Ordinarily I write this immensely late, having missed-out several days. I think there is some sort of phenomenon where every so many years the clocks move back 1 second due to having missed it. I feel the same sort of thing is happening here – days are being lost in transit. At the end of my 12-week stint, I don’t expect to have more than 9 weeks’ blogs. On this occasion however, the recap is starting early. This is half-way through Uruguay week. Probably not even that. The reason that I have excessive amount of time is because I am, upon the recommendation of a friend who is Uruguayan, in a place called Piriopális. Piriopális is a truly strange…
(That was where the recount tailed-off as I was goaded into conversation by a group of marauding Argentinian lads who were incensed that I did not adore their beloved Fernet. As such, I was shepherded into the kitchen and offered, at social gunpoint, the opportunity to partake in the ritual of passing round a two-pint plastic cup filled 40% with this repugnant liquid and the remainder ice and diabetes Coke. Having shared this mixture, which had the saliva of six blokes added to it, I was feeling somewhat merrier, somewhat more fluent and somewhat hungry. En-mass we sauntered to a nearby restaurant whose decoration appeared to be an unwitting homage to the film Greece. We all ate something called Chivito. Best description of Chivito is an Uruguayan steak-club sandwich, provided one were to magnify the quantity threefold! These plates were for two!!!…
Food consumed, return to the hostel as the Argentinian guys have to leave via bus/car/boat (seemed a very complicated arrangement to perform a journey that had taken me only a few hours). I went to sleep at 11.30pm: very pleasant. I was woken at around 3am by a mosquito feasting on my hand. Really!? If you have to bite me, I’ll accept it, I like a good piece of meat like the next person, but why the hand?!? Anyway, wander into the hostel’s hallway and realise, after inspecting all rooms, that I am the ONLY one in the hostel. All other rooms are empty and there is not even the gruff fifty-year-old receptionist to keep me company. If anyone has been to an office at night (more specifically IBM’s on the Southbank), the eery feeling was very similar. Suffice to say I left Piriopális at the crack of dawn.
Forgive the jump in time, I ought to re-start the recount (this framed narrative thing is not easy: Mr S. White, I take-tack my scorn of Petal’s of Blood). My journey from Buenos Aires to Montevideo. I expected the trip to be a deeply pleasant boat journey that would feature some fresh sea-breezes and sight-seeing along the coast that would meander from one great capital to another. Nope. Buenos Aires a standstill of traffic and my uber driver, lets call him Gerald (Richard Curtis’ choice name for sub-par characters in his films). Gerald’s conversation was painful and his company was something that I would have been glad to have had three minutes of. We had forty-five magical minutes together – 2,700 seconds. Arrived at the boat port? Buy the most expensive coffee on earth from a teenage girl whose attitude would have made Freddy Mercury look positively meek. Sit in what felt like Gatwick terminal. Herded onto metal boat (not quite sure what i thought it was going to be made of). Boat alright, but I am not the seasick type. Loo used river/seawater to flush: practical but a little disconcerting!
However, the boat only took me an hour of the four hour journey. I did not see the massive disclaimer saying “if you have an objection to busses – as all sane people should – please use our rival companies’ service as they will take you directly to your destination rather than putting you on a bus which you hate!” Bus was bloody lovely… a further travel video capturing how nice is too exciting to share; wordpress allows only modest material.
Montevideo night one: drink Mate (which is pronounced Maté btw and I shall not explain the ritual again) with the hostel receptionist Diego; really nice guy! While I will not explain the odd mate thing again, I wish to point out that Uruguayans take the Mate obsession it to a new level. People carry their mate around and hug their thermos as if it were an infant. I mean they all carry this weird thing around! Granny to Gangster. I think Mate for Uruguayans is the English equivalent of shoes: bit weird if you are walking around without them. I have tried to capture a range of Mate drinkers to illustrate this odd phenomenon. One must, however, be somewhat careful when photoing strangers on unfamiliar streets without their permission (hence blurriness ~ perhaps the career of an undercover cameraman is not my calling). Please note the guy with the broken hand still with a thermos!
I offer to get Diego and myself his recommended fast-food of Chori-pan from a street-cart. For the less deductive readers, this is Chorizo in bread (with lots of pickled things inside, large amounts of mustard, mayonnaise and chimi-churi). We watch Uruguay loose to Peru at football – ha – Peru are rubbish. Uruguay’s little biting bastard was playing (a theme of all living creatures in this country it seems). Suarez playing normally means Uruguay win, not so muhahaha! Slept like a baby in a four-bed (luxury) dorm until the shouts of the English children in the hostel were heard at 3am for twenty minutes as they assumed the complicated process of ascending the stairs to their beds.
