Published: November 29th 2008November 29th 2008
Everything was closed. I was frustrated and attempting in my best broken Spanish to ask directions to the Municipal Museum of Fine arts. I wanted to see the works of the great Uruguayan painters but I couldn’t find the museum on a guidebook map. Then again, I was already disappointed that I was clinging to my guidebook on day three of my weekend in Uruguay. Funny how dependent I can become on things when the “plan” starts to falter. “¿Donde esta de Museo Municpal de Bellas Artes?”
A portly middle aged woman interrupted my attempts to ask the historical museums security guard my question. She rapid fired a response to the security guard. Not to be ignored, I asked again. “¿Donde esta de Museo Municpal de Bellas Artes?”
She cut me off again and this time she managed to muster up some English and said, “I know where it is?” and waved off any attempts at my getting directions.
A little dumbfounded by the experience, I decided I would not be denied. As Uruguay’s economy had collapsed so too had its attractions. Everything was closed, I was holding onto hope that the art museum
The view from the encounter
would be open. So I persisted and asked again. “¿Donde esta de Museo Municpal de Bellas Artes?”
Again the authoritarian on all Montevideo directions intercepted my plea. Slightly annoyed, I finally managed to convey the need for written directions through pantomime. She understood my request and decided that that would be a useless answer for me. Instead she grabbed my arm and set me in the back seat of her little car. In the back there was a stranger, in front was a man who I assumed was her husband.
The driver fired up the car and off we went. Winding slowly through downtown Montevideo, attempts at conversations were made. I spoke elementary level Spanish, which would have been fine if I need to ask the time or name every household item; it was not, however, sufficient for my present needs. My fellow car poolers spoke English at a slightly, albeit useless for the circumstances, higher level than my Spanish. I was beginning to wonder how I ended up in the car. As we turned onto Rbla. 25 de Agosto de 1825 following the factories of Montevideo, the city skyline slowly faded through the back
Martha and Carlos
The generous couple
window of the car. I really began to think that this might not have been my best option.
Eventually we managed to impart some knowledge of our relative positions in the world. I conveyed to them that I was from the United States and was touring through Uruguay and Argentina. They imparted that the driver and the lady were married, and their friend was visiting them from the countryside. They then proceeded to impart upon me how much they loved showing off their country. Their pride transcended all language barriers. They were taking me on a whirlwind tour of the suburbs of Montevideo. We passed beautifully landscaped parkland where hundreds of families were out enjoying the crisp cool winter air. They explained that Sunday’s were still big family days in Uruguay. They even took the time to stop and point out this magnificent house. Twenty minutes later, I finally understood that the house was the home of the President. It wasn’t marked off and isolated like the grand palaces I had seen in other parts of the world (including my homeland), it was simply a grand house in the elegant suburb of Prado.
As the drive progressed further beyond an hour, I began to realize how magnificent this moment was. I had planned and planned my trip out hoping to catch as much of Montevideo as I could over a four day stay, and I saw none of it. Instead some random strangers forced me into their car and took me on a tour and offered conversation (albeit limited conversation due to my lack of skills) that couldn’t be beat. None of the seventeen guidebook pages, covering all of Uruguay, mention the generosity of Uruguayans. Instead they are devoted to which sections of the city are known for pick pocketing and should therefore be avoided at night. That I find Martha, in the middle of one such section of town, eagerly awaiting the chance to take me around her city, was pleasantly ironic.
We proceeded to drive around the park talking and chatting. Martha, as I later found out, was the mother found in movies. She wanted to know where I was staying and for how long. After making it clearly evident that my room arrangements were unacceptable, she demanded that I stay at her house. This was all rather amusing to me as I had just met this lady and she was now mothering me about like I was her own child. Martha continued to amuse and amaze me by offering me the opportunity to come to her house for dinner. I have been traveling for many years hoping this day would come. The day a stranger invites me into their home for a meal. It was an added bonus as the South America trip was my first solo sojourn. Unfortunately, I had a return ticket on the ferry back to Argentina that evening. As I sat on the Buquebus hydrofoil heading back to Buenos Aires, I let my mind drift off as it often does when on the water. For all the less than positive writing about Uruguay, I expected it to be an experience that would not be overly remarkable. Instead I am left with immense fondness for the capital city. Wandering around amongst the Cuidad Viejo, afforded me the opportunity to see the city as it once was, and allowed me to see that it had pockets of growth and expansion throughout history. Wandering around the shores of Rio de la Plata in Parque R. Argentina was a wonderfully relaxing way to spend a weekend (and a much needed respite from the Argentinean nightlife). Sure the various museums and plazas were magnificent and full of knowledge, but that’s not what I will remember from my experience. My memories will be filled with pictures of Martha and Carlos. I left Uruguay with a sense of wonderment over the kindness of strangers; the kindness that you read about ever so often but rarely get to experience in life. Without random chance, I wouldn’t have had the experience that represents true Uruguay, a kind a peaceful people who are strongly proud of their heritage. If I hadn’t been seeking out directions for my lost self, horribly massacring the rhythmic Spanish language, the best day of my South American trip would have been something less genuine. Something less pure than the beautiful day with my new found friends, seems laughable in retrospect.