But you've got to do SOMETHING while you're waiting...
22.09.2012 - 27.09.2012 18 °C
We decided to go to Uruguay as a means of seeing someplace new and different while we were killing time waiting for the results of my biopsy, and although we had a few interesting/charming experiences, "killing time" is pretty much what it turned out to be. We had the weather against us - the forecast was cloudy and rather cold, and it quickly became obvious that going all the way out to the pretty seaside resort at Punta del Este we'd heard about would cost more than it was worth in terms of time and money if we couldn't even hit the beach!
The ferry trip over was pretty cool though, on a HUMONGOUS boat with a deck almost as big as a football field, and the 3-hour trip went fast talking to a nice Dutch couple we met.
Ferry boat deck parked in Buenos Aires harbour
Everywhere around us people were people sucking on their "Mate Yerba", something we'd seen now and then in Buenos Aires, but it's a real addiction with the Uruguayans. "Mate" is simply "tea", but the Yerba version is rather unique. Everyone has their own, personal cup - all are quite pretty and elaborately decorated - and they drink it through an equally pretty, exquisitely worked silver straw that has a little, hollow oval sieve at the end. There is a lot of variety in the style and decoration, and you can buy them ready made, but I understand some people actually commission theirs according to a preferred design. In the morning you fill your cup with Yerba leaves, pour hot water over it, and drink your first cup. Throughout the day, you just keep adding hot water when you want more, and the brew apparently just keeps getting stronger and more bitter - which seems to me to go completely against the nature of tea leaves, but that's what I was told by various people, so I guess I have to believe it. Waiting to get a coke at the boat's snack bar, I must have seen 20 people come up to get their thermos flasks filled with more hot water, and there were stern warnings in the bathroom NOT to throw used Yerba leaves into the toilet, with dire threats of huge fines for anyone who did so!
Yerba Mate in action
We docked at Colonia del Sacramento (a Unesco World Heritage site that's one of the country's highlights), but it was packed with Brazilians there for what was a long holiday weekend - no accommodations available. So it was on for another 2.5 hours with the bus to the capital of Montevideo. We were there for three nights, and all I can say is "Montevideo, meh...." Part of it was that we were just unlucky in that almost everything we tried to see or do didn't pan out. The weather our first day there was actually relatively clear and warm, so we decided to walk all along the city's seaside promenade to a nice beach that was apparently at the end of it. It was a Sunday, and it seemed like half the city was also strolling or sitting on the ledges along the promenade with friends or family, 95% of them with Yerba cups in hand and thermos flasks tucked under the arm, although some of them had straps hung over their shoulder with little boxes on the end with round openings to hold all their Yerba paraphernalia.
Yerba Mate paraphenalia for sale
That promenade went on and on, and after around 1.5 hours we kept expecting to see the beach after every new curve it made, but no go. After almost 2.5 hours we came to a big yacht club recreation area, and in the distance (W-A-A-Y in the distance) we finally spotted a long stretch of sand. We'd kind of lost heart by then, so just had lunch at a little parrillero ("barbecue") restaurant in the recreation area before catching a bus back downtown.
Barbecue here doesn't mean cooking outdoors like it does elsewhere, but simply grilled meat. But, my Lord, how they grill it here, and my God - how the people here love it! The back wall of the kitchen was a massive, open stone compartment in which a huge wood fire was blazing away. Around it were iron racks on which meat of every kind - beef, chicken, sausages and more - was being slapped, seared and sizzled. How they kept track of turning it all at the right moment so nothing burned I'll never know. The place was full of families out for Sunday lunch, and I don't think I've ever seen a bigger pack of carnivores in my life! The waitresses were practically staggering under the platters of meat they were bringing out, but every table around us - amazingly - finished each and every scrap of it. I almost felt like a pussy sitting there nibbling on a pizza.
A parrillero oven, and cook checking his orders
The next morning was also nice, and we did see a few lovely squares and churches, but around noon the weather quickly turned. After that, Murphy´s Law seemed to hit, and we were constantly thwarted in every attempt to get to know more about the city, country and culture. Carnival Museum? Closed for renovations. City Hall lookout tower? No access due to high winds. Pre-Columbian history museum? Not open on Mondays.
A few things we did manage to see - the city´s main Cathedral, and the Lock of Love Fountain - couples who engrave their name on a lock and fasten it here are assured of undying, mutual affection, and
Aside from the weather problem, the shops and other indoor ´communal´ aspects of the city also shut down, for my feeling, incredibly early, and the restaurants - unless you enjoyed sitting among mounds of smoking meat - were seriously uninspired. The best evening experience I had in one was because of the view - looking out over Independence Square and watching local couples spontaneously tango-ing to music from some small loudspeakers. One night we went to an Irish pub which had live music. The music was actually quite good, but the poor guys were playing for - including us - six patrons, two of whom I think were their wives. Our hotel, although it had an old-fashioned elevator I fell in love with, had no nice general sitting area as a refuge either. Thank God it DID, however, have an HBO-like channel, and we spent our whole last afternoon sitting on the bed eating potato chips, drinking way too much beer, and re-watching Slumdog Millionaire followed by Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
We enjoyed Uruguay a bit better when we headed back for the last two days to Colonia, which was now empty of tourists (and had gone in the opposite direction of being almost dead) - we had it almost to ourselves. The historic city centre was very picturesque, but small, and after climbing the lighthouse and roaming the streets for an afternoon, we'd pretty much seen it all. But we did discover a lovely and relatively inexpensive restaurant we really liked, and our pretty little posada (hotel) had a nice, sheltered garden with a small swimming pool which we enjoyed sitting by and reading as the good weather returned.
Pretty Colonia del Sacramento and our favourite restaurant - El Drugstore
Still, I was glad when it was time to return to Argentina. I'm now very glad we had to make the side trip to Buenos Aires, as it is definitely a city I would not - in hindsight - have liked to miss. But it had meant, everything added up, an almost three-week delay in reaching two of the most anticipated destinations on our trip - Iguazu Falls and the Pantanal - both of which we were anxious to get to before the rainy season set in, and by now we were on the cusp of it.
Back in Buenos Aires, we got the great news that my test results were OK, and after a last little cuddle and kiss with Dr Gonzalez, we booked our overnight bus tickets to Puerta de Iguazu. We spent our last day in BA visiting the world-famous Grande Cafe Tortoni (amazing coffee, grumpy waiters) and going to the movies (well, we'd DONE everything else by then!) - Ruby Sparks: it was a great flick, and we had that all to ourselves too, being the only viewers! I climbed onto the overnight bus the next afternoon realizing, by my unexpectedly deep feeling of relief and excitement, how subconsciously worried I must have been after all - because I really didn't feel it consciously - that a big, bad monkey medical wrench would get thrown into our travels. Now it was - rest of the trip, HERE WE COME!!!