Sunday, November 01, 2009


The People’s Health Movement is an organism with presence in more than 90 countries around the world. Its aim is to claim for the accomplishment of “Health for all now” intending health as a broad concept that includes the access to culture and aesthetic expression.
Last year, the PHM and I accorded to articulate our skills and resources in the context of my coming travel project: Argentina to Alaska by Americycle (and hitch-hiking, of course). The trip, taking some 18 months comprehends at least two defined cultural projects. The first contemplates the organization of free educational events in schools, villages and communities. These events will focus in inter-cultural understanding, by means of story telling and photo exhibitions. Sharing the episodes of hospitality and everyday life of distant cultures, I hope to foster tolerance and peace. To assist this challenge, the PHM has recently donated a wonderful pocket projector. It will allow me organize conferences for kids and adults regardless their school or institutions owns a projector or not.

Another dimension of my coming expedition is to document the mining conflicts and their social and environmental impact. Transnational mining companies have settle all across the Andes, extracting gold, uranium and other minerals by hazardous methods that poison community water and increase cancer risk. The projector will be a good tool to display documentaries on the subject in each visited community.

Also this week, I finally purchased the paniers (70 lts) for the Americycle (I will show you the picture when the assambling process finishes). La Maga (my 80 lts backpack) will go in the front. Its decided. No way I can leave La Maga behind, after hitching with her from Ireland to Thailand....

Monday, October 19, 2009


Uruguay seems to have a surprising ability to deterr us from normal hitch-hiking. Drivers are kind, there are no noisy highways, and everyone seems to be in a good mood, but there is always some nasty ingredient.... This time it was rain. Thankfully our French friends driving the rented car were heading for Paysandú, so we had at least 70 dry kilometers guaranteed. In a town called Chamberlain we saw a big Mercedes truck carrying cattle making a braek by the roadside. So our friends stoped their car for obvious reasons. The driver agreed inmediatly to take us. Unbelievably, he was going very near Colonia.

Rain hadn't stopped, and again we had to hitch-hike in abnormal conditions. Luckily for us, this is Uruguay, and 1 minute was enough to stop a Toyota double cab taking us straightforward to Colonia. They dropped us off at the Technical University in San Carlos de Reales, where we could use wi-fi and have a hot coffee...

Image of Colonia, Heritage Site of the UNESCO. The city was founded by the Portuguese in 1680. Ou host this time was Gino (HC).

The yatch's Dock.

Fundada en 1680 por los portugueses frente a Buenos Aires, la ciudad conserva en cierto grado su arquitectura colonial.

Old cars abound in Uruguay, so they can afford to decorate their bohemian atmosphere with them. Almost each café in the old town has one parked outside.

Beach landscape at Real de San Carlos.

Cheap food stalls to eat.

Sunset at the yatch's harbour.

Paula making handstill....

Real de San Carlos Bull's Arena, erected in the fist decade of XX century.


Thoug road number 5 unfolds its red thick line across the Uruguayan map from South to North, we were surprised to find an almost untraveled road. We traveled in the rented Chevrolet Celta of a French couple, and decided to join them camping at San Gregorio de Polanco.

The Camping grounds are at the shores of Rio Negro river.

San Gregorio de Polanco is Uruguay's first Open Air Contemporary Arts Museum. Thus, expect to find a homage to Jan Vermeer next to car park.

Murals take in different topics, from ecological damage to the dispute over Gardel's birthplace.

Paula, Amandine and Cyrile, playing cards and tasting some Uruguayan red wine (too soft for my taste) during ths storm that hit the town that night...


Valle Edén is a small town, 26 kms away from Tacuarembó. The almost unknown forested valley claims to have been the birth place of Carlos Gardel, the famous tango singer. Legend has it that he was born in Touluse, France, but Uruguayans have their own reasons to believe he was local, of an ilegitimate affair. We waited 45 minutes in Tacuarembó, in a roadside decorated with beheaded hens, candels an other remains of an umbanda ritual.

