very large shopping trolleys, all very full to the brim with food stuffs that make you very, very fat. The plastic bag policy here is pretty well this: "use as many as you possibly can, as quickly as you can and someone will come around and give you another wad of them". Furthering the delays, it appears that the coding system in Maxxi stores could do with a bit of an update.

But everyone waits quite patiently in line chatting cheerfully with one and other. Like the woman in front of me for example, who has a full 5 minute conversation with moi before she comes up for air and I can tell her that I didn't understand a word she had said. She just giggles a bit and then turns to the person in front of her, who happens to be the check out gal and starts her story all over again. Or there are the strategist sort out there these days and they do what I term "bugger-the-queuing, pre-positioning shopping".

This is a growing trend among big-store customers and it requires a bit of forward thinking on their part. First, get a trolley and begin your purchasing. Second, as you watch the queues increase and you are nearing the end of your shopping-aisle saunter, park your trolley in a line: anyone will do, but it is best to chose one you estimate will give the appropriate amount of time to finish your search for those last few items. Now, wander off down the aisles to do the rest of your shopping, remembering to surface every now and again at the cash register line-up to push your trolley a few more inches towards freedom and drop armfuls of crap into it. Of course, if you are with two or more people, then you have the luxury of leaving someone with the trolley, while the rest of you filter your way through the store. Should you not make it back in time, this anchor person can then, ever so slowly, place things on the checkout belt and keep the girl at the register busy with gossip, which she will welcome with open arms. Hence, not much is accomplished at this point of time, except for a whole lot of big wide smiles with generous displays of white teeth and ample agreeable nodding. Brazilians do laugh a lot too. This gives the gatherers time to get back to base and everyone is happy. Except me. I am learning fast, that the local mini-market is much better for, not only my peace of mind, but my husband's who is standing outside waiting for me to break free.

On our way through the city centre, we are stopped by a photographer from the regional newspaper and asked to go to the office for an interview. Again, such enthusiasm is quite amazing. So, after the questions and photos and then a quick purchase of some more wet-ones at the pharmacy, we don't get to the ferry until 12.15pm. The half hour journey to São Jose do Norte costs each of us 2 reais and 4.50 reais in total for the bikes. It is one of those old chugging "yo me hearties" ferry boats and the pleasant ride displays the town of Rio Grande beautifully from the river mouth's perspective. In fact, this city would be an okay spot to spend a day or two wandering around and people watching. It's bustling with all sorts of life.

On dry land again, we head out into familiar farm territory. We are expecting very little along this stretch and certainly not to fall upon a campground en route 22 kilometres after São José do Norte (34km; 25m). But there it is, in bold red letters: Camping Shalom. Not only the green grass, but the thought of a shower of any kind is very inviting. It has been three days since the last watery wash.

The caretaker is snoring away to Tina Charles' 1976 version of "I love to love", which I can clearly hear out on the road. Ali awakes him from his slumber and after some very deep and meaningful conversations - well it looked like that from where I was positioned - Ali returns and we are let inside. It is only 5 pesos per person, which is incredibly cheap and I wonder what the catch is.

We set up in a beautiful grassy spot, horses grazing, butterflies fluttering, blue skies, plenty of warm sun and after a wonderfully hot and powerful shower, I'm settling in to thinking, this is the stuff heaven is made of. The owners have already been alerted by the caretaker that we are on the grounds and they come by a few hours later full of enthusiasm and awe regarding our journey. They leave just before dusk with the warning that we should make sure we put some repellent on for the evening because the mosquitoes are bad here. And to think that at that stage, I thought I was prepared with our coils for what was to come.

I'm not sure at exactly what time they hit, but I do know, that at that stage of the ambush, I'm just beginning to writhe, quite uncomfortably; and spit away the mosquitoes overcrowding my face. I decide, I should go into the safety confines of the net protected inner tent, until they die down a bit. Ali moves into the vestibule and after 5 minutes, he starts frantically swatting like he's gone round the twist. All sorts of abuse leaves his lips. The mosquitoes don't and they are not thinking about an exit at all. If anything they are getting thicker.

Ali proceeds, like a true hero in a blanket of zeeing, blood sucking turmoil, to cook the evening meal. As soon as it is ready he dives into the comfort zone with me while the flying irritations swarm the outside of our inner tent. In a moment of silence, we can hear them zzzz-zeeehing at the netted vent openings trying to bully their way into the succulent blood supplies inside. It reminds me of the old aerogard advert in Australia, where a guy sticks his arm in a cage full of mosquitoes and they attack him severely. He then sprays his arm with aerogard repellent and sticks it in the same cage and they don't go near him. The punch line to the advert: "Have a good weekend; don't forget the aerogard."

Well, guess who forgot the aerogard? We bloody well did! And now I know what the owner meant by you need to use repellent in the evenings. But I have to disagree slightly, because you need more than repellent; you need a frog the size of Africa with an insatiable appetite to combat these Battlestar Galactica insect-ships. This is no joke. I'm sure if we showed any lapse in determination to hold onto tenancy rights of our tent, then the buggers would have flown off with it.

Seeing as Ali had tussled over cooking dinner, I figure its only fair that I do the dishes. Everything collected into a stackable pile I make my way across the field with more than one hop, skip and jump. Through the blanket I forge; into the toilet area where the whole of the wall is covered in little black dots with spindly angled legs. In this room I not only wish that I were a spider, but I develop, implement and successfully perform one of the most silly "washing the dishes dances" you are likely to have seen in your life. It is very fortunate, that no-ne was there to film it, otherwise YouTube would have not been able to handle the traffic the moment it was uploaded.

The night is rather dramatic to say the least, and any movement in or out of the tent must be carefully executed by both parties, bodies have never slipped through such tiny openings and zippers have never moved so fast. In the morning, we emerge to find that a new day has begun: the horses are grazing once again and the butterflies are splashing colour across the green grass and blue skies. It is a damned shame that a tent pole snaps and rips a hole right through the top of the tent and spoils any thoughts of complacency. The necessary repairs take place and as abruptly as I am about to end this month's write-up, because for once it is actually not too many days overdue, we exit Camping Shalom. The owners are lovely and all, but I am still wondering a week later why on earth anyone would come and spend the night there: unless of course they were wearing armour of steel.

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