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Published: November 13th 2015
Calle de los Suspiros
This street is apparently listed as the most picturesque street in Colonia del Sacramento.
Sinking my teeth into Uruguay...much like Uruguay's most famous current footballer sunk his teeth into Giorgio Chiellini. And Branislav Ivanovic. And Otman Bakkal. Hopefully the only thing I would be sinking my teeth into literally would be Uruguay's famous beef. As much as he is known for his controversial actions, Luis Suarez is a also a brilliant footballer with skill, pace, guile and a fiercely competitive spirit. The rest of the Uruguayan national team isn't too bad either, considering that Uruguay only has a population of 3.4 million - even less than New Zealand. What kind of a place produces such extraordinary talent that allows such a small nation to punch so far above their weight? I was hoping to find out.
Mixing up the modes of transport I was taking, I was travelling to Uruguay on a boat! The ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento only takes about a hour, from where I then caught an onward bus to Montevideo which was included in the price of the ticket.
Catching a bus to the hostel, my Spanish certainly came in handy to make things a little easier than they would've been.
Now one piece of advice
Playa de los Pocitos
One of Montevideo's city beaches. Much of the wealthier population tend to live out by the beach as opposed to the shelled-out city centre.
I would like to pass on is not to try booking shit when you're drunk. Which is exactly what I attempted on my last night in Buenos Aires at my last Milhouse party, when I realised I had nowhere to stay in Montevideo the next night. Not realising that it had gone past midnight I booked a hostel for the following day. Having paid the deposit for the hostel, I then realised that still hadn't booked a place for the day I arrived but for the day after. Therefore I had to book one night at another hostel because the one I booked didn't have space on the night arrived. So I'd have to change hostels after a night which wasn't ideal. And the first hostel wasn't a bad one. Ukelele Hostel is set in a lovely old house with a 1920s/1930s theme complete with chandeliers and high ceilings. I hope that the second hostel is just as good!
The staff there were really friendly too, which was in keeping with my encounters with Uruguayans so far - they were all really friendly, spoke more clearly and instantly made the place feel less hectic than Buenos Aires
which almost immediately
put me at ease in a new country.
There isn't really much to Montevideo in all honesty - there are a lot of nice colonial buildings but the majority of them are in varying states of disrepair and dereliction. I was quite shocked at how quickly areas changed. Right next to the Mercado del Puerto, arguably Montevideo's most popular tourist attraction - is a really run-down area full of homeless people and what appear to be squatters in these beautiful yet abandoned buildings. Council apartment towers and graffiti lines the seaside promenade just around the corner. This extended to the Barrio Sur, the neighbourhood right next to my hostel, which looked super-ropey. Like Buenos Aires a bit, and a lot like Durban
and other South African cities, the town centre - in this case the historic Ciudad Vieja
is somewhat shelled out with the rich having move to the outer suburbs, or in the case here, near the beach.
Just as there isn't too much to see, there isn't too much to do here either. The Museo Romantico, housed inside an wealthy family's former house/palace and exhibiting paintings, artworks and family possessions from the 19th century, and the
Plaza Independencia, Montevideo
With the cool-looking and rather iconic Palacio Salvo in the background.
Museo Carnaval, exhibiting Uruguay's take on this most famous of festivals in South America, kept me occupied for a grand total of about thirty minutes between the two of them.
Of more interest was the Estadio Centenario, where the 1930 Football World Cup Final was played and won by the home team over local rivals from across the water, Argentina. Although it was a long time ago, Uruguay are in fact double world champions with their other tournament victory coming in 1950 in an infamous upset when they beat Brazil in the final in Brazil's own backyard in what is now known as the Maracanazo
. That is more World Cups than England and Spain, and the same as local rivals Argentina. As mentioned earlier, these guys really punch above their weight considering their population. As interesting as it was, the football museum there wasn't as good as Brazil's one in Sao Paulo
. The highlight was seeing the original Jules Rimet trophy - the original World Cup - from the 1930 and 1950 wins on display.
Like most of the city, the stadium itself is crumbling. Like Durban - and apologies to Durbanites for constantly comparing decaying cities to yours - it
Palacio Legislativo, Montevideo
Where Uruguay's parliament sits.
seems there hasn't been a new building built in Montevideo since the 80s.
When visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art, I had to walk through the industrial part of the city just outside the city centre which seemed like a miserable place - an feeling exacerbated by the pouring rain and the cold.
As for the museum itself, it had a couple of cool pieces including a massive sheet of joined-up paper towels that had the patterned grooves on it coloured to form colourful and symmetric patterns, and a seven-month work where a bible had every instance of the word "God" cut out of it and displayed on the walls surrounding the said bible. The setting itself was probably the coolest thing about the place however, which is a former jail. There was some sort of weird rehearsal going on for some kind of weird show in some of the old cells, which piqued my curiosity.
Also piquing my curiosity was the local food.
Just before I left for Uruguay, there were news reports all over the show saying the red meat will give you cancel - which is just the worst thing to hear before going to Uruguay.
