Getting to know Montevideo

Trip Start Jul 27, 2008
Trip End Dec 20, 2008

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Flag of Uruguay  ,
Sunday, August 3, 2008

            As of today, Sunday, I have been here a whole week.  Things have been going a lot more smoothly since my last post.  Again, it has only been a week, but the first few days really seemed to pass by incredibly slow!  I've pretty much been figuring out which buses I need to take, attending orientation at my school, and trying to adjust.
        On Friday, as part of the exchange program at the school, we went on a 3 hour bus tour of the city.  The bus went all over Montevideo, from the east of the city to the west.  We first headed toward Carrasco in the east, a residential part of the city that I had passed through on my way from the airport.  Passing through there a week ago, Leti asked me what I thought of the area.  It was pretty and I could tell they were nice houses, but just from living back in California I'm sadly used to pairing nice housed with manicured lawns and stucco.  Coming through a second time after having seen more of the city, these houses are amazing!  I'm not trying to speak in terms of relativity (as if Montevideo were a crap hole and in comparison they looked nice), but Montevideo is not California and they do things differently here.  And the houses are nice.    It seems like this area might have been a slightly failed tourist area at one point in time.  We passed a grand hotel/casino that looks to have been previously abandoned, but now seems to be under renovation.   On the way back toward the city on La Rambla (a broad avenue that runs along the entire coastline of Montevideo) we stopped by Plaza de la Armada (Armada means Navy), which has a great view of the city and is very picturesque.
            We then proceeded to drive to the far west side of the city, to Ciudad Vieja and the port.  We stopped at Plaza Independencia, where I figured out the statue of the guy on the horse (previous post) is José Artigas, as the Uruguayans call him; however, the rest of South America calls him by the name of José Martín if I remember correctly.  Also, underneath the monument there is a large mausoleum, with the ashes of Artigas in the center.   There are two guards on either side, they reminded me of the British ones with the fuzzy hats - they are not allowed to move.  It's very dramatic: black floor, black ceiling, very shiny, and with the only lights illuminating the blocked letters on the wall from below.  The only other light is a soft golden one shining on Artigas' urn.  I cannot tell you what he did for the Uruguayans, hopefully I'll learn about him in my history class because he is definitely well revered by his people.
            We then left from here slightly farther west, toward the port.  The port in Montevideo seems to be busy, I wasn't able to see it well but I did notice an abundance of large shipping containers.  I also noticed several large container ships on the Rio Plata, the main shipping route.  Uruguay's economy relies heavily on exports, I learned.  I do know that Uruguay does not have much in the way in natural resources, and relies on tourism and I think primarily rice and beef exports. 
            Near the port there was this huge modern-looking high-rise that reminded me of a sail of a sailboat - the Antel building - which is one of the largest phone companies down here if I am correct.  It seemed almost out of place in this poorer part of town.   However, I did notice lots of construction going on in all parts of the city, especially with larger high-rise buildings.  I suppose the Uruguayan economy is doing quite well. 
            There also was an older, defunct train station.  Originally, I think this was supposed to be the equivalent of Kings Cross of Uruguay.  A whole train system (modeled after that of the Europeans) was supposed to be implemented, but never had many passengers, and has since been shut down for the most part. 
            As with most cities, there is a poor part of town.  Most seemed to be just crummy apartments or flats, but some of the places seemed to be nothing more than just a roof over the head, like shanties.   Most of these were constructed of plywood with tin roofs and were located by the defunct train station. 
            Further north of Ciudad Vieja and the port was another well off neighborhood, called Prado, with houses similar to those of Carrasco.  There was lots of green open space and parks.  It reminded me of what I imagine the French countryside looks like (or at least what I've seen from pictures, I've never been there so I can't say for sure!).  We also drove by El Presidente's house in this neighborhood, but weren't able to see much because of a heavy gate outside.   There also was big gothic cathedral in this part of town that was closed for some reason so we weren't able to get out and get a picture of it.  I managed to get a crappy one from the bus.
            The tour was very helpful in giving me a general understanding of Montevideo and all it offers (lots!).  Also, after the tour, I can see why Pocitos (where I'm living and complaining about a lack of clothes dryer) is considered a nice part of town.  Maybe it helped me pull my head out of my ass a little? We'll see.  I also had to go to the school afterwards, so I've included some pictures of this as well.   And as far as pictures from the tour go, some have glare/poles/miscellaneous objects in the way because I was on a moving bus and did not have time to set the shot up better, FYI.  

-Also wanted to note I've seen a lot of horse drawn carriages around the city.  At first I heard them from my room and thought, "How romantic! People going for horse rides in the city!"  Then I actually saw them on the streets and realized the very poor people use them (they can't afford cars) to collect bags upon bags of recyclables in their carts - they receive money for this as we can in the U.S.   I'll get a picture of this soon.  I also noticed there is a big litter problem - most of the streets are littered with paper flyers, cigarette cartons/butts, etc.  Maybe this is why the horse drawn cart system works?
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Where I stayed
El Apartamento
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barbarajgardner on

hello from Sacramento
Hi Erica - this is a great post. I love seeing the pictures of what the city and surrounding areas look like. There certainly are some very grand buildings and I bet when the leaves come out on the trees everything will look even nicer. I liked the one of you at the coast! I'm so glad you're doing this blog, and I look forward to your entries.

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