America,  TDM,  Travel Journal,  Uruguay

Our misadventures on the first day in Uruguay

We are getting more and more m*rde, a sign that after 9 months of mop, we are starting to get tired

We take a bus from Iguazú to Concordia (Argentina), a city 1 hour drive from Uruguay. We plan to cross the border to spend a night in Salto (Uruguay)

This “shortest way” (going to Uruguay from the border in the North-West instead of going all the way down to Buenos Aires -> Montevideo) finally attracts us more trouble than anything else

The day before, a little research showed us that there was only one hotel left in Salto, or expensive hotels next to the thermal springs next door. Thinking that this is just related to the fact that it is a small border town, where the hotels are surely not all available online, we ignore this info and decide to see for ourselves once we get there

After 17h of bus from Puerto Iguazú, we arrive at Concordia with 2h of delay, because of many controls. The Argentinian police got on the bus to control the passports of everyone, 4 times. They are perhaps looking for someone. Because of these 2 hours of delay, we miss the bus at 7:30 am for Salto and have to wait for 3 hours for the next bus

Dead of heat and finally arrived in Salto after only 1 hour by bus, we only find a shabby hotel available for 60€ per night. The city is of no interest and by this heat, we don’t see ourselves going to the thermal baths to die even more. We say no thanks and decide then to leave for Montevideo. It is the capital, there will be surely a better hotel and not expensive for us

The next bus to Montevideo leaves in 30 minutes but it stops at every city so the journey takes 8 hours instead of 5 hours. Too bad we just want to leave from here. It’s while talking with the ticket seller that we realize the extent of the situation: the best carnival of the country is currently taking place in Montevideo (that I know, but the carnival lasts 40 days, why is today more crowded than the other days?). The answer isn’t long in coming: It’s Saturday, but the following Monday and Tuesday are public holidays (Shrove Tuesday)

Basically: it’s THE most popular weekend of the year…

We should have realized right away that we were in a big mess and that the simplest thing would have been to come straight back to Argentina and wait for the end of this long weekend. But no, it didn’t click. My brain never works when it’s hot like this and having only 30 minutes in front of us didn’t give us time to think. We just had the reflex to buy a SIM card to have access to the Internet and to be able to book a hotel during the trip before our arrival in Montevideo tonight

Well, the SIM card doesn’t work, but by a miracle, the wifi of the bus works !!!! It is only when you are in the bus, connected to Booking, Agoda, Hostelworld and Expedia at the same time that you realize that all the hotels that can be booked online in Montevideo are full tonight. It is absolutely crazy, we would be ready to pay super expensive, one night at 100 €? 150 € ? 200 € ? No, everything is sold out, there isn’thing left at all!

What to do? JB proposes to get off in one of the cities where the bus stops before Montevideo, but all the researches lead to the same result: only 1 hotel available per city, at an exorbitant price (100€ minimum). The Airbnb option doesn’t work either: our SIM card doesn’t work, roaming doesn’t work (the French SIM card doesn’t work anymore since our passage in South America), we have no way to contact the host and we aren’t sure that he will accept our request in time

Montevideo: All hotels are fully booked

The 8 hours of bus seems to us interminable. We try to rest as much as possible, to take advantage of the air conditioning knowing that the night is likely to be long and hard. To cheer up the morale, we say to ourselves that it will be a good anecdote to tell

The bus terminal of Montevideo is a little bit off-center. We think that with such a location, we will surely find something. We are happy to find 3 hotels not listed on Booking/Google/Agoda… but even these shabby hotels are sold out. One moves away more and more but the answers are the same: negative. A receptionist feels sorry for us and explains us why it will be hard to find a hotel: carnival, long weekend, weekend… We see other couples struggling like us, and a whole family in the street, with the children sleeping on the sleeping bags, on the sidewalk

At one point, a guy in the street calls out to us when he sees us struggling: he suggests that we go to the other side of the park. And to be sure that we don’t get lost, he suggests us to continue straight ahead, under the tunnel then to cross the park. We thank him warmly, but suddenly my brain becomes operational again: a few keywords hit the nail on the head: “tunnel”, “park”, at 10pm??? Near a bus terminal in South America? DANGER ALERT!

