WALLS revisited in Montevideo

Trip Start Feb 09, 2013
Trip End Feb 28, 2013

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Flag of Uruguay  ,
Sunday, February 24, 2013

We weren't the only ones who struggled in a rain soaked Puerto Madryn. That evening we over heard a rather camp shop assistant talking to his Brazilian colleague that having been to Puerto Madryn many times, he was so upset that he couldn't find his favourite ice cream/coffee shop with free wi-fi. He had walked the whole length and breadth of the town but returned to the ship defeated as well as deflated. He said that of all the times he had visited this town it had never rained. God must like baseball as he had thrown him a 'curve ball’ because everything looked so different in the rain!!! Ah, that explains it then!! Now I understand why we were being told it is such an interesting town and we saw something completely different…it was raining!! Everything looks so different in the rain!! Not as interesting, obviously!!!

During the day at sea prior to reaching our penultimate stop, the crew had an emergency evacuation drill. Crewmembers were stationed at intervals along each corridor. As we passed one young crewmember he obviously thought he’d while away the time playing 'Angry Birds’ on his phone. After all, how hard can pointing to the nearest muster point be should the need arise?? Evacuation procedures can be such a bore!!

We decided to dine in the restaurant this evening. At first we thought the ship’s photographers where once more doing the rounds. It wasn’t until the next flash lit up the outside decks and was closely followed by a loud rumble that we realised we had entered an electrical storm. The sea state wasn’t much different than usual. But the thunder and lightening gave us a show with never ending encores!! Most thunderstorms we have encountered last no more than an hour and then pass over. This one started about 8pm and lasted through the night until 6:30am the following morning. Roisin and I both thought that at least this should clear the air and we could look forward to a bright day in Montevideo.

Montevideo is the largest city, the capital, and the chief port of Uruguay. Uruguay has a population of approx 2.7 million of which about half live in Montevideo (1.3m).

The city sits on the Rio de la Plata (River Plate). Europeans first explored it in 1516 when Juan Diaz was looking for a passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. If he had only navigated a bit more to the North he could have used the Panama Canal like most other ships!!!

The River Plate is the widest river in the world. The mouth could even be classed as a ‘Gulf’. The River Plate estuary grows from 48km where the river meets to a whopping 220km where it opens in to the Atlantic Ocean.

There are mixed explanations as to how Montevideo got its name. A popular belief is that it comes from ‘Monte vide eu’ ("I saw a mount"). The name would come from a Portuguese expression wrongly pronounced by an anonymous sailor belonging to the expedition of Fernando Magellan on catching sight of the Montevideo Hill.

Another explanation is it’s a sort of a 16th century acronym (a pre-runner to ‘Countdown’!!) Monte-VI-D-E-O (Monte VI De Este a Oeste). The Spaniards (remember? They were the one’s good at drawing maps!!) noted the geographic location on a map, so that the mount/hill is the VI (6th) mount observable on the coast, navigating Ro de la Plata from east to west. The only problem with this hypothesis is that no-one knows where the other 5 mounts are!!

Neither of these popular explanations have been either proven or dismissed.

So, to the day we arrived in Montevideo. The storm had passed….but the rain persisted! The cloud was very low. Visibility was poor. We were to remain in port until 5pm (all aboard at 16:30) so no need to panic. We decided to wait until 11am and then, donning our rain macs decided to brave the weather.

We were told to follow the blue line and then, walking in a straight line, will eventually bring you to the main square of Montevideo, Plaza Independiencia.

Today is Sunday and Uruguay being a very religious country is closed, literally. Apart from wandering souls from the Star Princess and the Crystal Serenity, the streets were deserted. Well, almost!! Like Chile, there is a large population of stray dogs. Not a problem in itself and they appear to be no threat to humans. However, unlike Chile where the streets and roads are surprisingly clean, there is evidence of dog defecation on every street corner. Some dogs haven’t even been considerate to do it on the corner!!

We walked through the ‘old quarter’ in a straight line as directed. Suddenly I saw the sea again. We had basically wasted 20 minutes walking across from one side of the peninsular to the other!

We had failed to bring a map with us. It’s amazing how much comfort a map brings. I would put it on almost the same level of having money or being able to speak the language. The saving grace is that Montevideo is built on a grid system so getting lost is quite difficult. We headed back through the old town, occasionally spotting a non-indigenous type crossing the road we were walking up. You could immediately tell they were not local due to being of a’ certain’ age, the type of shorts they were sporting (it was still warm despite the rain!!) and the milky white spindly legs. We changed direction and followed the ‘legs’ in the hope that they would pull us further toward our goal!!! It was Tahiti all over again. The syndrome is known as WALLS – Wandering Around Like Lost Souls!!

At one of the cross roads we negotiated a torrent of water gushing down the street. It doesn’t matter where you decide to cross when confronted with a puddle. No matter how hard you try to pick out a shallow bit, you always end up getting soaked. Today was no exception!! This is probably the nearest Uruguay has come to a tsunami (unlike Valparaiso that now have signs all over the place!!)

Finally a Plaza. This was not Independienca, however. A sign on the corner clearly stated ‘Plaza Constitution’. I had no idea where this was in relation to the main Plaza but while we were here we decided to check out the cathedral.

Roisin opened the door and we both entered only to find ourselves standing at the bottom of the nave with at least a few hundred parishioners either side standing whilst the priest went about his job. It must be very off putting when you’re trying to deliver the sermon of a lifetime and all these tourists with their fancy cameras are parading up and down the side aisles. Give them their due though. Tourists were as welcome as locals during mass as long as you didn’t approach the alter when the ‘Ave Verum Corpus’ or even worse ‘the Holy Eucharist’ was in full flow!!! (not being a catholic I could be talking complete bollocks of course!!!)

