2011, 30th November - 7th December: Colonia del Sacramento & Montevideo, Uruguay
For a full complement of photos, follow this link to my Flickr account:
The southern coast of Uruguay is just a ferry ride away from Buenos Aires. This small country (by South American standards) does not have the big draws of mountains, waterfalls and the natural features of other countries on the continent, so my time here was spent in the town of Colonia del Sacramento and the capital city of Montevideo.
30th November - 3rd December
Colonia del Sacramento
The location of Colonia del Sacramento (shortened to Colonia by most people) on the banks of the Rio de la Plata (The Silver River) reflects it´s origins as a strategic post during the fight between Spain and Portugal for control of the river which is a key waterway providing access to the southern part of the continent. The Portuguese founded Colonia, while the Spanish responded by founding Montevideo.
The previously walled-in Barrio Histórico (Historic Area (Old Town)) of Colonia is sited at the end of the peninsula and this is the main attraction of Colonia - a charming collection of old cobbled streets, leafy plazas and restaurants. All close to the water which surrounds the old town on three sides. My exploration of Colonia simply involved moseying around the old town and drinking strong coffee (bought my own flask now and make it in the hostel kitchens as struggling to find good coffee in cafés - strange for a continent that produces the stuff).
My 39th birthday (ouch the big 4, 0 is next) passed while I was in Colonia. Fate delivered me a nice surprise as that evening I met a guy in the hostel called Stuart who lived in Brighton for 15 years (small world eh). Stuart has a good sense of humour; so a great evening was passed enjoying many laughs and sharing a big plate of Uruguayan meat, beers and a wonderful view across Rio de la Plata to the setting sun.
A Street Scene in the Old Town of Colonia del Sacarmento
4th - 7th December
Through my membership of Servas I was able to connect with Marcelo, a 27 year old architectural student who lives in the suburbs of Montevideo. Marcello really made my time in Montevideo enjoyable as he was so hospitable and included me in all his socialising, so I met some of his friends too.
After my arrival on the first day (Sunday), Marcelo took me to a football match between National and Liverpool (yes you did read correctly, Liverpool here are a small team (attendance of 5000 or less) in the lower regions of the top division in Uruguay. Marcelo was interested in the match because if National lost, and another match went the right way, then Marelo´s team, Peňarol, would have won the mid-season league (they do it in two halves here). Alas National won and their crowd went mental.
For me, seeing the passionate National crowd took me back to the days when football in the UK had a seemed a little more genuine - a gritty edge, a sea of (cheekily) foul-mouthed geezers packing out a rough and ready (standing) terrace in which everyone can jostle and jump around - (think back to those days of the North Stand at the Goldstone). My first taste of South American passion for football saw the usual coloured flares and torn-up paper let off and some serious singing and jumping from side to side as a big mass. The stadium which a number of clubs share (generally speaking clubs are too small to have their own large ground) was built for the 1930 World Cup, so the ground still has some classic old-school crowd control measures. The ´more boisterous elements´ are separated from the pitch by a fence, then a bit of land I´m sure they could fill with cops if necessary, then another seriously high fence, then a moat - a football ground or a Berlin Wall esque bit of architecture?
Montevideo is located on the coast at the start of the estuary of the Rio de la Plata, so also has a history as a strategic point on the seaway. Like Colonia, it has a previously walled-in old city (Ciudad Vieja) built on a peninsula. The old town is not as picture postcard quaint as Colonia but has a number of pleasant leafy plazas. The district immediately outside of the old walls has architecture that reflects the desire at the time to demonstrate the newly granted independence from Spain, so it adopted a lot of Parisian grandeur.
Spiral Staircase in Casa Rivera, Montevideo
If one purely treated Montevideo as a tourist destination, other than a pleasant enough place to mosey around for a day there are rather few typical tourist spots. The galleries and museums bring home that Uruguay is after all a country with a small population (just 3 million, with 1.5 million in the capital), and the content of the galleries etc is correspondingly small. However, if you are lucky enough to have a local to show you around (as I did) there are some really nice areas in which to hang-out.
I met some very friendly people while out socialising in the evenings - Sebastian and Clara (friends of Marcelo) and Veronica (another member of Servas who lives in Montevideo.