Published: February 27th 2011February 27th 2011
Travelling, being constantly on the move, means a lot of time is taken up thinking about your next meal, a bed for the night, a ticket for the onward journey. Moving along, often you can’t see the trees for the forest. How much time is left to draw portraits of the people whose country you’re travelling through?
A few years ago, in a saving-for-the-next trip phase, I travelled virtually, solo and with Guapo. As a cost and energy saving exercise, I recommend it highly. Time was irrelevant. Each trip took several months – but hey what did it matter? The first one went to the Faroes, Iceland, Greenland, New Foundland, Svalbard, and the north-of-the-Arctic Circle areas in Norway, Sweden, Finland. The second trip went to the Amazon. For months we read every book we could find in the second hand shops on the people of the Amazon, as well as accounts by travellers who’d been through by motorcycle, on foot, by boat. I still have vivid “memories” of these locations.
Which is better, virtual or real travelling? Do they complement each other? Is there any point in real travelling to Uruguay, or anywhere for that matter,
if you don’t spend some time in each location bonding with at least one person, one family, one group, one village, one suburb?
I get twice the value from travels if I read up about the destination before getting there, easy enough if there are things to read in a language I understand. Before going to Jamaica for two weeks, spending one week in one place, the other week travelling, I scoured the shelves for books about the Caribbean. In the case of Uruguay, alas, there is much more to be read in Spanish, Portuguese, German and French than there is in English. But by far the most value is had if you can spend a week, a month, a year or longer in one place, getting to know the people, the rhythms of life.
My Uruguay travels are still at the virtual stage. Sometimes, snippets of information in Spanish land unexpectedly in my lap. I learn that a group of Uruguayans in the Sydney suburb of Marrickville is currently raising funds for the erection of a monument to Raul Sendic, to be unveiled in March in el Parque Centario in Flores in Uruguay. For those who don’t
know, Sendic was founder of the Tupamaros. Born in 1926 in the Flores Department, he died in Paris in 1989, although his remains are buried in Montevideo. This important man in the history and politics of Uruguay lived an interesting life to say the least. But if it weren’t for the snippet about his monument, I would never have appreciated his importance to Uruguayans in exile.
Now, if you’re at all interested in the shenanigans that went on in the 1700s, when the British, Spanish and French were sailing across the oceans laying claim to various bits of land here and there, look no further than the books about fictional Royal Navy Officer Horatio Hornblower, by British writer C.S. Forester.
The first novel in Forester’s series was published in 1937 and entitled The Happy Return (the American edition was published under the title Beat to Quarters). This book was turned into a movie in 1951, starring Gregory Peck. Now, while the story does not take place in Montevideo, it could have. Captain Hornblower is in command of the frigate HMS Lydia which he sails around the Horn of Africa across the Pacific to an unspecified location on the
coast of Central America. His job is to lend support to “a madman”, El Supremo, in his rebellion against the Spanish. And the Spanish were all along the coast of Central and South America.
England is at war with Napoleon and the crew wonders why they have been sent so far from the action. Hornblower is taken to meet El Supremo, the person in charge, up in his fortress high on an escarpment overlooking the ocean. He needs arms. He is planning an attack against Spain. Spain and France are allies.
Hornblower, cool, calm and collected, captures a powerful Spanish ship, but then has to give it to El Supremo to placate him in his fight against Spain. Then, when Hornblower finds out that the Spanish have switched allegiance (now siding with Britain), he is forced to find and sink the ship. The indigenous rebel, El Supremo, who is protecting his turf against invading Spaniards, is referred to as “the megalomaniac”. But who is the megalomaniac here? one might ask. The Spanish, the British, or the French? It’s interesting to see how Forester portrayed the indigenous people of Central America as they were “visited upon” by Europeans. Were the Aboriginals of Australia and the Maoris of New Zealand painted any differently in the 1700s? Let’s draw our portraits carefully.
I enjoy real time travel blog entries about Montevideo and other parts of Uruguay, and also the blogs by expatriates living in Uruguay. They don’t reveal much about the people or the glue that holds Uruguay together, but do tell a lot about the natural environment, infrastructure, services and, most importantly, the local fare in blogger friendly Wi-Fi cafes.
Bye for now