Uruguay Travelogue, Day 1

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12-3-10, 6:15 A.M., Hotel Lafayette, Montevideo

I’m writing this as I prepare to go to the hotel’s small gym. After an early turn-in, I’m over the initial effects of jet lag.

We had a very long flight—two hours to Miami, a two hour layover, then ten hours to Montevideo—mitigated only because I slept through part of the red eye flight. We arrived in Uruguay at 12:00 local time (three hours ahead of Eastern Standard). Immigration and customs took ten minutes—maybe—then we bypassed all the folks waiting for their checked luggage and headed out the door. After an approximately 40 minute ride to our hotel (rather long after the flight), we arrived at the Hotel Lafayette, billed as four stars but perhaps a worn and threadbare three stars. I’m jet lagged, a little grungy, and need to stretch. I swim in the hotel pool for a half hour, then we go walking.

We found lunch at the nearest café, sat outside, at had lunch at around 2:30, which is de rigeur here, and people watched. As I watch, I feel less like I’m in the southern hemisphere and more like I’m in Europe. This isn’t a tropical locale: though it’s 82 degrees outside, the air lacks the oppressive humidity and the heavy vegetative smell I experience closer to the equator. It’s late spring here, a country that has four (albeit milder) seasons, and it’s obvious the Uruguayans are enjoying that perfect time of year. The buildings, too, evoke less Latin America and more Europe—think perhaps, Italy or Spain, the two countries from which the majority of Uruguayans descend. As the people pass by, we see folks who are dressed, alternately, in a more “European Style” (suits, ties, fashionable) but others who look like they came off the streets of North America. In fact, one middle-aged lady, blond haired pulled back in a pony tail, comes up to Don and me and begins asking directions in Spanish. Nowhere else I’ve been—Central America, the Caribbean, or even Europe, for that matter) have I felt less obtrusive, less like I stood out in a crowd.

What quickly becomes clear is that very little English is spoken. The restaurateur’s Spanish is different than I’m used to, and we have to go back and forth a few times before we understand each other. Don the plata del dia: spaghetti, bolognaise sauce, and chicken. I get a chivito—a sandwich consisting of crusty bread, and a heart clogging combination of skirt steak, cheese, fried egg, vegetables and mayonnaise (with some fries on the side for good measure).

After lunch, we begin walking, and decide to make a loop around our general area, down to the waterfront along the rio (the “rambla” area) and back. Our immediate area has some hotels, but is otherwise not very touristy. Half the buildings seem closed or unoccupied, the others day to day stores and markets. They’re a mix of old and new, renovated and in need of repair. Along the rambla near our hotel, nothing is very picturesque, and we see mainly brick highrises that are rankly unattractive. Though we passed some beaches along the rambla with sunbathers, no beach area appears to be here.

We leave the rambla and, upon reaching Calle San Jose and Avenida 18 Julio, we realize we’ve hit the main area and things become much more tourist (but also upscale). Here are stalls selling tourist gifts—mainly mate gourds, and what are supposed to be local crafts.

Here the buildings are more historical, more renovated, generally nicer. By this time, it’s perhaps 4:30, and the cafes are actually doing a pretty bustling business. I believe it must be tea time, because most of the patrons are drinking coffee and eating snacks. We make our way back to the hotel and, after a quick break, decide we want to hire a taxi to take us to ciudad vieja, the old part of the city. We’d read that the old city was in the midst of renovation, that, it was charming but at the same time a little dodgy at night. I wanted to see the Mercado del Puerto (literally, the “Port Market”), home to some of the most popular parilladas. We took a five minute taxi ride and got out and explored. The market was filled with the fragrant smells of heavy meets cooking on the open wood grills. Most of the restaurants had already closed (they were open primarily for lunch), though some were still doing a late lunch business at 5:00. It was too early for us to eat supper, so we just walked around. The area within a few blocks’ vicinity of the market had indeed been renovated and restored. A few tourist police stood around, although from the looks of things, we might’ve been the only tourists there at this time of day. We wandered around through some side streets and craft shops, then made our way back. After a break (in which I checked emails and did some business back home), we went out to eat. We found us a nice café close by. Don tried the chivito and was pleased. I had a chicken quarter that was ok. We were both pretty jet lagged by this time, and by 9:00, we split to our respective rooms and hit the sack

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