Loading our suitcases in the truck and leaving San Gregorio in the dust, we headed north to the town of Artigas, the capitol city of Artigas Department.

Artigas is on the Brazil border, just over the Quarai River bridge from the city of Quarai, Brazil. By way of further orientation, Artigas is 370 miles—600 km—north of Montevideo. In 2011 the population of Artigas was 40,600.

As you know, most of Uruguay is relatively level to rolling farmland. But as we get closer to Artigas we begin to see different terrain–what Uruguayans call the mountains.

Our first view of the “Uruguay Mountains.” As you can see, we ran into a little inclement weather!

More of Uruguay’s mountains.

The city is named after Uruguay’s national hero, Jose Gervasio Artigas. Artigas was Uruguay’s  revolutionary, fighting for independence of the entire area from Spain.  You will see statues of him, mostly on his horse, in just about every city. And not only in cities of South America, he is memorialized in many countries, including a bronze statue at the corner of Constitution Avenue and Virginia Avenue in Washington, D.C.

Born in 1784, he was a contemporary of some of the founders of the United States.

Artigas really is an interesting guy. He admired the United States Constitution and carried a copy of it in his pocket at all times. He wanted to pattern South America after the U. S. Constitution. He governed all of Uruguay and part of central Argentina. He shared not only the era with America’s founders, he was of similar character and mindset. The 1700s seem to have produced some great, principled and wise leaders in South America as well as North America. Kind of makes you wonder what happened since then, doesn’t it?

The area is obviously cattle country, with huge spreads of pasture land. Besides the cattle industry, there is also an amethyst mine in the Department and beautiful and interesting displays of minerals from that mine are showcased in hotels, restaurants and real estate offices.

Here is a view of one of the streets in the downtown area of Artigas. Remember it is only the start of Spring. You can see that leaves are starting to come out on the trees, but they are still pretty bare.

Another street view.

Here is another part of Artigas.

They are walking for health in South America too.

Although we did not investigate specific real estate properties in Artigas, we did stop in at the real estate office of Otto Fernandez Franca for a chat. We found the situation in Artigas very similar to what we learned in San Gregorio. Prices for land are comparable, Monsanto is nowhere in the area (so far), and most of the parcels are very large. However,he also has smaller parcels at times.  If you want to ask about real estate in Artigas, his email is lapalma@adinet.com.uy and his telephone is (598)(077)24331. Web page is www.ottofernandez.com.uy.  His site is difficult to navigate unless you have some knowledge of Spanish. Sr. Franca speaks only Spanish.

During our visit with Sr. Franca we asked if he could refer us to someone who might be interested in making extra money by showing us Artigas and surrounding areas. He made a phone call. In a few minutes a really sweet, friendly young woman appeared and he introduced us to his daughter, Victoria, our tour guide for the day. Victoria speaks English with hardly even an accent. And so we set out with Victoria to see Artigas.

One of the local churches, of course, in the downtown area across from the central plaza.

The high school was right next door to the church. In most (perhaps all) of Uruguay you are not locked in to a designated school district. You are free to send your child to the school of your choice.

Public High School, Artigas, Uruguay

We decided to go inside and look around, which we did with no problem.

A wall display. Evidently someone was learning about the eye.

Around noon we decided to look for a place to have lunch. Victoria told us she knew a restaurant on the Brazil side with a fabulous buffet and asked if we were interested. We were. So we headed off to Brazil for lunch!

We ate at a place called Casarao, not far from the border with Brazil. Victoria was right. It was fabulous for anyone who likes buffets.

It was one of the most beautiful buffets I had ever seen, especially for anyone who likes crisp, fresh salad vegetables. But of course there was an amazing variety of food. In addition, they kept coming around to the tables with different kinds of barbecued meat, all strung on a kabob, offering it to those at the tables. Some offered chicken, some sausage, many, of course, offered beef.

So if you decide to check out Artigas for yourself, we highly recommend a little trip across the border to Casarao’s for lunch! In fact,  you might like to poke around over on the Brazil side just to see what you can buy there and compare prices.

Just as our first guide in San Gregorio would not accept pay for his tour, Victoria was the same. She would not hear of it. We fully expected to pay for her time but she insisted that it was free.

We really liked Artigas. It is kind of a toss-up with San Gregorio and other small towns in Uruguay. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages.  There are advantages to Artigas that are not present in other areas. One advantage is the fact that Artigas shares the border with Brazil. We realize that can be an advantage or a disadvantage–depending. There are often problems around a border town with higher crime. There can also be problems if the two countries decide to disagree on something. So far neither is the case in Artigas. The advantage is that many things are much less expensive in Brazil. We are told that is due to the size of the two countries. Brazil is a very large country with many more buyers. The wholesale price to a vendor of most items depends on how much of that product he buys. A large order gets a better wholesale price than a small order. Distributors in Brazil have a bigger market than do distributors in Uruguay; hence they pay lower wholesale prices. I would not be surprised if taxes are also an issue but in any case, one can buy many things for much lower prices in Brazil.  This situation is similar toward the east of Uruguay where the town of Chuy occupies both sides of the border. In that case, Uruguayans have access to Brazil through Chuy.

Here is how the border works. There is no checkpoint at these borders. Citizens and/or visitors on either side of the border can cross freely. The checkpoints are at quite a distance outside of these cities. I do mean many miles outside. For example, our tour guide took us across the border into Quarai with no problem, and we returned to Uruguay with no questions asked. Where questions were asked was as we headed back toward Montevideo at the end of our trip. There was a check point on the highway–a long way out of Artigas–where we were stopped. A customs agent stood looking carefully at  us, asked where we had been, looked in the back of the truck and said, “What do you have back there.” We told him “clothing” (we had only suitcases). He looked at Katherine’s documentation, stared at  us a little more, then waved us through. However, if we lived in or near Artigas, it would be no problem to buy on the Brazil side and just take the purchase home with us.

We also think that the larger size of Artigas could be an advantage. Probably you could get most things that you need right in town, while in a smaller town, like San Gregorio, you would need to get materials and special items from Montevideo or elsewhere.  San Gregorio, on the other hand, is a playground, with all the beaches, water sports, camping and tourism. It also appeared to be a closely knit, caring community that welcomes outsiders. And yet the people that we met in Artigas seemed very similar–the “tour guide” who took us everywhere, was a good example.

We asked about the hospitals and health care in these areas. The consensus is that the hospitals are good. However, if you were dealing with anything big, you would need to go to Montevideo. Montevideo claims they are able to handle any problem short of heart surgery. If you are getting a heart transplant, you would need to go to Buenos Aires. I have known people who had emigrated to South America and, when a health issue arose, headed back to the land of their birth for medical treatment. If I were in their place, the thought would not even occur to me. I think that is a matter of perception. I have as much confidence in the medical care here as I do anywhere in the world. In fact, I prefer South America for the fact that, if you have a problem they tell you your options, their recommendation, and ask you what you want to do.

This just about wraps up our investigation of the interior of Uruguay. One subject remains and that is the “Coneat” system by which Uruguay grades the soil in different areas of the country. We will deal with that next week.

Most people who come to Uruguay investigate and settle only in the areas near the beaches–we did the same. That’s why we wanted to see what was in Uruguay’s interior. We have to say that we are pleased with what we found.

Until next week . . . hasta luego mis amigos!


Copyright 09/09/2012 All right reserved.