Uruguay Day Three

COLONIA-MONTEVIDEO: Today was a travel day. As such, a lazy start sees me rise just before lunch and check out of my hostel. The sun has returned today, and since I had a little time before needing to catch a bus I grabbed a bike from the hostel and took off to take some more photos of the place. After all, I really liked this little town of Colonia and since I was moving on soon, I wanted to get another look at this cute place.

Tourist Town
Little did I know that on Saturdays this little enjoyable town is transformed into a genuine tourist place. As I reached the old section of town, before me marched soldiers of old. These soldiers were actually the guys that I played football with the other day, dressed up in old colonial uniforms and marching with surprising precision. Some of these soldiers were also positioned outside all of the museums and points of interest, rifles stationed by their side.

All the reasons for which I liked being in this place, the quiet atmosphere, the friendly people, the lack of tourists during the off-season, and the feeling of not being touristy, had vanished today. I was glad of my plans to move on to Montevideo today.

The Bus Journey
I sat by my window seat on the bus and watched the scenery go by over the next two and a half hours as I headed toward Montevideo. Uruguay is a country that has a very simple and relaxed feel to it. In some places it is like time has stood still. I saw plenty of tractors and other farming equipment working the farms beside the road, but when I saw a farmer with his hand to the plow which was being pulled by a horse, I was amazed. Perhaps this was just a rare occurrence. I sat and marveled that someone would still be using something like that. Then I saw another one, right beside a farm that was using a tractor. What an incredible contrast this was.

As we neared Montevideo, we passed children playing football on the grass between the two national highway lanes. Others were playing on the side of the same highway, where the grass barely covered the ground as it sloped steeply toward the road. I was surprised that they had not lost their worn out football to the passing traffic yet. As we continued I saw official games in progress also. Children as young as five were running around the field covered in their team colours as parents and friends cheered them on from the sides.

The main highway passed right through the middle of the slums where the pain of the people living here was very evident. Houses were pushed right against the highway so all who passed could see the pitiful conditions. Rubbish was strewn everywhere and most people I saw were without shoes and wearing clothes in various states of tattered and torn. When we drove over a bridge I saw clothes filling a clothesline, and near it were makeshift shacks hiding in the shadows. To the side there were children running over rubbish piles, laughing and shouting and having fun.

We continued on, and soon I found myself in the bus station at Montevideo, a place that was also a shopping centre. After locating the information desk, I found out the information I needed and was soon on a local bus heading into town. Once here I found the youth hostel, met the two people that were also here and settled into my room. As luck would have it, an Irish guy, Mike, turned up at the hostel at the same time so we both decided to head out on the town.

Our destination was the Port Markets which is reputed to be the best place to eat meat in this city. We had no idea what it would be like but headed in that direction anyway. This part of the city, known as the Old City, is filled with banks and lawyers offices so on the weekend the streets are deserted. We found out later that they are also very dangerous at night, something that was very easy to believe.

After finding our way to the port, we decided to ask for directions as there was nothing resembling a market place near us. One of the people pouring out of an old nearby bar told us that we had just walked past it, but it was closed now. We were too late. There would be no meat from this place.

Another conversation with a taxi driver revealed that there was nothing nearby that offered good meat at this time of day. Perhaps at 9pm or 10pm at night, but at 6pm when we asked it was hard to find somewhere open. The drivers offered to take us to the “Shopping” (a word that has become a noun in Spanish) where in the mall there was plenty of shops offering meals of meat.

The Shopping
We declined their offer at first, but after looking around a little more we decided that this seemed to be the best idea. The taxi had a fiberglass screen between us and the driver, with thick glass that we could peer through to see where we were going. It looked more like an anti-riot taxi than what I had grown accustomed to in Buenos Aires. Perhaps this city is less safe than I had first thought.

The shopping mall looked like any other mall around the world, with its multi-level floors and a food court at the top. It was here that we found a meat restaurant from where we ordered our steaks. The meal was usual fair for Argentina and Uruguay, steak, fries, and salad which consists only of lettuce and tomato. As with every meal in these countries, we also enjoyed the bread rolls and bread-sticks too, although we discovered later that this came at an extra price. An ice-cream from the shop downstairs finished off our meal very nicely which came to a total price of US$6 each. This was actually one of my more expensive meals.

Both Mike and I were feeling very tired by now, so after a quick wander around the shopping centre we headed back to our hostel in another taxi. I must have been tired because I had to repeat the name of our street many times before the taxi driver understood. I was glad when we finally got moving though, and a quick look at our map indicated that we were heading in the right direction too which is always a good thing.

Returning Home
On the way back via the waterfront, I saw a great photo opportunity and asked the taxi driver to stop. Running across the road dodging cars and buses while trying to assemble my camera to its tripod, I was very aware that I was paying for the time I took. A couple of quick snaps and I realised that this photo opportunity was actually nowhere near as good as it first looked. Disappointed, I dodged the vehicles once more to reach my taxi, breaking the leg of my tripod on the way. Now I had ugly photos and a broken tripod and I had paid for the privilege of it all. Doh!

At the hostel, already totally worn out, I climbed the spiral staircase to my room on the top floor and happily sank into bed. It seemed to me that I had been busy all day today but done very little. Traveling days are often like that though. But at least I was now in Montevideo.

Tomorrow would reveal what this city is really like.