2009 South America Trip – Volume 5 - Montevideo, Uruguay. The Chivito steak sandwich, thinly sliced, is popular in Uruguay.

By Tom P Blake – Finding Love after 50

This is the 5th installment about our trip to South America. We've been to Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Now, we're headed for Uruguay.


When visiting South America, most tourists skip visiting Uruguay, a small country wedged between Argentina and Brazil. But, with Uruguay being so close to Buenos Aires and easy to get to, we scheduled two days there.

After visiting Rio de Janeiro, we flew to the international airport in Buenos Aires, took a taxi downtown to the Buquebus terminal, which isn't a bus terminal, but a boat terminal, where the ferry boats leave for Uruguay.


We had a four-hour layover there, so the cafeteria became our friend. And not just our friend, but because of its popularity, many business people eat lunch there. At noon it was empty, at one o'clock, it was packed. 

The boat crosses the Rio Plate, which becomes the widest river in the world (150 miles)--at the point where it joins the Atlantic Ocean, in Punta del Este, a resort city in Uruguay. 

The trip takes three hours. It docks in the port city--and capital of Uruguay--Montevideo. Our hotel was located in the area of Montevideo called the Old City.

We had dinner our first night at Don Peperone, a New-York-style pub within walking distance of our hotel. The Chivito, or thinly sliced steak sandwich, is popular in Uruguay, but, for flavor, did not compare that night to the beef served in Argentina.


We devoted day one to the charming city of Montevideo, focusing entirely on the Old City. Montevideo is a city of contrasts. Some neighborhoods are run down and in need of renovation, others, particularly along the 22 miles of beachfront, have a great deal of construction going on. The weather is mild and many people from Argentina and Brazil vacation there. 

 

We took a tour of the restored Teatro Solis, a magnificent old theatre. When our guide, Mauricio, mentioned there was a tango show that night, Greta's eyes lit up.

 

There were not many seats left so we sat in one of those private boxes on the side on the 4th level. I have a bit of vertigo so I was almost more concerned about falling over the railing than I was in watching the show. The musicians and dancers were very accomplished.


We spent the day walking through the Old City, enjoying the buildings and the stores and found the prices more reasonable than in Buenos Aires or Rio so we did a little shopping. It seems that most cities in South America center around a plaza of independence or a plaza named after the date independence was achieved.

 

Most plazas have a statue of a guy on a horse, a guy who was instrumental in achieving the country's freedom from Spain or Portugual. The statue was of Jose Artigas, father of Uruguayan independence.

 

For our remaining day in Uruguay, we booked a tour at our hotel to visit the resort city of Punta del Este, 90 miles away. Greta and I visualized an air conditioned bus with big comfortable seats and a toilet in the aft section-a day of enjoyable travel. But, it didn't quite work out that day.


Our guide Emilio arrived with a driver in an old rickety van at 8:30 a.m. We noted that they left the engine running when picking us up. I hoped that wasn't a bad sign, like, he was afraid to turn it off for fear it wouldn't restart.

 

We were a bit surprised but rationalized that traveling in a small van would be better, having our own personal guide. The van picked up another couple at another hotel and we were on our way. About two hours into the ride, the van engine blew a head gasket in the middle of nowhere.


Emilio flagged down a passing tour bus and convinced the bus driver to take us to the next city, which turned out to be Piriapolis, a delightful, small, beach city where we waited until our replacement bus arrived (Emilio had used his cell phone to call for replacement transportation).  


Finally, we got to the chic resort city of Punta del Este. Emilio looked at his watch and declared, "We're only a few minutes behind scheduled." We doubted that because we were starved, it was well into the lunch hour. He drove us through the suburbs of Punta and then dropped us off at the Napoleon restaurant, near the harbor. We ate with restraint because we'd been eating so much of late: sharing a green salad and plate of calamari.


That only left us with 30 minutes to visit the bustling shop and waterfront area of Punta, the reason we'd come there in the first place. We found a gelato shop and enjoyed our brief stay sitting on a sidewalk bench.

 

We were to meet Emilio who had summoned a 4th vehicle at a place on the beach called, "La Mano" (the hand), which is a statue of four fingers and a thumb sticking out of the sand that is Punta's most well-known landmark. We were told that a Chiliean artist had won a contest to place this unique statue there.

 

The return trip was so uneventful. Emilio slept most of trip. That was okay, we'd had enough tourist drivel for the day. We were back by 6:30 p.m., a little disappointed but at least we were safe.


We shared a half bottle of wine and hamburger at the hotel and hit the sack. The next morning, we were moving on again, to Iguazu Falls in Northern Argentina. 

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