Friday, 31 January 2014

My Uruguay....The wind.

That fiend friend. That providor of succor and angst. Do I want you to cool or push, to blast midges or clear mists, to costruct cloudscapes or build storm cells? You, who have too many prods for controlling my moods.

Gone today are the winds out of a polar southern ocean, with their promise of cool nights and spring tides, of blessed relief and Pampero. Come are the predicted winds from a northern interior. The tang of river and jungle, the humid rot of recycled vegetable.

Yesterday we rode the seashore on compacted sand. Slaloming through distractions and hazards. The parade of derrières and fortification of traps. The fashion is for thong, the tradition for moats. You help your children to dig a hole then encourage them to use a toddler sized bucket to fill it with sea water. The distance and porosity make for a near perfect perpetual activity, leaving you free to start the holiday novel. Today, same place, same time, no sand. There's little tidal range, but a gale pushing an ocean's quart into a river's pint, that makes for a very different shoreline. Today's ride will have to take a different route and collect some different, telling wall art.

Wind. It's an ever present component of Uruguayan weather. Rare are the days without it's effect or presence; taking it's instructions from either a hypercontinental north or a maritime oceanic south. Even in the utter silence of deep night, the wind memory in an ocean swell, thunders on the shore. Wind; a story and an image.

We've ridden north up the Uruguayan Atlantic coast as far as the Devil's Point, close to the Brazilian border, ridden into a hot humid wind that is tolerable on a daytime bike, that leaves nighttimes to a slick of sweat, for any fickle wind refuses to enter the tent. Yet camping is still an Uruguayan activity, and the locals have some tricks to teach us.

Entering the campground in front of us is an aged Fiat500, whose bubble car effect has been inflated with the roof adornments of four deck chairs, two mattresses and a sail's worth of tarpaulin. Then to help tether it onto the asphalt, there's an overcapacity of occupants. It's holiday season so the grounds are busy, yet everybody congregates on the west side or coagulates in a clannish clump under the shade thrown by the tall pine trees in the middle. Which leave a vacant east side and our first lesson. The sun rises in the east, ergo, mornings and you're going to be evicted quickly. Latino campers are not early birds. Fact is, we can turn this trait to our advantage, the early bird maybe doesn't catch the worm but it does get a quiet night.

Lesson number two comes a little later. To encourage some through draft we pitched in a more exposed site and then omitted to storm guy. Big mistake. We weren't alone in our omission.

The omens have all been there. A weather system with several days of hot northerly winds that gets broken by a cold front coming from an active low moving out of the polar south. Classic Pampero conditions. Today didn't disappoint. Only we simply couldn't see it's apparition or progress for the trees. The squall line rages in from leeward, the first indicator, the rush of noise through the tree tops, then the small calibre assault of pine needles and a bombard of cones. The temperature drops five degrees in moments. Tents are imploding, sunshades are wrapped around trunks, kit tumbleweeds across the ground. Then the rain arrives. Sheets of rain. Ten minutes later the violence has passed and we're left to a wet afternoon. Only the promised "blessed relief" from the humidity is yet to arrive. We will catch and watch a further five Pamperos over the next three days before the temperature drops a remarkable twenty degrees centigrade and that unpurchasable commodity: a full night's sleep descends.

What does fascinate me, is the equanimity with which the Uruguayan camping family tackle the aftermath. There's no panic, no frustration, no tantrums. And yet all their bedding is exposed to the elements, polybags have long flown north, their inflated beds are threatening to follow, and now all their illicit kit is on display. Along with being fingerprinted at check-in, we were armed with the commandant's commandments. Amongst which was; thou shalt not use fridges or fans. Yet, as I wander over to the ablutions, each encampment has these very goods exposed by the storm. I'm jealous, we could have used a punkah waller last night.

I wouldn't ordinarily use that vacuous axiom if I hadn't first spotted it on the back of a local car: "Keep Calm and Carry on", to which could be appended: "it's happened before, it'll happen again".

Our next storm watch had more of a voyeuristic element. Perched ringside like the Victorian grandees at a Crimean battle. A grandstand view. The Pamperos are lined up along the horizon, prow to stern, an armada advancing. Now, with the aid of a scale afforded by the thirty-storied condominiums of Punta del Este, we get an idea of how massive, how quickly these storm cells can move. I'm standing in silence, the sea in front, a dead leaden swell, yet two bus stances away, the beach guard's flag poles are bow bent, and the sea has burst into a boisterous upheaval.

Wind. For once, I can see you but you can't feel me.