It was just six months ago that South America was casually dropped as an option during a conversation about where we should explore next.
After months of intensive planning, we settled on an itinerary that spans 4 countries and 4 seasons: Uruguay for the spring and summer, Buenos Aires for the fall, Santiago for the winter, and Mexico for another fall and winter. But first, we had to get to South America.
Our flight to from New Orleans to Uruguay was strategically planned so that our four-legged travel buddy could stop to relieve himself every few hours. Our 11 year old yorkie is a travel champion and was admittedly much calmer than I through various bouts of turbulence.
Speaking of turbulence, we hit such a bad patch over Panama City that I actually cried. Tears flowed, the flight crew felt bad for me, and the dog gave me a few pity-kisses before going back to sleep.
We eventually touched down in the capital city, Montevideo, early Sunday morning. Customs in Uruguay was a dream and we breezed through passport control and customs in less than 15 minutes. According to other travelers, passport control is consistency efficient regardless of your arrival time.
After a quick stop to exchange currency, we stepped out into the cool spring weather to hail a cab.
WELCOME TO URUGUAY
Although the first cab we tried didn’t want to take our dog, another driver quickly offered to take us as long as he remained seated in his carrier. Our driver gave us the lowdown on Montevideo as we cruised along the waterfront.
Supplementing our driver’s knowledge with a little bit of internet research, here are some interesting facts about our new home for the next few months:
Montevideo is Uruguay’s largest city; over half of the country’s entire population lives here. It’s also South America’s highest ranking city for quality of living. Crime is relatively low. Uruguayan’s boast the highest level of literacy and education across the continent. 96% of the country is educated thanks to free education through post-graduate level.
Our first stop in the city was at a highly recommended breakfast spot. Both the driver and our AirBnB host recommended Medialunas Calentitas, an intimate but bustling cafe that sold a wide variety of specialty croissants and coffee. Suffice to say we spent nearly 2 hours sitting on their breezy outdoor patio enjoying fresh croissants, quiches, and cafecitos.
After breakfast, we leisurely walked a mile through the city to get to our AirBnB in the Parque Rodó, named after the large park which sits between the residential area and the beach.
Our apartment is a small studio with big personality. If you squint, you can see the Rio de La Plata which flows eastward into the South Atlantic Ocean (hey, I’ll take any sea view) through floor to ceiling windows. We’ve already enjoyed a brilliant sunset and sunrise through the window (only one as it has been raining since the day after we landed). I suppose spring is spring anywhere in the world: wet and unpredictable.
After settling in some, we ventured out to find the nearest grocery store. When in a new city, our first stop to the local market is often quite expense because we need to stock up on big ticket items such as sundries and toiletries.
However, we were more than surprised to wrack up over $3,000 pesos uruguayos (about $100 USD) for what seemed like only a few basic items. It was then that we had our first “a-ha” moment that Montevideo may not be as cheap as we initially anticipated.
Walking back to the apartment, I spotted a few children in Halloween costumes. I genuinely had no idea that Halloween was celebrated here. Though not as big as the US, a handful of shops donned Halloween decorations and even offered free candy to shoppers.
MORE RANDOM FACTS
A few fun tidbits we recently learned:
- Several different power outlets are used in Uruguay. As our favorite local blogger puts it, “Uruguay is a country stuck between two industrial giants, so we end up with appliances produced for Brazilian and Argentine markets, with the accompanying different plugs.” Needless to say, bring multiple power adapters. You’ll need them for every appliance.
- As a country with no official religion, Uruguay has renamed many of its traditional Catholic holidays. Christmas, for instance, is called Family Day and Holy Week is called Tourism Week.
- To combat problems related to drug trafficking, Uruguay became the first country in the world to license the production, distribution and sale of marijuana.
- Meat aside, pasta is the second most popular food item here thanks to strong ties to Italy. In fact, historians calculate that nearly 68% of Uruguayans today have Italian roots!
- Last but not least, Uruguayans seem to be on what I fondly refer to as “New Orleans time.” Things move at a slower pace here, and hard & fast meeting times don’t necessarily apply. Thankfully with the way we travel, we’re never really in a rush to be anywhere anyway.
HOME, SWEET HOME
Although it’s only been a few days, we’re already thrilled to be in a pretty progressive country. So far, people have been incredibly friendly and patient. (Shout out to everyone to whom I’ve said, “Estoy aprendiendo español,” or, “I am learning Spanish.”)
I can’t wait to explore the Ciudad Vieja, or Old Town, where most of the city’s historical buildings, museums and art galleries (several of which are free to visit) reside. I’m equally as excited to walk the Rambla, or 14 mile long pedestrian promenade that follows the ocean.
In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying my local matte from indoors until the rain subsides.
Hasta la próxima!