We started our Uruguayan adventure in Colonia del Sacramento, a short ferry ride (50KM) from Buenos Aires, and a town that has strong Portuguese and Spanish roots having been under the rule of both (after being first ‘founded’ and claimed by the Portuguese, it has been occupied and conquested back and forth up until 1828, when it became part of Uruguay).
Highlights of Colonia include ruins of fortress walls and gates, a convent dating back to the 17th century, a lighthouse dating to 1857, and the Basilica of the Blessed Sacrament. Classic cars (some driving, some used as planters) and cobblestone roads surround the town center. Not surprisingly, the kids were not all that charmed by the crumbling buildings and cobblestone roads, but luckily we played some soccer in the square near the Basilica and happened to stay in a hotel with an outdoor pool and breakfast buffet so all was forgiven.
A weekend and vacation spot for many Argentines given it’s proximity to Buenos Aires, it was not quite the ‘high season’ (summer) and we had much of the town to ourselves for a requisite self-guided tour in a golf cart (and you can probably imagine how that went). Playa Ferrando was a gorgeous, empty stretch of coast that we had to ourselves for part of a sunny morning before we departed for Montevideo.
We traveled from Colonia to Montevideo by bus (and yes, we are a sight tromping through a bus station: 5 gringos, 3 kids, 12 bags +/- whatever extra bags of snacks or treasures we happen to be holding on a given day). The kids did great on the long-ish ride, enough so that an elderly Uruguayan gentleman offered us ‘felicitaciones’ (congratulations) on traveling with our children.
We spent a few days exploring Montevideo and started to form some of our initial impressions of Uruguay. It has been so interesting to see the comparisons the kids draw as we move from one place to another, and this time was no exception.
Some of Colin’s most prominent observations:
-People smoke less in Uruguay (all of the kids have been shocked at how many people smoke in Latin America)
-There is less dog poop (he’s right that even taking into account the population difference, people here are definitely way more responsible about this)
-Food tastes better than it did in Brazil (food here is more similar to Argentine food, and contains all of the boys’ favorites: meat, pizza, pasta)
-“I’m not hungry” (Food portions are HUGE here. We thought at first that things were expensive, but it turns out that most ‘portions’ easily serve at least 2 people
We’ve also noticed that Uruguayans are more similar to Brazilians in their tendency to STARE at things/people they are not used to seeing (ie, us), but they also are the opposite of both Brazilians and Argentines when it comes to driving behavior; we’ve had multiple drivers stop and either honk or flash their lights at us to tell us to cross which has come as quite a surprise after months of being used to the idea that pedestrians have no right of way.
Having been in a very busy neighborhood of Buenos Aires for the past month definitely influenced all of our perspectives, as the greatest difference we all noticed was the general lack of people we saw out and about in the different neighborhoods of the city. After sleeping in on a Saturday morning (our first in Montevideo) and enjoying another breakfast buffet, we learned quickly that everything closes up early on Saturdays (by 1pm), but we still have not figured out where everyone went once things were closed. (As far as we could tell, they were not at restaurants or bars…)
Regardless, we took advantage of empty & quiet streets to cover a ton of ground and walk through the commercial center (felt like midtown Manhattan with fewer people), the old downtown (ciudad vieja) and the port (more cobblestone streets, tourist markets).
While in the Ciudad Vieja, we had the opportunity to see the inside of Teatro Solis, where Jim’s Grandfather Howard Mitchell conducted on more than one occasion during his many visits to Montevideo.
We had heard various impressions of Argentines v. Uruguayans, or of Buenos Aires v. Montevideo, and one of them was that everything is just more mellow in Uruguay. We definitely concur with this impression: everything and everyone in Uruguay is quieter, ‘mas tranquilo,’ than anything we encountered in BA. While nice to have a change of pace, it has definitely been an adjustment so far.
Next up: travel out to the coast (Punta del Este and La Barra) and my personal memoir “I got out of cooking Thanksgiving dinner and all I had to do was move to South America.”
Love to all,