A Travellerspoint blog

Tango and Gauchos: Uruguay part II

View Buenos Aires and Uruguay on zzlangerhans's travel map.


In the morning we had a few mosquito bites from the open windows in the Airbnb, but nothing too terrible. We went back to Mercado del Puerto for breakfast and then set off for Mercado Agricola, or the Agricultural Market, in the center of town. We had hopes for a bustling produce market but what we found was more like a mall with some grocery stores and specialty food stores inside a renovated, atmospheric old market building. It was a decent place to wander around in for an hour but we probably would have preferred its previous incarnation.

I had uncovered our next destination via an exhaustive Google search for special events in Montevideo. It was an arts festival in Parque Prado in the north of the city that was only mentioned on a Spanish language website. Once we arrived it was pretty clear we'd found the most fun thing to do in Montevideo on Easter weekend. Cars were parked bumper to bumper in the entire neighborhood around the park. Inside we found the arts festival with some very beautiful and creative displays of handicrafts. One popular theme was thermos and cup sets for drinking yerba mate, the herbal tea that many people carry around wherever they go in Uruguay.

There were plenty of other things to do on the festival grounds. There was a crafts area for the kids, live music performances, a rodeo, and the biggest open air parrillada we had ever seen. Not many tourists make it to Montevideo in the first place, and there were absolutely none besides us at this community festival far from the old town. It was a very enjoyable way to appreciate the Uruguayan national character.

Around the corner from the festival was the Botanical Garden of Montevideo. It had a beautiful Japanese garden with ponds and bridges that were illuminated by the afternoon sunlight that filtered through a dense canopy of trees. It was a pleasant consolation for having missed the Japanese Garden in Palermo in Buenos Aires.

Back in Ciudad Vieja we stopped by Plaza Matriz for a better look at the beautiful fountain in the center. The peaceful park is in sharp contrast to the sculpture of a violent battle between horsemen. On the sidewalk a group of elderly dancers were executing a delicate tango and naturally our kids joined in.

Dinner that evening was al fresco at a cute seafood restaurant we'd noticed that morning next to Mercado del Puerto.

That night we made another futile attempt to close the windows and keep out the mosquitos. Although we covered ourselves with repellent I was awakened in the night several times by the insistent whining of the obnoxious insects around my ears. In the morning we were horrified to discover that despite the repellent all the kids had dozens of bites. By far the worst was Spenser, who was absolutely covered in welts even in the places which had been covered by clothing. Fortunately it was our last night or we would have had to change locations after that experience. The bites looked horrible but the kids weren't too troubled so we wedged all our belongings back into the car and proceeded onward to Feria de Tristán Narvaja, a Sunday market in the center of Montevideo. This was the first real outdoor farmers market we'd encountered since arriving in South America a week earlier, and it was a welcome sight. Aside from the produce there was artwork, food stalls, and even an assortment of musical instruments handcrafted from gourds and bamboo. The stalls extended over several intersecting streets and included a large flea market as well.

We weren't in any rush to get back to Colonia so we decided to let the kids spend a couple of hours at the beach and the little amusement park next to it by Parque Rodo. It was overcast, the water was icy cold, and the beach was strewn with garbage but the kids didn't seem to mind. Despite my pleas Ian went waist deep into the water and was promptly bowled over by a wave. The amusement park was surprisingly expensive but we made sure the kids got their fill of rides for being such good sports about the abundance of mosquito bites we had subjected them to.

The only odd thing that happened on the way from Montevideo to Colonia was that we almost ran out of gas. We had half a tank when we left Montevideo and at Mei Ling's urging I started to look out for a station when we still had about a third of a tank. We drove for about sixty miles after that with no sign whatsoever of a gas station or a town. Eventually it was clear we couldn't go much further while we were still about fifteen miles from Montevideo and I had to search for a gas station using Google Maps. The navigation took us off the highway and another five miles of driving over local roads before we finally found the gas station with the needle pinned on empty. I can't remember ever encountering such a long stretch of highway before without a gas station. I don't know if it's something specific to Uruguay or just weird luck but I'll certainly be paying more attention to keeping my tank full on international road trips in the future.

Colonia is tiny compared to Montevideo but has many more tourists, mostly daytrippers from Buenos Aires who want to add another country to their lists. It was already dark once we were settled in our apartment so there wasn't much to do except dinner. The following morning we had several hours before we needed to catch the ferry which was more than enough time to explore. The old town is quaint and well-preserved, with pastel-colored houses, stone walls, and generous clumps of bougainvillea. It's a very pleasant place to walk around in but hard to escape the sense of an artificial environment designed to cater to the tastes of tourists rather than locals. Most visitors tend to congregate around the short, picturesque alley known as Calle de los Suspiros, the street of sighs, and Porton de Campo, a preserved portion of the old city wall. It was a good place to stroll around and relax for a morning but I would take Montevideo any day. We had lunch in a cafe that wouldn't have been out of place on a Caribbean island and then hastened back to the port to drop off our car.

I didn't want the hassle of spending another night in Buenos Aires so I had fixed our schedule so that we would go straight from the ferry terminal to the airport. If we had some kind of delay with the ferry we could have missed our red-eye back to Miami, but fortunately everything went off as planned and we had an extra hour in the airport for a leisurely dinner before our departure. We had taken a small risk flying such a long distance for just a nine day trip but it had paid off. We had enjoyed ourselves, eaten well, and learned a little more about the variety of life experiences in the amazing world we live in.

Posted by zzlangerhans 11:27 Archived in Uruguay

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Uruguay is on our wish list. We have been to Argentina but did not have the time for a side trip to Uruguay. We really are angry at ourselves these years later that we didn't make time. That's awful about the mosquito problems. Glad the children were not too upset over it.

by littlesam1

Most people take the ferry to Colonia and then cheerfully add Uruguay to their country list. Truthfully, I don't think Uruguay distinguishes itself tremendously from Argentina. It came within a hair of being a province of Argentina or Brazil and if that had occurred few people would think it merited a visit. If you aren't headed to Buenos Aires, I honestly wouldn't take the trouble. Colombia, Peru and Ecuador are likely more interesting for most travelers.

by zzlangerhans

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