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Flag of Uruguay  ,
Thursday, January 6, 2011


Culminating from football history and increased during last summer's World Cup performances, I was looking forward to see Uruguay. If I could find a football shirt, a purchase would be made too. With the need to visit Montevideo, I chose Punta Del Este as the other place to visit. While I had not known anything about it, Heidi and Amanda recommended going there twelve days ago. They empathised the latter and the good times they had there.



Firstly, I had to leave Buenos Aires temporarily. At 7 a.m. I arose and with the exception of coming in from nights out, I had not seen this time of day before. The hostel was eerily silent as I proceeded to reception. Even breakfast had not been laid out. Whilst settling my bill with Tomas (Argentinian staff), I asked to take a croissant with me. He kindly obliged and thought it strange of me asking. In some places you cannot consume breakfast outside the dining areas, was my thinking. At 8 a.m. I left the premises as since the ferry is an international ride, I wanted be at the terminal at least an hour and a half before the boat leaves for immigration purposes.


I went through the shopping district of Florida to the Buquebus ferry terminal in Puerto Madero, which took thirty minutes. Even at this early time I had to weave through crowds of people in Florida; don’t these people rest?


At the terminal entrance, I waited outside for a moment, merely to catch my breath. Shock was evident to the sight of Martin, Katja and their parents. (In most cases, other people’s travel plans will not be remembered due to my hectic lifestyle). The sight of them was a joy to behold. Greetings aside, they were going to Uruguay too but stopping at Colonia first. In the same line waiting for our boarding passes, me and Martin caught up. (The boarding ticket was collected at a previous counter). With some of us being separated by the dual inspection counters, Katja and her mother was the first through.


Now it pains me to write about the following. The words express my emotions but truthfully, it can not totally define the situation. For my turn at the inspection counter, a female Customer Service staff member asked for my passport with the boarding ticket, (in Spanish). Both were handed over. With Martin and his father both through, I am sure the family initially waited for me. Seeing my progress halted, they must have gone into the departure lounge. I could not tell you when they went, as my attention was on the employee in question.


The lady took both my passport and boarding ticket and left the booth. There was no explanation and I was numb with shock. A few minutes passed as she returned, looking curiously at me. She spoke in English this time, asking where I was from and where I was going. (Using the English language was a ploy to see if I understood it. I guess they thought I was in possession of a fake passport). Undeterred, my answers were in a calm tone as she left again to get her supervisor. Here I looked around for a second time but took more in on this occasion. I looked at both lines, at the people behind me and they looked restless. With possibly sixty people around, it may have been the eyes of the world. One man in the 30-40 range with a beard threw his arms up as he spun around to moan of this incident wasting his time. I looked behind me, at the other line which went like clockwork. What had been a good start to the day, had vanished before my eyes.


More minutes passed as I craned my neck to look around the corner as to what was happening. In my mind, thoughts of being refused entry and more humiliation evolved. Not that you could tell from looking at me. My exterior was calmer than a poker player on his last hand. No sweat secreted from my pores and a positive body stance was displayed.

 

A few minutes passed as both the employee and her supervisor returned to the booth. They went through my passport in front of me and checked the stamps and stubs. Every so often they would glance up at me and then carry on looking through my passport. When the female staff member said I could go, my response was "What was the problem?" Her: “No… problem,” as she delivered the exit stamp. With that reply I wanted reasons for the delay and how they treated me. My lip remained bitten but it was ever so hard.

 

When the boarding pass was presented along with my passport, the female staff member hurriedly pushed both through the window of her plastic booth. She managed to drop all the stubs at my feet. Getting very annoyed, I crouched to gather all the stubs and holding my passport, I left to depart.

 

Unfortunately this is not the first time, things like this has happened to me. It is the second time in Buenos Aires alone! The reasons behind these 'detainments’ are blatantly obvious. It is not to do with my dress sense as I dress well. There is no other reason than the colour of my skin. I make sure I am clean shaven or have just a day’s growth of stubble when crossing countries. Some people take this as a joke when I say this but unfortunately, it is the truth. Authorities, among a large number of people seem to view people with my skin colour as terrorists. I make no bones about writing this and far too many times I have experienced this. I wonder were all Irish people suspected of being with the IRA not so long ago?

 

Although incidents like this happened before, this was the first time it happened in the presence of a different race. In reference to Martin’s family, I shudder what they must have thought. I grimace at their decision to wait for me or not. Not only was I embarrassed in front of them but many, many others, through no fault of my own. (Note: I am still in contact with Martin to this day).

