Counting the minutes, until I’m done

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Flag of Uruguay  ,
Friday, January 7, 2011

After an uncomfortable night of sleep at the Boulevard Sarandi Hostel, I vowed to cut short this visit by a day and leave for Punta Del Este sooner. First things first, breakfast was available and with thoughts of Hostel Estorils' banquet, I headed to the lounge. To my dismay, the selection was very limited. There was coffee, diluted orange juice, biscuits, bread, butter and jam on offer; it did not compare. Putting some of these on my plate and having a glass of diluted orange juice, I sat alone at a table.


Soon, my attention went to the multiple flies hovering around the breakfast area. The thought dawned of how unhygienic this was, but with them not 'touching’ the food, I questioned whether it was safe. Together with that most things were stale; I stopped eating as a precaution.


Next door to the hostel was a conveniently placed electrical shop. Briefly looking, I found what I needed: an electrical plug adaptor. As mine was gone, there was an urgent need to replace it. At 260 U.Pesos (£8+), it was not that cheap but my phone needed a recharge. Reluctantly, it was bought.


Gitte and Leonora were the only people to greet me back in the lounge. The rest of the inhabitants acted as if they were in a library. After we had a brief chat, they headed out to see more of the city. As I needed to visit the ticket office first, I neglected to join them. Instead my company consisted of Darius, (American). He needed to do the same and was writing a report for University bout Latin America. So around noon, we headed out.


We waited on an adjacent street to the hostel for a bus. It came fairly quickly and we were the only tourists on board. Making a mental note, I mapped the route in my mind for later. Getting off after fifteen minutes, we managed to pass by the ticketing office a few times before finally locating it. It was a strange sight having to pass through gates reassembling those of an army base. Then it was a short walk to a large white building.


The ticket office was really well designed and the sights of wooden hollow aeroplanes were a nice touch. It was eerily silent with nearly no customers or staff members about. With each passing moment I wondered why there was no one around and how far I was off the ‘tourist trail’.


At the ticketing office, as he was fluent in Spanish, I relied on Darius heavily to speak for me. A ticket to Punta Del Este was available the next day and I duly purchased it. Darius, heading there also, got the same ticket. So I would have company for the journey. (A relief, as I was ruing the fact my mp3 player (my decision), was left at home). These small journeys were nothing compared to the usual long haul journeys. Still it would be nice to keep my mind preoccupied).


Leaving the office and getting past the gates, I spotted the Uruguayan flag. Handing Darius my camera, I stood next to it and made ‘a gun’ with my hand. Although this was a heavy exaggeration, the truth was my first impressions here, were not good. The flag’s design was pretty cool.


Nearby, on the main road, we undertook lunch. The restaurant prices were pretty expensive compared to Argentina. Even though the exchange rates were heavily in my favour, these prices would still damage my budget. So for the first time, a compromise was made. One of the cheaper meals was pasta. Having a craving for it too helped. The meal was good but not enough for me. Still with sacrifices in mind, it would have to do.


Darius headed back to the hostel where he would work on his report. Forgetting the number of the bus and apprehensive of trying to ask people directions, I decided to stroll back and wander around the city. Plotting a mental map in my mind had been a good idea.


Soon, the bus station was upon me. Here I watched a crowd presumably heading to a football ground, (possibly Penarol’s Estadio Centenario). They were dressed in Penarol’s black and yellow shirts. Some time was taken to think before I headed off again.



The Monumento a Juan Pablo II (large cross), which was erected for the Pope's visit to Montevideo in 1987. The cross is 75-foot and was put up in a busy intersection for the visit of Pope John Paul II, set off a national debate. The fountain of locks which is located on the busiest commercial street, Avenida 18 de Julio. This special fountain dedicated especially for love padlocks. It is adorned with hundreds of locks painted with lovers’ initials. The plaque has both a Spanish and English reading. "The legend of this young fountain tells us that a lock with the initials of two people in love is placed in it, they will return together to the fountain and their love will be forever locked." A nice message if I do say so myself.


