The first hint of trouble had been the heavy tool bag and guitar hitting the floor next to my table and the man plonking himself down without so much as a bye or leave. I was enjoying a quick cappuccino at McDonalds (Don’t judge, I also needed the wifi to check up on an interview I’d had) and so there I met my new American acquaintance. He quickly launched into an impressive range of conspiracy theories on subjects as diverse as corrupt bankers and the startling fact that 80% of the youth of America will soon be autistic due to vaccines. Upon hearing that I intended to make my way to Korea at some point, or indeed home for a while, he solemnly informed me that due to Fukushima, the radiation level in the entire Northern Hemisphere was something that I should take into account. A final slurp of cappuccino, and a final exhortation from him to “Check out InfoWars!” and I was gone. For such a conspiracy theorist, his love of McDonalds seemed slightly incongruous.
It was towards the end of my brief sojourn in Uruguay, and the day before I left Montevideo. To be honest, leaving my nice comfortable room in Buenos Aires to hit the road again hadn’t filled me with joy. But then again, yet another all-weekend festival of fuckwittery from my housemate made the equation a bit simpler. I’m not the greatest fan of communal living in any circumstance, but when you live with adult children it makes it far less bearable.
Monday morning dawned, keys handed over and deposit back. Good to go, again…
Getting to Uruguay turned out to be fabulously easy. One bus from my house to the SeaCat office on Avenida Córdoba, one ticket in the bag (550AR Pesos, about £26) and then a walk of about 5 blocks straight down Avenida Córdoba to the ferry terminal at Puerto Madero.
SeaCat is the second cheapest option when it comes to crossing the Rio Plata. Despite this they actually use the same terminal and generally the same boats as Buquebus, the most expensive option. It’s a very simple way to save 300 Pesos! I gather sometimes they can run their own services with smaller boats which, in choppy conditions, can be a bit of a trial but for nearly half the cost I’d say it’s worth it. My boat turned out to be one of the Buquebus fleet and very comfortable, with aircraft-style seats. And inevitably the fuckwit in front of me who immediately reclined the seat to within inches of my face. Juuuust like a plane!
We arrived in Colonia’s port bang on schedule, and I made my way to my home for the next 2 nights- El Viajero hostel, just off the Main Street. Whilst the weather wasn’t remotely promising, I dropped my bag and headed into town for a wander and lunch. Back to business as usual on the South American stray dog front, with a beagle suddenly appearing from underneath the table with an eye for burger… NO!
At the hostel I met an English guy Tom, another career break escapee, who confirmed my good decision to go with SeaCat. He’d taken the cheapest option, Colonia Express, and had endured a seriously rough crossing. Ouch!
The dusting of rain turned into a downpour, so I elected to leave the sightseeing for the next day. Luckily, from being completely deserted some new faces came into the hostel. Chatty faces, a good win. It’s nice when you stumble across a social place, not full of mute gap yearers glued to their iDevices. So, an early start on the beers and then a wander around town in a vain attempt to find nightlife. FAIL! We ended up at a pavement cafe/bar/burger joint with a squad of approximately 5 stray dogs joining us.
Colonia is definitely not stacked with activities. There’s stuff to see, for sure, but it’s mainly along the lines of old buildings and cobbled streets. We did splash out the grand sum of 45 Uruguayan Pesos to climb up the not-very-high lighthouse, from which you can more clearly see historic rooftops. Allegedly BA is also visible on a clear day. It was not a clear day.
So then, about 1.5hrs into our walk and we’d seen it. Time for some coffee and cake. If there’s one thing Colonia does do well, it’s eating and drinking out. Plenty of places, mainly expensive but with some good Menu Del Dias in the less touristy ones at the top end of the Main Street. I also needed to post my CELTA papers back home, crossing fingers tightly I paid the £12 charge and dropped them into the letterbox… If nothing else it’s a kilo that I don’t need to lug up to North America.
Day turned to night, and the advantages of having Argentines in the hostel soon made themselves clear after the suggestion of an asado. Yes please, a few hundred pesos bunged in and we were good to go- Luckily with our Argentine friend cooking rather than the meat being massacred by clumsy medium rare Englanders.
