Saturdays start slow. Even dogs sleep in.
On the river, Captains push their speed boats hard, taking two, three, four paying customers further up the river where dorados are waiting to be reeled in.
On the pier this weekend there is a photo shoot in progress with three young girls dancing, modeling swimsuits, posing for photos and getting direction from an old bald impressario wearing sunglasses. When they change costumes a matronly attendant holds up a coat as a changing room.
Clowning around, the boss stands on the top of one of the benches and dances while the film crew snaps shots and gives him appreciation.
The girls love it.
I don’t know what they are trying to sell, but youth and sex sells most anything.
Behind the news is always old men with money and connections.
This is my second trip to the Dayman termas but there are others in this province. About 80 km from Salto are the Termas of Arapey with five star hotels, water parks, restaurants, shopping, The Dayman termas are only a short bus ride out of Salto and the facilities are not pretentious.
After my return visit soak, I explore the Dayman community built around the hot springs, a broad collection of hotels, guest houses, bungalows, private homes, and commercial businesses
How would it be to own a place here and rent it out when I wasn’t using it?
Near the back of the village such a complex is being built. This new complex, as described by a large billboard in front, has the latest nuances and features its own hot pools, wi-fi, laundry room, patios and balconies, and security. It is not too large, but at 45 units there will be monthly fees and management costs.,
Their website is on the sign – www.guarnitermal.
If I want to own and rent in Salto, all I have to do is go to their website and show an interest.
If I had this kind of money though, I would rather be in Punta Del Este or the Pocitos district in Montevideo, or, better yet, Maldonado, a working man’s city close to hangouts of the rich and famous.
There has to be more than fishing and hot soaks to entice me to stay in a place.
Salto is looking like a middle class town of middle size for middle thinking people with modest pocketbooks and imaginations.
Too many hot soaks can’t be good for us.
One of the first things you pick up in a new place is a local map.
You find main streets, find plazas, find the river, find the bus terminal or airport, a good place to eat, the farmacia, and someone who knows a little English if you get in a jam. The map the hotel gives me is called the “Plano Urbano de Salto.” One of the closer things to see is the Museo of Bella Arts.
This museum was once a huge home belonging to the woman whose portrait is on the wall when you first enter. The pink colored house is on Uruguay street and is open free of charge to anyone who wishes to see inside. Walking inside you see that the lady collected art, and, when she passed, left the house and art as her memorial.
One of the smaller, and maybe least ostentatious paintings, is of a gaucho.
In this oil painting, a solitary gaucho poses for his portrait while his horse looks back at him and waits for orders.
ThIs cowboy travels light, has his bedroll and jerky and saddlebags, wears loose fitting and comfortable clothes, and looks ready for anything. Out in the wilderness, alone, he has to solve problems and is reliant on his wits, his experience, and horse to get him through dangerous times.
Being a gaucho must be a little like being a soldier in war. You have days and days of boredom and waiting punctuated with brief episodes of stark terror when bullets fly past your head, and any one of them could send you where you don’t want to go.
Gauchos and cowboys are something that Uruguay and the United States have in common.
However, it is hard to see how two countries who admire self reliance and the pioneer spirit have done so much to stamp it out.
The only place we see wild spirits now Is on television and in movies.
Civilization and the pioneer spirit don’t complement one another.
Thanksgiving is a peculiar American invention and even more peculiar since Indians had as much to do to do with losing America as Europeans had winning it.
A couple of colder winters, more cold hearted Indians, and the invasion would have been postponed but Medicine men knew invaders were going to keep coming and roll over them like a storm of locust. You can’t hold back tides of people leaving lands where they are persecuted and coming to a place their dreams tell them will be a Heaven on Earth.
Landing in Salto, Uruguay, I do the best I can to honor Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving where, according to legend, Pilgrims and Indians sat at the same table and had a fine meal together, without fighting.
My Thanksgiving meal is a small individual pizza, that really isn’t pizza, and a couple of beers.
If those first Pilgrims and Indians had known about pizza it might have become our traditional Thanksgiving fare instead of turkey.
What the Indians back then needed was a casino to capitalize on tourism.
