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Huge column and statue of Uruguayan "libertador" Artigas


Pretty fountain in Salto

With a thermos full of hot water for Mate, we headed off to Salto. The scenery changed a few times along the way and we drove through a small palm grove. Today is our first cloudy day and it looks like rain is on its way.

We took a detour off to Meseta de Artigas. Artigas and his compatriots (Treinta y Tres Orientales) in effect created the state of Uruguay and did so at Meseta. It is commemorated by a small visitors centre and a large statue of Artigas looking across the rio to Argentina. You can almost hear this monster statue saying "come on then, give it a go". You have a 360 vista from this point so it's a great place to launch a campaign.

Back on the main road, we're soon at Salto and head for the main square and the Gran Hotel de Salto. The 1940's style hotel has retained all its original features. Our room has a parquet wooden floor, small balcony overlooking he square and an original bakelite phone. The furniture, including the bathroom suite, all look as if they are the originals from when the hotel was first built. We forget how much we throw away in the name of modernisation and upgrades when there's nothing actually wrong with it.

The ballroom downstairs is also wooden floor to ceiling, except the supporting pillars which have mirrored panels. A bell boy brings the lift to you and takes you to your floor and a maid who turns down your bed for the night. Not bad for a 3-star hotel costing £18 for bed and breakfast for both of us!

As it is Sunday, town is very quiet. The shops are shut apart from the odd kiosco and there's a couple of restaurants open. It is very hot, humid and sticky and we were glad to find a spot in the shade to cool down and refresh. At the table next to us sat the couple we saw in the parillada in Mercedes - also on a world tour and also going to the same places in South America so no doubt we'll bump into them again.

Heading back up to our hotel at about 5pm, it has started to come to life. We followed a tourist map pointing out the local sites of interest - mainly just able to see the outside of buildings as the museums were shut. Best find was the Hotel Concordia. Built in 1865 around a central courtyard, with more terraced courtyards at the back it was a cool haven. It reminded me of Villa Carlotta, a hotel we stayed in in Florence on our honeymoon.

The town's PA system kicked into life with what we thought were the local lottery results - the same numbers were repeated over and over again. It then changed to singing hymns and we realised it was linked to the Basilica Catedral San Juan Baptista next door to the hotel. Around the main square was a huge procession led by a couple of priests and then schoolchildren. The crowd congregated outside the catedral and there was more music and clapping - I think it is for Whit Sunday. Considering how many Uruguayans were in one place at the same time I was amazed to see only one person drinking their maté tea.

Sunday night was my first lesson in using FrontPage, which we use to update our website. I can cope with the writing bit - all the clever stuff is still being done by Stef who assures me it is easy to do! As night closes in, an electrical storm starts that lasts for about three hours. Great bolts of lightning but no thunder, mostly hidden by clouds but where there are clear patches you can see the many-stranded lightning streaks. Then came the rain, so torrential it looked like the square had been shrouded in mist. It was fun watching people run for cover from the luxury of our balcony!

Walking back to our hotel later that night, we were struck at how austere it looks - similar to Senate House in London.