Following day’s walking tour elucidates several things about Uruguay. 1) three times cows:people ratio 2) having mayonnaise on the table in a restaurant is illegal 3) cannabis is not 4) beer is subsidised by the government as it is seen as a basic commodity! Guide is a thoroughly pleasant chap who, while the whole time caring his thermos baby. Montevideo is no Palermo. It does, however, have something Palermo does not. It has a love museum. The love museum was previously the home of a wealthy family, who commissioned a metal fence to be built around the square in front of the house. In Uruguay all payments were/are made upfront. However, the blacksmith was promised payment in arrears. As such, he took his revenge. The fence was designed with a certain resemblance…
While I commend his sense of humour, I do question who thought it a good idea that site for the love museum be next to, what is colloquially known as, “Penis Park”? <I am uploading the images in a cafe and I noticed some strange looks from the mature lady next to me. I have been uploading the above image from my desktop for some time due to crap Wifi. The image has the caption “Penis Park”; I guess her interest is understandable!>
That evening I was one of four in the hostel, the numbers growing at a dizzying rate! The others comprised of an over-friendly old American man and an Israeli couple (she grew-up in the US). Emily and Kobi were a delight, fed me that night and kindly gave me a lift to Piriopális the following day. I think they detected I needed mothering.
I have been saved on this trip by the reparation of the tendon in my foot, meaning that I can run again. Running, as if people didn’t know already, provides an ideal way to see a city without the perils of a bike on foreign roads (/ bike in general). Nor does running require locking oneself up when one wants to nip into a shop and buy a beer, which one must do for EVERY sunset. So the world-renowned Piriopális was to reveal itself to me on my run. In fairness, it didn’t disappoint with a fabulous view across the bay after my ascent of a mini-mountain.
Not one, but two highlights of the run: 1) the view 2)… An encounter: everywhere in Uruguay (and Buenos Aires) appears to have outdoor exercise equipment. I descend from the hilltop and decide that some exercises on the apparatus is the order of the day. DO said exercise. As I leave, I am accosted by an elderly lady (I am going punt for perhaps 85 years old), who asks me how to do it. I explain that what I was doing was not the correct use of the equipment and show her the correct way. She is not deterred by this and insisted that I show her my exercises (like a reverse press-up basically), under the premise that she is interested in seeing the way that I do it! In summary, I was being chatted-up by an eighty five year old. At least this week its a female! Things are moving in the right direction…
Punta del Este was the next stop on the thus-far underwhelming Uruguayan tour. Punta del Este is essentially La costa del sol in Spain: Malaga, Alicante or, dare I make the comparison, Puerto Banús. It is the place that all of the Argentinians and Brazilians go to for their beach holidays. It is sun, sand and sea (and not a great deal else – not for me anyway). The cost is rather idyllic, it must be admitted, as it jutts-out of rest of the Uruguayan coastline and is thus exposed to the elements. It boasts some very strong wind in the afternoons and had some pretty colossal waves that were met with glee by a great hoard of unwashed, unshaven miscreants – (keep your thoughts of the black pot and similarly grubby kettle to yourselves). As I arrived in the hostel, I was reliably informed that I need “Fear no more the heat of the Sun” as it was Autumn (the land of Keats not Shakespeare). Oh ye of little faith, I am English with a ginger father. The combination of sun and wind = Charles Bennett sunburnt within minutes. Not bad, but enough that I have spent the last few days meticulously rubbing cream into myself. (God knows how girls do it with such consistency; moisturising is a very boring past-time!)
I must confess that I actually spent the first afternoon on the beach with an Argentinian female (don’t worry readers/mother, she had a Uruguayan ‘boyfriend’ who arrived at the beach and demonstrated his “affection”). However, she had some legal cannabis; I thought it would be a fun, cultural and entertaining experience. Now one could argue that this should go in the <inverted section> , but we consume drugs all the time to facilitate experiences, nicotine, caffeine, alcohol… Given its legal here, this is not a taboo subject. [Somebody please jurisprudence that for me and let me know if the change of legal system allows me a similar jump in moral values!] I had a very small amount – we are talking three drags / inhalations for those less with the lingo. I then proceeded to: listen to nothing that was being said by the interesting Argentinian and contribute nothing of my own to the conversation; become very hungry (even though I had just had a large sandwich); walk around the street for 40minutes deciding whether to go to a cafe or supermarket for food; spend 20 minutes in the supermarket choosing said food – a croissant and an apple – a complex choice! For the rest of the day I decided to watch the American chickflick, “How to be Single”, that I had watched two nights ago on my computer. This is because it was the ONLY film I could remember. In summary: don’t try to be cool Charlie!
Customary run having returned me to the world of the sentient – not chatted up by anyone! Did see something rather strange though: two sea lions. My God they smell!
