Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Our last night and thoughts on Uruguay

As always on our last night in a country, I think about what we have seen, the people we have met and the places we visited. To really understand Uruguay and the Uruguayans you have to take into account their history. Until 1829 it was simply “the Eastern Territory”, in a constant battle between the Spanish and the Portuguese and many Uruguayans still refer to themselves as Orientales (Easterners) as in east of Argentina. However, long referred to as the Switzerland of South America, over the years it has been in the forefront of social reform. When Jose Batlle (Ba-zhay) y Ordonez began his second term of his presidency in 1915 he legalized divorce, abolished the death penalty and established an 8 hour work day. He also guaranteed complete freedom of the press. After his death in 1929 the reforms he had put in place continued and in 1942 the government established universal health care, accident and unemployment insurance. Due to these reforms, the middle class is well established here. We have seen less poverty and more of a distribution of wealth. The roads are well maintained and the countryside and beaches are clean. They live for the weekend to go to parks and beaches. They love to camp and barbeque. They recycle. In 2006, Uruguay was the first South American country to ban smoking in public places. Travelling, we have been treated with respect by all officials and never experienced any intimidation to try and manufacture infractions to incur bribes. We have been treated with friendliness and kindness by the people we met. But, for all that, they are definitely more reserved than the Venezuelans and Brazilians towards foreigners. Perhaps because they do not rely on tourism and it is not a huge part of the economy, the country is more insulated against the throngs of visitors that the neighboring countries experience. But, if a visit to a capital city that is a throwback to the 1950’s is what entices you or, if clean, beautiful, mostly empty, white sand beaches with a side visit to a geo-thermal park thrown in, all encapsulated in 5 star hotel/spa treatments is what you yearn for or, if dining on world class beef and red wines in first class restaurants would serve as your gastronomic delight, all (by the way) at bargain basement prices then Uruguay should definitely be on your “bucket list”.

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