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Monday, March 17, 2014

Travel - Montevideo, Uruguay, 

March 7 & 8, 2014


Montevideo is the largest city, the capital, and the chief port of Uruguay. The settlement was established in 1724 by the Spanish soldier Bruno Mauricio de Zabala, as a strategic move amidst a Spanish-Portuguese regional dispute. According to the census of 2011, Montevideo has a population of 1,319,108. The city was under brief British rule in 1807. It is also the place where the Montevideo convention was signed, in 1933, by nineteen nations of the Americas.

Montevideo has a rich architectural and cultural heritage, and is reported to have the highest quality of life in Latin America. The architecture of Montevideo reflects its history, ranging from colonial to Art Deco, and influenced by Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French and British immigrants.

MV highest building
Although I read the above narrative and other information before arriving in Montevideo I am still pleasantly surprised by what I see. It is a bustling, thriving city. Everything is clean and nicely organized downtown. We met our guide Diego just off the ship. He is an A-1 ambassador for Uruguay. He attended college in the US and speaks English well. He is a dual citizen, but you can tell his heart belongs to Uruguay.

Apparently one of Uruguay’s business activities is banking, no questions asked. This is obviously very lucrative. Their schools, thru college, hospitals, and many social services are all free. Uruguay appears to be quite a liberal country. Diego paints a picture of utopia. The cost of a condo on the water is about $300K US.

We first take a bus ride tour through the city, seeing all the historic and government sites. We stop at Independence
Independence Square
Square and Constitution Square. Both are great shopping spots and we take some time to shop for trinkets. Leather, T-shirts and jewelry are at the top of the list, along with beautiful dried gourd cups rimed with silver, and with silver straws. During the day locals sip a relaxing tea called Mate from these types of gourds. They were hot sellers on the souvenir market.

Train Station

Diego’s sales pitch is so good, most of us on the bus were ready to move to Montevideo. After completion of the city tour we head out of the city to a ranch for a barbeque lunch. It is at this point that we begin to see the other side of Montevideo. We pass the train station, which is a skeleton of its former self. Apparently it went bankrupt a number of years back. But, they don’t need it anyway because they have buses, according to Diego. Their national airline also went bankrupt. It is apparently difficult to fly in and out of Uruguay as there are few airlines that service Montevideo. Your best bet is to fly into Buenos Aires and take a bus and ferry.
The last port!

As we drive out of town we begin to see smaller and smaller houses and then block like shacks, and then hovels. Diego says that the unemployment rate is under 2%, but all these people living in the shacks just don’t want to work. It seems that they enjoy living this way. Hmmm…I must put tongue in cheek and go on.

sheep eating a bike
Meanwhile out at the ranch we are greeted by the owner and his lovely wife and staff. Multiple trays with many drink choices are offered. My favorite is the mixed smoothie passion fruit drink. There’s no alcohol in this drink, it is just yummy. The drinks just keep on coming. We tour the ranch, which use to be a chicken ranch. A few years ago the family remodeled the big house and some out building so they could cater to the public. They host weddings, big parties and an occasional tourist bus. They have kept just enough animals to make the tour interesting. I've included a few pictures so you will see what I’m talking about.
Smiling goat

Appetizers on the front porch came first. If you have never had barbecued Provolone cheese I would highly recommend it. Wow, what a flavor! Along with sausages and grilled veggies we ate a feast before dinner started. Both Uruguay and Argentina are well known for their cattle and beef. Barbeque is the cooking style of the day: Beef, lamb, chicken, and pork are all offered pulled right off the skewers. With all this meat they served veggies and a delicious all-purpose meat sauce that was great on everything. What a feast!!!! I would highly recommend a visit to Granja San Francisco Ranch just 20 miles outside Montevideo.

Given Diego’s rave reviews and our overall impression, barring a small political commentary I would highly recommend a visit to Montevideo and even a longer stay in Uruguay. I really feel like we just barely scratched the surface and the costs for touring in the area are quite reasonable. Two thumbs up for Uruguay and an interest in a return visit.

Many more adventures are just around the corner. Get your sea legs on…. It is time to head toward rougher water. We are going south!!!  

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