The Whole Picture is Nothing But a Compilation of Details.

Friday, March 4, 2011

24 hours in Montevideo, Uruguay

Bellies bursting with our splendid Mexican breakfast (see "Ethnic Culinary Adventure"), we boarded our overnight flight to Miami. No doubt, these 1,256 miles would have been more comfortable atop a gimpy packhorse. Throughout my years travelling I have found that the simpler the mode of transport, the richer the experience. At least the flight crew had the sense to not wake us up for the moments we were asleep, which were not many. The flight Miami - Buenos Aires offered even less comfort. Sleeping on a plane, or any other place for that matter, has never been challenging for me, but this time none of my carefully developed folding techniques worked: I folded my body in threes; at the knees, waist, and neck, trying to avoid spilling over into the next seat; I folded over once, simply putting my head down on my folded, stacked arms on the the folding tray; I folded just my neck, guaranteed to wake up with that ninety degree angle, characteristic of flying. I remained sleepless. Sleeping on a beach in Montevideo became more appealing with each and every attempt to get comfortable. 
Why Montevideo? you may ask. I will counter question: Why not? Plus it gave us the opportunity to cross Rio de la Plata by ferry, which seemed like a reason as good as any, including evading an entry fee of $150 payable to the Argentine government, one of many money-saving measures we took over the next two weeks. Soon we would refer to how much money we earned in a day.

We crashed on the beach (sans airplane.), in lee of the jetty holding up "la rambla", the paved promenade littered with pink condoms and dog shit that stretches 13.6 miles along the shores of Uruguay's capital.  
Windburned and chilly after our nap, we strolled along the beach, sand brutally and painfully exfoliating the skin of our pasty white bodies, past empty restaurants and a parked taxi where the driver, not his female passenger, was the paying customer. From the lack of sleep we were in that foggy state of no-time, no place, feeling like we had travelled not by airplane but by time machine since we stood packed on his doorstep in a coastal suburb north of Boston less than 24 hours ago. We had no idea of the name of the hostel, much less the address.

Crossing over the street landed us in the shopping district where a very pleasant owner/cook/server provided us with much needed Patricia, the local beer, and tortillas. Feeling better, we found our way back to the hostel thanks only to me absentmindedly having grabbed a flier with the address on it as we left for the beach, dazed, hours before.

Staying at a hostel was on the to-do list and Hostel Punto Berry ( was the subject of our experiment. For the "grand" sum of $48, we had a private bedroom two blocks from Playa de Pocitos, a shared, clean bathroom, free WiFi and Internet access, breakfast, and friendly, very helpful staff. Absent was only pillow cases, easily rectified by sliding t-shirts over the pillows. Our experiment was hence recorded as successful.

Adding a nap to your day is like adding another day, which is why at 8 pm we went out in pursuit of coffee and dessert. Suddenly, somehow, we found ourselves in the midst of the music, food, throngs of people, and general chaos of an amusement park. "Toto, I've a feeling we are no longer in Kansas."

The language barrier, created by lack of confidence, came down rapidly, like a concrete wall blown up with mighty explosives. The first set of directions I obtained was easy: "Follow la Rambla straight for four kilometers". "And, she shorter way?" I asked, now on a mission to get us back to the hostel as the darkness quickly swallowed the city. As a rule, I avoid strolling through unknown cities at night. After two and a half hours, ice cream, cookies and several conversations with shopkeepers and doormen, we stood at the door step of Hostel Punto Berry. It felt like we had completed an orienteering course. Nothing could keep us from sleeping that night: not the incessantly barking dogs below our window, the slamming doors, nor the beer-drinking, laughing backpackers. We were the first guests to tuck in, and the last ones to rise the next morning - a brilliant right, but one you can only exercise as you get older. Think about it.

With some effort and help from the hostel staff we secured tickets for the next leg of our travel: Three hours by bus upriver to Colonia del Sacramento, a former Portuguese settlement and UNESCO site, and onwards to Buenos Aires via ferry across Rio de la Plata. From terminal Tres Cruces, Montevideo, BuqueBus drove us in comfort through rich farmlands receiving a much needed dose of rain feeding the well-designed but dry irrigation system. We were deposited at the state-of-the-art ferry terminal where bags were taken straight from the bus to the ferry, and the distance between the Uruguay and Argentine was the width of the immigration counter. The whole process was seamless. 

M/S Buque Patricia Olivia II, a three hundred passenger, high-speed catamaran powered by marine gas turbines safely brought us to the western shore of the river, angry and the color of weak coffee from sediments stirred up by the strong winds, at an average speed of 23.6 knots. Eighties' music and the Beatles streamed on the TV screens for the fifty minutes it took to get to Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina and the tango, as they would for the entirety of our journey through Argentina and Chile.

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