Chris' (Previous) Daily Journal
February 24, Montevideo, Uruguay
Even though they announced disembarkation could begin around 9am, we didn’t leave the ship until a little before 11am. We had some work to complete and decided to get it done and then enjoy our day.
We originally had planned on taking an afternoon tour of the old town, but changed our plans and gave the tickets to the shore excursions leaders and asked them to give them to a couple crew members.
Our ship was docked just a few blocks from the city center and the main areas of interest, so we walked. It was a beautiful day – temperatures were in the high 70’s and a breeze was blowing, so it was very comfortable.
Montevideo is old, economically depressed and dirty. Many, many stores were shuttered and locked. However, we did see some encouraging signs of refurbishment taking place in the renovations of a few buildings. Their main economic base, wool and cattle, collapsed in the 1950’s and there is still no industry that has risen to take the place of those exports.
We visited the Plaza Independencia which is part of the city wall that protected Montevideo against invaders. Then, we went to Plaza Constitution, which is the main part of Old Town and has the old town hall, cathedral and museum.
There were three cruise ships in port today, so the city was very busy. We noted with interest that they have many touristica police on hand to answer questions and give directions.
There were lots of street vendors – one marketplace dealt primarily in antiques. On the major pedestrian mall, there were groups of entertainers and many more vendors.
Many of these vendors sold drinking gourds, called culha, which are usually decorated with silver and a drinking tube , bombilla, (like a straw) made of metal with a strainer at one end. These items comprise the mate kit – which people carry with them everywhere. The kit also includes a hot-water flask or thermos. Mate is the national drink – it’s brewed from the leaves of an evergreen plant, related to the holly. It grows wild in Paraguay and Southern Brazil. From what we understand, mate, when brewed, contains a very high caffeine content.
Mate is drunk everywhere – we saw many people walking down the street with their thermos under their arm, and the culha in hand. We could have purchased the entire kit, along with packaged mate teabags, but declined.
There was a group of entertainers – teenagers – playing classical music in the center of the pedestrian mall. They were excellent. While we were standing there listening, a young woman approached us and in broken English (still way better than our Spanish)asked for a donation for the music group. She said they were raising money for a trip to Madrid, Spain. If we would donate 200 pesos ($10.00 U.S.) we could have a receipt. So, John reached in his pocket and gave her a $10.00 bill. Thankfully, he kept the receipt as we were approached three other times by young people asking for the donation. As soon as John would pull the receipt out and show it to them, they were so gracious and appreciative of our donation.
Not too far from the ship’s pier is a market place and a huge building housing multiple restaurants. People in South America love meat and it was cooking on grills everywhere. The smells were tantalizing. The restaurants were packed and it wasn’t just people from the cruise ships – lots of locals enjoying the daily offerings. The two main stapes of the Uruguayan diet are pasta and beef.
With an exchange rate of 20 Uruguayan pesos to one U.S. dollar, we felt the prices were very reasonable. For lunch, I had chicken with potatoes and it was 145 pesos – about $7.25 U.S. John ordered a Uruguayan pizza – or tried anyway. He asked for a pizza with mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and sausage. He received a pizza with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese on a very thick crust. However, I tasted the cheese and sauce and it was delicious.
Uruguay is a very small country - it only covers 72,000 square miles. Half the country’s population lives in Montevideo. There is a very high duty on automobiles, so the vehicles being driven would be considered antiques in the U.S. Fortunately, for the Uruguayans, they have some of the best auto repairmen in the world.
Montevideo is somewhat of an artists’ colony and there are dozens of art and craft galleries to visit.
We returned to the ship mid-afternoon, as the all aboard was at 5:30 for the journey on to Rio de Janeiro.