Uruguay I'm okay

Trip Start Feb 18, 2008
Trip End Mar 07, 2008

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

We were up late last night partying at the Champagne waterfall. Today we got up and had breakfast. We are supposed to meet Jordan, Uni, and Vincent at the Port Authority at 11:15 or 11:30. Our dear Leo has to work so he isn't going to meet up with us. Due to the age of most passengers on this cruise we related more to the crew. We were so happy that we would be able to have a nice meal together. We had become such good friends with them that it only seemed right to sit down and have a meal together. 

We were going to head out into the city and come back to the ship to meet them but the weather is horrible. It is rainy and cold. We decided to take our time and head out in time to meet the boys. Cory and I had brought an umbrella but the wind was whipping so it was difficult to try to stay dry. Here in Montevideo the Port Authority was a huge area and we had a hard time determining where the Port Authority was so we just hung out at the end of the ship. We knew the boys would have to pass us and we would find them. Cory was the first to find Jordan and the rest of the boys followed. We told them that we wanted them to choose the place since they had been here before.

We followed them down the streets of Montevideo through the Port Authority which was a gate a couple of blocks from the ship. We took a turn down a narrow street and arrived at the Mercado del Puerto. As we walked through the old town, you can smell the market before you actually see it. It's a comforting blend of fire-seared meat and wood smoke. Formerly Montevideo's main food market, the Mercado of today is a barbecue headquarters, home to more than a dozen restaurants specializing in grilled meats. Seriously this is some of the best barbecue in South America. When we walked into the slightly smoky haze our appetite was immediately peaked by the smell of barbecue. It smells heavenly. 

Built in 1868, the Mercado del Puerto is a soaring temple of girders and glass. Access to the block-long market is gained through grandiose iron gates, and a three-story-high skylight, blackened with smoke and age, towers over an ornate clock tower whose hands are frozen at 4:30 p.m. The dilapi-dated stone floor gives the Mercado a slightly seedy feel-which is what a proper market should have. And one thing's for sure: The beef is definitely here. The Mercado was a working food market with only one or two simple eateries. The boom came in the 1980s, when most of the food stalls turned into restaurants. 

Meat is the staple of the Latin American diet. Beef is cheaper here than chicken  Time has stood still at the Mercado del Puerto. Patrons can take their seats at black marble counters surrounding the kitchen. There's also a separate seating area with proper tables and chairs. The boys navigate through the many restaurants and their beckoning owners, knowing exactly where to go. La Chacra del Puerto has a nice corner table from where we can watch the activity. There's no doubt that the focal point of the restaurant is the massive grill, where pork, lamb, chicken, and especially beef are charred to smoky perfection.

 The Uruguayan grill has two working parts. The first is a U-shaped metal basket that holds blazing hardwood logs. As the logs disintegrate, the glowing coals are raked under the parilla, a large, rectangular metal grate that serves as the actual grill. The grate slopes gently upward in the back: The front (the part closest to the coals) is used for searing the meat; the rear is used for roasting and warming.

The asador (grill man) is recognizable by his white coat and gorra (short-brimmed cap). He remains in constant motion, now adding a log to the fire box, now raking a fresh load of coals under the grate, now moving meats from hot spots to cool spots or back again. When not actually grilling meats, he may be boning a chicken to make a pamplona (or stuffed roast), or rolling carrots, peppers, hard-cooked eggs, and flank steak into a belt-loosening roast called matambre, literally "hunger-killer."

The first thing that strikes us at this Montevidean grill is how limited the North American notion is of what makes suitable barbecue. No part of the animal is overlooked by a Montevidean grill master. A typical meal might start with mollejas (grilled sweetbreads), choto (a crispy roll of sheep's small intestines coiled around large intestines that tastes better than it sounds), chinchulin (buttery, crescent-shaped spirals of lamb's small intestine), or riņones (veal kidneys). Jordan's Spanish, along with his English and Filipino, is excellent. The owner comes over to the table and Jordan navigates the menu. We order a couple of bottles of wine and then appetizers. Jordan starts with some choto or chinchulin . I am not sure which he ordered but it was delicious. He insisted that I tried some and after a taste we order a little of the same. He mixed a little of the traditional accompaniments, a parsley and garlic sauce called chimichurri (a kind of South American pesto) and a tomato, onion, and pepper relish known as salsa criolla.