Then odds would have been in their favor, without reservations.
Thanksgiving just isn’t the same when you celebrate it overseas.
Some traditions just don’t translate.
Salto is known for termas, hot mineral baths.
The Dayman terma, not far from Salto, can handle hundreds of visitors at a time. It has spas for those that want a massage.There are eating facilities. There are lockers, picnic tables and shaded areas to take rest out of the sun. It is five dollars U.S. to use the terma facilities all day and they are open seven days a week.
A ticket seller at the entry asks where I am from and tells me about his son who lives in New Jersey. It seems lots of people know about New Jersey in Uruguay. All I know about Jersey, from friends, is that spring and fall are the best times of year to visit and Jimmy Hoffa is buried somewhere in the Garden state under a slab of concrete.
Tomorrow I will be back here floating in hot water, on my back, watching clouds cross the sky.Today I just came out to see the lay of the land and try the city bus ride out for ease and price.
The baths this morning aren’t crowded and I watch scattered old men and women with old fashioned swim caps wading in the middle of enormous hot water swimming pools, floating on their backs, sharing gossip in groups of two or three. Kids stand at the edge of the pools, look, then leap into the water with a splash and a squeal.
If it were a little colder the hot water would be even more inviting but most bad weather in Uruguay is rain.
When you are in a hot pool the cool raindrops hitting your uncovered head are refreshing, little reminders to your brain that you shouldn’t stay in too long.
The hot baths of Salto are a Christmas present to myself I am opening early. They were one of the reasons I decided to come up here and leave the soon to be busy and glamorous Punta Del Este.
In terms of things to see and do, nothing yet yet beats Montevideo.
The exterior of this old home catches my interest.
As in Montevideo, there are old homes in Salto too.
These were built in the last century, or before, and feature ornamental stone work, balconies, tall shutters, statues, touches of Greek and Roman architecture. Some have been renovated, replastered, replumbed, and reinhabited.
This old casa on a street off the main thoroughfare is one that needs more care than it will ever get. While it waits for someone with a dream to fall in love with it, it is a garden shop – El Nuevo Vivero. Inside, plants and trees for sale are placed in empty rooms and since there is no roof on the building, rain waters them right where they stand.
The sign in front says the business is open on Saturdays and Mondays. This morning the front door is open and someone moves inside. It is Wednesday.
A young man comes to see what I want and invites me to come inside to look at his business.
Guillermo is having mate and shows me his plants. He is wearing a Brazil soccer shirt and we laugh about that. People take soccer serious on this continent. How can you be a good Uruguay citizen and not wear a Uruguayan soccer shirt?
In the U.S., this place would be closed for code violations. Here, there is no harm, thus no foul.
I buy a few plants and donate them to the front desk at the Los Cedros hotel where I am staying.
When I leave the shop, with my plants,, the ” Closed ” sign, in the front door, still hasn’t moved.
A business that won’t open its doors for a customer, even when the closed sign is in their window, isn’t much of a business.
This morning, I walk down Calle Uruguay, all the way to the Rio Uruguay.
This river separates Argentina and Uruguay. Though it isn’t the Mississippi or the Nile, or the Amazon, it meets the rock test. If a body of water is so big you can’t throw a rock across it, it becomes a river. The rivers, long ago, were the original freeways and big paddle wheels moving up and down the Mississippi are still romantic. Mark Twain, as great a writer as he is, looked fondly back on his days as a riverboat captain as some of his happiest.
Walking down Uruguay Street is an easy walk and when you come upon the river you are surprised there are so few craft on it. There is a new pier that lets me walk out over the river and I look way up and down, both directions. A lady walking her dog takes a few snapshots this morning but no one else, but us, is on the pier. A ferry chugs past us taking people to Argentina – those who have the right papers.
I spy a fisherman dock his small boat on the river bank and take his photo.
True to colors, he stands in his boat, lifts two huge catfish he has caught and gives me a thumbs up when he sees me. People here are so friendly you wish some of it could be spread around the world. His catfish are so big I can see their whiskers from the bridge I’m standing on.
“Go catch some more,” I urge him.
