The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.
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4:03pm on Saturday, 9th November, 2019:
I'm now back home, despite the best efforts of the fog at Heathrow (I had to sit in the plane for 90 minutes at Madrid before it took off, unable to get to my laptop because it was in the locker for row 33 and I was in row 38 in a window seat, 38F — the very last one on the whole flight).
So, what are my thoughts on Uruguay?
First, they're not really on Uruguay, just Montevideo. That said, the population of Uruguay is about 3.5 million and the population of Montevideo is about 1.4 million, so I might have got a decent feel for for it. The country is much smaller than I thought, being 176,000km2; this is larger than Greece (132,000km2) but smaller thaan Romania (238,000km2); I was thinking it was maybe double the size of France, but even Argentina is only four Frances. I should look at globes rather than maps. Montevideo is big, though: you can drive at the speed limit for half an hour along the main road (which runs along the coast) and still be in Montevideo. I think it goes back in like a semi-circle, but all the places I visited were near the coast so I didn't really get to see the interior.
The old part of Montevideo doesn't have a Monte and not much of a video, either. It's surprisingly run-down. In Europe, most old parts of towns are either in good condition or are non-existent because of World War 2 bombing raids. There are some that haven't seen the investment they need (Bari and Oporto spring to mind), but I'm sure the EU will get round to throwing some money at them eventually.
Montevideo is a but like this, too. There are gorgeous old buildings in the old town that are being allowed to crumble away, whereupon they're replaced by nondescript, modern blocks of uninterestingness. If the old buildings were spruced up, the old town could look gorgeous. I believe the reason the buildings are not regarded as being anything special is because in comparison with the buildings of other cities (such as Buenas Aires, two hours away by boat) they indeed aren't anything special. To the first-time visitor to South America, though, it's a big surprise how derelict some of them are. This one is about 50 metres from the parliament building, for example:
It looks quite rough, but I never felt unsafe walking around except when there were armed security guards; I came across some outside a pharmacy and another group outside a casino. I don't suppose they'd have shot me if I'd taken a picture of them, but you never know.
It may have just been where we were were taken out for dinner, but the population of Uruguay seems to subsist entirely on barbecues, with occasional pizzas and huge sloppy meat sandwiches called chivitos. Everyone drinks either beer or coke. Marijuana is legal, so there's often a whiff of it in the air if you eat outside. I have to say, the barbecues are great! I've no idea what I'm eating most of the time (everything is either sausage or meat, there being little point in asking what kind of sausage or what kind of meat because why would you want to know?). Vegetarians eat salad with their meat. Oh, there's also cheese with the meat sometimes, which is like a pizza topping without the pizza underneath it. Strangely, though, Uruguayans seem in general to be fairly fit and healthy, with very few overweight. I guess evolution sorted out the ones who couldn't take the meat and cheese.
The people seem very friendly, both to foreigners and each other. They're quite proud of their country, probably with some justification: it's an oasis of calm in comparison to the rest of South America. A full-on fascist dictatorship ruled in the 1970s, but the country emerged from it with a functioning democracy. There's an election at the moment that the ruling party looks as if it will lose; if it does, the opposition will take over just like in any other civilised country. I get the feeling that there's a mild undercurrent of corruption, but the default anti-authority attitude of Uruguayan culture holds it in check.
Some minor observations:
The airport shops are the most expensive I've ever encountered.
People don't take taxis, they take either Ubers or Limes (rent-a-scooters).
The only beggar I encountered was an American.
Three quarters of the cars I saw were white.
I saw the constellation of Orion in the sky while looking for the Southern Cross.
Street art is big, and pretty good.
Sometimes, the fountains are switched on.
There is no sign in the shops that it's Christmas next month.
The Farmacia café we met in one day is on the cover of the Iberian Airlines magazine this month.
On the whole, I'd definitely go back if asked, but I'm not sure what tourist sights I'd be able to visit in a spare half-day.
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