Mercado del Puerto
One of Montevideo's most popular tourist attractions and a great place to have an asado for lunch.
The worst. But with asados
being served at parrillas
all over town, the smell and temptation was too much. The first asado I had was an asado de tira
(ribs) at one of Montevideo's two main food markets, which was delicious. It was sizeable too - I had a whole plate of just steak which must have been almost a kilo of meat. I wasn't even halfway through my meal before I started getting meat sweats. I am also a huge fan of chimichurri
and will no longer have steak without this delectable condiment.
For lunch, I also had a local chivito
, which is a steak sandwich stuffed with cheese, lettuce, ham, egg, tomatos, olives, pickles, peppers, mayonnaise and just about anything else they can stuff in it. I also had the best empanadas
in South America so far, from a shop called Cibeles, which makes them fresh to order. The beef mince, chicken and ham & cheese are all really tasty - and they even have an amazing dulce de leche
one (which is eaten with everything in Uruguay and Argentina).
The food that Uruguayans do the best however - the best in South America anyway - are desserts.
Mauseleo Artigas, MontevideoChaja
Where Uruguayan war hero General Jose Artigas lies protected by guards 24 hours a day.
is a mix of sponge, meringue, peach and cream into a compact cube which was delicious yes, but amazing no. Very sweet though. Masini
on the other hand, is exquisite. A thick layer of cream is sandwiched between a thin sponge layer base and a thin layer of caramelised sugar. Mmmmm...
The local people have been the most impressive that I have met so far too. They are really nice and friendly and are also the most courteous drivers I have encountered for while, who actually stop for pedestrians (who seem to rule here) at zebra crossings. They also carry mate
with them - like everywhere, all the time. They will have a flask containing this very bitter and strong green tea as well as permanently carrying a flask of hot water to fill it up and drink it through a metal straw. It is apparently quite a personal thing so if someone shares their mate with you - which the hostel worker at Ukelele did with me - it is quite a big deal.
Speaking of hostels, the hostel I had originally booked was a huge disappointment. There was zero atmosphere at Planet Montevideo as there
seemed to be no-one else staying there and I had an entire dorm to myself. It was cold and the rooms, beds and bathrooms were all crusty and there was a chronic lack of soap and toliet paper. It was a bad mistake to come here after Ukelele...I definitely didn't want to linger long here.
With the hostel experience, the cold weather and a lack of things to do, I really wanted to get out of Montevideo - something that was denied to me the night I wanted to leave thanks to a bloody bus driver's strike! I would have to leave the next morning...which gave me an excuse to stay another night at Ukelele, which I guess worked out.
It left me with a tight schedule though - it meant that I had less than an hour to try and find somewhere in Colonia to watch the 2015 Rugby World Cup Final between Australia and the mighty All Blacks! Which was less trouble than I thought it might be - I could watch it on the TV at the hostel! Even if due to a signal problem I had to watch the whole game in black and white
Could Be Cuba
But it's not. It is Colonia del Sacramento.
(which given that the All Blacks were playing, might have been apt) - at least I got to see the game!
The ABs completely dominated the first half deservedly led 16-3 at half time. The Aussies came back into it inevitably and they had me shitting myself at 21-17 with Ben Smith in the sin bin with ten minutes to play. But this All Black team is too experienced and Dan Carter was imperious (what about that 40m snapshot drop goal!). With so many legends playing their last game, we were destined to win it in a way, and deservedly so as we've been the best team in the world by a distance in the last four years. Beauden Barrett's breakaway try had me leaping off the couch in front of some startled but understanding hostel mates - at that point I wished so much to be with my mates in London or Auckland to celebrate - travelling does have its downsides. But it was a proud and happy moment nonetheless and I celebrated by sharing a beer with Meriam...who was actually a Dutch girl I had met at Milhouse back in Buenos Aires, but just happened to be here
Galeria de los Suspiros, Colonia del Sacramento
Art gallery on Colonia's most picturesque street.
in Colonia for the weekend. She's a cool girl and takes my jokes well, so it was cool to have some company for my stay here in Colonia.
Colonia itself is very small but very pretty and very romantic - you can walk around the old town including going up the light tower in an hour. It is very similar to Paraty
in Brazil, although I would say that Paraty is bigger and prettier. But it definitely has an 18th/19th century mariner town feel to it - the kind of place and time that Beirut or The Decemberists would write an entire album about (they both have).
It was nice also to have Meriam around - I finally had someone to go to restaurants and bars with, so that is what we did. We enjoyed a seafood meal with some local white wine and some live music at a bar in the old town afterwards where we had lively conversations with the locals in Spanish.
It is a very touristy place but very relaxed at the same time - it was sad that I couldn't spend another night there chilling out and catching up on some admin but that
Live Band, Colonia del Sacramento
Generating a cool, unique night atmosphere in the cobbled streets of Colonia.
is the way that my transport connections have worked out. Next I will have to return to Buenos Aires for a night before making my way across Argentina to Cordoba and Mendoza.
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