The ‘River of Birds’

Seven days ago, when I sat in the Guildhall at Portsmouth with sweaty palms, racing heart and hardly able to breathe because I was full of expectation and overwhelming emotions for the news I’d waited so long to hear, little did I suspect my team and yacht sponsor would be a country located on a continent I have never had the pleasure of visiting!

Enthusiastic to learn more about Uruguay and Punta del Este in particular, I wasted no time going to a public library when I got back to Bristol and taking out all available books on Uruguay. As a result I now know that my team and yacht is named after Uruguay’s premium beach resort (and for the people of Argentina too), Punta del Este.

According to the Bradt travel guide to Uruguay written by Tim Burford, Punta del Este, has numerous bars and nightclubs that debut tunes setting the musical fashions of the holiday season for Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Travelers to Punta del Este are reminded to: “Note that in January people (Argentines in particular) have a nap when it gets dark and eat around midnight. Bars and clubs only get really lively around 04.00, and it’ll be broad daylight when many people head home.” …It looks like the sleep deprivation and stamina we build up at sea on our watch system could come in useful when ashore in Punta del Este! It also explains why our Skipper, Jeronimo, was keen to identify our boat with fun and set the bench-mark for the happy, party boat (I just thought my reputation had proceeded me!). The challenge now is to come up with a team tune that encapsulates all this and currently my fellow crew are submitting their nominations on our closed Facebook group to be finally settled when we all meet for a team building weekend in July (feel free to suggest a tune I can nominate to the team. All our Skipper said was that it must be upbeat and preferably, Latino).

If truth be told though, I am not a nightclub nor resort kind of person, but two things about Punta del Este stood out for me in the Bradt travel guide: Firstly, that the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda lived there in the early 1950s, so visitors can now have a guided tour of his manuscripts, books and personal effects in the Museo Paseo de Neruda. Secondly, from August to October, migrating right whales can be seen from the beach, hence, the whale-watching towers for viewing them on the mansa (calm) side of the peninsula.

Of Uruguay I knew nothing about it, other than on what continent it is located. So reading about it is presenting a fascinating learning opportunity and some great armchair travel, which, for now, is how it’ll remain, as I am not crewing in Leg 1 of the race (from London to Punta del Este). This means I will miss this opportunity to be aboard the homecoming leg for my team and yacht…maybe one day I’ll visit Uruguay. Who knows.

But for now, my armchair travel to Uruguay has revealed that ‘Uruguay’ means ‘River of Birds’; what a beautiful name for a country! I love to go birdwatching with my mother on the rare occasions she is able to visit us in Bristol. She’s quite physically disabled from a severe car accident when I was young, so car or train travel is hugely challenging for her in a way that few able-bodied people will ever fully understand. I admire her so much for her sheer determination and ‘survivor instinct’, which has got her through her adult life thus far. She courageously makes herself drive to bird hides around England and Wales where she knows she can park nearby and use her walking aid on a flat surface to get to a hide. We have spent some great times together over the last few years in hides in the West Country and she has taught me a lot about bird identification and encourages me by advising on what binoculars to buy and giving me bird identification books for Christmas. So I suspect mum, with no interest in sailing, would like the fact I am representing the River of Birds in this ocean sailing race!

I also suspect that many British people reading this do not equate a Fray Bentos pie with a place called Fray Bentos in Uruguay. Neither did I! One of my husband’s ‘guilty pleasures’ is to go to our corner shop when I am away and buy himself a Frey Bentos pie for dinner. Since I have to manage my oral Crohn’s/ orofacial granulomatosis (OFG) with a cinnamon and benzoate-free diet (to avoid flare-ups and steroid medication), there’s absolutely no way I would be able to eat such food. He claims they’re very tasty and taste even better because we don’t normally buy them.

Corned beef Frey Bentos pies originally came from the El Anglo meat-packing plant in Frey Bentos, which opened in 1859. It is now an industrial heritage museum and in 2015, the entire El Anglo complex was recognised as Uruguay’s second UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Over the coming months I am sure I’ll write further posts about Uruguay’s history, culture and politics as I discover more for myself, but for now, I am just happy to represent a country just over the size of England, the second-smallest country in South America (after Suriname) and with near-total literacy and minimal corruption (allegedly). Uruguay won the first soccer world cup in 1930; here’s hoping we win its first entry in the Clipper round-the-world yacht race in 2020!