In Montevideo, the main bus terminal is located in the Tres Cruces neighbourhood, thus it is known as the “Tres Cruces terminal.” Or maybe it’s the other way around, come to think of it. I’m not sure. All I know is that it says “Tres Cruces” on the map and that the logo of the bus station/shopping mall—in Uruguay, bus terminals are almost always in a shopping centre … or again, maybe it’s the other way around!—is three crosses.
Outside the terminal, there aren’t three crosses but one giant white Christian cross, behind a statue of John Paul II. It commemorates the first visit of a Pope in Uruguay, in 2005. Are there two other crosses somewhere that we missed?
Come to think of it, maybe the name refers to the intersection of Avenida 18 de Julio, Bulevar Artigas and Avenida 8 de Octubre.
In keeping with the symbolism, Montevideo was a crossroad for us. Many travellers see the first three Western Uruguay cities as a suburb of Buenos Aires. The typical trip to Uruguay goes like this: hop on a Colonia Express boat, cross the Río de la Plata, tour Colonia del Sacramento, make it to Montevideo and party at Puntal del Este. Once your hangover cured and your last Uruguayan dollar spent, make the trip back to Argentina. That’s it.
Been there, done that. From Montevideo, we could have easily come back to Argentina.
But then, what?
We considered going to Punta del Este. We’ve been there twice before—this is the Cancún of Uruguay, a sprawling beach resort known for it’s A-list celebrities, parties and exclusive lifestyle. Consequently, Punta is expensive, especially in January where Argentinians and Brazilians flock to town.
Punta was lleno. We looked for hotel rooms but the few left were expensive and not that great. No surprise here.
Eventually, the weather forecast helped us make a decision. It was going to rain, and spending big bucks to be stuck in a hotel room just wasn’t worth it. We decided to skip Punta del Este.
We still had to buy a ticket to somewhere. East or West? Back to Argentina or…?
Eastern Uruguay. The “hard” way. Mark seems to be okay with backpacking and busing, we can make it.
La Paloma was our first choice. We had stopped there once before, in 2009. Small town a 3.5-hour bus ride from Montevideo in the pretty rural department of Rocha, great beaches and relaxed atmosphere. Punta without the glam and glitz.
We walked to Tres Cruces to buy the tickets. Mission accomplished. Decision made, tickets purchased.
Just as we exited the terminal, the storm started. Strong winds coming from the Atlantic and a noticeable drop in temperature, light rain then a downpour.
The following day was still very windy and stormy. We all complained it was cold, and it was by local standards even though the temperature was around 20ºC.
In the morning, we boarded the bus to La Paloma. It was still raining lightly.
“I hope it’s better at the beach,” I said.
Feng laughed. “Uruguay is pretty small! I think the weather is about the same in the entire country.”
It felt like a long bus ride. Roads are small and twisty by the coast and the bus was stuck several times for mysterious reasons. Traffic? Construction? Accident? Cows crossing?
Most passengers got off at Rocha, the department capital. We still had thirty minutes to go. Finally, we stopped for good when the bus parked besides a large concrete shack. No bus terminal/shopping mall here—there was barely a terminal.
We grabbed the backpacks and started walking to the town.
Suddenly, I had a flashback. I could see Feng and I, eight years earlier, walking the same road with the same backpacks. Nothing had changed, except for the voice that asked: “Are we going to the beach? Cause I want to go to the beach, so that’s my question, guys.”
People were looking at us as we were walking by. I guess it’s not that common to see two backpackers with a kid. It made me laugh.
We were two, now we are three.
And yes, Mark. There is a beach there.