World Trip, Part Doce - Uruguay
Trip Start Jul 30, 2008
21Trip End May 02, 2009
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After a quick flight to Miami, I boarded another yet another plane. Of course, my preferred airline rarely has first-class service to South America, so I had to settle for Business Class. Another ordeal! Yet again, I had to suffer thru my welcome mimosa, my Asian-spiced prawns, my rosette-shaped smoked salmon, my fillet of beef, my coffee and Baileys, my cheese-wrapped omelet, and all those other delicacies. The bed only flattened to 90% this time, but was only slightly uncomfortable. Ha ha! The 10-hour overnight flight finally made it to my next destination. (Thanks again, Steve!)
Welcome to Uruguay!
Some eight years ago, I tried to include Uruguay on the itinerary, but impressive Buenos Aires (one of my favorite cities on Planet Pink) was just too, too awesome! So, here I am finally here, and I am glad I waited!
I arrived in Montevideo, and as I described it to some other travelers, it appears that this city was built 500 years ago, and hasn't been touched since. There are really old buildings, some of which are bricked up on the lower floors and streets badly in need of repair, with hysterically overgrown and groomed trees (you should see how they tree trim here). All the same, this busy capital has a wonderful vibe and charm to it, and if time were on my side, I could have stayed much longer.
In Montevideo, I toured the old city and followed the prescribed walking tour to see the important sites and buildings, which was excellent, and then followed the brick-lined waterfront, ending a day at Playa Ramirez to check out some beautiful bodies...oops, I mean the sand and surf! At night, I met three really cool Chileans. I also found out that the following week was Carnaval. I better get going...
The next day the Chileans and I took a long bus ride to Punta del Diablo, which is on the coast pretty darned close to the Brazilian border. My LP guide, which is 7 years old states that this place is becoming the popular place for backpackers. Well, folks, it has become! This dirty, smelly, shanty town on two beaches was not what I was expecting, and is packed to the titties with 20 somethingers. The beach is really nice, and the Chileans and I rented a cabana house, but after two days, I was good to go.
If someone normally likes a place, I am bound to hate it, and vice versa. Yes, I am werid. Punta del Este was my next stop, and has the reputation of being a rich stomping ground and overly touristy. It has a mixed reputation (some like it, others dont), but I just loved it. This place seethes Miami South Beach all the way! I will definitely be back.
Punta del Este has a great boardwalk, marina, center with a fantastic lighthouse, and many Spanish-style houses. I found it quite amusing that people here name their houses. My favorite one was called appropriately "The House" (in English)! Hee hee! And, guess what? It's PINK!
Well, it was back to Montevideo for Carnaval. But first, I rented a bike (you can beat it for 80 cents an hour), and headed to see the impressive Legislature building, and then across town to Pocitos to quickly check out Montevideo's "clean" beach! Now, thats a nice beach!
Pooped as I was, I forced myself to the street for the second night of the two-day parades. If you can imagine each parade lasting 6 hours (I could only last for three), then party, party, party. I think I am getting old. Ha ha! Safe to say, it was as exciting and awesome as any Carnaval you have ever heard about. The gorgoeus women in all kinds of minimally-materialed, but headress heavy outfits was, of course, the best part!
The next day, I checked out and moved over to Pocitos, hit the beach properly, and stayed in the best hostal yet. Then I went back to the Old Town and toured around wtih Jose.
Montevideo is so great, I had to pry myself away, but I wanted to see Colonia, so off I went on the bus. I really thought there was more to this town, but it only took a couple hours to visit this pretty colonial town. Of course, I never thought I would be climbing the lighthouse with a bunch of Canadians, speaking Quebecois!
The hostal here was superb, and I ended up spending another day relaxing here....and sleeping. The hostal had free bikes, so off I went to tour the coast and, naturally, hit the beach! I actually found shade this time, but later in the afternoon the biggest, most awesome Texas-sized storm hit. I tried to wait it out in a nearby parking garage, but after a couple hours, had to brave the 3 km ride back to the hostal in the downpour.
I teetered on my next move, but the following day, I took my longest death bus ride yet to Salto - home of Uruguay's hot springs. Salto isn't much of anything special, except super nice people, of course, but an afternoon and evening pampering and endulging myself in different temperature thermal pools is nothing to shake a stick at (or my 10-foot pole, which I am, by the way, no longer travelling with!). Ha ha!
