It was a very, very wet Sunday afternoon (2 November) when we arrived in Montevideo and everything was closed (as it apparently always is all over Uruguay on a Sunday), but we could feel the ease and the comfort straightaway.
Crossing from Buenos Aires by ferry and bus was one of the most efficient ferry experiences we’ve ever had – they even checked our luggage in airport style with a luggage carousel to collect at the other side. Uruguay is a beautiful little country, just 3 million people in total, half of whom live in Montevideo. Apparently no one can explain how such a small population manages to sustain such a consistently good football team, but it is a true national passion (the country completely and utterly stops and shuts down for a national game).
Sandwiched between Spanish Argentina and Portuguese Brazil, it had a tortuous emergence after independence and suffered a century of civil wars. But now, it is content, settled and happy in itself, unlike its neighbour Argentina, which appears to be in a continuous state of near financial crisis (as reflected in the buy sell spread of the Argentinian peso – you can get nearly twice as many pesos per dollar on the street in Argentina than from a bank). Uruguay has benefited from stability and good governance now for nearly 10 years – and it shows. The economy is strong – which means it’s not been a cheap place to hang out. But a lovely place to spend some time – people are happy, content and so very, very friendly, helpful and welcoming.
Montevideo itself is a little gem of a capital city and was a nice, gentle place to land for a week or two while we got the van importation sorted out. It’s easy to get around – much of it is walkable and, if not, buses are frequent, albeit polluting. Like Buenos Aires, it has some beautiful old architecture, evidence of the wealth of the past, particularly during the meat boom of nearly 100 years ago (for our older readers, the name Fray Bentos will be familiar – it’s a town just up river from Buenos Aires and Montevideo). Now, it’s rather quaint to hear people talk about how much traffic there is, when we rarely encountered even a queue – but the traffic has doubled in 10 years, so relatively, it is busy.
It has been nice and, in some situations, extremely helpful to encounter some people who speak a little English. They learn it at school here and seem to enjoy trying to use it. Meanwhile, we are working hard to keep practicing and developing our Spanish. We did a second week of Spanish classes at a sister language school to the one we attended the previous week in BA while waiting for the van to arrive. Since then, we have been using a mixture of disjointed conversations with people we meet, an audio course, reading Tin Tin and Asterix in Spanish to keep up the learning. When we return to Argentina, people who speak English will be very few and far between.
One surprise from our time in the Rioplatense region (the ‘river plate’, encompassing Buenos Aires and Montevideo and the regions around the river) has been the complete lack of any spice in the food. A number of times we’ve been warned to be careful of the chimichurri sauce because it is “piquante”, so we excitedly dig in, only to find, to our taste, there is virtually no heat or spice to it at all! But if your meat was as good as theirs and your diet revolved around it, perhaps you wouldn’t develop a taste for spice, which would only serve to detract from the flavour of the meat anyway.
Some images from our time in Montevideo are below. Click on any picture to open into full gallery view.