11 to 19 December 2010
Or …… URaGay as Mark mistyped in one of his recent emails! So it was adios to Argentina and hola to a new country for us both; Uruguay. We took a catamaran style ferry from Tigre, just north of Buenos Aires to Carmelo, a small town on Uruguay’s western coast. The journey was through the Rio Plata, the delta area that separates the two countries. It was a pleasant journey and only took a couple of hours. When we arrived in Carmelo practically everyone on the boat immediately got on a connecting bus and left. It’s always a slight concern when that happens but we found a hotel and had a wander around. It is a fairly sleepy town with pretty streets and like all South American towns and cities you need to head to the central plaza to find out where the action is. As it was, there seemed to be quite a lot going on in Carmelo that night with some kind of fiesta with lots of performances on a stage from traditional dancing to Uruguayan rock and of course the ubiquitous South American barbie going down cooking up several dead animals and a good few metres of sausages! We found a lovely little restaurant packed with locals and had what is probably both our best and cheapest meal out to date. A good start for Uruguay. From Carmelo we continued along the coast to Colonia del Sacremento which is a rather more popular spot for visitors. And justly so as its a picture-postcard colonial town with white-washed and colourfully painted buildings, cobbled streets, street cafes, churches and plazas. It’s also a port with a traditional lighthouse, further adding to its appeal. Another gold star for Uruguay.
Uruguay’s beaches are also highly rated so it would have been rude not to check those out too so next stop Punta del Este, home of the rich and glamorous. Apparently. Maybe they were once and now they’ve got a bit old and leathery. There is no question about the beaches – they are beautiful – but the town is quite a big resort with its fair share of high-rises and not a deserted paradise. Not that that’s what we were expecting as I think you need to get more remote than we had time for. Nonetheless, we had a good couple of days getting burnt in true British style. The beaches here are also world-renowned amongst surfers so we also spent some time watching the surf dudes catch some waves (or whatever). In my excitement of being at the beach, it hadn’t occurred to me that we were on the Atlantic so running into those waves was a bit of a shock to the system. It was lovely once you were in though. Honest.
Punta del Este
Last stop in Uruguay was its capital, Montevideo. We’d spoken to a couple of separate people the day or two before we were due to arrive here and they’d both said they didn’t like it at all – dull and nothing to offer. Great, just what you want to hear when you have a couple of days to kill somewhere. Whilst it’s fair to say there’s not a massive amount to do (taking museums out of the equation!), we both really enjoyed Montevideo. It’s quite a compact capital; indeed it’s quite a compact country so it’s easy to explore on foot. It is quite a gritty city with plenty of old, colonial style buildings and the historic part could be described as having a faded grandeur. But that’s all part of the charm. Close to where we stayed was an old high ceiling covered markets full of restaurants with BBQ grills and the side streets were filled with bars that felt more local than touristic. Samba seems to have more of an influence here than in the other countries we’ve visited on this trip and it is quite common to hear and see small bands shuffling around the streets. On our last afternoon, we decided to have a couple of beers at a quiet bar. The tables were on the wide pedestrianized street and they had a band playing. There were a couple of old men amusing themselves with a bit of dancing and a few other people there. But as people walked past the audience began to grow and before long there was a full on street party in progress. It felt like we were getting closer to that Latin vibe that Argentina and Chile are possibly too historically influenced by Europe to have. I think those travellers that didn’t like Montevideo were looking in the wrong places.
So why you may be asking are we comparing Uruguay with Taiwan? Avid blog readers with good memories may remember Taiwan was an unexpected highlight for us and like Taiwan, not that much is heard about Uruguay. Having gone with few expectations we were very pleasantly surprised – fewer tourists but plenty to see and do and very friendly people. Three gold stars for Uruguay.
Footnote from Mark:
We got a new experience on the flight from Sao Paulo to Bogota (Colombia, where we are now). It was the airline’s inaugural flight and as a result, there was a bit of a party atmosphere on the aircraft with champagne and free USB sticks handed out. As we arrived at the stand at Bogota airport the plane was christened courtesy of the airport fire crew which was fun to experience.