Friday, February 26, 2010

Montevideo….a city definitely unto its own. A small big city in a small country. A lot of old with a splash of new.

My impression of Montevideo is that the people are very friendly, life is a bit slower, and there I just enough to satisfy everyone without having too much.

Prior to arriving in Montevideo, I had contacted Rotaractors and Rotarians there to arrange a homestay. I began emailing with Gerardo, a Rotarian on one of Montevideo’s Rotary clubs. Via email, Gerardo assured me in advance that his club would host me and show me around Montevideo.

Well, Gerardo and his club were genuinely great hosts! At the airport, I was greeted by Gerardo’s son and daughter, Gonzalo and Veronica, 20 & 23, and got to know them over the next three days as we spoke spanglish together.

Gerardo owns a machine shop, and I even found it pretty interesting as I went to his machine shop about 3 times during my stay there. He owns the most awesome 1970ish Peugot wagon, which nobody would blink an eye at in a city like Montevideo, when mixed amongst much newer cars, even much more older, and horse drawn carriages owned by the poorer people of the city.

It’s difficult to describe, but I was bounced around for 3 days between different Rotarians and Rotaractors, taken to different places around Montevideo, ate lunch with different families and people, and generally got to know a lot of different people in a short amount of time.

For example, on my first day, Gonzalo took me around to a few tourist sights. We drove up to the cerro in Montevideo, of course an old fort overlooking the river to guard the city, with amazing views of Montevideo. Then we walked around the center, before proceeding to the congress palace. It was about 6pm, and the palace closed at around 4pm. Of course, I was just following Gonzalo around, and somehow we ended up inside the palace despite the closure, with all the lights off, wandering the halls! I don’t know for sure we definitely were not supposed to be there, but it was both of our first times there. We left the palace to a torrential downpour, which caused massive floods in Uruguay & Buenos Aires. Yikes.

Mate….I really didn’t expect it to be as much a part of the culture in Uruguay as it is. People drink mate at work, in the car, on the beach, and at all times of the day. Mate is a drink derived from the yerba plant, an herb, and tastes like really bitter tea. The mate cup is usually a wooden bowl hollowed out from a small pumpkinlike plant, then filled with yerba herb, and sipped on with a bombilla, a metallic straw with holes at the bottom to filter out the yerba plant. The Uruguayans don’t go anywhere without their thermos, to hold piping hot water and refill the mate cup. Literally, I think they are crazy for this stuff. Needless to say, I was able to enjoy this with my various hosts over a few lazy afternoons. Dont mind if I do....

The country is not rich, there is a large amount of poor people, but they get by better than poor people in the US due to the fact that most of them actually have jobs and health care access. It is readily evident because many of them use horse drawn carriages for transport.

Montevideo=great little city. The end. Stay tuned. –From Colonia, Uruguay.

Neighborhood near Gonzalo's & Gerardo's house:

From the Cerro in Montevideo:

With Gonza in the palace after hours, just before getting drenched by the torrent:

The fun downpour:

Mate one afternoon with Gerardo. Sipping the bombilla, thermos absent, ha:

Asado in Mercado Puerto with Mario. We had chorizo, morcilla (blood chorizo), some intestine stuff, and some random cuts of meat). Friggin delicious:

Above La Rambla, Uruguays version of Chicago's lake shore drive:

Gerardo & family, including the dog!:

Mate, Bombilla, Thermos!


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