November saw us at the beginning of our Uruguayan adventure. We had been chasing winter for what felt like months and were desperate for some beach days, to feel the sand between our toes and the sun on our backs. A few weeks at some of the most popular beaches in South America seemed like a great idea!
There's much more to Montevideo
This city has a bit of a bad rep, or actually not much of a rep at all. Most people pass through Uruguay's capital more out of necessity than desire but our three days here turned out to be hugely enjoyable.
Unusually for a capital city in Latin America, it felt incredibly safe to walk around and so, that's what we did. For miles and miles we explored its ocean side, the old town, the popular Sunday market and a museum or two. Oh, and boy did we take a lot of photos! That place is just so god damn photogenic!
It was here that we also got to try maté for the first time. We're not going to lie - we didn't really like it. Imagine a teabag left to brew in a dirty ash tray for three days, and you might understand why. Still, we did our best to hide it from the girl that made and sold it to us, turning grimaces into smiles often enough that our short experience actually became a little addictive. We didn't like it, but we kept on wanting more; at least we can now understand the addiction so many people suffer from in this part of the world (Uruguayans drink nearly 10 kilos per person/year) a little better.
Unfortunately, for Andrew at least, we weren't able to enjoy a meal at the famous Mercado del Puerto. This vast hall full with restaurants selling artery-clogging plates of meat was a little (actually a lot!) out our price range and for a vegetarian who, you know, likes to eat more than a blackened green pepper, it was a little lacking in options. Instead, it was back to the empanadas, which it turns out, the Uruguayans do even better than their neighbours!
Heading back to the coast
Our first beach town in five months, and boy were we glad to get here! Whilst in high season, it sounds like Punta del Este would have been intolerably busy, for the few days we spent in the popular resort town it was perfectly enjoyable.
Long runs along the malecon, meandering walks through the harbour, far, far too many pictures of sea lions and lots of home made gnocchi.
We were staying in a hostel that charged a little too much for bottles of beer, so we did what any self-respecting budget backpacker would do and brought our own to the beach. The view was much better too!
Kicking back in La Paloma
We knew that it was still low season in Uruguay, so we expected the hostels to be somewhat empty. What we didn't expect however, was for one to be opened especially for us! A kitchen to ourselves, a wonderful living area overlooking the beach which promptly became our office and a wifi connection we didn't have to share with other download hungry backpackers. We were almost sad to only have one miserable day - until we saw the beach. Beautiful golden sand, and it was almost as empty as our hostel.
Early mornings were followed by breakfasts on the balcony, long afternoons lying on the beach reading a good book and home-cooked meals. It was the first place that we've felt truly content in for a while, and as such it was really difficult to leave.
Riding through the Sierra Nevada
However, the reason we had to depart La Paloma was for something we were both terribly excited about. Months before this trip was organised, Emily knew she wanted to go horse riding in South America. It was supposed to happen in Argentina, but for reasons we've moaned enough about before, it just wan't financially viable. Uruguay supplied another opportunity.
Set in the wilderness of the Sierras, we worked with Cabellos de Luz, a horse ranch run by vegetarians with a strong eco vibe. It was a gorgeous countryside setting and it got off to a great start with delicious food shared under the trees. The owners have over a dozen horses and it was lovely to witness how much love they had for them.
We've done riding a few times on this trip, but this time was a little different. The horses are all trained here using cruelty-free methods and we were matched up with two beautiful beasts to roam the surrounding hills and fields.
The only disappointment was that we couldn't stay longer.
A few days in the wilderness
Cabo Polonio was a strange place; a small community living off the grid in a national park that you can only get to by 4WD over the dunes. There is no electricity, no running water (it is all sourced for a well), no wifi and plenty of hippies.
After a heavy, dramatic storm on our first night, we thankfully got a few days of sunshine. We walked the beaches, took photos of the colourful houses, laughed at the seal colonies and cooked meals under the light from our headlamps. We also spent some time with fellow Brits for the first time in a long time and, over two-litre bottles of cheap wine by the bonfire under the stars, it was positively FANTASTIC to talk about home, London life and not have to adjust accents or phrases.
Cabo was a unique environment. Beautiful in parts, eccentric and surreal in others, after three nights we were both happy to get back to regular life and the things we take for granted.
The dream beach town that wasn't meant to be
We were lucky that the two English guys had rented a car and they kindly offered to drop us off at our next stop - Punta del Diablo.
We had such high hopes for this place, it was supposed to be our sort of beach town. But oh my goodness did it disappoint. We don't think it's really Punta's fault - they were having spectacularly bad weather during our stay - but, it really gave a whole new meaning to the phrase 'low season'. We haven't travelled in any country where low season is so, well, low - shops and restaurants are shut, homes lie empty and at points it feels like you only have the street dogs for company.
We were working with a rather large hostel, and for the bulk of our stay we were the only guests. Further explorations of the town revealed that at times, we may have been the only tourists in any of the hostels.
To make matters worse, our room had a serious mosquito infestation. We killed so many, smearing the walls with their bellies full of blood that sections of our living quarters began to resemble the set of a slasher movie and our bodies became a paint-by-numbers canvas of their nightly chomping. It was bad.
Add that our two weeks by the Uruguayan beaches had only given us four days of actual sunshine, and we were at a bit of a low ebb.
After Punta, we were supposed to be heading to Paraguay before closing in on chilly Bolivia for Christmas. However, that was also supposed to have been after having two weeks of blissed out, sunshine-tinged beach time.
We were at a crossroads....
Another change of plan
One of the best things about long-term travel is that you can change your plans at the drop of a hat, jump on a bus and be in a different country than planned in a matter of hours. So, over cups of tea, we sat down and worked out where else we could go. We decided that Brazil and the 42 beaches of Florianopolis made sense. Surely it had to be sunny there?
Five buses and 36 hours after the change of plan was decided, we had arrived. We were greeted by a backpacker beach town where the sun was shining, people were tanned (and beautiful) and thanks to a pretty crappy turn in Brazil's economy, we could afford to be here!
After pricing up a few hostels, it quickly became apparent that it was cheaper to rent a two bedroom house with access to a pool than stay in a double room. We had some cheap beers, sat by the pier and watched the sunset - this was where we wanted to be! In the British winter, we'd get to enjoy the coming Brazilian summer...
monkeys and a mountain of work
...at least, that was the plan. Despite being shouted at various times on the cramped local bus ride to our apartment due to our backpacks taking up so much room, we couldn't wipe the smile off our faces; it all looked so damn beautiful. Toned men in tight trunks and women in barely-there bikinis were at the beach, the sea looked so blue and everyone had a smile on their face.
Unfortunately, it turned out, that would be the only sunny day for the next two weeks. Brazilian summer is supposed to start in mid-December but all we had was grey cloud and rain.
Imagine if you go on holiday to the beach for two weeks and it just rains all.the.time. Yep, that's exactly how we felt.
What do two digital nomads do when they're in a beach town without beach weather? Work. A lot. And take advantage of being able to make homemade caipirinhas for next to nothing!
Between Pinterest marathons, new articles and mountains of photo editing, we did make a couple of new friends however. Every afternoon, a couple of marmoset monkeys would come to the back garden to demand bananas, which of course, we were always happy to provide!
And so, that's where our November ended, on the not so sunny beaches of Brazil. What will December bring?