Ferias of Uruguayan Rio de la Plata

For the months of November and most of December 2022,  we found a Workaway stay in Uruguay where we could stay in exchange for language exchange, gardening, shared cooking and general company out on an organic farm with an inspirational family. In our spare time we communicate with customs regarding our vehicles in Buenos Aires and go to “Ferias”, outdoor markets and find conversational Spanish.

On hit days, everyone dipped in the pool.
The river beach
The windmill which pumped water for the gardens, domestic water for use and drinking.
Alfajores de Liber, El mejores del Ferias!!
Cars we liked
Favorite camper in Valdense
The old vehicles restored to brilliance in Colonia Valdense

Uruguay is bordered on the west by the Uruguay River which flows into the Atlantic Ocean at it’s wide mouth it passes Buenos Aires, Argentina and Montevideo, Uruguay in the “Rio de la Plata” area. Culturally, the people are distinct from the rest of South America. When I asked a Colombian man what he knew about Rio de la Plata culture in he said, “Well, they are not like the rest of the brother countries like Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Chile etc”.

The native people of Uruguay were masacred to allow the immigrant cultures from Europe to develop. (Sound familiar those reading in the US?) Looking around, the first impression of Colonia Sacramento and Colonia Valdense where we stayed was that the people look Italian, Spanish and Suisse with only a few people having the physical characteristics of people native to South America. Also, the accent and vocabulary is very different than the rest of South America.

Harvesting bamboo to make tomato structures
The dulces (sweet jams, jellies and chutneys) at the Feria in Nueva Helvecia, Uruguay

We have been here long enough (6 weeks) that the accent sounds familiar. Being delayed on our intended trip has given us lots of time to fill. We are lucky we landed where we did in this Workaway. Now, we have a good understanding of the small artesianal markets which pop up in the towns of the  Department of Colonia: Valdense, Nueva Helveca, Rosario, Los Pinos, and Fomento. Our host family attends them all as vendors of juices, jams, jellies, herbs, and jewelry.

Niles and Viv with seedlings of lettuce and basil ready to plant.

Since we are without vehicles and our budget for the trip accounted that we would be living in and driving our campers, we don’t have a budget for hoteling and a rental car. We depend on our host family for rides to these small towns. They go to make some money and visit with friends, we go for some diversion, festival food, and music. I’ve loved having the perspective of the vendor at these festivals.

Gaston and Victoria’s car which got them through 7 years of traveling South America was our transport to town and Ferias. The car had many quirks and was at the shop for 2 weeks to prepare it for another trip to Chile in February. We walked miles into town and back after dark to shop and take care of business when the car wasn’t available for an errand.
Nueva Helvecia royalty of the Feria.

Uruguay is an agricultural economy, especially in Colonia, and there is a strong culture of reuse of materials. The garage bins in rural areas are called “shopping”. Our host family picked up and dropped off items during our stay at the “shopping” that most Americans would not consider valuable. But, because Uruguay is hugely agricultural and importing things they don’t make themselves, the people value old cars, old furniture, old building materials and use everything multiple times.

Now, I’m sitting at the Feria in Nueva Helica and the scene is ripe. Christmas music is playing, people have that hungry look for stuff. And they are buying from the vendors we have gotten to know over the past weeks. I’m so happy to see this.

Over these weeks, I’ve held myself back from asking what the value is to the family to attend these markets. It’s not for the money. Tonight’s market is answering some of those questions. The vendors all know each other well now. They know each other and their products well. They share resources, transportation, tables, lights. Most of the vendors live on farms. Some are part of a rural women’s network. These Ferias (Markets) are the social outlet of the farm. Now they are making their money, but first all the networking happened.

Last night a new Feria was held at Fomento, a beach town. The Feria was to celebrate the first day of summer. The wind blew and it was cold near the beach. Very few people showed up even though there was good live music that would have been great to dance to. The tourism government officials stayed in a white tent consuming free food and drinks while the vendors of food and drinks outside watched. There were some hard feelings among the vendors who worked hard to travel and set up  for this flop of a Feria.

On the up side, Niles and I watched kite boarders on the river tear out and back doing jumps and floating turns. Inspired me to do yoga on the beach even with the sand stinging my legs. Niles really liked our time out and off the farm. He also bought a hand crafted silver bracelet from Pablo, a friend of the family.

