Los Pozos Azules y Sierra de las Animas, wild Uruguay

Espejo del guardian

I had heard vague and mostly non informative reports about the ‘blue holes’ almost since moving to Uruguay. But though many locals had indeed heard of it, nobody had actually been there. And the scarce written information was uniformly negative, slamming the dried up, muddy pozos, the constant threat of poisonous snakes, and the insufferably anal woman in charge of admission and privileged entrance to her little slice of criollo Uruguay wilderness.

The trails’s not this obvious all the time

Therefore, after two separate trips, one last week, the first one year ago, I can finally comment on the mythic legend of this spot, just inland from Piriapolis and the prominent hill named Pan de Azucar. Being within two car hours from Montevideo, the close access allows plenty of folks in, and this brings us to the topic of the woman who operates the veritable checkpoint Charlie at the bottom of the trail. After dealing with this control freak on separate visits, her style leaves much to be desired, in terms of condescending and smug instructions and mandatory ‘advice’, and my first impulse was to tell her off and forget about her precious property.

The summit block of the High Sierra

However, upon further reflection and experience, I recognize that the wench has had to deal with some very trashy, clueless, and unworthy humankind, and so has naturally developed this patronizing personality to communicate her mindset to the paying customers. The requirements are quite rigorous, she will make you empty out any packs to see if there are prohibited items, such as any colored drinks or soda pop, along with a compulsory minimum of water per person. Footwear had better be adequate, along with socks and a hat or cap for the strong southern sun, along with a separate bag to place any refuse in to return to the bottom with. There are others, and the only way to gain entry is to register in advance through the website or whatsapp number, followed by a comprehensive personal info form and an extended legal release read and agree section. The station is usually open solely on weekends, and quite possibly start times will be regulated and assigned by the hour; welcome to the future.

Pan de Azucar front and center and Piriapolis beyond

So all that is the downer department, just dealing with the ultra annoying control nanny, and finally gaining entry to the plot. Her authoritarian approach does appear to be effective in terms of reducing garbage and other human pollution, and on that point alone I have to give her credit and semi endorsement. Just know that this is the way it is, a necessary hassle, and then get out on the trail.

If you get here when it’s this wet, thank the gods

Last year we lucked out the first week of November during a wet cycle and two days after a good rain. This made for a semi muddy trail but heaps of water in all 3 main pools, and a lush canopy of green kept it shady and cool. The trail runs straight up a ridge from the bottom but the slope is gentle past the 700 meters it takes to cross the small creek. The first of the 8 actual pools is here and I came across a spectacular Overo lizard stopped on the trail, a meter long, maybe 4 kilos and an absolute black and white beauty. Having spent lots of time in both Colombia and Costa Rica, I’ve laid eyes on many an iguana, but none could hold a candle to this ‘lagarto’. Seconds later he was off through the underbrush.

The higher the rockier

Another 15 minutes on is the trail junction to the pozos, with a right turn that traverses a broad hill with a series of short and easy ups and downs, keeping on the only real rout through all this vegetation. The arroyo is down to the right along this entire stretch, and 400 meters of elevation is gained, and almost that much lost. In less than an hour the creek is crossed and the first ‘blue’ pool is reached. Espejo de la Cuevita, a splendid petite pond enclosed in lush mossy rocks and in full flower on my visit. As previously stated, timing is everything, as these ‘mirrors’ can be mudpits during droughts. But here it was full enough to get doused and spend some minutes soaking up all the green glory. Linger a spell.

Pondering the imponderable at Espejo de la Cuevita

Soon, curiosity drives us up towards the second mystical pool, and a rock wall on the left necessitates a short retreat back 30 meters to cross the creek and wind back left uphill on a fainter trail. At a big stone slab with a fallen tree a brushy route leads to the upper view of the pool below, and just further, the Espejo del Guardian, named after a fuzzy figure in the rock beneath the wee waterfall. These two bottom pools are the best looking of the chain, but another short spur trail, steep and narrow, leads to another view of the Guardian, and finally the smaller and not so atmospheric Espejo de la Luna. This one is still well worth the quick scramble, though not as conducive to sitting around, listening to the water and the bountiful bird calls.

Wet season is high season here, and prime time

The round trip to these pozos is in the 4 to 5 hour range, depending on pace and motivation, about the same as the circuit to the top of the sierra. The two features can be combo-ed too, ideally doing the summit first and then the pozos on the way back to the bottom. This makes for a full day, 6 to 8 hours, and I recommend it for anybody with sufficient juice.

Bring your binoculars and look over yonder

On my most recent visit, we shared the summit trail with several dozen hikers taking advantage of the excellent weather. This route is well trod through the lush criollo woods for a half hour past the turnoff to the pools, before emerging onto the rocky grasslands with the peak destination in full view the whole way. A wire fence is paralleled the rest of the way to the top, and the panorama is kick ass all the way from Punta del Este in the distance to Pan de Azucar and Piriapolis front and center. The summit block is a slab of rocks where a seat and snack are compulsory, taking in all the scenic splendor. An easy two hour shuffle back to the bottom is all that’s left, and this is a hike that every nature lover should take, despite the bossy bitc*’y business at the beginning. This stretch of land is about as wilderness as it gets semi close to Montevideo, Just make sure you meet all the requirements to make it through the checkpoint, and process all the essential details ahead of time at www.sierradelasanimas.com

After doing this trek you’ll forget all about the bother at the bottom, and only remember the best of the rest..