Valle Edén had a beautifulenergy, no wonder it hosted a Rainbow Gathering a couple of yeras ago.

A man collects her granddaughter from school....

Horses, hens, cows, pigs and others abound. Actually, we must cross several wire fences to get to our hosts house.

Locals prepare mate with apple and lemon skins and other unusual ingredients.

Our new tent: a Rock Empire "Alaska", made in the Czech Republic, was used for the first time in Valle Edén. Hey, and that's Milagros, a beautiful tender calf that was receiving her milk from a bottle...

We visited Valle Eden's school. Belive it or not each kid at Uruguay's public schools has received a free laptop from the goverment. Wi-fi connection is available in every schol, even in those towns that don't dome up in any map... Something to bear in mind if you travel with your laptop.

The mural at Valle Edèn School supports the local theory about Gardel's birthplace.

Clever and Fernando were local farmers with knew where to stand in political and enviromental issues. They were good representatives of those who consciously decide to make a step towards a life closer to the land, while haveing the education and the tools needed to be succesful city dwellers....


This is Carmen, our host in Tacuarembó, Northern Uruguay. Her house was a cozy collage of handicrafts, books, seeds and plants. The place abounds with pots with mint, tomatoes, quinoa or lavender. Considering the current trend to produce food intensively aided with genetic technology, those planting watermelons in their garden may soon become the ultimate revolutionaries.


Baldomir, the policeman that hosted us in Merinos, gave us a ride for some 20 km to a town called Morató, where cows seemed to have gained full citizenship and roamed freely... The unpaved desolate road overlapped with the historical track followed by the Charruas, the original inhabitants of the land, to their final stand. They were ambushed by General Rivera in 1831....

One hour later we hitched a lift in a VW Trcuk on to Taitcurá, another slow paced town...

We decided to walk to a junction (even unpaved roads form junctions). On the way, we found a weird wooden box, tighten with barbed wire and wrapped in thick metallic tin. We first thought of some kind of ritual burial. When we finally decided to open te box, it only revealed a rotten honeycomb...

In Morató we waited for 3 hours. A Toyota double cab driven by a ranch administrator took us to the main road, Road 5. There we hoped to hitch-hike in normal conditions (paved road!) for the first time since our arrival to Uruguay. But then it was too late and the sun was sinking behind the horizon. Placed under a lighting pole, we needed 55 minutes to halt a VW Worker (truck) that took us to Tacuarembó. Couchsurfing member were already waiting for us there.

Friday, October 16, 2009


The following morning Baldomir suggested I should go with him to the town's general store. Secretly, he wanted me to witness how he challenged the local folks in the billiard... I remained more curious of how locals enjoyed drinking at the bar, threading conversations that not always made sense for those who hadn't drink....

Merinos' general store.


Paula and I at Merinos' old -and derelict- railway station.

As usual, I prefer unspecific hitch-hiking signs. In this case "Conociendo Uruguay", which stands for "Getting to know Uruguay".

A group of drunken shearers were the first we made contact with. They suggested we could camp by the town's club, but imagining people around there would be even more drunk at night, we kept searching for options....

Stores still bear advertisng signs from at least three decades ago.

Old high roof houses abound in small towns. Their style is quite similar to the ones in Argentina.

When we asked Baldomir, the town's only policeman, where we could camp. we couldn't know he was going to offer us his house....

... and he went further and pointed there was some meet in the refrigerator we could cook. Some meet ment almost an entire sheep!

Since he had to live on duty to a nearby town, we were left alone at the place. The fire was on, so we use it to grill the sheep meet. Unbelievably there was also wi-fi connection.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Elbowed out of the rest of the World by cars and motorcycles, the horse-drawn kart, the mythic chariot, has found among the Mennonites a sanctuary where its thread of evolution. One of the aims of my trip was to hitch a ride in on of these fancy vehicles, called buggies by themselves. No need to stretch my thumb, I am offered a ride by one of the guys, whose family sells spiced cheese. I say I would like to buy some, and he takes me to his house in his buggy. The name of my new friend is Pedro.

