A Night in “Fucking Chuí” Between Uruguay and Brazil

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr +
SPONSORED LINKS END OF SPONSORED LINKS

Things you can buy in Chuy/Chuí:

  • Knives
  • Guns
  • Booze
  • USB keys preloaded with music and videos
  • Meat skewers, hot dogs and anything fried
  • Clothes
  • Duty-free products
  • Camping equipment
  • Pretty much anything

Things you can’t get in Chuy/Chuí:

  • Food past 6 p.m.
  • A clean hotel room
  • A street without stray dogs

Things you should do in Chuy/Chuí

  • Get a Brazil entry stamp and get the hell out of there

None of us got much sleep this last night in Montevideo—it wasn’t the excitement of the destination but rather the dread of knowing what was coming up. It was going to be a tough few days with long bus rides and it would start with fucking Chuy/Chuí, that border town we hate.

Oh, and we would spend the night there too.

At 9:30 a.m., we were waiting for the 9:40 a.m. kind-of-direct-but-not-really bus to Chuy at Montevideo’s Tres Cruces terminal.

At 9:50 a.m., it had yet to show up.

“Even the bus doesn’t want to go to Chuy,” I sighed, half asleep.

Eventually, an old bus and a sad-looking driver parked at the terminal and we all climbed on board.

“I’m gonna pass out now. Wake me up in five hours, when we get to Chuy—gosh, that’s a weird thing to say, isn’t it?”

I woke up around Barra del Chuy as the double-decker bus was trying to navigate twisty dirt roads, and I spent the last few minutes of the trip wondering how we went from “let’s beach bum along the coast of Uruguay” to “hey, let’s go to Chuy/Chuí directly.”

Chuy/Chuí isn’t a destination. It’s a shithole, a rite of passage, the price to pay to enter Brazil.

The two sister towns at the border between Uruguay and Brazil are one of the weirdest crossings I know. Nothing is easy in Chuy/Chuí. First, both immigration checkpoints are inconveniently located—the Uruguayan one is way before town and the Brazilian one is completely outside the town. Now, you can hang out in Chuy (Uruguay) or Chuí (Brazil) without formally entering or exiting either country but if you’re travelling any further, you need to get your exit and entry stamps, and Brazil ain’t kidding about that. Since Chuy/Chuí is 99% locals enjoying a shopping trip and 1% lost and disillusioned backpackers, don’t expect buses to stop at the migration checkpoints, you have to make your way there yourself.

I tried my luck as we were approaching the town and went to ask the bus driver if he could stop at the Uruguayan migración.

Dale.”

Lucky us.

Mark had just fallen asleep, so Feng and I ran to the border with the three passports. “Wait, are you crazy? We can’t leave Mark in the bus! And they’ll need to see him anyway.”

“I… wasn’t thinking,” Feng admitted.

The border officer asked who was the third passport owner. “Our child… sleeping in the bus over there,” I admitted.

He shrugged and stamped all three passports.

Weirder things happen all the time in Chuy.

“Crap,” I said when the bus finally parked by the main square in Chuy, Uruguay. “I totally forgot there was no bus station and I really need to pee. Alright. Baños publicos it is. I mean, who needs paper, right?”

We didn’t book a room so we started asking around. Hotels are surprisingly expensive in Chuy, so we ended up in Chuí, on the Brazilian side, at the same hotel where we stayed last year. If you ever need a hotel, think Rivero Hotel Chuí, R. Colômbia, 163—not that I particularly recommend it.

I was shown a room with just a double bed. “But… there are three of us,” I objected. “Then we’ll bring a third bed.” Right. I didn’t quite see where it would fit but again, we were in Chuí and I didn’t quite see where I fit either, so whatever.

Mark wasn’t impressed by the room.

“Mommy… there’s no shower!”

“Yes, there is.”

“Where? I don’t see it!”

“… How can you not see it given the size of the bathroom? By the toilet!”

“There are no doors!”

Oh, sweet summer child…

“Nope, no cabin. Just a showerhead. And be happy if you get hot water with that thing… Feng, we got the Guatemala shower!”

What I call the “Guatemala shower” is a chunky shower head with a heater built into it. We saw many of these in the Guatemalan highlands. It’s also called the “suicide shower” because of the whole “water conducts electricity” detail.

Then the bed was brought. Actually, it wasn’t a bad but a mattress on what was left of the floor in the already tiny room. I volunteered to sleep on it because Chuy/Chuí was kind of my fault—it was part of my original Route A plan Feng was trying to avoid.

“It’s perfect! Like if I need to pee, I’m conveniently located two feet from the toilet.”

