Deserted beach towns – Montevideo and Punta del Este, Uruguay

Carol, Farima, and I arrived in Montevideo greeted by pretty crappy weather. It was cold and gloomy, not exactly what I was expecting from the Uruguayan coast. After checking into our hotel, yes for once not a hostel (thank you Farima for using your rewards points), we grabbed lunch and watched the Iran vs. Nigeria game. We took a quick power nap before we headed to a bar to watch the USA vs. Ghana game. I realize I’ve been writing a lot about all the games we’ve been watching, but that’s pretty much a lot of what we’ve been doing lately since futbol is such a dominant part of South American culture. The bar we went to was pretty empty, but I enjoyed a delicious chivito (a local snack similar to a steak sandwich) and USA took home the win! Carol and I then tried to go to Baar Fun, a local bar where you can watch top tango dancers, but it just so happened to be closed on Mondays. After our failed attempt to experience Montevideo’s nightlife, we headed back to the hotel for some much needed catch up sleep!

With all of us a bit more energized, we set out to explore the city of Montevideo. First we walked down the pedestrian only street, Perez Castellano, to reach our main destination Mercado del Puerto. Mercado del Puerto is a market with several restaurants (or more like stands) selling various cuts of meat. We decided on a restaurant and all shared a cut of baby beef. It was the best meat I’ve tasted thus far and the atmosphere wasn’t bad either. Farima and I then took a tour of Teatro Solis, the most prestigious theatre in the country. Unfortunately, there were no shows playing at the time or it would have been fun to experience. The three of us then decided to walk to the waterfront to see what Montevideo is really known for. Sadly because it is currently winter in Uruguay, there wasn’t really a beach, the water level was too high, and it wasn’t as beautiful as I had imagined. Back at the hostel, Carol wanted to try out drinking Mate since she had purchased all the necessary equipment that day. Mate is a grassy tea and the national drink in Uruguay. You rarely see someone who is not carrying the thermos, pots, and metal straws. Her first attempt didn’t go so well, but fortunately for her an older local Uruguayan man staying at the hostel told her he would teach her how to prepare and drink mate. Mate is a social drink and it is very common to pass it around in a circle. There were about 5 of us in the kitchen watching the older man prepare the mate and then as is customary we passed the pot around for everyone to drink. I wasn’t particularly fond of the taste, it must be a taste you acquire.

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The following morning we headed to Punta del Este, home to some of the best beaches in Uruguay. Little did we know that Punta del Este is not somewhere people typically go in the winter. It was a ghost town, except for the few people staying at the same hostel as us. We had a feeling it would be pretty quiet, but we didn’t except for it to be completely deserted. Almost all the restaurants were closed and it was way too cold to hang out at the beach. While checking in at the hostel, we randomly ran into our friend, Fabio, and decided to go explore with him. The last time we saw Fabio was in the amazon in Bolivia so it was awesome running into him again. We headed to the Hand in the Sand sculpture, which is seen to locals as both a warning sign and a symbol of hope. “The Hand” symbolizes a drowning person as a warning to swimmers or of hope that a life can be saved. After taking a few photos, we headed to the lighthouse which was a fairly long walk away and sadly anticlimactic. Night life in Punta del Este in the summer is supposed to be quite an experience, but in the winter it is non-existent. It is crazy how drastic the change in population and atmosphere can be from one season to the next.

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The next day Carol, Farima, and I tried to take a boat to Isla de Gorriti, but of course just our luck the waves were too big and no boats were going over to the island. Instead, we made our way to Casapueblo after first confirming it was open. Casapueblo was once the home of artist Carlos Paez Vilaro, but is currently home to an art gallery, hotel, and restaurant. It’s a beautiful white building of odd shapes and angles with amazing views overlooking the ocean. After enjoying the view, we headed back to town to catch the Uruguay vs. England game, which Uruguay won. On our walk back to the hostel, cars were honking and waving their flags out the window in honor of the Uruguay win! Back at the hostel we had another relaxing night as we watched 21 jump street (in black and white, the hostel TV was broken) and went to bed.

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Farima and I parted ways with Carol, she was headed back to Argentina and we were headed to Brazil. We had planned on seeing more of the Uruguayan coast but after doing some research we realized all the beach towns would be deserted, so we decided to head to Brazil earlier than planned. As Farima and I went to book our overnight bus to Porto Alegre we were informed the bus was completely full. It’s always an adventure when traveling and most of the time things don’t go as planned, therefore we had to figure out an alternative way to get there. We booked a bus to Chuy, a town boarding both Uruguay and Brazil and home to duty free shops. Chuy is literally divided in two, on one side on the street people speak Spanish and accept the peso uruguayo while on the other side of the street people speak Portuguese and accept the Brazilian real (and it’s called Chui on the Brazilian side). From Chuy we booked an overnight bus to Porto Alegre, but unfortunately we still had 8 hours to kill before our bus left and there was literally nothing to do but shop. Chuy kind of reminded us of the downtown LA shopping district. Between shopping and watching futbol games it was finally time to leave this town, but at least we were leaving with some American pride apparel to wear in Brazil for the USA games!

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