Updated: Nov 24, 2022
My Sixth trip to Uruguay and first since the Pandemic
My step-daughter’s husband is from Uruguay where the climate somewhat mirrors ours. In New Jersey when we are suffering through frigid icy days, the other side of the equator has wonderful warm weather. We have visited there several times and I can say that so far December and January are my favorite times to visit. After the birth of my grandson in 2020, we had hoped to spend some time watching him enjoy his first days at the beach. Unfortunately due to Covid-19, nonresidents were not permitted to visit the country until November of 2021.
The rules for travel to South America so far have been more stringent than the relaxed rules in the United States. When we entered Uruguay this past January, we were required to show evidence of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival (which was a feat because at that time tests rarely came back in less than 3 days). To return to the US, a-self administered antigen test was acceptable but needed to be taken within 24 hours of travel. Additionally, to enter Uruguay your Covid-19 vaccine must have been administered within 180 days of arrival.
We had our second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in early March, 10 months before our travel date and so that wouldn’t help us gain entry. We had Covid-19 in September, but unlike Europe which recognizes natural immunity for 180 days post infection, Uruguay only recognizes immunity 90 days post infection. So even though an antibody test revealed high Covid-19 antibodies, a booster shot was the only way we could go without a mandatory seven day quarantine. So despite having grave doubts about the utility of the vaccine at this point, we submitted to the bureaucrats for the opportunity to see the boy.
Having traveled abroad we knew that cloth masks were probably not going to be allowed and that high-grade surgical masks or N95 masks were the only acceptable face coverings. And so I wore an N95 which did a number on my hair, with a cloth mask on top of it. While in Newark airport the visual of a cloth mask did not cause a problem. In South America however, I had to show that I had an appropriate mask under my “stylish'' one.
This year for Christmas my husband and I received this neck rest to share during our flights. Thanks to the heat and vibration, I actually slept on the plane. It was sooo nice that I forgot the “share” part.
We used our United MileagePlus miles for this trip. We flew from Newark to Miami where there were at least two unmasked people (mask below the chin) in the aisle of the plane. Changing planes in Columbia we had to deplane in an orderly row by row fashion and everyone was fully masked. This was remarkable from the standpoint that everyone remained seated after landing until their specific seats were called. Needless to say, it was a far cry from the chaos one typically encounters when a plane stops rolling.
It is good that we had two COVID tests taken before our trip. We took one a little less than 72 hours before departure and one about 36 hours before departure in case the first one didn’t come back in time. When we were called to board the outbound plane from Columbia we naturally had to provide our test information. The test had expired since it would be more than 72 hours before our arrival in Uruguay. Evidently with some connecting flights you should test 72 hours before your final connection, not your first connection if you want to make it all the way through without testing in the airport. Apparently in the mish-mosh of covid regulations, some airlines and destinations considered your trip to have begun from the last airport before arrival. An electronic copy of the test we took 36 hours before leaving Newark arrived in the nick of time, thankfully was negative, and so we were allowed to board the plane.
Our son-in-law met us at the airport with the rental that he picked up for us. And so, with the covid nonsense behind us, our trip began. Even though we have been to Uruguay before, we have never been to the mountains which are about four hours from Montevideo. I would recommend a night in the Montevideo area as a start, just to unwind from the journey. Hopping in a car to drive four hours after 20 hours of air travel is a pain in the backside. If you just need to unwind or stretch your legs, there is plenty to see and do there.
Our drive to Nueva Carrara was scenic and because of recent rain, quite colorful. I understand why meat, especially beef, is such a staple in the Uruguayan diet. There are cattle ranches everywhere. Lots of cattle, sheep and horses could be seen feeding on the grasses. (hopefully they don’t eat the horses like they do in Iceland).
For those who have read my blogs, one of my hobbies is bird-watching. Before the trip I had photographed, identified, and categorized over 360 species of birds. As a result of this trip to Uruguay the number grew another ten percent .https://photographybymariasavidis.com/Animals-Birds.htm
Uruguay means river of colored birds.
During previous trips, I didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy the serenity of this particular area. While Nueva Carrera was far from Montevideo it was a pleasure to view the changing landscape. The house we stayed at was more than perfect for us with a wrap around porch and no other buildings within eyesight. We spent 4 relaxing days in this location with early morning walks, home-cooked meals, and lots of birdwatching and family time.
Literally minutes after arriving in Nueva Carrera, a Fork-tailed flycatcher sitting on a fence, greeted us by showing off a fly he just caught.