He doesn’t understand English, but he knows what I am saying.
Big fish give you bragging rights.
One of them is worth more than ten little ones, even if they don’t taste as good.
The bus ride from Punta Del Este back to Montevideo takes three hours and ends at the Three Crosses Terminal.
Downstairs, bus companies, representing large and small bus lines that cover all routes in Uruguay, are selling tickets and loading luggage and passengers.
Upstairs, there is a mall with shopping, places to eat, and entertainment. At a place where people from all over the country come and go and have time and money, what better place to put a mall?
Christmas is here and instead of Santa’s elves, we have cute little cows.
Some future trip of mine will be one long bus ride. It will be a stop and go vacation. Go till I am tired or come to something I want to see, and then stop. Once I stop liking where I am, I get up and go again. Hopscotching the globe could take a lifetime.
From here, I am going to Salto, a city famous for hot mineral springs and the perfect travel doctor’s prescription for a weary traveler.
Warming up in hot mineral baths is something even the ancient Romans did after a long year of subjugating and taxing their neighbors.
Salto will be my last stop this trip before heading back home to cactus, roadrunners and rattlesnakes.
We have hot mineral baths in New Mexico, too.
These have to be better because I had to go so far to get here.
If one were a cow, the only place you would want to live would be Uruguay.
Much like Arabs love their desert and sailors love their ocean, cows have to love this country. Those of us going to Salto on Monday, and there aren’t many of us, board the bus at twelve thirty in the Montevideo terminal and don’t see anything but green grass for the next seven hours. In many places it is knee deep, and, along the way, there are cows, horses, sheep doing what they do best – grazing.
The panorama is expansive rolling hills covered with green under a light blue canopy that supports puffs of white clouds drifting in a gentle wind like small sail boats.
You have cries of overpopulation yet we drive through thousands of acres of terra firma with water, the potential to raise unlimited cattle and crops, and few people.
It is not like there isn’t money in the countryside. You see expensive farm equipment parked in front yards and they are the same expensive machines you find in Ohio or Kansas or Texas. You see nice vehicles and big houses on hills overlooking the highway that have impressive iron gates, tree lined entries, and panoramic views.
Along the way are rolling grass covered hills, wooded areas that grow timber harvested for several large paper mills in a world that is still not paperless. The government is working on the highway and we go through several toll booths that signal different provinces of the country. Little towns we drive through are trying to stay viable, trying to stay alive as their population ages, kids move away, storefronts shut down, and expenses of keeping city services continue to rise.
They should have named this country Greenland, but that name has already been drawn out of the hat.
Rocha was my original goal.
My bus gets to Rocha and within a few minutes I am wondering why I bothered to make the trip?
Sometimes you get to a point where you get stuck and the best thing to do is go to a restaurant, have a drink, and evaluate. So, I go into a place called the “Americano Grill”. At the grill, my waitress finds a customer who speaks English and he tells me how to get to La Paloma. I have to return to the main square and catch a bus there because it is twenty miles to La Paloma, too far too walk even on a good day.
La Paloma, when I arrive, is another sleepy laid back surfing village, reminding me of Piriapolis without the Argentine Hotel and lion statues.
Locals here are getting prepared for their tourist season. School kids, at recess in the schoolyard, look studious in their white lab coats, with black bows, and school bells call them back to classes as I walk by on my way to the beach..
A dog in the middle of the road, nonchalant, too smart to take a nap there, but not in a hurry to move, captures the mood of this little burg.
La Paloma, in baseball terminology, turns a strike out day into a double off the center field wall. While Rocha seems to be a place I don’t need to see, La Paloma is a good substitute. Big tour buses are stopped outside the lighthouse here but it this structure is nothing like the spectacular lighthouse of Colonia Del Sacramento.
After an afternoon of walking and picture taking, I catch the last bus from La Paloma back to Rocha, then catch the last bus out of Rocha back to Punta De Este. I get home in the dark, walking from the bus station and, not many cars are about.
Salto is the next city circled on my travel map.
On this Uruguay trip, I see as much as I can in a short time.
Countries are a lot like people – they often keep their best features hidden till you get to know them better.