To finish off our two months in South America, Dom and I
swam took a ferry across the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires to Colonia, Uruguay where we (illegally) entered the country before taking a bus to Montevideo. With a third of Uruguay’s population living within its boundaries, Montevideo is a sprawling capital city which Mercer’s report claims has the best quality of life of all Latin American cities. I have a feeling one of the reasons it wins this honor is due to the city taking its weekends seriously; when we arrived on Sunday Montevideo was a ghost town. Luckily come Monday morning it sprung to life.
After some (mild) complaining about not receiving an entry stamp at the port, Dom did some googling which revealed that we should have indeed received a stamp when we were still at the Buenos Aires port. Turns out that when the Argentinian immigration officer mumbled for us to “go to gate 8” after she gave us our exit stamp, she wasn’t referencing a nonexistent boarding gate for our ferry as we originally assumed… Cue a Monday morning trip to Uruguay’s central immigration office.
“Tengo una pregunta,” I sheepishly said to the immigration officer at the information desk, “llegamos en Uruguay ayer desde Buenos Aires, pero no recibimos una estampilla en nuestros pasaportes. Creo que era un error de nuestros…”* The officer was quick to shift the blame from us to the Argentinian immigration officer before assuring us that we would have no problem exiting the country. As I type this we are currently on the ferry back to Buenos Aires and I can brandish this riddle in the future: “I have one exit stamp in my passport which doesn’t have a corresponding entry stamp; how does that work?”
With that task completed, we meandered around la Ciudad Vieja before heading to a tour of Uruguay’s capitol building. While our tour guide was mostly interested in highlighting the building’s stained glass windows (all imported from Italy) and elaborating on the murals (we get it, Montevideo is basically the only city Uruguay has worth depicting), Dom and I prodded her with questions about their fascinating electoral system. They have national elections every five years when they vote for a President and Vice President, members of the Senate via a party list (whose constituency is the entire country) and members of the House. She seemed confused by my questioning if people could vote for different parties for President, Senate and House; “But the parties have platforms, so that wouldn’t make sense.” Turns out you can’t.
After a quick rest back at our worst Airbnb of the trip (think acoustic guitar waking you up at 1am; a bed comprised of two sagging mattresses whose sheets clearly never even intended to cover but a quarter of the bed; one bathroom shared with six people where the floors are constantly wet; a can of screws and nails spilled outside our bedroom door and so much more) we headed off to our fancy two-month travel anniversary dinner at Tandory Restaurant. This is the first time I’ve been to a restaurant where the chef comes out to chat with each of their diners, and we had nothing but glowing things to say about our food. My fish was accompanied with a banana coconut rice in some type of soy glaze and it was literally the best thing ever. We also enjoyed an 18% discount on our dinner—no, not because we charmed the chef, but because Uruguay amazingly removes the 18% VAT included on all items purchased with a foreign credit card during tourism season. Considering food was quite pricey in Montevideo, this discount was quite appreciated (although I’m still not fully sure why the decide to do this…).
The rest of our time in the city we spent walking along La Rambla, a beautiful 22km seaside boardwalk, finding spots of shade to enjoy the view and read, eating massive “brunch for twos” and taking pictures of keys hanging from a tree at night. We also did venture out Tuesday evening to a bar with live jazz music, although true to the Domdi way we were back at our Airbnb by 10:30pm (after a great diversion to the 24 hour gas station which sells the best alfajores…don’t judge until you’ve tasted them!). Luckily we didn’t have a free 1am acoustic guitar concert this night, although we did have a plague of mosquitoes party in our room…sleep really wasn’t Montevideo’s thing.
It’s not that I didn’t enjoy Montevideo–because with its perfect 75 degree weather, some of the nicest running paths of our travels, and by far the best meal we’ve had to date, I definitely did enjoy it—but I don’t think it lived up to the image the Mercer report conjured up in my mind. There were still a ton of cars crowding the streets (and with it pollution), graffiti lining many of the buildings and a stark divide between the ritzy and the not. Even so, I’m glad we rounded out our South America travel with a visit to Montevideo and even more glad they let us out the country to tell the tale ?
We just had one last night in Buenos Aires (wifi accessibility has really toyed with the tenses of this blog post) and our 25 hours of flying to Singapore commences this afternoon! If nothing else I’m looking forward to 25 hours free of mosquitoes…
*English translation for my father, Amanda and Catherine: “I have a question: We arrived in Uruguay yesterday from Buenos Aires, but we didn’t receive a stamp in our passports. I think it was an error on our part…”