Dam Busters

Salto Grande Dam


Borders are strange places. Sometimes you can pass through them without even noticing, and sometimes the guards make a huge fuss. The Uruguayan/Argentine border was one the fussy ones. We were to cross at the Salto Grande dam, a 2.5km long structure that holds back an artificial lake and comes complete with it´s very own hydroelectric powerstation.

We had heard from the locals that it was closed to bicycles, but since the closest other crossing was 120km away, we decided to give it a shot. All was quiet at the entrance to the dam, and we figured that the locals must have still been feeling residual hangovers from Christmas. We got a quarter of the way across, excellent. A third of the way, great. I heard a shout from guards post, ignored it. If we can just get to half way, it would seem stupid to send us back to the start. We stepped on the pedals, accelerating quickly, just get half way I thought. A patrol van veered up from behind us and stopped right in front, damn, not yet half way.

The guard didn´t seem impressed, he grunted something at Fearghal and I, to which we responded with the usual “dumb tourist” look. Luckily, Marina was on hand to translate for us and we were told to go back and get a truck across the dam. There was no way we could do this as, since this is a circumnavigation, we must cycle every possible bit.

We eventually went back to talk to the superintendent about our situation. This meant waiting for him for an hour in the baking midday sun, with the three of us crammed into the sliver of shade provided by the guards tiny cabin. Eventually he sauntered over and after a fair amount of negotiating, he gave us three options: to go to another border crossing, to get a truck over, or wait a few days for him to sort out some paperwork with the Argentine guards on the other side of the dam. We went for the third option, which made him realise our seriousness about crossing the dam by bike. A small tug on his heart strings helped, saying that we had loved Uruguay so much and we´d hate to have a sour finish.

He went off, made some calls, then eventually returned with a van to escort us over to the other side, sorted!


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