The Most Chill Country in South America: Uruguay, 10/23—10/26
Well, it's Week 14 here in Buenos Aires and realizing that this past weekend was my last trip outside Argentina before leaving in two weeks is a tough pill to swallow. Again, I find myself wondering where in the the world the last 3 and a half months went, but nonetheless I can still enjoy these next two weeks before they kick me out of this continent. At this point I am finished with two of my five classes as I took two final exams this week. One of which was my Tango Class, which was interesting as per the usual. I do not know if I should be flattered or concerned given the fact that my professor said that his classes this semester were the "worst he has seen in years." Again.. there's that honesty coming from those Argentines. However, I could care less because I still got an A in the class and that is all that matters.
This past weekend my friend John and I went to Uruguay to see the supposed "most relaxed country in South America". We left Buenos Aires on Thursday (10/23) via the ferry to Colonia, Uruguay across the Rio de la Plata. The Rio de la Plata, deemed as the largest river in the world at about 33 kilometers across, is the easiest access point for travelers going between Buenos Aires and Uruguay. Even though it is so close, Uruguay also has a one hour time difference from Argentina. Upon arriving in Colonia, we went straight to the bus terminal to hop on the next bus to Montevideo, the country's capital. At first, we were told that there were no more buses to Montevideo that night and we would have had to spend the night in Colonia somewhere. Since we all have been lucky with little to no travel difficulties throughout all of our trips (except the airline strike the night we were going to Rio de Janeiro), this would have been the worst possible time for something bad to happen because we were spending less than 24 hours in Montevideo the following day.
Luckily, the bus station was wrong, as there was one more bus heading to Montevideo that night. The distance from Colonia to Montevideo is about 2 hours, so we saw a good amount of the surrounding countryside and coastline of the Rio de la Plata while on the buses. Finally after all of that, we made it to our hostel only to find out that they messed up our reservation and moved us from a room with 6 other people to our own room. That was nice, considering that I have stayed in enough hostels while down here to last a lifetime.
On Friday (10/24), John and I started the day early and explored the city of Montevideo on our own and with a free walking tour. Just some brief information about Uruguay and Montevideo.. disclaimer: if you have no interest in this, skip to the next paragraph! Montevideo is situated on the Rio de la Plata like Colonia and Buenos Aires, and has drastic similarities to the capital city of Argentina as well. Although it is smaller and older, there is a obvious European influence in Montevideo, with its architecture and language. Argentina and Uruguay have a rich history of competition with many rivalries over soccer, who really invented dulce de leche, and the Tango. Uruguayans claim that they were the leaders and/or creators of each of those things, however Argentines beg to differ. The city of Montevideo has had many historical affiliations prior to the creation of the country of Uruguay in 1828, as it was a part of the Spanish, British, League of Free Peoples, Portuguese, and Brazilian Empires all between 1724 and 1828. Europeans fought over the region for quite some time due to the fact that the city is situated at the mouth of the Rio de la Plata, which is the gateway to the center of South America and major access point to Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. Uruguay has a serious love for their founding father who is believed to have liberated the region from the Brazilians who reigned prior to their independence. His name was Jose Gervasio Artigas. Every other place that we saw in Uruguay paid homage to his efforts back in the early 1800s. A statue of Artigas appears in the main square of Montevideo, called Plaza Independencia. Below the ground and the statue is the moselluem and tomb of Artigas, which is pictured below.
Within Plaza Independencia, there are many different types of buildings like the president's workplace, Palacio Salvo, various banks, and restaurants. What is interesting about the president's building is that it is nothing like the White House in Washington, D.C. or even Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires. The building is not crawling with government officials, a fence protecting the perimeter of the building, or guard dogs waiting to bite a guy that hops the fence, for instance. The President of Uruguay is Jose Mujica, a beloved left-wing party member, who is well known for his legalization of same sex marriage, abortion, and marijuana. Mujica is a man of the people and never needs protection throughout his every day life. Visitors of Plaza Independencia are allowed to enter the President's Building without any problems. In addition, he is known as the world's Most Humble President because he donates 90 percent of his salary each and every year to poor people and small entrepreneurs. Is this a dream come true?
