From Colonia, we caught a 3 hour bus along the coast to Montevideo. Though it seemed like a legitimate touristy coach, all the locals kept hopping on and off as we drove along. Fortunately we had reserved seats but the aisle was full of people throughout the whole trip.
The capital, Montevideo, is sort of split in to the old city and the new city. One of the main things to do is walk the beach promenade; La Rambla. It was a lovely walk in the sunshine in what is classed as the ‘new’ area of Montevideo. It must have been considered too cold for Uruguyan’s as no one was swimming (apart from a crazy dog charging around the waves whom everyone was watching). The temperature was in the low-mid twenties with glorious sunshine yet most people were bundled up in winter coats and scarves! Probably the only time in South America so far where we’ve both stuck out as clear tourists wearing our shorts! We walked on further to the lighthouse which is on the southern most point of the city. Though nothing spectacular, it was a nice stroll and we saw a stray cat colony near the lighthouse. A lady who stopped with us said that she and others who live nearby come to drop off cat food here for them.
The rest of our time in Montevideo took us to the old city. We did a walking tour with a company called Curioso which was one of our favourite tours yet. We started in la Plaza Independencia where there’s a big statue and a mausoleum with the ashes of Jose Artigas; Uruguay’s national hero who helped to liberate them from various invaders including the Brits (who didn’t we bloody invade). There are 33 palm trees around the square representing the 33 patriots who fought for independence. Around the square, there was also the same building we saw in Buenos Aires whose architecture is inspired by the Divine Comedy with floors representing hell, ascension and heaven with a lighthouse at the top. Lastly around the square we saw the offices of parliament. The guide mentioned former president Jose Mujica who was very popular with the people and who apparently was often seen without guards and eating at restaurants and cafes round the square with ordinary people.
We carried on to La Plaza de la Constitucion, where Uruguay’s most renowned fountain sits. Apparently it was created by an Italian architect and thus some fundamental words about the constitution are spelt incorrectly with Italian rather than Spanish spellings! We also learned that Uruguay is one of the most agnostic and atheist countries, thus has very few churches. We did however go to one, cathedral metropolitana. The church had the body of one of the first presidents of Uruguay – Fructuoso Rivera (1854). Our tour guide said he was the reason why most Uruguyans have light, European skin compared to the rest of South America. Rivera apparently invited all the indigenous people to a gathering and slaughtered them all. Our guide’s comment on this was that the running joke is that Peruvians are descended from the Incas, Mexicans are descended from the Aztecs and Uruguayan’s are descended from sheep. In keeping with the liberal nature of the country, our guide explained how marijuana is legal for Uruguayan citizens; their ID cards have a chip like a credit card which enables them to go to pharmacies, insert their ID and it states how much weed they are allowed to buy. He said it is usually 40g per month and said it was so amusing for him to watch his parents all of a sudden change their perspective on drugs after they realised it was state owned and now he often goes home to see his parents having a joint together!
Though Uruguay was a country we didn’t really know much about, nor knew anyone who had ever been, we really enjoyed our time there and hope to return one day and explore a few more cities and towns, perhaps not just the ones along the coast but further inland!
Thanks for reading and join us next time as we head to Brazil!
Sophie & Dave