After our week of Spanish classes in Buenos Aires, we hopped on a ferry to Uruguay where the official language is…Portuguese. But we quickly learned that there seems to be as much Spanish spoken here as Portuguese so it will be a good practice ground for us.
We took the Buquebus ferry which left from a port in Buenos Aires and delivered us to the heart of Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, in just under two and a half hours. We rode on the Francisco ferry which is one of the fastest in the world. It holds 1000 passengers plus 150 cars and can reach speeds over 100 kms/hour. It is a massive ship with three different passenger compartments, and a duty free area that has to be at least 5000 sq. ft. filled with locals avoiding the high taxes in both countries. There are 3 classes for passengers; we sat in economy class which is the equivalent of airplane travel with a lot more leg room and space, in general, for walking around on the boat. It was a great way to travel.
Montevideo is a smaller city with about 1.3 million people and about 1.8 million more in the metro area. It feels a bit more run-down than Buenos Aires, and there is a lot less to see and do there. A friend who lived here for a couple years told us to expect older cars, generally older buildings, and people wearing older clothes. It did feel a little bit like going back in time a few years. We were also told before Cuba opened up Montevideo was often a stand-in location for Cuba for movie makers.
The city and country is very progressive despite their choice in clothes. It was one of the first countries to legalize same-sex marriage and marijuana. It also has significant corporate tax benefits that attracts companies from all around the world looking for a location for a South American HQ. For example, both Dell and John Deere are based in Montevideo. Uruguay is also the playground for the South American elite – although, they mostly travel to the coast to places like Punta del Este rather than Montevideo.
We enjoyed our visit to Montevideo. We found another small hotel, My Suites, in the neighborhood of Pocitos that had a number of small restaurants in walking distances and was only 2 blocks from a city beach.
There is a promenade that stretches on for 20+ kilometers and offers a great place for a morning run or walk. The city is surrounded by sandy beaches with good surf and wind for kiteboarding and surfing, but the raw sewerage smells that we picked up on our runs had us wondering if you really want to get in the water here.
We took a couple hours one day to check out the city’s sites – the Plaza Independencia, the old city, the Teatro Solis, and a museum dedicated to the survivors of the 1972 Andres plane crash (that inspired the book Alive).
While here, we discovered a new (new to us) wine grape while visiting – the tannant – which is a full-bodied, fruity and a big red. It has paired well with all the grilled beef that is down here. It is grown in the US and France, but Uruguay considers the varietal their national grape. It is often blended (we had it with Merlot) but is also produced as a single varietal.
Radio is alive and well down here. Montevideo did not kill it. US classic rock, and specifically Heart, seems to be popular here. At least, we have been hearing it a bit on the radio in taxis. We had a fun chance meeting with some young hipsters down here. I blew their minds by turning them onto Shazam, and in return, they introduced us to a number of jazz and other musicians from Uruguay including Eduardo Mateo, Opa, Ruben Rada, Hugo Fatorusso, and Jaimie Roos. We are still plowing through all the back catalogs but Eduardo Mateo’s stuff is great.
Montevideo was an entry point for Uruguay, and we are planning to take another road trip heading up the remote coast to hang out with the surfers and gypsies for a few days. We are both concerned about having the right color thongs for the playas. We shall see this week – stay tuned.