Days: 367-368 (27 June 2015 – 28 June 2015)
Total distance travelled: 83,184.76 kilometres (51,667.55 miles)
As we found ourselves on the verge of departing Argentina for Uruguay, our destination Montevideo, I began to muse over how little of this tiny South American country I actually knew.
In history, I recalled that Montevideo was the port from which the German squadron had sailed prior to their engagement with the British in what was to become known as the ‘Battle of the River Plate’, whilst more recently, my beloved Socceroos (the Australian national football (soccer) team) had played a pair of difficult World Cup qualifiers here back in 2001 and 2005 respectively.
More recently the country is seemingly better known for their humble, yet generous president, Jose ‘Pepe’ Mujica who famously donated 90% of his salary to charity… oh, and their flag is essentially an improvement on the Greek, by first dispensing with the stupid cross, and replacing it with a bright and joyful Sun!
Armed with this information (useful points I’m sure you will agree), we crossed the border at Concordia via a somewhat expensive shuttle service.
Early signs were impressive, at least if their respective flags are a fair and reasonable method by which to judge a country… of course we did also spot a handful of Rhea (large flightless birds, similar to an Ostrich or Emu) minutes into this new country, so perhaps it too coloured our impressions!
The first incredible and obvious difference (after the flags and roaming Rhea), was the size of the country.
After traversing Argentina courtesy of long and arduous bus journeys, before we knew it (okay, so it was after about six hours), we’d made it to the Uruguayan capital.
It was a decent walk of several kilometres before we got to our hostel, we settled in and after a lengthy search for an ATM that would accept our cards, decided on a local lounge for a beer and pizza dinner.
The regularly wafting scents of dope quickly reminded us that we were in a country that had legalised marijuana (for citizens only), but we’re fairly certain we were ravenous enough to devour the delicious pizza we ordered… surely we couldn’t have gotten a case of the munchies that quickly!!
The following morning was a Sunday, and although much of the city promised to be closed (a shame given that this was our sole full day in the capital), we still rose nice and early having gotten wind of a regular weekend market, not too far from the hostel.
If we’d thought Mate was an addiction back in Argentina, suddenly we were confronted with it as an obsession.
The first stalls were devoted purely to the Mate gourds themselves, not too distant, or often mixed together were the Bombillas (the pipes with which it is drunk), but what proved a complete surprise, was the table devoted to thermos lids.
Not the complete thermos, simply the lids!
It was certainly a place chock full of life, the perfect tonic to help us warm to this city.
The crowds were thick, the stalls plentiful and colourful, proving both a reflection and contrast to the grey clouds at the same time (those clouds were indeed thick, but certainly not colourful, rather dark and foreboding).
It looks like the maze like, sprawling streets which this market occupies, are usually home to the capitals antique district, and this is not an opportunity missed to try and rustle up some extra business as their doors in general seemed wide open.
Competition was stiff however, as many of the stalls mirrored their wares, albeit without many of the larger items, be they furnishings or mechanical in nature. Still, old number plates were in abundance, as were old football (soccer) cards, tickets and magazines.
Cutlery was plentiful, but on occasion one could find the odd wooden aeroplane propeller, old telephones or even a Mate gourd made from an animal hoof!
It was all fascinating stuff, but it was our noses that were ultimately seduced.
Minutes later we could be found munching away greedily on our new purchases, a couple of pork skewers hot off the grill serving us perfectly to stave off any hunger, whilst keeping the cold at bay at the same time.
With those clouds above looking ever darker and threatening to release their load on us at any time, we took our leave and began to explore the city a little more.
Where the market streets fairly teemed with life, the rest of the city seemed almost desolate.
Grand buildings loomed all about, but the dull light and empty streets gave the city an abandoned feel.
Then it began to rain.
Some respite was found briefly as we made a descent beneath Montevideo’s main plaza and paid our respects at the dimly lit mausoleum to General Artigas, a hero of independence.
Meanwhile out, the rains in fact continued to get heavier, the longer we walked, the wetter we obviously became.
We toyed with the idea of heading back to the hostel, however this was our only real day in town, so we decided to soldier on.
Somehow these few sentences saw an hour or so elapse, by which time we realised our small snack of meat on a stick was no longer keeping our hunger pangs at bay.
One of the hostel staff had shown us where we might find some good Parilla, and it was upon reaching this location that we finally found the first crowds since the morning market.
From within this large, corrugated roofed structure, wafted the delicious smells of cooking meats and the promise of getting indoors out of the rain for a little time at least.
Within was an array of vendors, some looking casual, eat at the bar affairs, others complete with white linen table cloths and full table service, and some sat somewhere in the middle.
Hawkers did their best lure you in, we checked a few menus, then sat down at a bar, by now fully seduced by the thought of some rare meat and red wine.
Our spirits restored, we emerged to find the rain had ceased so we took the time for a stroll along the city’s waterfront.
Many areas looked a little run down, but we did our best to imagine it bustling with life on a sunny day or during the working week.
After all this was a Sunday, right in the middle of winter.
Eventually feeling a little fatigued, we retired to our hostel where we simply relaxed and cooked ourselves a final Montevideo dinner.
After all, this was winter, so the following morning we were off to the beach!
* Our overnight bus from Puerto Iguazu to Concordia on the Argentina/Uruguay border cost us $612.80 pesos (that was with a 20% discount for paying cash).
* From Concordia, we arrange a transfer across the border with a bus connection to Montevideo for $76.00 US (it was cheaper to pay in US dollars than $1,000.00 Argentine pesos).
* The actual breakdown was Concordia to Salto for $119.00 URY pesos, and Salto to Montevideo for $835.00 URY pesos.