Next up was the Obelisco a los Constituyentes de 1830 (Obelisk of Montevideo) on Avienda 18 de Julio. This monumental sculpture consists of three statues representing Law, Force and Liberty and of three-sided obelisk. Visiting the Luis Battle Berres Monument I was awe stuck. This design of a ‘V’ was breath taking.  Most of them looked good with the odd building looking the same. I recall the Faculty of Architecture looking impressive but buildings in general, were mostly run down.


At a monument which was a smaller column with loads of figures on each side, I sat on a bench, knocked back a soft drink and watched the sky. Whilst a little bored, this was very therapeutic. A few children frolicked nearby on swings and a lady read a book on a bench to my left. Wearing clear lensed shades, I made sure not to stare in her direction as I was there to 'pick anyone up'.  A ‘knee jerk’ reaction as looking in her direction surely would not make her leave but it was in my mind. My need was only for peace.


Thinking of the lack of people around and the generally unfriendly travellers, Punta Del Este came into my mind. Would it be as bad as this? Apprehension clouded my mind but I tried to be open minded.



Carrying on, a park (Parque Redo) was next in my sights. Parque Rodó is both a barrio (neighbourhood or district) of Montevideo, and belonging to Punta Carretas, a park which lies mostly outside the limits of the barrio itself. "Rodó" (as a name), was been given in memory of José Enrique Rodó, a great Uruguayan writer whose monument is in the southern side of the main park. There was a large fare open and I fought the notion to buy candy floss here. (This writer possesses a ‘sweet tooth’ and the sweet brings back good childhood memories). So it was very hard to suppress this desire. There were plenty of children on the rides and having fun. It was hard not to smile at their joy.


Back strolling along, I came across a recreational area, which contained a tennis clay court. Thinking of an old friend; I wished he was here for a match. At a very distant second place, I watched a match for a few minutes before I carried on my walk. Heading through the park, a fountain and Mosaic seat greeted me and looked serene in the sunshine. I studied the Mosaic seat thoroughly and admired its’ beauty. The statue of Confucio was nearby and I read the inscription, "La educacion debe ser sin discriminacion de clases.” Translated: "There should be no discrimination against anybody in education.” Poetic and beautiful words.  

Now, the waterfront on the south side in Montevideo was upon me. The sun setting down looked pretty awesome. ‘The Rambla’ is great for sunset. Surprising how lucky I was to witness this, given that it was an impromptu visit. It did not take me long to ‘park’ myself on the stone between the sand and the pavement, to ‘people watch’. From beach football on a volleyball area to people chatting to other friends on the sand were my sights. So, this was where the people were! Finally life in Montevideo! As I was wearing sneakers, there was to be no stroll on the beach. It had only been five months since I had been on a beach but it felt like a lifetime away.


Reassuming my walk, with the sun setting down, the thought of where I was, returned. When should the decision to go ‘inland’ be made? With darkness approaching soon, my chances of finding home were decreasing. In addition, these streets did not feel too safe. Still on the coastline, I headed north. The beach had disappeared as had the people. Largely, the sounds of silence were evident. Abandoned and unkept buildings and accommodation were present; maybe home was near? All streets and alleys looked the same. Resigning my fate, directions were needed.


There were precious few people around. Finally a man in his thirties and (presumably), his mother came towards me. As we approached each other, I politely asked for directions. In a mismatch of using Spanish and English, the gentleman understood me. Thinking my Spanish was not that ‘shabby’ I continued, until realising he understood English.


With my pronunciation ‘off’ a tad, I showed him a message on my phone displaying the address. (The address of all hostels have been put on my phone(s) or has been written on paper. This has ‘saved my bacon’ numerous times). He said he knew the area and gave detailed directions. Trying not to look lost as all of the directions were hard to take in, my head nodded periodically.


After confirming a few steps, he asked me where I was from. “London, England”, was the reply. It still felt strange saying that and it had been four weeks of travel. Back home, questions of that nature always refer to my origin and treat the answer to be in wonderment. Not answering it in that form was very unusual for me. In addition stating my residence is in England felt alien too.


Having a brief chat about my opinions on Uruguay and where my travel route would take me, it was time to leave. Thanking him prefuriously and wishing them a good evening, my journey continued. His mother asked him what had gone on (in Spanish), as I departed.


