Hola from Montevideo! No, that is not the name of the South American version of Blockbuster, it is the capital of Uruguay. Nestled between the its vast neighbours, Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay is comparatively tiny. In fact, had the direct flights to Lima not been easier from here, I wouldn’t have considered a visit.
However, I’m delighted I did.
Arriving late on Sunday evening, I headed straight to my AirBnB accommodation in Pocitos, a beach neighbourhood some 5mins drive from the city centre. Nathalie and Bart are a young couple from the Netherlands and had a beautiful flat on the top floor of an apartment building. They had even prepared a fruit bowl for me: now that’s a nice touch!
Monday morning brought with it the first full day of exploration. I set out for a stroll along La Rambla, the coastal/riverbank road that runs for 28 unbroken kilometers along the banks of the River Plate. I stopped for a traditional breakfast of coffee and medialunas (croissants) in the most local of cafes where a quorum of retired, Uruguayan men were arguing loudly but good-naturedly about anything and everything.
I continued my Rambla rambling until I espied the municipal golf course to my right. Here I should inform you that I am more of the Eric Morecambe opinion on golf than of the Sir Winston Churchill viewpoint.
Eric: My wife says if I don’t give up golf she’s going to leave me.
Ernie: That’s terrible!
Eric: I know! I’m really going to miss her.
Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise
“Golf is good walk spoiled” – Sir Winston Churchill
Sadly, however, the nomadic life does not not allow me to tote around my clubs and golf kit. Prepared for disappointment, I approached reception to inquire whether I might be able to play. The golf god (one of the lesser known Greek gods) was smiling on me: every Monday afternoon, guests were permitted to play provided they knew how and wore a collared shirt. It was Monday, 11:55am! In the hope that it would serve for subsequent golfing escapades, I bought a shirt branded with the club’s crest and rented some clubs from a storehouse behind reception. Game on!
Despite nearly knee-capping a startled golfer with a wayward shot, I had immense fun, joining forces halfway round with Alberto, Andres and Santiago, a local family, who invited me to join them.
When asked what sightseeing I had done that day by my hosts, I had to reply, somewhat sheepishly, that I had visited bunkers on the 7th, 12th and 15th but hadn’t seen the conventional tourist attractions.
I set out the following day to remedy this. Alejandro, my friendly Uber driver, on hearing that I had just arrived from Rio, launched into an enthusiastic eulogy of Brazilian women that lasted the entire journey to the old town. Bidding him farewell I walked to El Mercado del Puerto – a famous market by the original docks in the old town. The whole structure was of wood and iron which gave it a rustic, old-fashioned feel. The high roof was allowing the smoke of numerous open grills to percolate, wafting the smell of steak, chicken, pork, chorizo and much, much more to the nostrils of the hungry tourists below. Not yet peckish, I walked on into the heart of the Ciudad Vieja (Old City).
Lazy, winter sunshine strolled casually down the cobbled streets, sometimes keeping pace with me, sometimes pausing so that I could enjoy the contrast of shadow. Montevideo was not so much encouraging me to “do” as to “feel”. I felt no urge to dash through the city snapping photos of churches and museums. No, the gentle beauty of my surroundings encouraged more an introspective, romantic frame of mind. I sat for while in Plaza de Zabala, listening happily to parakeets chattering garrulously as I basked in hazy, pleasant daydreams.
After drifting further I headed back to the grills of the Mercado del Puerto and here my reverie was shattered. I sat at a table in the terrace of one of the busier grill (“parilla” in Spanish) joints. So far, so good. I was immediately brought a menu and, having selected something with unhealthily high meat content, I raised my hand to place an order. I was then either ignored or nodded at then ignored for a further 15 minutes before a waitress finally came to take my order. “Rare steak and salad”: 5 minutes to make, right? Wrong! 40 minutes later I was still waiting. The food, when it finally arrived, was passable but my mood had already taken a turn for the worse.
To make up for this gastronomic disappointment, Bart and Nathalie suggested we visit La Pulpería in the nearby quarter of Punto Carretas for dinner. It was everything that lunch was not. The place was buzzing with both locals and expats, the food not only arrived swiftly but was delicious and we were only charged for one bottle of wine instead of two. Admittedly, victims of our own consciences, we did point out this error. We’ll probably be given vineyards in paradise for that.
That’s the update. Today is El Día de la Nostalgia, a party that precedes independence day tomorrow, and, according to Uber driver #2, Juan, is the most popular night to go out in the whole year. I’ll keep you posted.