 

A point in question is that my passport is valid, totally clean of misdemeanours and has a good looking picture of myself in it. When incidents like this occur, the colour of my skin plays a huge factor. I hold no prejudices towards any race. Understand that I do not hate my skin colour but am aware of the problems that arise with it. In fact I like my skin colour and I refuse to let it hold me back in anything. To all of those who have a problem with this (including the Police and Airport Security Officers), I say: “Go FUCK yourselves!”



In the departure lounge, there were no familiar faces to be seen. With my new found anger, I just had to close my eyes to retain composure. Once aboard the ferry, all the window seats had been taken to my dismay. Not even an unaided view through a window could I see at least. The ferry was very well designed and its’ interior looked superb. Sections of blue carpet and thoroughly waxed wooden flooring complimented each other. A refreshment area on the upper deck where I was seated contained drinks, sandwiches, hot meals and treats. Looking I found nothing of interest and with thoughts of possibly rough seas, I just bought a drink.



Two hours passed quickly as I nodded off through most of the journey. Usually I hate to sleep during the day but this was a good thing. Not only did I need rest but the sleep calmed me down. Awake as we docked, I found most of my passengers to be rude. There were no queues, just endless people trying to get to the front. Did they think we were taking on water? Not in a hurry, I just looked and went at my own pace.


In Colonia, I got my entrance stamp with the odd look but to no problem. I waited for a bus to take me to Montevideo. It was not a long wait but the terminal waiting area needed a clean. Many flys flew through the air as a smell emanated in the air. This was not the worst but I was glad to leave. While the journey went without a hitch, there were very few people on board. Looking through the window throughout the journey, all I saw were of greeneries and forests. There were no people around, no shops passed for many miles and no traffic about. My thoughts were of not missing my stop and whether this trip was a good idea?


Reaching the bus station in Montevideo, it was evident that there were no backpackers around. Splitting a cab or just having company was not an option. Heading to the Cajero Automatico (ATM), I was presented with just the Spanish language option to withdraw money. (Getting money out in Buenos Aires was not a problem as there would be an English language option. Here I had to be fortunate). With my first attempt I gained access but soon my card came out. On my second attempt I got to put in an amount to withdraw and waited with baited breath. It was a relief to see the money being dispensed! In addition, I was glad I knew the conversion rate to Sterling which was thirty one Uruguayan Pesos.


Tepidly I wandered outside and hailed a cab.  With my Spanish not being understood, I handed a piece of paper with the hostel’s address to the driver and with that, we were off.  The journey was over ten minutes and when we stopped, I wondered if I was in the wrong place? The neighbourhood was run down and very quiet.


A more pressing concern was paying the driver. The meter being my only indicator, displayed forty eight, so I handed a hundred U.Pesos. Expecting fifty two U.Pesos in return, the driver indicated something else. With the Uruguayan dialect being different to the Argentinian version and more rapid, I was completely puzzled. After a minute I gathered he wanted a tip and verbally refused. While he huffed and puffed, I could have left as he waved me off in annoyance. However, feeling short changed and wanting answers to what his problem was, I stayed.


It was only when he pulled out a laminated sheet of paper with prices that I understood. The meter indicated not the price but blocks that correlated to prices displayed on the aforementioned paper. It indicated a price of one hundred and eight U.Pesos. Knowing I was not fluent in Spanish, he could have shown me this a lot sooner.
 

I pushed another twenty U.Pesos through the money drawer. (The front of the taxi was securely sealed off from the back with plexiglass and there was a tiny drawer to receive fares). As the change was returned, the coins were so difficult to gather due to the drawer’s small area. The driver cheekily tried to pull back the drawer to hold onto the change. As he had been very dismissive and agitated, he did not warrant a tip. Holding the drawer in one hand, I gathered all the change in the other. A consequence for being rude and in lieu of the day I was having, could you blame me?


In front of the large blue doors of the hostel, my finger pressed the buzzer, as apprehendtion grabbed me. As I heard the sound to push back the door, an extremely long and high staircase greeted me. Not an understatement as it was two floors high.


An obviously bored out his mind, Canadian receptionist ‘greeted’ me. Confirming my booking was straight forward but as with the cab driver, prices proved problematic. For two night it was 750 U.Pesos (after a ten per cent booking fee), but when receiving my change from a thousand U.Pesos, it was coins galore! Thinking I had been short changed of ten U.Pesos, I double checked and then queried it. Even adding “Maybe it is my maths”, just to ease tensions. He had given the correct change but added arrogantly, “Yeah, it is your maths.” This was particularly annoying and grimacing, I kept my cool. I had missed a ten U.Peso coin, thinking it was just a one U.Peso coin. Having a coin worth ten in any currency was new and unknown to me. His remark and stance was uncalled for though. He did say he would need to give me another twenty U.Pesos but was out of change. Tired, annoyed, downbeat, I added “Ok, whenever.”


