We reached a new country! Perhaps not entirely legally, but… we’ll get to that. Welcome to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay.
I had built up a whole picture of Montevideo in my head inspired by a couple of offhand comments from Francisco about Uruguay being rich and prosperous. This had magnified in my mind until the city turned into Argentina’s Monaco: a super-wealthy enclave where wealthy people keep their yachts. This is not accurate, which is probably a good thing for the people who live here and definitely for our wallets. It’s perfectly nice, and a bit on the pricey side, but it’s not glitzy.
We arrived to Montevideo from Buenos Aires by ferry on Sunday. Well, actually we arrived at a place called Colonia and then hopped on a coach for several hours since this is substantially cheaper than taking the ferry the whole way. By the time we had settled into our Airbnb and strolled down La Rambla into the historic old town we discovered that almost everything here on a Sunday is very, very shut. This isn’t a complaint – I kinda admire it – but it’s a clear contrast with Buenos Aires and gives some of idea of Montevideo’s quieter character.
Walking down La Rambla is absolutely wonderful, by the way. Wikipedia claims it’s the longest continuous pavement in the world, albeit hedged with a ‘citation needed’ flag. Regardless, it’s 22km along the coast, smells of the sea and is filled with people sitting and drinking mate from thermos flasks. We tried this back in Ushuaia and it wasn’t our cup of mate, but it’s nice to have a shared drink that the country enjoys together. As it happens, I woke up this morning to discover that a new mate emoji is on the way so organising your social drinking on La Rambla is about to get even easier.
After having dinner at one of the very few open restaurants in the old city we were surprised to find a negative charge on the receipt labelled “DESCUENTO Ley 17934” (DISCOUNT Law 17934). Some puzzled googling revealed that this was an automatic VAT refund paid to holders of foreign cards. I know that VAT can theoretically be claimed back by visitors in most countries but have never met anyone who actually bothers to do it, so this was a welcome surprise. It does feels slightly weird to be paying 18% less than the advertised price which a local person would pay, and presumably the system is open to some abuse. But the discount is automatically applied, so we’ll take it!
Talking of laws: after we went through immigration in Buenos Aires and got our exit stamp from Argentina, the woman at the immigration desk gestured vaguely for us to “go to gate 8”. This perplexed us since there is no gate 8 at the port, and only later did I realise that she was talking about another immigration desk for us to get our entry stamp for Uruguay. So, on Monday morning – disturbed at the idea of being held or fined when we tried to leave again – we trudged on down to the government migration office to sort it out. After Randi explained our problem in suitably contrite Spanish the woman at the desk confirmed that we were “not in the system” but was perfectly happy to blame Argentina for the mistake and claimed we wouldn’t have a problem leaving. As I finish writing this on the ferry back to Buenos Aires I am happy to confirm that she was correct.
All of these laws like “give foreigners a discount” and “don’t be too harsh on tourists without entry stamps” have to come from somewhere, and specifically from the General Assembly of Uruguay. After failing to tour the Congress in Buenos Aires we made a special effort to visit the legislature here, and pestered our guide with questions about the legislative process and the electoral system when she was clearly more practised talking about the paintings. (The paintings are fine. One of them shows the British acting as mediators between Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina – we’d never get that gig today.) We did establish that when the House of Representatives deadlocks with the Senate they convene a general assembly together and vote as one body, which seems smart.
Back in Puerto Varas in Chile, one month ago, we decided that we would mark each month’s travelling anniversary with a fancier, more expensive dinner than we would normally allow ourselves. Back then we really enjoyed our food and sangria at
El Humedal but in retrospect it was nothing compared to the incredible meal we had at Restaurante Tandory in Montevideo for month two. It’s a small, atmospheric restaurant – the kind of place where the chef came over to talk to us halfway through our meal – and my chicken mole was absolutely amazing. Wherever we are in a month’s time will find it very difficult to top this.
On our last full day in Montevideo we wandered up La Rambla in the other direction to the beachy part of town before coming back in the evening for dinner, cocktails and jazz. Not glitzy, but cosy. The tone changed a bit in the last 24 hours since our Airbnb had a few challenges… Randi does a better job at enumerating the full list of issues, but suffice to say that leaving this morning (without a shower as the water was out) felt like a great escape. I’m very excited about showering again in the warm embrace of Buenos Aires before we leave tomorrow for approximately 700 hours of flying until we reach Singapore.
Asia, here we come!