South America #2: Uruguay

Following on from the sights, sounds and culture of Buenos Aries, the third day of the trip saw me hop across from Argentina and into Uruguay. And within that country, it was to be a huge mixture of visiting towns, cities and farms, but without doubt, it can only be a good thing to have variety like that when travelling. 

The first part of the three was the wee small town of Colonia. A nice enough spot, don’t get me wrong, but not a whole lot to it. It’s mainly a very historical town as it was here that the Spanish and Portuguese settlers met to devise their territoriesin South America. Colonies. Get it?

Having said that, there was a couple of things that were very positive about the town. The locals are hugely friendly towards tourists because they rely on folk like us for trade and they epitomise this by sizeable discounts when paying for anything by card.

There’s also lovely and very typical South American graffiti on the walls and the sunset is very eye-catching. That’s how myself and the group spent one of the evenings there; just a casual evening on the pier watching the sun go down. And they say romance is dead, eh? 

The main highlight of Colonia though I have to say was the food. In a sense, Uruguay is similar to Ireland in its predominantly rural makeup so they certainly know how to tenderise a sirloin. I tip my hat to them there. 

Moving on from there and it was across to the capital city of Montevideo and honestly speaking this city was probably my favourite of all the places I’d visit on the trip. It’s just a very well kept city, the hotel was as plush as you could get and because places are nothing without people, I suppose it was because the group was becoming closer as friends.

Day one in Montevideo was actually quite a productive one. Our Chilean guide, Rodrigo, organised for us to hire bikes and take a cycle through the city and it was a really great way to see the place; plus it’s nice to get a bit of exercise too. Although I must confess I was struggling at the end during our final push uphill back to our hotel. Not getting any younger!

The second day there saw us being taken on a walking tour by two local guides. The two were only young ones in their early twenties yet they were very knowledgeable but also great fun too. Ironic for me to say as a teacher but nobody wants a full-on history lesson forced down their throat when they’re on holidays but these two got it just right. 

On the tour, Anna showed us the President’s house and told us about how it’s not uncommon to see him wandering about in his shorts and flip-flops. I suppose it’s a bit like that photo of own ‘Michael D’ queueing at the ATM that time. Sure didn’t I tell ya Uruguay and Ireland had similarities?

We were also taken to a kind of square area where there werefancy looking monuments, but in this one, it wasn’t the monument that was the main attraction; it was actually thefence railing around it. I don’t want to be crude here but shall we say that the surrounding steelwork was in the shape of a specific male organ. 

Anna told us that the reason for this was rumoured to be because it was an act of revenge by the sculptor when he realised the city couldn’t pay him the agreed amount for the monument. She continued by telling us that although this is a bit of an urban legend story, children still in Uruguay are raised with two life-morals today and they are: “Be Nice to Others … and Always Pay Your Builders!” 

Later that afternoon, myself and three others from the group split from the pack to visit the Estadio Centeraino. The stadium where the first ever Wold Cup final was held in 1930 and also where Celtic played a Club World Championship game fifty years ago. It was really nice though when the stadium’s historian saw my jersey and went “Ahhh! Celtic? Jimmy Johnstone? I met him here in 1967. Great guy!’

And this is a guy who has pictures taken with Pelé, Diego Maradona and Ronaldo on the wall behind him. But I think the best thing about that stadium visit was that it was done with no tour guides. 

Myself, Kristina (German), Michael and Dom (both English) could wander around the stands and museum at our own pace and chat away about our own football memories supporting our respective countries. Being the divil that I am, I couldn’t not mention Ray Houghton putting the ball in the English net or when Shane Long buried that one past Neuer in 2015. H’up! 

The third and final part of the Uruguayan adventure was in the much more remote surroundings of Mercedes. Basically, we stayed in a farm-house and with no internet, the group moulded the old-fashioned way: playing cards, fishing, telling jokes and having a few beers around a bonfire as night fell. 

I think it was here that the group started to form a strong bond as a whole. I even brought a touch of home with me by teaching them an old card game called ‘Pop’ that we used to play in The Swilly Inn back in the day. Not only that but I also rolled up the sleeves and milked a cow out there. The poor thing died the next day I hear but I’m pleading ‘Not Guilty’ there.

There was a wonderful sense of serenity on the farm. The owners kept us well fed with fresh meat and vegetables, taught us how to cook empanadas (meat pastry) and in turn, we kept the place well and played a bit of football with their son. But I think the lasting effect of here was the growing sense of bond and friendship between the fourteen of us. 

I vividly remember myself and ‘Big Joe’ (Australian) sitting up one evening talking away about Aussie Rules and Gaelic football and to his credit, he text from Tasmania last week to say he watched Michael Murphy’s ‘Toughest Trade’ show online. Myself and Teresa (German) became quite close friends during this part of the trip too and she’s still looking to see if I can make it over to Oktoberfest this year.

But that was the end of Uruguay. Friendships were forming nicely and as we mentally prepared ourselves for a bus journey that would take 18 hours, it was off to the most colourful nation in the world – Brazil! I’ll fill yous in on the craic there next time.

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