Street art, Montevideo

Montevideo: An Unassuming Grace

Being a stone’s throw away in Buenos Aires, it was difficult to pass up the opportunity to go to Uruguay.

The country had long fascinated me for many reasons.  Apart from the fact that many people skipped it while travelling through South America, the Argentinians who I met tended to joke about it being “a state of Argentina” and the Uruguayans “exactly the same as us.”  While sometimes this was clearly said in jest, others would defend this standpoint with a passion boarding on insanity.  When I remarked on the short-sightedness of reducing an entire populous to the same grain as another, I tended to be presented with Australia’s neighbour as a base for comparison.

“It’s like Australia and New Zealand.  You’re the same too.”

At which point, I’d be forced to educate my interlocutor somewhat passionately about how very, very different the two nations are; as well as how much, much better New Zealand does so many things.

“So…you’re on their side?”

At that point, I would sigh and return to my plans for visiting Montevideo.

Asado en el Mercado del Puerto
Smiling chefs cook up a storm at Montevideo’s Mercado del Puerto

The route to Montevideo

I left for Colonia and after spending a couple of hours visiting the old quarter there, hitched a lift to Montevideo with two lovely truckies, both of whom stopped at various moments throughout the journey to let us see various attractions, including this amazing sunset…

Sunset snapped from within Felix the truckie’s cab…

We arrived in Montevideo still laughing from Felix’s jokes and found our way to the centre where we met our Couchsurfing hosts and made ourselves at home.

First impressions

The next morning, I was as delighted as a five-year-old on Christmas Day to see that what I’d been told about Uruguayans was, in fact true.  Not that they were the same as Argentinians, no.  But that they were very, very matero (i.e., obsessed with drinking mate).

I had already learned that I loved mate in all its wonder, and had already been inordinately impressed with how the Argentines were able to incorporate it into their daily lives, even to the point of providing hot water at almost any public place to aid consumption.

But, they ain’t got nuttin’ on the Uruguayans.

To be fair, they had told me that Uruguayans took mate love to a whole new level; that they would literally always carry their thermos and mate around with them.  But I didn’t believe it.  I just couldn’t believe it.

But, it’s true that Uruguayans look like this…

Mate advertisment
A typical Uruguayan

And here’s the proof:  A real one!

A Uruguayan with her Mate
A typical scene in Montevideo.

Mate and thermos held under the crook of the left elbow.  Right hand occupied with other tasks; unless refilling the mate calls.  No matter how many other things one needs for their day – baby, pram, shopping bags, school books, bicycle, skateboard, suitcase – nothing is too much.  Nothing will make them put down their mate.  It’s quite lovely, actually.

Graffiti, Ciudad Vieja Montevideo
Graffiti in the old town.

Montevideo agreed splendidly with me…

Street art, Montevideo
Street art near the Mercado del Puerto

…Street art abounded.

And the place moved slower than other capital cities I’d visited…

Pidgeon watching the city
A pidgeon atop a view point watches the city go by…

…even the pidgeons stopped to take in the views.

No trip to eastern South America is complete without a visit to Montevideo.  While it doesn’t have that same big city vibe as its much cockier older sister Buenos Aires, it’s charming, unassuming and very witty.

Just like the Uruguayans themselves.


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