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Published: February 24th 2015
Montevideo, Uruguay and Colonia del Sacramento…..Oh My Gosh!
Today was one of the biggest surprises of the trip so far. We had no idea what a fabulous place Uruguay is. Prior to this we never gave Uruguay a thought except as a word with 3 U’s for Scrabble if we stretch the rules to use nouns ;-)
Uruguay gained its independence from Portugal and Spain, July 11, 1830. The national elections, held every 5 years, were held just last November, and the new President is to be sworn in next week. They are getting downtown Montevideo ready for the inaugural events.
We learned so much today-Uruguay has relatively low unemployment, crime rates and inflation, and the economy is growing under a stable economic and political system. This is in big contrast to what we heard in Brazil and Argentina, both whom are suffering from very high inflation, high unemployment and a weak currency. The exchange rate is 25 Uruguayan pesos to the dollar, and has not suffered from the fluctuations seen in the neighboring countries. During high periods of inflation people in Buenos Aires move their money to Uruguay because it is a safe haven and secrecy is
respected, much like Switzerland.
This would be a great place to live in South America. What a great place to live here in South America-the cost of living here is reasonable and education is a priority. They have close to a 100% literacy rate. The government retirement and health care systems function well, our tour guide, Isabel, informs us as she is retiring at 60 next month. You have to have 30 years of employment and be at least 60.
We love this country. Today we set out from Montevideo to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Colonia del Sacramento which is 120 miles west up the Rio de la Plata. The ironic part is that it is just an hour across the river from Buenos Aires but… to get there we came by ship the 100 miles downriver to Montevideo and then got on a bus and trekked back up the river 120 miles to get to Colonia. We see that we could have taken a ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia and arrived in just an hour…but that wasn’t an option ;-).
The countryside was amazing. They grow a lot of soybeans for the China
market. In fact soybeans have overtaken beef cattle as the number one export. They don’t even export much beef anymore. We passed stands of Eucalyptus trees which were brought in from Australia in the late 1800’s. A funny story about that is that when they brought the trees they accidentally brought Lorikeet parrot nests in them so, there are bright green Lorikeets flying everywhere ;-) The farms and ranches were picturesque, very orderly, and the wealth generated in the agricultural area was obvious as we saw beautiful, modern houses, some with swimming pools even out in the country.
There is lots of farm machinery being used here and the fields are very large and well kept. The farms are organized and kept up too. Everything was immaculate. The roads are clean; there were modern gas/convenience store road stops along the way. The cars are new and clean and well kept. Our bus had Wi-Fi on it ;-). Rolling hills, flatlands with corn, alfalfa, sorghum and truck crops. Lots of cattle, sheep and goats. Everything was extremely green and beautiful.
We saw Caterpillar and John Deere outlets in the little towns we passed. It took us about 2 ½
hours to reach Colonia del Sacramento’s old town, founded in 1726 and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It has a square next to the Catholic church with the original Portuguese columns. On every little winding street, there were beautiful shops and restaurants. People were sitting out at the restaurants and enjoying the day. The weather was like Los Angeles-warm and beautiful. We are finally out of the tropical heat and it is now getting colder. Today was about 77 but the humidity has really gone down, yea.
There were well kept, friendly dogs around the streets and one decided to tag along with us. I guess he thought he was the Guardian of the Colonia ;-). We stopped into the church which was pretty austere, compared to others we have seen, with white plaster walls and just a few decorations. Somehow it seemed more peaceful than with all the gold of most Catholic Churches. We sat in a pew for awhile just to close our eyes and contemplate life.
Heading down and around the corner we had lunch at a beautiful Uruguayan restaurant. A little local red wine and chicken. After lunch it was off to do
a little shopping in some of the beautiful shops. The streets are very difficult to walk on as they are not flat cobblestones but just big rocks put into the road every which way. Some were flat, others sticking up on their sides and still others at angles. These streets are original from the 1700’s and very cool to see how they were laid out. Thank heavens Jean retrieved her tennis shoes in Ft. Lauderdale LOL. Jean also forgot to bring a hat for reading on the deck so picked up an “I (heart) Uruguay” baseball cap and a few other trinkets along with an ice cold Coke light ;-) Tasted great!
Since we had to come so far this morning, it was already 3pm as we sat in the park waiting for the rest of our group to show up. The Lorikeets were singing in the trees above us and flying all over. This is a beautiful spot.
Time for the 2 ½ hour trip back to Montevideo. As we approached the city our guide said we had time for a short tour of the city which was great. Downtown Montevideo is clean with a lot of
government buildings and stores. We were told that Montevideo now has 5 malls and the high end stores have migrated from downtown to the malls. Despite that, the downtown (even on a Sunday) really looked good. A very safe and clean city.
We did not want to leave Uruguay. So far this is definitely our favorite spot! We have to figure out a way to return! Next Port: Stanley and the Falkland Islands!
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