Much wine, beer and the remnants of my whisky polished off. The next morning’s bus to Montevideo was NOT fun. Nonetheless in the world of buses it was as cheap as chips, and only took 2hrs 45mins to the Tres Cruces station in Montevideo. Cost was around £8 and the bus was standard South American super-comfy spec.
Still travelling with Tom from the last hostel, we arrived into a near-monsoon. It’s definitely autumn here, and the reminders that I really need to get North to keep the summer keep on coming. We stayed at Caballo Loco (Crazy Horse) hostel which, whilst it sounds like a party hostel for dickheads, was actually super comfortable and had a nice vibe. Maaaaan.
It’s fair to say that Montevideo is slightly more limited in entertainment and sightseeing options than Buenos Aires. On the flipside however, it’s a far, far more relaxed capital city and a really nice place to hang out for a few days. There’s a great mix of Uruguayan, European and Brazilian influences which show not only in the architecture, but also in the free-wheeling, easy going atmosphere of the city and the bars.
After a social bite to eat at the hostel we headed out to sample Montvideo’s nightlife. The heart of the city is the Ciudad Vieja, whose spine is the 18 de Julio Main Street. We headed down and across the main square, to a great street packed with live music bars. Thankfully however I didn’t have to be the first one to bail out though, after the Dutch and American contingent decided 2-ish would be time to give it a night. Our Brazilian friends from the hostel were still going strong though.
A walk round the old city the next day was a great hangover cure, even despite my encounter with the conspiracy theorist. The Mercado Puerto here is well worth checking out. Similar to the main market in Santiago there are dozens of restaurants inside catering to the near-fanatical Uruguayan love of beef.
Later in the day we checked out Uruguay’s second love: Futbol. For my first-ever football match I think we’d chosen a good one. Club Nacional De Futbol, one of the two main teams in Uruguay, were facing off against River Plate, one of Argentina’s top teams. Like everything else here, football in both Uruguay and Argentina is highly polarised. You LOVE one of the teams, and hate the other. No half measures, no “not following” football. You make your choice, and you stick to it. There are 2 here, 2 in Argentina. CHOOSE!
The roads were packed as we made our way into the Estadio Centenario, an intriguingly old-school concrete edifice near the main bus station in Montevideo. Having watched the first half on one of the quieter stands, we then decided to move into the Fanatico section for a laugh. It’s fair to say that Nacional fans really get into their supporting. In fact, with the constant songs throughout the football almost seemed like a bit of an afterthought, with half of the fans actually missing the fact that Nacional had scored their second goal.
I managed to learn some of the words towards the end. Whilst sung beautifully, the words I could decipher from one song included the repetition of “Sons of bitches” and “We are going to win” so it wasn’t exactly poetry! Sadly pictures can’t completely convey the atmosphere… The constant noise, the bouncing of the fanaticos, the enthusiastic songs. The very competent trumpets and drums. It was a great night.
The next morning was somewhat bizarre… Uruguayan breakfast TV were hosting a game show and wanted to interview one of us. Since I was still in a deeply hungover state and wearing pyjamas I decided to pass. My Dutch friend Jasmijn took up the challenge though, I managed to stream the live broadcast via the web… She was, indeed, being serenaded by a toy monkey in the studio.
I was slightly miffed by missing out on such Uruguayan fame, since she also received a lovely travel mug for her intervention. However, I should make it clear that I’m far from a stranger to high-profile television appearances having appeared on the popular ITV4 TV series “Used Car Roadshow” in my youth. Uruguayans just don’t know talent when they see it!
And then that was it. Time to return to the big smoke. I bought a combination bus/ferry ticket from SeaCat which turned out to be great value at 1000 Uruguayan Pesos (about £22). This again was the Buquebus service at a much lower price. Plus, the advantage of the combo ticket is that it’s the same price as buying bus and boat separately, but the bus is much quicker and takes you straight to the ferry terminal. They also take care of your luggage onto the boat. Well worth doing.
So then, farewells to new friends and Puerto Madero at sunset. Next I’m off to San Luis province near Mendoza for a brief stint of English teaching in a small town… Incidentally, if anyone’s interested in the dream of some land near the beach in Uruguay have a word with Jasmijn. Plots from 5000USD upwards for 500SqM. Planning permission ‘not a thing’ over here. Ridiculously tempting… http://www.mijnjas.com/ (She does speak perfect English, just not on the website!)