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Visiting the Solís Grande Creek, Uruguay: overlooked by an intriguing hill: what's in a name?

Updated on July 24, 2017
Flag of Uruguay
Flag of Uruguay | Source
Solis Creek Toll
Solis Creek Toll | Source
Solis Grande Creek which divides the Departaments of Canelones and Maldonado, flows into the River Plate at Balneario Jaureguiberry
Solis Grande Creek which divides the Departaments of Canelones and Maldonado, flows into the River Plate at Balneario Jaureguiberry | Source
Route 1B at the level of Solis Grande Creek
Route 1B at the level of Solis Grande Creek | Source
Landing of Juan Diaz de Solis on the shores of the Banda Oriental (Uruguay today), with Charruas lying in wait
Landing of Juan Diaz de Solis on the shores of the Banda Oriental (Uruguay today), with Charruas lying in wait | Source
Jose Gervasio Artigas
Jose Gervasio Artigas | Source
President Juan Campisteguy
President Juan Campisteguy | Source
President Juan Maria Bordaberry
President Juan Maria Bordaberry | Source

Fuzzy names, fuzzy historic spheres of infuence

Solís Grande Creek (Spanish: Arroyo Solís Grande), named for 16th century Spanish explorer Juan Díaz de Solís (1470-1516), who sailed past its confluence with the River Plate (Spanish: Rio de la Plata), marks the boundary between the Uruguayan departments of Maldonado and Canelones. Intersected by Route 1 (Spanish: Ruta 1), the prominent intersection is overlooked by a striking hill (see photo, above).

The naming of the creek seems fairly straightforward.

But the naming of the hill is not.

Prior to 1973, the hill was known as Mirador Nacional (National Lookout Point). Having myself many years ago climbed to elevated ground in the rocky and sometimes heavily vegetated hill country of Maldonado department, I can testify to the fine views which can be obtained here, and one can easily understand how such a hill, for many years claimed as Uruguay's highest, could bear this name.

However, in 1973 something happened involving the Uruguayan military.

A coup-d'état? Well, in a manner of speaking, yes; a civilian-military (Spanish: cívico-militar) régime, which emerged under the nominal leadership of President Juan María Bordaberry (1928-2011) out of a whole series of circumstances in the country, proved to be repressive in nature. It is interesting also that in the naming of senior official positions and public appointments during this period the phrase de facto is sometimes applied retrospectively in official reckonings.

But actually the reference to the event in 1973 involving the Uruguayan military had specific relevance to the hill overlooking the intersection of Solís Grande Creek and Route 1. Because in 1973, the Uruguayan military calculated that what had been called for decades Mirador Nacional was not actually the highest hill in the country. Whereas the Mirador Nacional was established to be 501 metres high, Cerro Catedral — also in Maldonado Department — was calculated to be 514 metres. Thereafter, the name of the Mirador Nacional went into abeyance and reverted to its former name, Cerro de la Ánimas (Hill of the Souls).

Even the earlier history of the naming of what was once — and is now again — Cerro de las Ánimas is interesting. An earlier name change, when 'Mirador Nacional' was adopted by the authorities, was in connection with the centenary celebrations of the Uruguayan Constitution. In 1830, this document was promulgated and in 1930 Uruguayan President Dr. Juan Campisteguy (1859-1937) led public commemorations of this seminal event. One measure undertaken at the time by the authorities, when the Cerro de las Ánimas was renamed 'Mirador Nacional', was to erect a 35 metres flagpole on the hill, from which the Flag of Uruguay was flown (1).

Let us go back earlier. Uruguay's Independence era emerged at a time when local patriots in what was known formerly as the Banda Oriental (Eastern Bank) emerged from the rival tutelage of the Spanish and Portuguese colonialists, and also achieved autonomy from the neighbouring United Provinces and Brazil. The hill has a reputed historical link with Uruguay's main Indpendence era leader, General José Gervasio Artigas (1764-1850), who is said to have lit a beacon at the top of Cerro de las Ánimas to warn compatriots of the approach of Portuguese troops.

For the significance of the name 'Cerro de las Ánimas', one has to go back even further: the hill was long reputed to contain the burial ground of indigenous people, known as the Charrúas; and sometimes at night legend has it that the souls of the indigenous people hauntingly become visible on the hill (2).

Back to the Solís Grande Creek and the explorer for whom it is named. Actually, it's not quite as straightforward as I may have earlier implied. The man known as Juan Díaz de Solís actually began his naval career as João Dias de Solis, sailing on the European-Asian route under Portuguese patronage, later switching his allegiance to the King of Spain — thereafter known mainly by a Spanish name — and becoming the leader of an expedition which reached the River Plate in 1516

Moreover, the period of government led by President Bordaberry leading to the coup d'état, which ostensibly occurred in 1973 at the instigation of the Uruguayan military, is not as straightforward as some observers might think. Decades later it emerged that involvement by the Brazilian military under US liaison in the process by which Mr Bordaberry initially took office was attributed by none other than US President Richard M. Nixon (3).

The Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), an incisive commentator on the Uruguayan historical scene, once famously commented that history is what we want to remember and to forget.

May 10, 2017

Notes

(1) See also (in Spanish): http://www.sierradelasanimas.com/historia.htm

(2) Another burial ground of the indigenous Charrúa people may be seen at the neighbouring town of Piriápolis.

(3) It is interesting that the discredited Watergate figure E. Howard Hunt (1918-2007) — who famously coined the phrase 'the darkness reaching out for the darkness' — served as CIA station chief in Montevideo, Uruguay and was thus in a strong position have a profound knowledge of the obscure manoeuvrings underlying the political hardball in which he long played a part.

Map location of Maldonado department, Uruguay
Map location of Maldonado department, Uruguay | Source

Also worth seeing

Localities in the south of Maldonado department include:

Punta Ballena is regarded as Uruguay's leading whale watching spot, has the Casapueblo museum. The nearby Arboretum Lussich has a mature wealth of tree species, plus a museum.

Laguna del Sauce is a scenic lagoon bordered by wooded hills near the city of Piriápolis, a resort with some remarkable architectural heritage overlooked by the prominent hill known as Pan de Azúcar. The historic city of Maldonado and the well-known resort of Punta del Este attract many visitors.

...

How to get there: Mainly seasonal flights from Buenos Aires also operate to Laguna del Sauce International Airport, where car rental is available, from where principally serving the nearby Uruguayan resort of Punta del Este. Latam flies to Montevideo Carrasco International airport, Uruguay from North American destinations including New York and Toronto. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

Of interest

West from Montevideo: Uruguay By Bike
West from Montevideo: Uruguay By Bike

This is a fascinating account of a road to the interior of Uruguay by two visitors to the country. I myself, who formerly held an Uruguayan ID, readily recognize authentic Uruguayan features described in this work.

 

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