Making Friends in Montevideo
Trip Start Sep 15, 2006
80Trip End ??? ??, 2007
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"Um. I rang the doorbell."
"You don't ring the bell at a house where there are children after nine! You knock!"
From inside, the sound of a barking herd of vicious weiner-dogs interrupted this whispered conversation, and I felt like an idiot for a half second. Solea Johnson opened the door wide and welcomed us in with a smile. The kids were fine, they'd just gone to bed, she said. Rob Johnson, a stocky man with a easy demeanor, said hello with a strong handshake. They showed us a perfect guest-house out back, then brought us back inside and cooked delicious pancakes for dinner. We were bowled over.
When we rolled out of bed in the morning, the kids were already off to school, and a generous breakfast awaited us on the table. Hang on, I think we've found our happy place! Rob and Solea sat down as we ate and gave us some tips on what to see in Montevideo, then we caught a bus into town.
We strolled around central Montevideo, which is set on another point out in the estuary. Some of the plazas were quite nice, but the buildings were mostly grey and dingy. Not exactly as pretty as Colonia. After we'd walked for several hours, we came to an old building set up as a tourist trap... tons of restaurants crammed inside, each with a tout trying to convince you his is the best. We sat down at one which sounded like a good deal until we asked if there was a "cubierto"- cover charge. There was, one so large it would have doubled our bill. We got out of there and opted for a small cafe on the main drag instead. A tiny waitress who couldn't have weighed more than 70 pounds zoomed up to take our order. Cierra opted for the homemade pasta, while I elected to try the chivito al plato, a local specialty. French fries all over the plate, and a steak, topped with ham and cheese folded together, then covered with a fried egg. Mm-mmm! Now that's greasy-good. When we were ready to leave, our waitress had turned sideways and become invisible. We waited and waited, but we did have to leave before we became hungry again. I had to go inside and track her down so we could escape.
In the afternoon, Cierra shopped and I watched the locals. When that wasn't enough, we decided to go look at a famous person. In Plaza Independencia, the monument to Jose Artigas is also the entrance to his mausoleum below, an immense and breathtaking space. Everything is done in grey and black, with recessed lights thrown upon the walls for a striking effect. Two soldiers silently stand guard beside a giant urn that holds the ashes. Mausoleums don't get a whole lot cooler than this. We snapped a photo and got out of there before the soldiers could snap out of their trance and spear us or whatever.
There's just not a lot we needed to do in Montevideo, so we headed back to the Johnsons' place for a family barbecue and games night. Cassie, who was turning 6 in a few days, greeted us while pushing a toy car around and immediately decided that she liked Cierra. They drew together for a while, and then Ryan, the 11-year old, came home with his dad. A great night of chess and Candy Land, meat, cheese, wine, and the most delicious sausage I've ever had followed. Solea had made a Persian salad and didn't care for it much, so when I liked it, she was thrilled. By the time dessert came around, we almost couldn't fit it in, but Solea's flan with dulce de leche was too good to pass up. That sent us off into a sugar coma and we slept soundly all night long.
The alarm woke us up in time to see the kids off to school with a big hug and say goodbye to Rob as he headed to work. We walked down to the Rambla, by the shore and took in the sights briefly, great pastel and stucco houses by the shore, before strolling back for our packs. We had to catch a bus in Montevideo just past noon that would carry us a couple of hours inland to a small town near San Gabriel, where a relative of one of Cierra's family friends had offered to have us to her ranch.