Plans of attack

Okay, we gather all our neurons and make a plan

  1. Go to the center to look for accommodation. In the worst case, we will beg the receptionist of an inn to let us sleep in the living room for 30€. If we fail, we opt for option 2
  2. JB spotted a Mc Donalds open all night. If we get chased out of the Mc Do, we can always spend the night at the bus terminal (which seems rather safe to us) and take the first bus the next day to any city in Uruguay where there is a hotel available for not too expensive.
  3. I spotted a very out-of-the-way but well-rated hotel, with hourly rates. JB finds this option sucks, but we will go by cab. If we fail, we opt for option 1.

Option 3 is implemented first. The hotel I spotted(Marivent) is so far away that it caught my attention during my research. In addition, it offers hourly rates, which implies that it is a love hotel. Moreover, during the carnival in Encarnacion, Paraguay, we did the same thing. When all the hotels have sick rates, love hotels always offer acceptable rates and, above all, available rooms

We take one of the official metered cabs from the Bus Terminal. Small briefing to the driver: if the hotel isn’t available, let him take us back directly to the terminal

The cab brings us in a very bad place, and we start to think “shit, we must be in a favela, and if it is the case, we aren’t in tranquil mode”. I lock the doors and put myself in “Rio de Janeiro” mode, that is to say concentration, spotting dangers on all sides. It’s when we see the hotel that we breathe a sigh of relief. Yes, it’s a love hotel. And who says love hotel means security guards 24/24

A guy welcomes us, he speaks French, English, Spanish and German perfectly well. He explains us that the “night” here starts at 2 am, for a room between 2 am and noon, the rate is 1400 pesos. But if we want to take the room right away, it’s 2000 pesos (66€). Too happy to have a place to sleep, we say yes right away

Love hotel

You probably find the idea a bit creepy (it is a bit creepy anyway), but love hotels are very good compared to other hotels. There is a garage under each room. We reach it thus via this garage and we go up to the floor. Everything is cleaner, the towels are delivered in plastic pockets to show that they are clean. The shower is hot with a lot of pressure (and incidentally, it is a double shower with two lol heads). There is a control station to turn down the light, the radio… and there are mirrors everywhere (including one on the ceiling ahaha). They serve us food too (6€ the sandwich certainly) + breakfast. Someone delivers us the food right in front of the door, on a table. Hardly one hears a “knock knock” and the person disappears at once. In short, everything is thought so that couples can be as discreet as possible. There are even rooms with jacuzzi or other equipment 😉 Moreover the wifi is super fast here because the other guests have other things to do than connecting to the wifi ahahah. During our discussion, we see 2 other couples arriving, one on foot, and the other by car. They aren’t hiding under the tinted glass or anything else and look like perfectly ordinary people. They look amused to see us here with our backpackers bags

Note: One of our readers on Facebook tells us that indeed, love hotels in South America are rather reserved for legitimate couples looking for a little privacy. This is normal when three generations live under the same roof.

We start again to look for hotels for the next nights and luck continues to smile on us: we spot a 3 stars hotel at only 47€/night, whose two nights in a row have just been released (probably due to a cancellation). Not only we will be super well located (in the center) but we will also be able to enjoy the famous carnival of Montevideo! It was so unhoped for!

Moral of the story

  • Always check the holidays (I forgot to do that, that’s the fatigue)
  • When you arrive in a country, it is absolutely necessary to have at least the first night booked – and if you don’t make it, there is a problem (vacations, festival, departure of vacations); you stay where you are now
  • Always have an operational SIM card from the country before considering a trip to the other side of the country (usually we always have one but this time it didn’t work lol)
  • When all the hotels in South America are full, you have to look for a love hotel . To do this, type on Google “city name + tarifa hora”, or find a strange hotel on Google Maps.

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