His directions were very good. In five minutes, the area was familiar. My initial route had not taken me too far. Soon, the sight of the hostel greeted me. A little dehydrated, quite tired, sore feet and a tad hungry, I stood. It was 8 p.m. and I was two hours late in my original schedule. Deciding not to tell anyone of my wayward adventure, silence and lies were needed.


The Danes had cooked and eaten in. Thinking of their budget sprang to mind, while they also wanted a night in. As for me, my hunger was evident. Resting up as my feet were tender, the plan was to go out in half an hour. In the lounge William and his two friends were. As they were in the process of leaving, I wished them farewell. Maybe in my tired state, his lukewarm reaction was not gathered. His two friends were as cool as ever.


Deciding to dine alone after chatting to the Danes, a Dutch traveller named Sophie was introduced to me by them. She was a room mate of theirs. Needing to dine too, I suggested we go together. (Her attractiveness did not influence my decision). We chatted briefly and she wanted to go to a particular restaurant to listen to a drum performance. No objection on my part.


Exiting the hostel, Darius came into sight and greeted me. Initially I did not recognise him. It was very dark outside but the dehydration was getting to me. Motioning him to join us; he agreed. After introducing him to Sophie, I was out of the conversation loop. Probably needed, to good to compose myself for a bit.


Many minutes later, they were still walking in front of me and talking between each other. Darius, to his credit, looked back at me a few times. He felt my unease at this situation. Thinking of how rude and uncalled for this was, a mental note was added. If this carries on, just ignore her. It did not strike me as odd as Darius did not try to include me.


Still puzzled at this continuing act, the conversation was sorely between them. There was no way I could feel comfortable now. Before we left the hostel, she told she had a boyfriend and that he would visit her soon in Uruguay. Not sure why she said this as I did not ask. Maybe she took my hunger as a sign of lust? Maybe (although a long shot), the back story was not true or maybe she was just interested in Darius? All I knew was that I felt like a second class citizen and it had not been an isolated incident.


Walking through Plaza Independencia to the General Jose Artigas monument, Palacio Salvo stared down at me. Although I had walked here a day ago, I had not noticed this tall building. It was eerily similar to Palacio Barolo in Buenos Aires. Gazing at this version, I felt like interjecting the fact into the conversation but thought better of it.


After half an hour of walking my feet were ‘finished’, but we were at the restaurant. It was in the middle of nowhere but was packed with people. Heading in and surveying the rooms, there was barely an idle table. The bar was huge as the tables around it formed a ‘J’ like shape.


Unfortunately after waiting, we could not get a table to view the performance. The nearest possible one was with a wall in the way. There was a partial view through an open door over my right shoulder. Here, Darius sat next to me as Sophie sat opposite him. The table was a medium size but it may have been a banquet table, such was the distance from her to me. Resigning my fate, my mood dropped.


Although nothing took my fancy, hearing familiarity in Darius’ order, I ordered the same. Just before confirming my order, I asked Darius that the order was a pizza. Maybe he did not hear me right but he confirmed it was. Waiting for the food was intense. My unease was increased ten fold during this time as there was nothing to do and nowhere to go.


Once the food came, Darius’ order was the Morcilla Dulce. It is a sweet black sausage made from pig’s blood, orange peel or raisins and walnuts. It also came as a part of an asado (barbeque). Thinking initially, the name described a pizza, my head sunk. My order was the same thing and it had been decades since black sausage was put out for me. There was dislike for it then as well as never being able to consume more than a few bites. (Note: the menu had it listed as a different name. Hence, my flawed thinking. The name is forgotten).

Never a fan of this cuisine, there was nothing I could do but start eating. It was trouble trying to keep going as the taste was not for me. It was a huge serving; could it be consumed? In my mind, this became a mega distraction.


The meal is a type of sausage made by cooking blood or dried blood with a filler until it is thick enough to congeal when cooled. With it came various meats from various animals and many had an unknown taste to me. Knowing at what it contained then, I may not have even tried it.


Our disenchanting companion: she ‘prattled’ on like a machine. It was as she had a battery imbedded in her to talk. A few times, I glanced up and never saw her once look in my direction nor make an effort to include me. This was more than a snub as she obviously did not want me here. The conversations were about the drum performance and its’ back story. With Darius studying about it, he had a large knowledge. With no way to get in the conversation, ‘zoning out’ took place.


