Trip Start Mar 01, 2006
551Trip End Dec 01, 2007
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General - The culture there is very similar to that in Buenos Aires. It is the "Rio de la Plata" region, around that estuary, counting around 20 million people with similar culture.
So it is that Uruguayan speak with CH instead of Y, that they eat a lot of meat, that they drink Mate, etc...
The Brazilian influence is not very perceptible along the coast, although it certainly is further inland. I have not been there, but apparently they also have a gaucho culture, mixing up with Brazilian customs as you go north. They have a dialect called Portunol, that I did not get to hear, a mix between Portuguese and Porteno (Porteno refering to the locals and customs of Buenos Aires)
Mate Fever - As in Argentina, they drink mate: the mate herbs are poured into a recipient (also called mate), water is added, and the brew is drank through a bombilla (metal straw with built-in herb filter). In Argentina, taking mate is a very social thing, it is always shared: someone would be in charge of filling up the mate with a thermos of hot water, passing it to someone else, then get it back once empty and pass it on to someone else, etc...
The thermos is indispensable, as the temperature of water is an issue in the preparation and influences the bitterness and taste.
Now, in Uruguay there are a few differences: first, they have huge mates, 2 or 3 times bigger than in Argentina. Second, they fill them up with herb way above the top, but with the water they stay pegged together and don't fall. Third, they drink it all the time. As a result from that, Fourth they always carry a mate and a thermos. As a result of that, Fifth they live with only one arm!
I am not exaggerating. They have the thermos under the arm, the mate in hand, and it seems just to be part of their body. Never would they put away the mate or put everything in a plastic bag... no, they just do things using one arm. I saw people struggling with 4 or 5 bags, but just with one hand, and in a moving bus!!! But not one instant the idea of using their "mate arm" seemed to come to their mind!
Horses in town - A common sight in Montevideo is that of horses pulling wooden carts. Sadly, these are the tools of people who open and forage into the trash, to get recyclable stuff, which I guess they get money for. The same thing happens in BsAs, where quantities of people methodically open and search the trash on the pavements for the same reason, and to get some food if there is any edible left.
Street chess - On the main street of Montevideo I came a cross a game of chess. A small table was setup in front of a shop, a checker on it, two players hitting the clock after each move, and a number of passerby attending the show, some of them waiting to take on the winner.
Food - Uruguayans eat even more meat than the Argentines. I have been served huge portions of meat for a small price (huge meaning that I did not think of ordering another one right after, as those who saw me eating will understand). The cow meat is as good as in Argentina, which means divine. Te surprise came from the pork meat, they cook it so well, with a caramel taste, it is incredible.
And the award goes to the Chivito, local hamburger: lots of everything in it, and the meat is a very very tender steak. Fat and delicious. It exists in other countries as well, but in Uruguay they rose it to an art form, even having restaurants called "chiviterias"!
Artesanias - A quick note on artesanias, as I refer to it often: they are handicrafts made by local people, and generally sold on open markets (ferias). They are not, like on other continents, the continuation of long-lasting crafts and tradition: they are rather products made by people who more or less choose a life of itinerance, fabricating their products as they travel to places they can sell them. The most common form is small jewelery with small ropes or string as a major components: the knowledge of different knots allow them to give forms and thickness to bracelets, or to include semi precious stones or vegetal components.
I guess I'll have to post pictures, it will be simpler.