Having a six bed dormitory next to the lounge room was not the best. With other rooms not looking appealing, I thought it better to stay put. My only option was the room next to the bathrooms. With wooden beams for flooring (no carpets), no lockers and one picture by the terrace, it was minimalist to say the least. The hostel décor reminded me of the old western movies. With the feeling of a bad day upon me, I briefly closed my eyes. As it was a Thursday, thoughts turned to missing the barbeque at Estoril in Buenos Aires.


Shortly after, I sat in the lounge alone. Here I met two Danes, Leonora and Gitte. Both were friendly and fun loving and we ended up talking about their camera. It was a Panasonic model similar to mine. Their pictures looked good, especially ones capturing sunset.


In the corridor William (American) and his two friends walked towards our table. William had been overlooking my earlier conversation with the Canadian receptionist. I introduced myself and told him not to think I was aggressive in my dealings. He was initially cordial and his two countrymen were welcoming. Soon I found out they were heading in my travel direction across Uruguay and gave my cell number to William. He was indifferent to the action as he looked to speak to Leonora more.


We all decided to check the Epifanía Epiphany celebrations for the National holiday. On January 6th, Uruguay celebrates Children’s Day. Before going to sleep on the evening of the 5th, children leave their shoes by the Christmas tree along with food and water for the 3 Wise Men and their camels. On the 6th, the shoes are filled with gifts from the Magi, who visited the baby Jesus, and the food and water are gone. The custom relates to Epiphany celebrations around the world. (This is why Uruguay was so quiet today).


Waiting outside at the hostel entrance for the Danes, the three Americans were playing hacky sack. The youngest and friendliest of them asked me to join in. I had to politely decline as I had not played football in four years. It would take me a while to get into it and as the aim of the game is to keep the object up, I thought not right now.


With the Danes at my side, all of us headed to the celebrations. They were easy to find as the drum beats grew louder with each forward step. Soon the Americans were no where to be seen. Together with the Danes, I spent a few minutes looking around but gave up as the performances were in full swing. (Semiconscious with this day’s events, I did not see the snub by the Americans).


Dancers, drummers, flag wavers and children in each group moved to the beat. You could not help but smile and join in. The spectacular of seeing all of the different groups was great, as was the rhythm of the dancers. Time flew looking at these skilled performers.


In the evening I sat in the lounge and watched a performance by the band, presumably friends of the hostel. As I listened the Canadian receptionist asked if I had got my change. Telling him I had not, he went to the desk and got me it. Maybe he was feeling bad but I did discover he was not in the best of spirits as the band’s singer had broken up with him.


Towards the end of the performance, Leonora went to sing. Although I cannot remember what she sang, I can say she was very good. She was thankful as I told her that.


I asked the two Danes to accompany me to dinner. As they had been in Montevideo for a few days, my request was to find a good restaurant. Having them with me was a blessing, as no one was genuinely friendly in that hostel.


Walking to Square of Armas and Plaza Independencia, we headed under the Puerta de la Ciudadela (Gate of the Citadel/Arch). They found a restaurant very nearby after checking various menus thoroughly. At first I wondered why before we were seated at a table. The possibility of sitting outside was not available as there was a stench and many flies in the air.


Once at a table, they alarmingly told me the Danish Krone was only four times larger than the U.Peso. They asked how much the Pound was worth and sheepishly, my reply was “Thirty one times.” The look of utter shock appeared simultaneously on their faces. (Probably the moment, of when I realised how strong the Pound was worth, in comparison with Latin America’s currencies).

 

As they ordered cheaper meals to an extent, my order was of chicken and a side of chips. In my defence, I had not eaten properly all day and decided to treat myself. It took a lengthly time to be served inspite of hardly anyone in the restaurant. Looking back and knowing now it was a national holiday, I can understand why.The meal was good but pretty small. Conversations were good and were of the usual backpacker things: routes, cultures and warning stories.

 

After leaving a tip, we departed where the streets were as quiet as ever. When people refer to Montevideo as ‘sleepy’, they are not kidding! Walking back through deserted and dark streets was a worry but there was no trouble. Even though we were a ten minute walk away from the hostel, I would not want to be a woman walking at night.

 

Thanking the girls for a nice day as we reached home, it was very quiet inside. With both bathrooms preoccupied, alone I waited to wash up, wondering if Uruguay was a slow starter and would things get better?


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