It takes a sixth sense, a degree of luck and ever expanding knowledge base: renewed for each country, to find a safe wild campsite. In northern Canada it was the refuse bins that provided a bear proof cache for food; on east coast USA, it was the electicity pylon lines; in Australia: the high ground above road cuttings. We don’t always get it right. A pick-up point for illegal immigrants on the Arizona: Mexican border wasn’t one of the best low adrenalin nights we’ve spent at the side of the road.
However, here in Uruguay, things are generally a lot slower, a product of low population density, old cars and underpowered timber lorries. The roads in the north can vary from overengineered highways with vast, smooth hard shoulders and few vehicles, through sand filled potholed carriageways and even fewer cars, to earth roads and no cars. Our definition of a busy route might be two grain lorries, a timber wagon, three cars and a moto for each kilometer cycled. Ponies and horse carts don’t count. All the roads have a wide berm or grass shoulder, a haven of wild spring flowers, new bird spotting and good wild camping possibilities. All we need are a couple of judiciously positioned shrubs to hide behind, off a corner so as not to be caught in searchlight beams of trucks and, this being gaucho country, not astride the pony path. Our tent is green and they don’t use lights: neither on the horse nor on cars, we witnessed the latter one night on the autopista and the former when the navigator was woken by three horses cantering past our hidden site. She could feel the ground shake either from hoof fall or her heart beat. No sleep for some time.
Last night’s choice was amongst Australia’s greatest export: the eucalyptus tree, in the commercial forestry that surrounds the town of Fray Bentos. No bears, pumas are rare, and the only snakes we have seen have been road kill. So I think we have ticked most of the safety boxes, which will give us a chance of a quiet night. At some point I come to; it was very dark, the moon had gone down, the road was silent, but I could hear something very close to my head. Those who have camped will already understand how noise can carry, expand and transmogrify. A grazing ewe cropping grass in Glen Coe, raccoons scattering bin lids in Indian Springs or the humping hippos in the tent next door. It’s information from a single sense, unsupported by any of the other four. Noise without the visuals; now add in night time, strange surroundings, and the brain concocts a whole cocktail of scenarios, most of which become comical with daylight. I’d guess that a small rodent was cleaning up in the rubbish bag that lies between the tent skins just a few inches from my head. I really couldn’t be bothered getting up to do anything about it; there are mosquitoes out there, and anyway I fall asleep again. I’m woken sometime later - it was probably an exhaustless moto going home - it’s still dark and the mouse is still eating. It must one hungry or engorged animal. The adrenalin subsides and I fall back to sleep. At some point just before dawn; it’s an age and male thing, but still the mouse thing is eating, I’m convinced that I can hear individual jaws chomping and chewing on something. I lie awake waiting for dawn, putting off the inevitable manoeuvre of extricating oneself from a sleeping bag and diving out of the tent flaps whilst the waiting mosquitoes charge in. Waiting for dawn because I’m not so sure now as to what really is out there. We’d been watching two foot lizards the day before. I’ve tried shaking the tent skin, but to no effect, munch,munch,munch……..
I open the curtains and instantly all is revealed. We’ve broken one of those cardinal rules and left food where animals can get at it. The bread and last night’s tea of corned beef, were tied tight in a plastic bag: we were in Fray Bentos partaking of cultural and gastronomic tourism after all. We had also pitched right between two colonies of ants and both had constructed motorways. The vegetarians to shred the baguette , the carnivores to clean out the beef tin. Both objected to my naked feet interfering with their industry, by sending out the guards to attack. Nippy stuff, formic acid, so I retreat and up-grade from bare to boots.
That was last night; tonight will be different. We’re in Paysandu, it’s Friday evening, and the Los Brujos moto grup are having their 10th annual rally. We’re pitched right in the middle of a biker rally. That’s a tale for another entry, we do know that it will a different night noise wise from last night.