Monday, August 3, 2009

The Illegal Immigrant Goes to Uruguay

I just got back last night from an awesome 3 day trip to Montevideo, Uruguay! As most of you know, I need to leave Argentina every 3 months to have my tourist visa renewed for another 90 days, so that I can continue to stay here. This isn't "legal," per se, but it's the closet thing I have. As in, I'm allowed to be here, but I'm not supposed to be... ahem... working...

Anyway, 3 months ago I told you of my journey to the lovely, quaint, and kind of boring Colonia, Uruguay, the closest option for those of us needing to get our passports stamped. This time, I decided to be just slightly more adventurous and check out Uruguay's capital city of Montevideo. I'm happy to report that it was a great decision, and well worth the additional money I spent.

Not only was this my first time in Montevideo, but it was also my first time making use of my Couchsurfing membership. As I made the plans, some people advised me not to to trust the site, while most people encouraged me to be my usual adventurous self and give it a shot. The premise of the website is that it connects travelers with other like-minded individuals who are willing to offer their couch for the night, or if they can't offer that, will often offer to show you around their city while you're there. People can leave each other references, both positive and negative, to tell others of their experiences, and can "vouch" for other members to help prove their trustworthiness. Although there is room for error, overall it is a site that seems to attract really buena onda people from all over the world. I'm excited to be a part of their community, honestly.

Anyway, I joined last year at some point, but have never actually used it, neither to host someone nor to be hosted. Several weeks ago I began contacting people living in Montevideo who were offering their couches, and of the 4 people I wrote to, all 4 wrote me back saying they'd be happy to host! After asking a few more questions and chatting over email, I finally decided to stay with a guy named Pablo, who seemed like he'd be a fun person to get to know, and seemed willing to show me around. Turns out I couldn't have made a better choice!

I purchased the cheapest possible travel option, a $280 AR peso round trip ticket through Buquebus by boat and bus, each way involving 3 hours by boat between Buenos Aires and Colonia, and another 2.5ish hours by bus between Colonia and Montevideo. It's actually quite a pleasant trip, with both the boat and bus offering nice comfortable seats to fall asleep in. The boat ride even had live entertainment both ways! I mean, I slept through it, but still, it was an option.

Anyway, I'd canceled my Friday classes for the trip, and left Friday morning, arriving around 3:00pm Friday afternoon. As Pablo wasn't getting off work until later, I killed a few hours alone in the city. I hopped a bus and took it through the center and down into the Ciudad Vieja (Old City), where I jumped off and wandered the streets for a while. I stopped to enjoy Plaza Independencia...

and Plaza de la Constitución...

...before planting myself in a café to enjoy a steaming hot café con leche and to read my book. A perfect afternoon.

Later that evening, I met up with Pablo and his brother, Gonzalo, and hung out with them in their cute apartment for several hours, just getting to know them. Gonzalo is a 22 year old economics student, Pablo is a 29 year old software engineer, and quite a well-traveled one at that. It's no wonder we got along so well. We discussed the finer points of Uruguayan society, in particular how much better Uruguayans are than Argentines (ha!), and debated who had invented what. Who invented dulce de leche, the Uruguayans or the Argentines, for example? Well, let's just say there are two sides to every story. ;-)

The 3 of us headed back down to the Ciudad Vieja for some beer and pizza mixed with some great live Brasilian music and salsa dancing. We had a blast, and I enjoyed hanging out in the Montevideo social scene, one that for me was super fun and much more laid back than what I'm used to back in Buenos Aires.. it was a welcome change, to say the least. My first impressions were that the Uruguayans are more polite, more respectful, and the population is more diverse. I felt like I fit in better there.

It was freezing cold all weekend, and I don't have a proper winter coat with me down here, but that didn't stop Pablo and I from spending all day on Saturday riding his and his brother's old beat up bikes through the city and all along the Rambla (the coast). We must have gone about 20 kms total that day. We enjoyed some time at Parqué Rodó...

...and we checked out a nice big chunk of the Montevideo coastline, facing the beautiful (well, on the Uruguay side, anyway) Rio de la Plata River...

...hung out and smiled, even though we were freeeeezing...

...saw their lighthouse, which I expected to be huge and was this tiny little thing...

...and of course the Yacht Club. Not to be missed.

While in BsAs the river is a yucky brown poo color, in Uruguay it is actually blue! Go figure.

The only bad thing all weekend happened Saturday night when Pablo got mugged. Ughhhh oh man it was awful. It's funny, because I've been in Buenos Aires for 6 months, and so far (knock on wood, ugh) I haven't had any problems. And Uruguay is a "much safer" country. However, on my second day there, I experienced my first mugging. Funny how life works.

We were walking home from the bar around 2:30am (not too late, by S. American standards), and a group of 3 guys walking toward us walked straight up to him and said they had a weapon (probably not true, but still), that there were 6 of them (I only saw 3, but still), and to give them all his money. So he did, and after a few minutes they ran off. The weird thing is that they didn't even look at me, an obviously foreign girl carrying a purse. It was like I wasn't even there. I didn't even realize what was happening at first because it all happened so fast, but suddenly I put it all together in my head and felt a surge of panic. I couldn't figure out why they weren't talking to me, but I was trying to figure out what I'd do if they did. Luckily I never found out. But poor Pablo had all his money taken. I was pretty shaken up by the whole thing so we headed home... he seemed so calm about it too, which was possibly the freakiest part of all. It's sad that we live in a world where this stuff is s normal that people don't even freak out when it happens to them.

Anyway, I only had a couple hours on Sunday before my bus left, so we spent the early part of the day wandering through parque Rodó again, which turns into a huuuuuge feria on Sundays, selling everything you could possibly think of, and much more. I went off in search of the exact mate I'd seen Gonzalo sipping on all weekend, a lovely, perfectly round one made of calabaza and covered in leather, with a metal rim. I found the same guy he'd gotten his from, and splurged on one for myself... I love it!

Have I mentioned the best, and possibly most distinctive thing about Uruguayans?? Their mate habits! Argentines love their mate, but I think Uruguayans might even more! Nearly everyone you see on the street is walking around sipping their mate in their hand, and has their thermos of hot water cradled under their arm. I adore that. Now there is a habit I'd like to bring back to the States with me!

Overall I had such a nice time, and by the end of the trip I was soooo not ready to leave. And now that I'm back, I wish I were still there. It was too short. Next time, I'll go for a whole week. It was fun, relaxing, enlightening, just what I needed.

Montevideo, I don't care what the Argentines say, I'm a fan.


heather said...

sounds like a really wonderful time, minus the scary mugging. thank god you were all right. yes, it's a sad commentary that we have to just learn to roll with some of these bad things as just the way life is.