Montevideo, Uruguay

Posted by on May 15, 2013

Montevideo, Uruguay

Have you ever traced back the origin of a thought and wondered ‘How the hell did I end up here given where I started?’, then proceed to retrace your mental steps with interest. It can be hard to do because a conversation or a thought process meanders randomly as it is influenced by your own feelings and external stimuli. Well this happened outside my mind. One moment I was Buenos Aires, at the time totally unknown to me, the next I leaving it behind me, watching it disappear in a skyline of apartment buildings, powerlines and cranes in the port.

I had this plan: go to Montevideo and find US dollars to live on for the next month. I’d booked a hostel for the first night but the rest was a question mark. On the bus from where the ferry left me in Colonia del Sacramento to Montevideo I sat in one of the last remaining unoccupied seats – next to Camila. We got to talking and by the time we reached Montevideo, I had an offer of couch, only it didn’t work out because apparently the house was already full of cousins – but anyway, she offered to show me around Montevideo the following day.

I really should have been there longer, but the idea was a cash-dash and so I was going to see as much of the city as I could. I think your experience of a place is largely shaped by the company you are in – because while you experience it through your own eyes, the presence of another person or of a group of people affects the way you feel and interact which in turn affects the way you perceive a place. Doubtless I would have traipsed around the downtown section for a while, snapped photos then boarded an early bus back to Colonia, all wrapped up in my little forward-thinking cerebral world. But I would have missed a glimpse into the Uruguayan way of life: the charming laid-back manner of walking along with a thermos under one arm, mate in the other and no rush to be anywhere in particular. I wouldn’t have had the lunch with friends or the late afternoon stroll through streets of colonial era buildings, later followed by mate and pastries on the beachfront as the moon rose.

Everything is made so easy when someone else is there to navigate the system – someone who knows it. I was carried around the city, ATM to ATM, to the bus terminal to buy a ticket to Colonia del Sacramento, to the ferry kiosk to buy the passage back to Buenos Aires, to the house to have a meal with the family and get a book as a gift! Some hours later I find myself in a circle of people, listening to improvised music

and gazing up at the stars through the grape vine hanging over the patio and thinking “how the hell did I end up here?”, but enjoying it nonetheless.


It didn’t stop there either. Really early next morning (10am), we went to the Museo de Fútbol, which is more like the museum of Uruguayan sport, including Olympics and such. Quite interesting and appropriately housed in the national stadium I thought. Better than reserving it for some toffee nosed members’ silk-lined smoking lounge. Or am I thinking of cricket here?


I returned to Uruguay. The previous visit was so good and too short that I made it a part of my itinerary to return. I planned to leave Buenos Aires and not return after Uruguay, heading straight to Iguazú from Montevideo. But like many of my plans…it changed. I did however return, this time for an entire week and stayed with Camila and her family in their beautiful and comfortable house in the suburbs of Montevideo – walking through the old streets of the Ciudad Vieja (Old City) section of the city.

How to capture the essence of Montevideo?  Old colonial era buildings, wide streets and a laid-back life-style? Many of the buildings are in a state of disrepair, although still inhabited – for this reason the city has a shabbiness that I actually find adorable. It’s ok, it doesn’t matter. I was there in the autumn and enjoyed sunny days and gorgeous late-afternoons with pleasant temperatures. Walking through the botanical gardens with a young group of scouts, lying in the sun looking up at the sky, or eating roasted, sugared peanuts in front of a fountain surrounded by a rose garden and mate-sipping Sunday strollers going nowhere in particular is my idea of what Sunday should be.

Ciudad Vieja – Old Town


Old colonial era buildings, wide streets and a laid-back life-style? Many of the buildings are in a state of disrepair, although still inhabited – for this reason the city has a shabbiness that I actually find adorable.



People often ask me …’alone?’ To which I answer, ‘yes, alone’. I’m travelling alone so this is going to happen. If there are people to share it with, well and good, but walking the streets, parks and museums solo is a very honest way to find out about a place. No smartassness, just you, and the place. Would you ever meet Eduardo on the sidewalk beside the polluted winding river if you always moved in a clump of sun-glass toting mates? Would you invited to share a drink of…something alcoholic…while being serenaded by guitar strumming relation to improvised lyrics all because you mentioned you were from Australia? And leaving 15 minutes later with beret and some handmade jewellery? I don’t think so. How did this happen to me? I think it was in a moment of aimless wondering that by chance I went left instead of right and continuing on until the path passed by Eduardo.



Aimless wandering is becoming something of a favourite pastime. Me armo with my camera, some cash and my phone and just wander around snapping photos and occasionally looking at the maps app for a small icons of museums, picturesque points, pre-saved favourites or libraries. I’m not overt with the technology, keeping it in my pockets and only removing for brief periods. I actually feel self-conscious being too much of a tourist, that is to say, someone who carries a large camera around their neck, wears a hat and carries a tourist brochure. No no, for me it’s fully digital, discreet and very loosely planned, and not just the touristic POIs. Often I wander alone, sometimes with a couchfriend although it’s usually less random then.

Iglesia de los Carmelitos


I prefer Montevideo to Buenos Aires from the perspective of a place to live. I would go mad in Buenos Aires if I had to live in the centre for any length of time I think and participate in the crush. By comparison, Montevideo is a place I could stay for a while. The people are open and hospitable and laid-back. I really can’t state this enough. Sure, peak hour is a crush and all that, but those same people will catch the bus, mate in one hand thermos under the arm. Where busses in Australia say ‘No Smoking’, busses here say ‘No smoking, no drinking mate or talking to the driver’. They have to tell the people to be anti-social because they’re not naturally so.


Staying with Camila, Regina, Gustavo and Bruno was so easy. I tasted Uruguayan hospitality, for the second time, and loved it. I was my own agent most days as everyone worked or studied long hours, but often we would eat together around the table, something I miss, and felt almost a member of the family. This happened because I sat next to someone on a bus, remember, and that happened because I wasn’t sitting next to a friend, and neither was she – but after half an hour we were.