We managed to find someone who spoke enough English to let me share their map. We were finally on our way and less than 10 minutes later, the gate signalling the start/end of the old town and the beginning/finish of the commercial centre.

By this time the rain had subsided, it was warm once more despite being still overcast. We were completely dry but our feet still squelched!!

One of our plans was to visit the Gaucho museum about a mile further on from Independiencia Square in the direction of Ave 18 de Julio but as we passed a few museums en route and all appeared to be closed we decided to give it a miss. Roisin said she never really liked the Marx Bros. Anyway!!!

In the centre of The Plaza stands a statue and mausoleum of General Artigas. He is a national hero of Uruguay and one of the leading figures who fought for, and won, the independence of Uruguay from the Spanish.. There are also several notable buildings that make up the boundary of the plaza. Namely the Estevez Palace, one of the work places of the current president and well as the Solis Theatre. It is free to ride to the top of this building for a magnificent view of the city below. However, what do you know?? It was closed!!!

We headed back to the ship passing the last thing on my checklist, the monument to the Graf Spee. Uruguay was considered to be the Switzerland of South America during WWII. Not for it’s breath taking mountains or its penchant for wearing lederhosen, calling each other Heidi and making cuckoo clocks. No, I mean because of its neutrality!! The Graf Spee was a German war ship in World War II that limped in to the harbour of Montevideo for some urgent repairs. When the mechanics saw the state of the ship, they shook their heads saying, as they blew through their teeth: ‘It’s gonna cost you!! It’s probably gonna be more than the boats worth. It would be cheaper to scrap it.’  The ship was therefore scuttled in the harbour of Montevideo to ensure it never fell in to enemy hands. (and they couldn’t use it for spare parts!!)

I don’t have the actual book in front of me so the above events may not have been quite how it happened but I’m sure you get the picture!!

Walking along side the Star Princess I noticed a deck hand had been sent out to clean the hull of the ship. It seemed to have a mark, probably where a stray dolphin or whale had bounced off during the night!! The deck hand went about his work with a scrubbing brush and, what I assume, was a bucket of detergent. However, rather than being presented with a squeaky clean shiny bit of hull, he made the mark worse. No matter how hard he scrubbed, the mark just got bigger and more ‘smudged’. The deck hand by this time knew he was fighting a losing battle so just nonchalantly downed tools, hands behind his back and whistled as he moved away from his less than perfect handy work!! (Check out the photo below!!!)

So that’s it. Our last port before disembarking tomorrow. On the final day you receive a log of the cruise. The 13-day voyage has seen us travel a distance of 3998 nautical miles (4600 statute miles) The weather started in the 80s and sank (unfortunate choice of words when on a cruise!!) to a chilly 46F (8C) in Stanley.

The final leg of the journey from Montevideo to Buenos Aires, Argentina is 195 nautical miles straight across the River Plate. There are strict channels to follow on this route, as it is a busy shipping lane. On several occasions we passed within a few hundred metres of another merchant ship. The water is not very deep in the River Plate estuary and is some places the draft of the Star Princess was only 30cm above the river bed hence why the ship only averaged a speed of 13knots. Compare this to an average of 18 knots for the whole voyage and you can start to see the precaution needed when crossing the ‘Rio del Plata’.

Back on board we won the afternoon’s trivia with an impressive 20/20 to the disgust of the usual boo-boys! We didn’t make the final trivia of the voyage in the evening due to having our final dinner with Alan and Ronda. This suited Roisin and I as there are only so many ‘magnetic-clippy-on-things’ you can take home with you otherwise all the magnetic force in your suitcase will play havoc with the x-ray machines at Heathrow!!

We decided to play a ‘name the film the song comes from’ quiz with Ronda and Alan. This was hosted by the ship’s resident pianist in Crooners Bar. It overlapped with the Trivia quiz so hopefully the participants hadn’t been to any of the Trivia Quizzes!! The host was a comedian and the important thing was that it was a bit of fun!! The prize (surprise, surprise!) was a magnetic clippy on thing so we didn’t try too hard. That said, Ronda played a blinder recognising a song from the film ‘Now Voyager. I chipped in with identifying the theme tune from ‘Exodus’. We fell down on Frank Sinatra's ‘New York, New York’. I said it was from the film ‘On the Town’. The film was actually called ‘New York, New York’. Ooh, I hate trick questions!!! We scored a credible 14/20. The winners achieved a score of 15. Ah well, we only have 8 clippy on things to bring home with us!!

We watched our last show in the Princess Theatre. A talent show from some of the crew. All were singles, a few not bad, others, well lets just say they had bottle. Nevertheless every act received a tumultuous applause.

We even met Billy London, the Cruise Director, in Crooners Bar where I talked soccer (he’s a keen West Ham fan) for a while over a Chivas Regal Rob Roy, before he moved on mingling with other passengers.

We’re all packed. Our code is Purple 5. This indicates our disembarkation time. Ours, as independent travellers is scheduled for 9:00am.

Where did these 13 days go too?? It only seems a few minutes when we were waiting for our connection in Sao Paulo airport.

Not too sure what to expect in Buenos Aires…but I’ll let you know in a day or so!!
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Elaine on

Cant believe the trip is nearly over either - enjoyed your adventures as always. Roll on April !!!!!!!
Have a safe journey home

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