To my surprise, the buggy advances smoothly over the unpaved road. The car I had arrived in had, in the contrary, let me feel every ditch of the road with more fidelity. Jacobo tells me that buggies are produced in the colony by a couple of families, who charge around 6000 and 8000 pesos for them (1,800 USD). The deluxe version has adjustable seats, glass windshield and Volkswagen suspension system.

Along the dusty avenue we find scattered groups of boys and girls. Since it is Sunday, it is the only the day they can abstract from their work routine. Then, boys and girls meet up to chat –and drink beer- in the road itself. Jacobo says if they meet a girl and start going out with her, thay can visit each other in her house Mondays and Wednesday afternoon for two hours. A remember a novel by Bioy Casares in which a Danish family who had settle in Patagonia attempts to stop time –and then death- by repeating every day the same sequence of prearranged acts, barring entry to their farm of every news. Likewise, this tendency to schedules makes the Mennonites a community sedentary not only in space but also in time.


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We arrive to Pedro’s house, and after a tour of their carpentry, we are shown the traditional cheeses. We enter a small room where also two large pieces of jam are being stationed, and choose a couple of oregano and pepper cheeses we buy from them. Pedro invites us to drink mate with his family. It is our first chance to enter a Mennonite house. The excuse for socializing is quite Argentinean; the bizarre social situation we are about to live is rather unclassifiable.
The first impression on passing the simple wooden door is that we were not expected by Pedro’s family, who immediately order two of their daughters to sweep the wooden floor. A compact legion of blonde kids is chewing and spitting sunflower seeds, almost in consonance. When I remark how much they seem to like the seeds Pedro’s explanation is: “Well, it is Sunday”. So in Sunday everything that’s otherwise banned during the week seems to be tolerated. And sunflower seeds are the closest to a forbidden snack children can crave for.

The two teenage girls prepare the mate while their mother swings quietly in a rocking chair by the window. The woman is huge like a Russian matrioska. You would bet there are several layers of women inside… None of the women take part of the conversation, which rather have Raul (my friend), Pedro, Pedro’s father, and me as participants. Even if the girls would like to talk, they are not taught Spanish. The father is a lightly built man with square glasses and a broad forehead. He makes me several questions about Germany, a country that I have visited several times, and which is where the Mennonite’s gene pool comes from… The man is kind and low paced in all his way of being and talking. I talk to him in German and we understand each other despite speaking different dialects. They all have a lot of fun when I take their Bible and start reading –without understanding everything- a short bit…

I ask the man for the names of his children, and he names only the boys. The girls, both the tiny ones chewing seeds and the teenage ones coming and going with the mate, remain anonymous. In this context, I can imagine the girls have no further life prospects than becoming children factories and seating by the window as their mother. There is no chance of getting to the “outside world” to work or study.

A dilemma emerges. Must the estate interfere in order to guarantee certain contents in education? Can family and community exclude the instruction of the language needed to be a free person in Argentina? I mean, is it fine that girls here speak medieval German and couldn’t even take a bus if they dared to, while men are bilingual? Schools have always been factories of mentalities, from the times of Sarmiento to nowadays. They have been widely used to displace the native tongues prior to the Conquista and homogenize population. Bilingual education has normally arrived too late. It happened with Irish, and also with quechua. Will it come the day when prohibition of prohibition becomes a part of universal ethics? Tht day Iranian girls will have the chance to walk unveiled, and Mennonite ones will be taught Spanish. The systems that now try to protect themselves by coercing individuals to act this or that way will only be legitimized when they become optional. We leave Pedro’s house and 30 kms later we are having a beer in one of Guatrache’s bars, wondering if everything was real or if we have just dreamt it.