I enjoyed the podcast about Uruguay. Having lived there for 14 months and vacationed there several times, she did a wonderful job on the review of the country. If you will allow me, let me highlight a few things.
First: She was exactly right when she said they are a very warm and open country. If you just say “hello” they will talk to you for hours. They love just spending time with people and showing off their country. I have often found in my travels that as people have less, they are more. There is a shared commonality in the struggle of life.
As a background:
In the late 1970’s Uruguay had a military coupe and everyone suffered greatly under the regime. In1981-82 they had a transition from a military dictatorship to a “puppet” democracy; then a few years later a full democracy. During those years, everyone was somber and oppressed. The dressed in dull colors, walked around sadly and struggled with life. Some of this still lingers in their souls today. The government routinely tortured their people and it was not uncommon to see military personnel with guns standing at corners. You learned to “not see” anything. It has taken them many years to get over the fear and doom. During 80’s, there were many high points.
In the fall of 1982, during the inauguration of the president in 1982, they had their first full day of color television. People for months before time stood outside tv stores and gazed in amazement at the marvel. Electronics dazzled people. Even in the poorest sections of town (similar to Hooverville’s of the ’20s), there would be color tvs in metal shanty houses. People bought them on time ($10/month for 5 years). It became a status symbol.
Second: Uruguayans are a very proud people. They still talk about how their country won the World Cup of Soccer in 1950. For a small country, it was one of their finest hours. Uruguayans love their soccer. If you get a chance to go to a game, a game of Penarol vs anyone will be excellent. For a few dollars, you can get a chance to see a Uruguayans in their natural habitat. It will be a highlight of the day.
Third: It is a greatly polarized country. Wealth dwells only with a minority of the country. Many still struggle with daily life. A trip to the ice cream store can easily cost $25 for 4 people for a small cone each. It’s far out of reach for those in the bottom portion of society.
What to see (in Montevideo):
The Cerro (the military fortress) that overlooks the harbor. Walk around the neighborhood and look at the murals on the building. Dress down and wear comfortable shoes. The streets are uneven and the neighborhood can be dangerous, but during the day it is safe. Use common sense, and be aware of your surroundings.
The Legislative Palace in Montevideo: (their congress building) worth a trip down the street to see. If you plan your trip right, you can get a tour of the building. The library is excellent.
The Passiva: A small bar near Artigus tomb (in the independence plaza). Best hot dogs and mustard ever! There is also one in the old city. The one in the plaza is better.
The Hotel Carrasco: This is what luxury was in the late 1800 early 1900. There is a small casino there if you want to lose some money.
Head West out of Montevideo to Las Piedras: a very small throwback community resembling the early 1800s. People still live that way. While I was there once, there was an elephant wandering the streets. (not typical – there was a circus in town).
BAKERIES: Stop at all of them and get fresh bread and pastries. Get 50-100gram at each of them and try them all.
Outside of Montevideo:
Punta Del Este: This small city springs to life when the weather is warm. It’s filled with tourists and worth a day trip. Argentines & Brazilians flock to this town. The beaches are excellent and the sand is clean and perfect. Skip the expensive bars and go to a grocery store and get fresh bread and cheese for lunch. One side of the city faces “Playa Brava” (wild beach) and the other “Playa Paciva” (placid beach).
Colonia de Sacramento: The city has changed little in the 300-400 years since it’s founding. Cobblestone streets are everywhere. Sit at a café and watch people walk by. The area is perfect for taking photos of old towns.
Things to Notice:
Near downtown, Montevideo is a converted shopping mall. You can’t miss it, last time we were there, it was the only place with an escalator. They were all mesmerized by the movie stars. It is the location of a former prison, where the tortured citizens.
There are no gumball machines in the country. When friends came to the US, the children were fascinated by them.
It’s not unusual to see a horse cart in the capital city. Cars are expensive and gas is even more expensive.
If you can get out of town towards the interior, go explore. The tours are great places to meet people. Most people can speak/understand a little English. If not, smile, point, and be friendly.