Only when Sophie complained at not getting her order of dessert, did I re-listen to the conversation. Annoyed, she cancelled the order and wanted to go into the next room to see the performance. More than ‘pissed off’ at her, I calmly told her, “You can go, I’m still eating.” She did not reply as she left for the other room.


Speaking to Darius and asking what she problem was; he was puzzled too. Seeing his uneasiness at not witnessing the performance, I told him to go. He seemed happy at my decision. Leaving money for the meal, he raced to the next room.



As for me, my struggle with my meal was half completed. Assuming a new strategy, larger mouthfuls were undertaken and chewed faster. This was in hope to end my ‘ordeal’ soon. This did not prove fruitful. Soon my brain was sending signals of no more. Resisting temptation, over three quarters of the meal was consumed before I quit.


It was a good effort as the meal was served in a large bowl. The sausage was large and placed in the middle, with various meats at either side, adorned with potatoes. Darius had also not finished his but had eaten more than me. Oh well, it was an experience. Again, ‘lucking out’ (how you perceive it), on having the opportunity to try this delicacy.


Paying for the meals, I headed to the drum performance. No seats were available as I joined Darius standing at the back of the room.  Sophie was seated not to far away but it was far enough. After a few minutes, she arose and came near us to acclaim that she had, had enough and wanted to go home. Rolling my eyes and increasing my volume, my response was, “Hang on; I’ve only just got here.” She stood away like a naughty child, angry at losing her seat too. This is a moment I enjoyed.


The performance was pretty good from the band. The majority of the crowd were cheering and clapping. At times there were people dancing in the space in front of the band. It felt pretty good to witness all this. Even this writer indulged in a few moves. Somethings are so unexpected and at the same time, so good for the soul.


After ten minutes, I relented and said to Darius, “Whenever you are finished, we will go.” (I had not stayed near him as I was not sure if he was recording the show and taking mental notes for his studies). He sought out Sophie and she was more than ready to go. In the brief moment at looking at her, the pout finally disappeared.


As we left the same situation of me being out of the conversation happened again. It was more than intentional as the subject of how good the band was talked about. Surely, everyone could voice a view? Sadly no, as she took up the entire conversation. With thoughts of an epic performance fresh in my mind, my mood could not be dampened. I left them to trail behind and thought of how much the crowd enjoyed it.


Nearing the hostel, an ice cream stall was open. Without consulting them, I stopped and ordered a cone. Darius looked back and got Sophie to back track. At this point it mattered slightly. Cue them both buying ice cream and thoughts turned of whether I should leave them. Needless to say, I did not sink to her level.


At the entrance to the hostel, it took a while for us to be allowed in. Maybe the receptionist was indisposed. All I wanted was to be out of this girl’s sight. Finally getting in, the ice cream was finished in the lounge. By now the time was midnight. Soon I grabbed my wash bag to get ready for bed.


In the restroom, feeling uneasy, I was ill there. Something, whether it be from the breakfast this morning (high probability), lunch, dinner or the ice cream had caused this. Strange as I did not feel any problems until I was in the restroom. An annoying end to a mainly annoying evening.


Onto the situation, with the Dutch traveller. Many, many possibilities on why she acted that way. Thinking that I wanted her: an option. Some truth as she did say she had a boyfriend pretty quickly. While I was friendly with her, there were no compliments, touching or any sexual conversations. Maybe, there is an aura I give off.


Basing an opinion on my skin colour: maybe some credibility. Would not base it entirely on this as Darius is black and she had a very long conversation with him. Although she was ‘lukewarm’ when we talked initially.  Another option was that she was imbalanced emotionally: very high possibility. Leonora told me a few days later that she, Gitte and a friend were talking but as soon as Sophie came, she took over the conversation. Not only monopolising it, but speaking to her countrywoman in Dutch, leaving the Danes out.


While all options could be true, I feel the third is the most likely. Judging by the way she switched off speaking to me, it was very peculiar. After Chantel, the ‘Milhouse Blood Incident’ in Buenos Aires and now Sophie, it felt like a trend was setting in.
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