Excellent quiche (I used to hate quiche!), and the best cafe con leche you could ever get. I disliked the dried-out empanadas, "interesting" pizza and horrible cheese, but I did enjoy the awesome Chilean cuisine my new Chilean friends made in Punta del Diablo, such as whole peeled tomatoes stuffed with a spicy tuna mix. The panchos (hot dogs where the wiener far exceeds the bun) were awesome, as is their sausage, which they cook on a parilla (BBQ grill). Of course, all breakfasts include that disgusting dulce de leche (milk caramel) spread, but then I tried dulce de leche yoghurt. Um, yum!
I am not a fear factor food type of guy, but I braved trying the spicy cow blood sausage (they make a point to specify that it's not pig's blood). It was quite tasty, but the thought of eating it was nauseating.
Of course, then there is mate - the preferred drink of Uruguayans. They walk around everywhere with their open mate cups and metal straws, and a thermos under one arm. Back in Montevideo, Diego and Jose invited me to share a mate. In this open cup, they put this green stuff (looks like pot....I think...Ha ha) and then pour boiling water over part of it. Then you burn your mouth off as you drink the liquid thru a filtered metal straw. Tastes like green tea. Of course, there are rules, the main one being that you have to drink all the liquid that you were poured. No sharing liquids!
Well, if Carla - my native Uruguayan Project Manager and Brazilian language translator 12 years ago - was any indication of the people here, I should have come sooner! Like Kiwis, Uruguayans are Supreme Beings (not aliens from outer space...Carmen :)), but I actually think that New Zealanders might have some competition. Uruguayans are so friendly and fantastic it will just blow your mind! It wasn't until I got to Colonia that I finally read the section in my Lonely Planet (LP) guide about the people here, and it states that they are by far the friendliest and nicest people in all of South America. No lie, so far!
Uruguayans are so friendly, that it is almost impossible to get a quick and simple response (not a complaint), as they will go out of their way to give you all the information you could possibly need, and include a little banter. I don't know for sure, but in school, they must take Friendliness and Manners 101, 201, 301...who am I kidding...it must be compulsory, like English lit.
They make phone calls for you, let you use their phones, including cell phones. Bus drivers say "Hello" and "How do you do?".
In Punta del Este, Daniel and his partner, Asdrubal, took me to Chihuaua beach, and then took me around to Punta and toured around. Fantastic people!
In Montevideo, Jose toured me around, and Diego had us for dinner and great conversation. Also fantastic people!
As maybe a final note on the people in this country, and a very first for me, but one of the best things about Uruguayans is how great they smell - believe it or not!. Sounds strange, I know! From the very moment I arrived, people were passing me and I got this waft of beautiful smells, like roses, sugar plums, perfums and lovliness. Everyone smells great! On the buses and wherever, I seriously would just want to rest my nose on someone! Later, Jose would tell me that people in Uruguay shower or bathe three to four times or more a day, depending on their activity. Anything that produces a sweat at all, requires you to clean up. (Jamaicans, please take copious, copious notes, and practice, practice, practice!)
Rhetorical Questions/Comments for Uruguayans:
* I don't mind being downwind from you Uruguayans any day! :) And, if I fall asleep with my nose on you somewhere, please consider it a compliment!
* Please get some street signs! Tips: visible, legible, frequent...
* Please get maps to scale and with scale.
* Thanks a lot! You people in Uruguay (wherever you're originally from) are so gorgeous, I now need to have my eyeballs surgically put back into my head!
* Well, I now know where all the Canadians are traveling!
* I just don't know how you can enjoy a beach with that much washed up trash on it! (Playa Ramirez, Montevideo).
* Forget Australia and its stated ozone problems - the hole is over Uruguay! Not more than two hours I was in the sun under a very cloudy sky, and I turned into quite the crispy chicken nugget!
* WIth absolutely no shade on any of your beaches, I can only last an hour!
* Uruguay you have it going on with your many friendly and highly organized tourist offices.
* I thought Taiwan was ga-ga over Hostelling Internaltional - you guys are also YHA crazy! WIth your breakfasts included, sheets, free Internet, spotless atmosphere, you and Taiwan are the poster countries for hostels.
* There must be something in the air because the best of the best backpackers can be found in your country!
* I forgot...this is south South America, where you you pronounce the "ll" and the "y" as "sh", as in "sheeet".
* I forgot, this is Latin America, but not Mexico, where hot sauce doesn't exist. Dammit!
* I should have brought more black pepper with me (something you also don't have).
* Your heat is oppressive, but I will take it over the cold any day.
* Uruguay, I love how you are just one giant Wi-Fi zone!
Photos: On blog.
Next Stop: The land of beef, and meat galore! (Oops, I am already there!)