For anyone who consistently reads my blog, does the picture of Palacio Salvo below remind you of anything? It should, because it actually the sister palace to Palacio Barolo in Buenos Aires. We visited Palacio Barolo back in July and had the best panoramic view over the city. Built by the same architect, Palacio Salvo was designed to be a hotel but quickly became unaffordable following the Great Depression during the 1920s and 1930s. Palacio Salvo was also known as the tallest building in South America for 7 years following its completion.
Another surprise for us was the fact that the Uruguayan Presidential Elections actually fell on Sunday (10/26) while we were still in the country. Hence, we saw plenty of people campaigning the streets for the new candidates while we were in Montevideo. After going to several different places in Montevideo, including their coastline, plazas, and National Bank, the tour ended at the Puerto de Frutas. The Puerto de Frutas is known for its restaurants and tourist attractions for souvenirs and pictures. The building that these places are located is actually designed like an English train station because it was built and sent across the Atlantic Ocean in the 1800s. However, the building was never supposed to end up in Montevideo, it was supposed to go to Peru. No one knows why the building never made it to Peru. While here, I tried the most popular drink of Uruguay called Media y Media. It is a mixture of white wine and champagne and was quite possibly the sweetest drink I have ever tried. Not my preference, but I knew I should try it.
After lunch and some wandering, we went to the famous Antel Tower of Montevideo, which is the most modern looking building in the city. With a great view of the city, the visitor's deck is a great place to spend some time and see as much of the city as possible. And just like that, our time in Montevideo was over and we headed another two hours east to Punta del Este.
Punta del Este, known as the most popular beach resort town in Uruguay, attracts people from all over the world for its gorgeous coastlines. It is the point where the Rio de la Plata ends and the Atlantic Ocean begins. By the time that we got there, we did not get to see as much of the city because it was late, but we did try the classic Uruguayan staple sandwich called a Chivito. Basically a thinly cut steak sandwich with bacon, tomato, lettuce, and cheese, it is their dining claim to fame. We spent the whole day on Saturday (10/25) exploring Punta del Este. The famous Monumento de los Dedos is pictured below.. it is the hand stretching out of the sand on the beach. The monument was created as a warning to beachgoers to be careful in the rough waters around Punta del Este and basically shows someone drowning.. kind of dismal if you ask me? Later that night, we got dinner and drinks with our friend who was also in Punta del Este this weekend for a few days.
On Sunday (10/26) we were up early to head back to Colonia for our afternoon ferry back to Buenos Aires. By this point, I was more than done with the Uruguayan buses and being bored on the journeys between cities. Luckily, I did buy The Wolf of Wall Street (Spanish edition) to read during my travels to that we be of use on the coming weeks as well. Colonia, as I mentioned earlier, is the Uruguayan city closest to Buenos Aires. It was designated as a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site for its prolonged history prior to the Uruguayan Independence. Colonia has a sister city in Pelotas, Brazil and a small population of nearly 27,000 people. Colonia is a lot older and that is definitely noticeable while wandering the cobblestone streets and alleyways. The town has a famous lighthouse located next to the ruins of the San Francisco Convent that stood there as early as the 1640s. The Barrio Historico is pictured below and is the perfect place to spend an afternoon and learn a little bit more about the most relaxed, and safest, country in South America.
So that concludes my experiences in Uruguay. Below, you will also see a link to a recent article about the social change occurring in Uruguay and other parts of South America. I thought it was interesting because I was just there, but it explains the changes that have arisen in Latin America in greater depth. It was a great weekend seeing a country that is rarely in the news in the US, but always has a major presence in certain things like the FIFA World Cup. This weekend my program has a scheduled trip to Costa del Este, a small beach town about four hours south of the city of Buenos Aires. This will be my last trip before heading back to the US, but that just means that I will have more time to explore new areas of Buenos Aires when I return from Costa del Este. Thanks again, everyone. Since I know some of you have started counting down, I can give you an official countdown that I will be back in the good ole' US in 13 days.
USA TODAY: Conservative Latin America turning liberal
"We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us."