ATSA campground maintained by the Argentinan nurses union:

In Argentina, some campgrounds are sponsored and maintained by workers unions or private groups with a cause on provincial public land. So far, we have stayed at only three campgrounds on our camping trip down the Atlantic coast. Each camp has its own culture depending on the organization hosting the campground. Each one has been welcoming so much so we stayed longer than planned. Our last campsite article: https://gogirlinvest.com/2023/01/06/la-redonda-camping-at-chapamala-argentina/

ATSA campground point

On the surface, the campgrounds appear like business campgrounds in the US but as you stay, you realize there is a community associated with the organization of the campground. ATSA is full of nurses, so it’s clean, economical, well organized and family friendly.

ATSA entrance
Walk to the beach

ASTA is bordered by a teachers union camp and literally next to the beach. There is live music nightly at a pop up restaurant in front of the teachers union camp. The beach culture is early morning walks, surfing and yoga. Mid-day sunbathing with umbrellas, kids in the water, teens playing soccer and a disc game on the sand, Tucu sp?.The surfers wear wetsuits and the swimming is cold with rough waves and undertow.

Biking from camp into town takes you through the Parque Miguel Lilla featured in this description from South America on a Shoestring (Javier’s copy).

The favorite aspect of this camp is how close it is to the bike/walking park full of shade from old pine trees. There is single track which is something we haven’t experienced since the US on our travels. All along the park is beach access and a Scouts of Argentina camp.

In ATSA camp, you can bring car or camper set ups,  rent cabanas, concrete houses or in the next camp over, Uture, you can rent very large brick houses.

For campers without showers, there are seven minute hot showers for each person registered to camp daily by using a token system. Grills (Parrillas), drinking water from the tap, bathrooms and a shower house are provided. Our campers have been well set up for even more rustic camping than this but having lots of opportunities to socialize is more enjoyable to us now. We paid 5400 total for 4 people and 2 vehicles (~$15). There are better rates if staying longer.

Last night we had restaurant burgers (1000 pesos each) on the beach, listened to the live band, watched the sunset and full moonrise all within walking 5 minutes from our campers. These types of experiences are all just normal life for these Argentinan families on vacation.

Niles found a pack of teens last night who stayed out on the beach until sunrise with a fire. He is enjoying himself very much here. Families camping here have come to the same spot for years so they have friendships already established and are outgoing enough to invite the new kid. Very grateful for this place.

Niles with friends hanging out at the center of camp. So not doing online school as asked but, he must be learning a lot about language with these kids.

La Redonda camping at Chapamala, Argentina

Marcela the campground host extrodinare l! Marcela is the local English teacher as well. She gives a great walking tour into a local forest that we would not have found otherwise. She also can explain about the paletenologic findings in this area.

For our second camp along the Argentinan coast traveling South in the Buenos Aires Provincia, we stopped at the La Redonda camping area. $4000 pesos/day for 3 people (kids under 15 free), 2 vehicles. Dogs allowed. Unique to this camp is it’s conservation efforts through recycling, compost, solar panels and no electricity supplied to camp spots. The camp is clean, quiet and a great place to rent either an open camp spot or one with a camper already in place.

Family walk in the woods.

Here we stayed on the cliffs above 2  beaches. I could see the ocean from my bed in the camper which made the sunrise each morning a delite without any effort. The daily routine was coffee on the cliff with camp friends to talk about travel, life, language, and experiences along the Atlantic Coast. Then a dip in the ocean, smoothie in camp, a bike ride to the estancias inland, return to watch the surf and catch up with new friends in camp. The beaches have lifeguards, a surf school (6,000 pesos/person/1.5 hour). There is an active surf culture here. Wetsuits needed.

I have to say, I really loved getting to know a group of friends from CABA here who I don’t want to lose track of as we travel through Argentina.

In Chapamala, there are the stores and restaurants you need to keep you in all the foods and supplies you need in camp. There is a Feria of local Artsesans that I didn’t catch but was told that it’s unique and worth seeing. There is thrift storing as well which is beginning to be a thriving business as inflation continues here. Also, a tea house which has been here for 20 years but now has gained so much popularity, you need a reservation. Because of the pandemic, people are building in this area seeking the life outside of the city. It’s close to Mar del Plata but doesn’t feel close. Locals are feeling the pressure of this development.

Link to our first camp experience in Argentina: https://gogirlinvest.com/2023/01/02/argentina-atlantic-coast-in-our-campers-propane-sites-and-new-years/

Link to a podcast explaining our trip: https://gogirlinvest.com/2022/11/30/november-2022-podcast-interviewing-couple-traveling-south-america-with-teens-and-dog/