The City and the People of Montevideo
Trip Start Feb 12, 2010
24Trip End Jul 10, 2010
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Where I stayed
It's a city of both new and old, set right next to one another, with no particular or obvious eye on keeping either in constant repair. The airport may be the country's most shining example of modern design, but the sidewalks of ciudad vieja miss cobble stones where kids ripped them up to throw them at night. The office of the president may be the only building near the Plaza de Independencia whose walls aren't laden with graffiti and every park has, at least, a light scattering of trash
Ciudad Vieja, in general, seems like an exaggeration of Montevidean contradictions. It's the oldest part of the city, whose streets are lined with cobblestone. It's also the financial center of the city, where men and women in business-casual attire arrive every weekday for work at 8am, but vacate the area every day by 6pm, leaving the Old City empty. Business and tourism by day. At night things get a bit dangerous. Kids run about in the streets and anyone walking through the Plaza de Independencia at night should watch their pockets. I experienced this first hand after making sure a friend got to her apartment door safely, and then continuing to mine - straight through the Plaza past midnight. Two kids approached me, matching my speed which was already a fast clip. "Senor! Senor! Que Hora es?" The kids ask you what time it is to get you to stop and look at your watch. I didn't slow down, but the kid attempted to dart his hand in my pocket anyway. A quick dart and attempted grab and he turned the other direction to scram. I checked my pockets quicky.
I've met great people while I've been here. I was lucky to attend a Couch Surfing meeting on my first Thursday. Couch Surfing is a website, like a travel-centric Facebook, where members make friends in countries and locations they're planning to travel. After a few emails back and forth, you might have three or four friends happy to show you around your destination when you get there. Montevideo has a very strong Couch Surfing community. Every Thursday, they meet up at a bar in Ciudad Vieja (the Old City), only blocks from the apartment I was staying in during my first week here. So, it was incredibly lucky that I was able to hop over so easily and make a few friends that night. I met Alejandra, who is the unofficial Queen of Couch Surfing Montevideo and Laura, her friend from University who has lived in the US and Italy. Alejandra happened to be hosting a couch surfer, meaning he was crashing on her couch, free of charge, and Laura was planning on giving him a tour of Ciudad Vieja the next day. I'd already walked around the old city a bit with my camera, but was happy to accept when they invited me to a quasi formal tour.
I met up with Laura and James, from Australia, in a park just across from my escuela and we began the walk around Ciudad Vieja
At some point, Laura and James invited me to a dinner they were attending at Alejandra's apartment later. James was going to make some sort of Spanish stew and they'd be happy to have another. I decided I'd be happy to do the Californian thing and bring wine and cheese. We all headed over to a supermarket called Disco. I figured baked brie and a couple wines would be a great way to settle stomachs while we waited for stew to brew. I grabbed a couple bries and two bottles of wine. I grabbed a viognier to go with the cheese, mainly because viognier is my favorite white by any measure, and I grabbed a red that was suggested by all the locals of a varietal called Tannat. The story goes that some years ago, vintners brought a vine directly from France to see how well it would grow in Uruguay. It turns out to grow exceptionally well and as a result, Uruguay is the only country outside of France to produce Tannat wines
Both wines were some of the best I've ever had. The dinner at Alejandra's was a blast. Conversation started a little slow, with the range of english-only, spanish-impaired, and spanish-only speakers around the table, but by the end we were having animated, hand signaled discussions of politics, taxes, and educational systems to the sound of the always ubiquitous 80's music that Uruguayans love. Hilarious.
I've been pretty lucky here and people have been more than helpful. You wouldn't believe how hard it was to get laundry done on a Sunday near the Old City, but I had great help from my friend Laura (You also wouldn't believe how fast clothes, here, dry in the sun). I got a glimpse of a Thursday night out on the town with my friend Mariana and her friend Claudia, including the exact kind of hole in the wall whiskey bar that I love and a trendy bar called Living packed with people, mullets, and all other sorts of trendy, lopsided haircuts. I've eaten chivitas con pan and al plato and fallen in love with milanesa con aceitunas, basically a chicken fried steak, covered in mozzarella, and green olives.
It's been a good week, an unusual one, and an interesting one.
More to come soon.