I then proceeded to do what is becoming increasingly typical of my time: drink Pisco with two Chilean guys. My God they drink! Chilean drinking resulted in a miracle, as if by immaculate conception, this appeared on my phone the following day…
Back to Montevideo. Once again, found Montevideo a rather odd place. For my nightly run, I went down the rambla (road adjacent to the beach). Things increasingly resembled Cuban dilapidation; not an abject-poverty, but rather more characteristically rundown Colonialism that one normally associates with Latin America. However, the following day Montevideo exposed a gem: a cafe called (something) in which I sat practicing my vegetables and confusing myself of the applicability of the subjunctive. A series of lovely waitresses doted on me in what looked like a cafe straight out of the Cotswolds. I thus spend a lot of time there and an equally large amount of money, which was justified by being given two shots of grappa-miel (a sweet honey liquor) in the middle of the day in the heat; my student days not being so far behind that I will accept anything provided that it is free! Something I regretted about ten seconds after.
I had come back to Montevideo on the promise of going-out with some Uruguayans, or would have gone directly to the more pretty Colonia. However, one by one they fell victim to illnesses, family obligations and public transport delays. What astonishing luck that all three were blighted by such varied afflictions within 45 mins of the arranged rendezvous. Now I would ordinarily, given my cynical nature, deduce foul play. But this is CB in S-America: everyone either wants to be his closest friend or to have his babies. My evening backup then consisted in drinking the same Mate with the same Diego, intermingled with a few beers – all brought into the hostel contraband to the rules!
Another Bus, much consternation, but lovely chat with lovely Uruguayan girl who, though twenty-four, must be elevated to the status of woman on account of being married: one of the three criterion for adulthood status. (For those unfamiliar with this inalienable categorisation, one must fulfill one of three things to officially qualify as an adult: married; connected bricks; dependent animal – cats don’t count.)
Colonia. Pretty… dull. Exactly twenty hours in Colonia was exactly seventeen more than one needs! Wandered around the old city alone because the walking tour gathering consisted of 98% Chinese. I have no problem with the Chinese apart from Tibet, their ever-presence in Oxford and their food. But the real reason I was entirely unwilling to attend was because I refuse to have photos taken of everything including such objects as, grass, chipped concrete and oneself in-front of everything making a peace sign with one’s index and middle finger. As such it was a solo wander where I swore at many mosquitos (this is the theme in Uruguay). Grab a beer/three (a black stella artois – who knew?!) in a square and trigger a dogfight next to me. While I did contemplate punching one of the dogs, on this occasion I felt I would keep my dog-punching habit to myself as it might upset a number of small children sitting nearby. “Daddy why did that strange man punch the doggy?” Is a question that no father should have to deal with!
Run through what looked like a scene from the old Star Trek:I half expected to have my neck pinched by a pointy-eared chap and be thrust Under Water.
This vigil afforded the opportunity to take a photo of the sunset…
While I remain thoroughly pleased with this, payment was made in blood. My back is a patchwork of red marks! WHY DO THEY EXIST?
That evening, in the hostel, met a nice group of English travelers, a Swedish and German guy (among others). Had an Asado (one of the many words here for meat cooked on a barbecue). Further black stella(s) and the very poor choice of a fair quantity of bad Uruguayan wine, which have left me feeling sick as a dog on the boat back to Buenos Aires, was worth it thanks to the world’s greatest Swede. While we were chewing the cud of our respective culture’s idiosyncrasies (Morris Dancing brought to the table), I brought-up the Swedish Midsummer dance. For those unfamiliar with this gem, it is an occasion where the Swedish cut down a tree (they are very good at this), erect the tree and assemble two circular balls at the top. They then proceed to dance around the phallic pole as if they were frogs metamorphosing into chickens. Lars, the greatest sport on earth, demonstrated this two us. Several people spat out their drinks with laughter. See Facebook upload.
Back to Buenos Aires. One thing I should mention, before signing-off, is the peculiarity of the boarder crossing. Observe said photo. One walks to desk 7 (on the right) to have passport inspected and stamped-out of Uruguay. For a matter of two feet one is in international waters and officially in no country, before swinging round to desk 6 to be stamped into Argentina again. This stamping is done by a woman whose hatred of her job is manifested in the ferocity with which she stamps your passport; ink is barely needed, the imprint would suffice!
I would like to dedicate week four’s blog to my writing companion. This female cat Milton, would not leave me alone for my time in the Montevideo hostel. Here she is coming out of the closet (a bit of poetic license if you please); I guess it was only a matter of time given her (its?) metrosexual upbringing!
Cats, having detected I dislike them, proceed follow/rub against/sit on me or get on the bunk above mine and scare the shit out of me in the morning.
People love to say goodby to countries as if parting from a lover “Brazil, you have been amazing, I will never forget you.” I shall give it a whirl: “Uruguay, while you fed me like a goose you intended for Christmas, you have burnt me, cost me a lot and bitten me without remorse. When my skin recovers, my blood replenishes and wallet recuperates, I will look-back fondly, but for now, so long and thanks for all the… cows?”