“Gross… there’s a dead bug on my pillow. Or blood. I don’t know but I’m not using that pillow.”

In Chuy/Chuí, you don’t pay for comfort. You pay for the relative assurance of safety, a door with a lock and access to water.

Now, unlike locals, we weren’t in Chuy/Chuí to find a gun, cheap perfume and beer cases. We had business to do. We grabbed our passports and found a taxi to take us to the Brazilian immigration checkpoint—the Delegacia da Receita Federal de Chuí Rio Grande do Sul (it’s okay if you just say “fronteira” to the driver, phew). We filled in the forms (one each) and got our entry stamps. Mission accomplished.

The taxi hadn’t waited and this wasn’t exactly a prime hitchhiking spot so we walked the three kilometres back to town along Rua Argentina.

Next task, buying a ticket out of there. The grim Estação Rodoviária de Chuí with the one employee behind the safety grilled window—maybe he’s serving time, because it’s definitely the same guy as last year and the job doesn’t look like a promotion—issued us a handwritten ticket to Pelotas and I successfully completed my first transaction in Portuguese.

Nove, hora do Brasil,” he reminded us, pointing at the old clock behind him.

Here’s another confusing thing about Chuy/Chui. Brazil is one hour ahead of Uruguay, but you’d think the town would have agreed to use either Brazilian time or Uruguayan time. Well, they didn’t, so on one side of the avenue, it’s 8 p.m., while on the other side of the avenue, it’s 9 p.m. Many buses were probably missed by travellers staying in Uruguay or who hadn’t set their alarm clock to Brazilian time. Oh, and ood luck figuring out what time supermarkets really close because you’d be told the time hora do Brasil or hora local en Uruguay depending on whether you look Brazilian or Uruguayan (I look both, apparently).

We exchanged our last Uruguayan pesos and walked along the main street, the two-lane road known as Avenida Uruguai in Brazil and Avenida Brasil in Uruguay—I’m telling you, Chuy/Chuí is a mindfuck.

The Uruguayan side is pretty sedate, with the usual restaurant/bakery/supermarket around the main square, which is also the bus terminal and a playground. Along the avenue, there are many giant airport-style duty-free shops confusedly named “free shops” but trust me, nothing is free.

The Brazilian side is all about cheap clothing and Costco-style supermarkets, giant boxes along the avenues filled with giant boxes, where you’ll find mostly nonperishable food and booze. I really wonder why shopping in Chuí is popular. I mean, it’s not really cheaper than in the rest of Uruguay or Brazil. I don’t get it.

A last slightly confusing fact about Chuí: the town is home to a large Palestinian Brazilian/Uruguayans population, so you’ll see many “free Palestine” decals on cars, as well as women wearing the hijab and men with beards wearing thobes. In South America, this is definitely an uncommon sight.

“You know when you’ve been travelling for a while and then when you stumble upon a place and you realize you want it to be home…,” I noted, walking past rusted Volkswagen with no moving parts that looked like it had belonged to road-trippers. “What made someone stop in Chuy and declare ’this is it, this is where I want to spend the rest of my life?’”

I went for a last walk at night where I took the picture that captures Chuy/Chuí best to me: an empty street with a stray dog eating leftover food and a car coming at full speed.

I’ll be the first to board the 9 a.m. bus tomorrow morning.

Waiting for the bus to Chuy in Montevideo’s Tres Cruces Terminal

Dirt roads in the double-decker bus around Barra del Chuy

Waking up around Barra del Chuy

Brazilian Chuí license plate

Chuí on the Brazilian side

Chuí on the Brazilian side

Feng, wolfing down the ham I brought from Montevideo

Chuí on the Brazilian side

Going through the imigração to get the Brazil entry stamp

Going through the imigração to get the Brazil entry stamp

… and walking back to Chuí from the border

Buying tickets to Pelotas at the Estação Rodoviária de Chuí

Buying tickets to Pelotas at the Estação Rodoviária de Chuí (handwritten tickets!)

Chuy, Uruguayan side

Chuy, Uruguayan side

Chuy, Uruguayan side

Chuy, Uruguayan side

Chuy, Uruguayan side

Chuí on the Brazilian side

Chuí on the Brazilian side

Chuí on the Brazilian side

Avenida Brazil, the informal border between Uruguay (right) and Brazil (left)

Avenida Brazil, the informal border between Uruguay (right) and Brazil (left)

Avenida Brazil, the informal border between Uruguay and Brazil

Avenida Brazil from the Brazilian side

Chuí on the Brazilian side

The hotel room

Share.

About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

4 Comments

Leave A Reply