Uruguay a country smaller than the state of Washington, consists of more that 410 miles of coastline. We were able to visit just a few spots, see where we stopped.
We started our journey with a ferry ride to Colonia del Sacramento, otherwise known as Colonia. We took the fast boat which takes about one hour compared to eight hours.
Colonia was founded in 1680 by the Portuguese and is one of the oldest cities in Uruguay. It changed hands several times between Portugal and Spain until 1822 when it went to Brazil. In 1828 it landed in the final hands of Uruguay. We walked through the old city gates and wandered through the historic quarter, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As we were walking through the town we found ourselves getting lost in different parts of the city of Colonia. At the end of the day we spent our evening on the roof top balcony looking out over the city talking about what is coming next.
The next morning, we got up early to catch an eight-hour bus ride to Punta Del Diablo.
Punta del Diablo is a small fishing village and seaside town an hour south of Brazil. It gets its name from having three points and many surfers come here to surf the points. The beaches are quiet this time of year. In December and January which is the height of their summer months, the town’s population will increase from approximately 1,000 to about 30,000. We enjoyed exploring the beaches and visiting with folks from different parts of the world, some come to surf, some just to explore South America.
After a few days in Punta del Diablo we caught a bus to La Paloma via Rocha.
La Paloma is another seaside town on Uruguay’s southeast coast, also known for fishing and surfing. The hosts we stayed with have a surf school they run during the busy summer months, December through February. We enjoyed walking the beaches, riding bikes to the local town for groceries and cooking a whole chicken on our first parrilla. We over cooked it a bit, but it was still delicious and made great tacos the next day. During the off season, the town has a slow pace which we enjoyed after a month in Buenos Aires. Our last full day, we had severe rain and wind which gave us some down time. After the rains past we drove to the harbor and some of the nearby towns. They all had the same pace, slow.
From La Paloma we caught a bus to Montevideo which is the capital and largest city in Uruguay.
This time instead of using Airbnb we stayed in a nice budget hotel for less. It was a welcomed change to have someone else prepare breakfast and to sleep in a king size bed. On the weekends they had dancing in the plaza across the street.
We started our time in Montevideo with a free walking tour that gave us a great over view of the Ciudad Vieja “Old City”. Our guide spoke quite quickly so he was a little hard to understand. We enjoyed the plazas, saw some historical sites and learned a bit about the culture of Uruguay. It seems everybody in Uruguay has a thermos of hot water under their arm and a mate in their hand. Mate, also known as yerba mate, is a traditional South American caffeine-rich infused drink. A little on the bitter side. Our guide said that first you learn to drink mate, then you learn to ride a bike while drinking mate.
We learned about the Coat of Arms of Uruguay. You can see it in the pictures that follow.
The coat of arms consists of an oval, which is divided into four equal sections and crowned by a rising golden sun, the “Sun of May”, symbolizing the rising of the Uruguayan nation. The oval is surrounded by a laurel branch on the left and an olive one on the right, representing honor and peace, joined at the bottom by a blue ribbon. The interior is divided into the upper section and lower section. In the upper left quarter there is a scale, symbol of equality and justice, set on a blue background. The upper right quarter contains the Cerro de Montevideo (Montevideo Hill) with its fortress on the summit, which represents strength, on a silver background. In the lower left, also on a silver background, there is a galloping horse, symbolizing liberty. The lower right quarter holds an ox, which is a symbol of abundance, on a blue background.
Before our arrival in Uruguay we contacted Dinorah, a Servas day host in Montevideo. She invited us to her home to visit and meet other Servas travelers from Australia. The five of us walked along the beach and we talked about our families, careers and our travels. The Australian couple had traveled for over 20 years with Servas and shared a lot of great experiences. Afterwards we enjoyed a snack at her home. It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon and we appreciated our time together.
The next morning, we walked to the Palacio Legislativo del Uruguay where Alicia, a friend of ours used to work when she lived in Uruguay. There was an art exhibit taking place at the time with some interesting pieces.
For lunch we headed to the Mercado del Puerto for an authentic Uruguayan Parrilla.
That afternoon we visited The Andes 1972 Museum. The story of the Andes (between Chile and Argentina) crash survivors is one of the great human survival stories of the Twentieth Century. The museum honors the memory of the Uruguayans that perished in the crash and those who returned after enduring 72 days under the worst imaginable conditions. It was moving to see and hear all they went through. The museum is a private venture by Jörg Thomsen, a Uruguayan businessman whom we had the pleasure of personally meeting. When we showed up to the museum they were just closing. Jörg greeted us, kept the museum open late, showed us a video about the event and gave us a personal tour. When we were saying good bye, he asked what our plans were for the rest of the day. Since we did not have any, he offered to give us a tour of the coast of Montevideo on his way home and we could take the bus back to our hotel. It was an offer we could not refuse. What a wonderful spontaneous surprise!
The next day we met with some friends of our friends, Fernando and Alicia from our church in Irvine. They picked us up in the morning so we could attend their church. After the worship service the youth group had a car wash to raise money for a trip and we met many of their friends and family. That afternoon we went to their home and had a parrilla (bar-b-q), some mate and visited for the afternoon. Another welcomed last-minute surprise.
Next stop…Iguazu Falls, Argentina.