Red skies at night - sailors delight. Hopefully this beautiful sunset was a sign of good weather
The last time we had been in Uruguay was December 2017. This was a year after my retirement from Newark Public Schools and a time when I went from photographing a bird here and there to a point where I started identifying birds, learning some of their behaviors, and actively looking for various species.
The most prolific bird, at least the one we saw most often, was the Rufous Hornero. I thought for the longest time that this was the national bird of Uruguay, but alas, it is the national bird of Argentina.
Uruguay’s national bird, one that I stalked on my last trip because it was so beautiful, unlike any bird I had seen before, is the Southern Lapwing. My son-in-law says that locally this is called the quero-quero bird because it often sounds as if it is shouting quero-quero. However, some people think that the call is a very loud, somewhat more demanding harsh keek-keek-keek. Anyway you will hear these foot-tall birds with their brownish uppers, bronze-highlighted shoulders, striking heads with bright red bills, and a black line covering the forehead and stripes running down the middle of the face to the breast, throughout the country. They also have bright red spurs under their wings. Can you tell I think it is truly a magnificent creature? Luckily for me, some lapwings were nesting on the property of the Airbnb we rented.
Sometimes we think of common as ordinary or not special, but with birds, the common ones are often as beautiful or more beautiful than some of the rarer ones. The Saffron Finch, which is actually not a finch but a Tanager in the Cardinalidae family of birds, is no such exception. Below is one of many photographs of this bird.
To see more photos of the Saffron Finch please visit: https://mariamarkatos.smugmug.com/Animals/Birds/Passerines1/CardinalidaeFamily/Tanager-Thraupidae/Saffron-Finch/
As the day progressed we saw some very interesting and ominous cloud formations. A storm was brewing and heavy rains, strong winds and loss of electricity were on their way.
I savored the views of mountains, open land, cloud formation, and lush green grasses.
The experience was enhanced by a very special little boy, my grandson, who found a soccer ball and thought he would give it a try. Uruguayans are thought by some to actually have a special futbol gene. How else could one explain how a country of only three million people could produce so many world class professionals and two World Cups?
So much to look at and all in one place.
Not everything that looks like a Mockingbird is, The bird below is a Gray Monjita, a type of Flycatcher.
While sitting on the deck about 50 of these birds flew by. I photo-captured the one that landed on the ground nearest me.
To see more members of the Icteridae family click here.
As you probably gathered by now, our first destination in Uruguay was a remote rural area. The country roads were more like hiking paths than roads that traffic flowed on and with the proper foot attire were great to walk long-distances on.
I decided to go for another short walk and came upon a Green Kingfisher on a wire. This little guy was a poser.
To see more photographs of the Kingfisher go to: https://mariamarkatos.smugmug.com/Animals/Birds/Colorful-Bird-Folder/Kingfisher-Collection
After dinner, from the wrap-around porch at our AirBNB we saw the most magnificent sunset with every shade of red imaginable.
The next morning, my walk started with a Brown-chested Martin posing for me while on a wire.
Not too far away I spotted a beautiful sable-colored horse.
So many “lifer” birds that I must have made “What’s That Bird“ Facebook group crazy with the constant collection of ids requested. Not only were there many new birds but there were a great many female birds which don’t look like their male counterparts at all. Believe it or not the yellow bird below is a Glaucous-blue Grosbeak.
Just like female birds often look completely different than their male counterparts,, the young birds often look and act very differently from their parents. You might think they are yet another species. Although sometimes human children are a little like that too.
And again I saw a finch that wasn’t really a finch but a Tanager.
I don’t know what the plant is above but it certainly attracts a diverse avian population. The bird below, who is not a Tanager, was also eating seeds from this bush.
As mentioned earlier, the Uruguayan diet consists of a lot of beef and cattle is plentiful in this country. And for some reason very low in vegetables, I guess the livestock eat it all.
And yes there are mockingbirds in Uruguay
I saw a flash of red dart past me and looked towards the bushes on the side of the road where I spotted this Red-crested Cardinal
Thankfully while on my walk I was wearing waterproof hiking shoes and a rain-jacket as the cloudy scene below quickly changed, and the rest of my walk was in the rain.
Six hours later I attempted to complete my morning walk and got a few more birds to add to the collection.
Long-tailed Reed Finch
After 4 relaxing days in Nueva Carrara we headed towards Lago Marin, in the northern part of the country
On the way we stopped at the Reserva de Flora y Fauna del Pan de Azucar where we saw native species in captivity. We saw a few owl species which I had trouble spotting in their cages. I guess it's no wonder that there are very few owl photos on my website.
Brazilian Burrowing Owl (left) Striped Owl (Right)
To be continued...
Join us as we continue traveling through Uruguay in our next blog segment, "The Road to Melo and Beyond"
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