Uruguayans are also great fans of sausage-a love they may have acquired from the German immigrants who settled here in the early part of this century. Chorizo is the most famous Latin American sausage. To most North Americans, chorizo means the spicy Mexican variety. Uruguayan chorizo, on the other hand, is salty and garlicky, but not in the least bit spicy. It's rather like kielbasa. Uni let us try some of his and it was fantastic.

Another tasty sausage is salchicha, which comes in a slender, tightly coiled casing. Morcilla is blood sausage, recognizable by its shiny black, crackling-crisp casing. Uruguayan beef cuts will be equally unfamiliar to most North Americans. The most popular is asado de tira-a long, thin cross section of rib roast that literally buries the plate. I think that this is what Jordan ordered... He called it the back so I am not sure if it was the same thing. The generous marbling makes the meat incredibly succulent, while the rib bones provide extra flavor.   

We found that the two of us could eat ourselves silly for for under $20 or around 65 pesos. We decided to buy all of the meals for our wonderful new friends, Jordan, Uni, Vincent and Michael. They had taken such good care of us the last week it was nice to have lunch as friends.

After eating the boys needed to get to a western union. Like many of the crew on board they are taking care of family at home in the Philippines and send money home any time that they get a chance. I am so impressed by this. Such good boys!!! They have to get back to the ship because they are working the dinner shift but take care to try to help us out in Montevideo. Jordan asks about our plans. I thought we would be heading into the city. After all we still had a few hours in Uruguay and I wanted to see some of the city. Unfortunately the weather was still awful. This wasn't deterring to me but Jeremiah, Paulie and even Cory weren't anxious to spend any time wet and cold. Jordan had hailed a cab and had the door open. I was ready to hop in when the boys shared their desire to go back to the ship...It was so disappointing.

Guess I will have to make another trip to Uruguay in the future. I am sure that the fear of adventure was contagious and that my friends had caught this cruise virus. Were they becoming Cruisers? People that desire only to have an American experience, who don't want to be exposed to the culture, language and people of the countries that they visit... Will they soon be caught up with the crazy speak of the cruisers? "I have been to 40 countries" when they really mean that they have sat at 40 docks on an American cruise ship surrounded by other cruisers or have taken a cruise excursion to a sterile location with other cruisers? I must find the cure for them before I too become infected! 

The rain continued and we took photos of Montevideo from the deck of the ship. We were mostly viewing the dock area.

This was going to be our last night on the ship so we went back to our room and packed. The bags had to be out that night by 10 pm so we had to have a little carry on for the following day with our toiletries and our clothes.

We got ready for dinner. Tonight we had brought most of our new friends back together. We requested a table that was larger so that we could sit with Roxi, Steve, Linda and Campbell. The 8 of us enjoyed our dinner with Leo, Vincent, Uni and Jordan. It was a bitter sweet moment. We were about to say goodbye to people that we had become attached to. I think that we were all a little sad. We had taken one of the photos that we had taken of  the four of us and the 4 of the boys and printed 4 copies to give to our new friends hoping that they would not forget us. We signed the back of the photo and I made sure that I put AKA Alicia Silverstone next to my name since that is what they called me the entire time...

After dinner we went up to our old haunt, Skywalkers Lounge. We were almost the only ones in there. The eight of us found a little nook and started having a good time. We had bonded with Marc, the DJ, over the hoola hoop dancer so he came over to talk almost immediately. Our favorite bartender was working, Ceri Ann. We had been looking for her since we had come back to the ship that afternoon. Each time we went to the bar that she works during the day, she was either on break or somewhere else. We wanted a picture. We never gave our names to the people that we were asking. As soon as she saw us she asked if we had been looking for her. She said she knew it had to be us. The people that we had asked described us as "The happy nice people" I don't know if that is sad that there were so few happy people on board that she knew it was us. I just take it as a huge compliment. We posed for photos with Marc, Fernando part of the cruise director staff, Ceri Ann and the cocktail waitress... I am afraid that I don't know how to spell her name. She was from Thailand and her name was a mouthful. She was a little doll. So sweet!

As we sat there they started to bring us free shots. It was such a nice gesture. It was a great time for our last night on board. It is so hard to say goodbye to new friends.

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