Wednesday, November 30, 2011
From Arapey to Montevideo was a 370 mile drive which took us 2 days with an overnight stop in Trinidad. Luck was with us. We decided to park at the Esso gas station overnight instead of a campsite. The next morning there was another RV parked next to us. The couple was from San Jose about 2 hours from Montevideo. They had seen our license plate and knew we were from San Jose, California. Also, they had replaced some of their windows with Plexiglas and gave us the name and cross streets for the people who did the work in Montevideo. Funny how things seem to work out. Entering the city from the west, the first thing we saw was “the hill”. Montevideo is said to be a version of a sailor’s cry “Monte vi eu!” (I saw a hill). The 139 meter (456 ft) cerro is topped with a fort and lighthouse and is one of the sight-seeing places on our list. But first, Plexiglas. We pulled into a gas station for directions and with some help from the attendants; a friend of theirs got into his car and said to follow him. It was actually a house which the owner had remodeled a part of, into his workshop. We told him what we wanted and were told “no problem”. He could do it immediately for $130.00. What a deal. Whilst he and a friend did the work with Tom overseeing, I chatted with his wife and children. They bought us iced sparkling water and offered cookies whilst we waited. Within 2 hours we were finished and on our way. The Plexiglas window looks great and Tom is happy. We made our way to the river (Rio de la Plata) and the coast road called La Rambla which follows the bay. Uruguay has a population of only 3.4 million people of which almost 2 million live in the capital city. The streets many which are still cobbled, are jammed with cars, buses, scooters, cyclists and pedestrians. La Rambla itself is a wide, paved boulevard and the bay has beautiful curved beaches. We drive the length of it, looking for possible places to stay, admiring the gorgeous white sand and marveling at the number of people enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. We pull into a park but are quickly told that it is not a good place to spend the night – no security. Out on the point there is a lighthouse and since there is a naval facility and port authority offices there, with security, which would be a better place. It was. We found a parking spot right on the point, not too far from the lighthouse. It provided fabulous views of the city and bay. Tom got out our gas grill and, as I walked Winston he prepared the steaks we had picked up earlier. Facing due west, we were treated to a beautiful sunset as we ate our Uruguayan steaks and drank Uruguayan red wine. Later, to our delight and Winston’s dismay and panic, there was a brilliant fireworks display. We are not sure of the occasion but it definitely was a great way to spend our first evening in the capital. Quite patriotic. We spent the next day visiting the Cerro with its fort dedicated to General Jose Artigas, who in 1815 led Uruguay towards independence (true independence from both the Spanish and Portuguese did not happen until 1829) and was the first leader of the nation of Uruguay. We followed the cobbled streets through parts of old town past the imposing stone buildings of the Banco de la Republica, La Bolsa (the Stock Exchange) and Aduana (Customs House). We also drove around Parque Rodo, named after Jose Enrique Rodo, one of the most prominent 19th century South American writers. His most famous work was Ariel. Visiting Montevideo gives the feeling of stepping back in time and old versus modern. Where narrow cobbled streets, huge stone-hewn buildings and old cathedrals lay side by side with modern high rise condo and office buildings. Where cars battle with horse drawn carts on the city’s streets. Where the ceremony of drinking mate and partaking of afternoon tea battle with the profusion of modern restaurants and brew houses. Colonial opulence versus steel and glass. Diverse and definitely interesting.