A Day in Uruguay

Each day has a story to – deserves to be told, because we are made of stories. I mean, scientists say that human beings are made of atoms, but a little bird told me that we are also made of stories.

-Eduardo Galeano

The two days it took to sail north from Stanley to our next destination were enough to change the weather from merely pleasant to tropical. Our cruise of a lifetime was drawing nearer to an end, which felt equal parts exciting and downright strange. It was exciting because Vince and I had big plans for the few days following disembarkation, and strange because we had been aboard the Sapphire Princess for so long that she was beginning to feel like home. Soon we would be trading our comfortable, fluffy bed and limitless gourmet food options for a jungle hostel and a lot of empanadas. But we still had two more ports of call before then, and I was more than ready for a day in the sun when we arrived in Montevideo, Uruguay on a bright, beautiful morning.

Vince and I, joined by our friends Braeden and Dave, disembarked as early as possible to wander around the city before we had to meet back at the ship for a walking tour with our group of twenty travelers. We didn’t have any specific plans other than to enjoy the nice weather and see what we could see, so we just puttered around somewhat aimlessly. Businesses were just starting to open, and we did a little of bit of souvenir shopping, pet a very friendly cat, and found Zabala square, which we would learn more about later during our tour. We stopped at a cambio to exchange some cash, and then headed back to the ship just as the rest of our group was walking down the gangway.

Once all of us were accounted for, everyone retraced the same path we’d taken earlier until we reached a meeting point where our guide, Jacqueline, was waiting for us. After some introductions she led us along a now familiar path until we were back at Zabala Square, the same little park that the four of us had visited earlier. This time, however, we had Jacqueline to tell us more about the significance of the plaza, which houses a statue of Montevideo’s founder, Bruno Mauricio de Zabala. As she spoke about Zabala’s history, monk parakeets chimed in with chattering noises that echoed down from the trees above. I strained my eyes and caught a glimpse of a couple of the colorful birds, whose vibrant green feathers made them difficult to locate amongst a shroud of leaves.

Moving right along, Jacqueline ushered us down a narrow corridor between beautiful, old buildings. Sunlight bathed the cobbled streets as we strolled along under the intermittent shade of palm trees. Further down the road, we could see one of the bells of the Catedral de Montevideo which commanded more attention that any other building in sight. Once we reached the Cathedral, we had some free time to go inside, and then to shop around at a flea market just across the street in Plaza de la ConstituciĂłn, the oldest public square in Montevideo.

As the walking tour continued, Jacqueline stopped every so often to give us information about the sights we were passing. I was very interested when she asked a nearby vendor if she could use his wares to tell us about Mate, an herbal drink that we had been seeing now and then ever since we’d arrived in Santiago almost three weeks earlier. Uruguayans seemed to be drinking Mate in much higher numbers than we’d observed in Chile or Ushuaia though, and I was growing more curious each time I saw someone walking along with a huge thermos tucked under one arm, and a cup made out of a gourd in hand.

Jacqueline explained that Mate, a drink made from the leaves of yerba mate, is extremely popular in Uruguay and throughout much of South America. Mate is heavily caffeinated and people drink it for that same jolt of energy you’d get from coffee. She also showed us a couple of different kinds of Mate cups, one made of a natural gourd and another made of metal and leather, and bombillas, metal straws with a filter on one end to keep yerba mate leaves in the cup and out of the drinker’s mouth.

After we left the stand, I kept my eye out for any cafes that might sell Mate so we could try it. So far it seemed to be something people made at home and carried around with them, not something that was available in restaurants.

The walking tour culminated with a visit to Plaza Independencia, whose focal point is the Mausoleum of JosĂ© Gervasio Artigas, the national hero of Uruguay. The mausoleum is underground, beneath a large statue of the soldier and revolutionary who was integral to Uruguay’s fight for independence. We visited the mausoleum, where Artigas’ remains are under the constant protection of two guards, and then resurfaced back into the sunlight, which was a stark contrast to the dark, somber memorial.

Once we had visited the mausoleum, our walking tour came to a close in the shadow of Palacio Salvo. Jacqueline left us on a high note with a quick tango lesson, after which she handed us each a crocheted bookmark that she had made herself.

Once we’d parted ways with Jacqueline, we still had a few hours left before we had to return to the ship. We spent this time wandering the city, visiting different parks, shopping, watching street performers, and trying different foods. The smell of cooking meat was ever-present, and when combined with the fresh sea breeze from the Atlantic, it made Montevideo the best smelling city I’ve ever visited. I don’t eat meat, so I didn’t get to try any, but I definitely appreciated the aroma, and was happy with a cheese and olive empanada for lunch.

We even managed to find a little cafe where we could buy Mate. Vince, Jared, Richard and I all tried it, and it was honestly too strong for me. The leaves were quite bitter, and I didn’t manage to drink much of it, but Vince liked it so it didn’t go to waste.

All of our sightseeing kept us away from the ship for slightly too long, and we had to rush back after finishing our Mate so as not to miss final boarding time. When we arrived back in our stateroom, our captain came over the intercom to give some parting words since we would be disembarking for the last time early the next morning. That evening, we made sure to eat all of our favorite foods and catch one last show in the Princess Theater in between packing and checking our luggage for disembarkation.

When morning came, I didn’t feel ready to leave the Sapphire Princess. A pang of homesickness shot through my chest when we finally walked down the gangway for the last time with our carry-on bags in tow. Vince and I followed a line of other passengers through a few layers of security until we finally stepped out of the cruise terminal and onto a street in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Buenos Aires was the final destination of our cruise, but it wasn’t the final destination of the vacation for me and Vince. The rest of our group would be staying here for the next three days while Vince and I flew across the country for a whirlwind jungle escape in Puerto IguazĂș. We had only managed to schedule about a half day to spend in Argentina’s capital city, so we had to move fast if we were going to see anything at all.

We joined about half of our group for a quick visit to Plaza del Congreso, where we admired a beautiful fountain that stood in front of the Palace of the Argentine National Congress.

Then Vince, Braeden, and I split from the group temporarily and hailed a taxi to drive us to the colorful La Boca neighborhood where we did some window shopping and grabbed a quick lunch.

After lunch, we left La Boca, and headed back to the city center, where we met back up with the rest of the group for a tour of Teatro Colon, one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world. This was by far my favorite stop we made during our short time in the city. The artistry and architecture of the theater was unrivaled. Every gilded detail had been meticulously crafted, and the painter in me couldn’t help but feel impressed by the RaĂșl Soldi frescos that adorned the theater’s domed ceiling.

The tour lasted about an hour and then almost as quickly as it had begun, our time in Buenos Aires was completely spent. I felt as though I’d blinked and missed it since we’d had to rush through everything so quickly. A city with the rich culture and history of Buenos Aires needs much more than a half day to be fully appreciated, but we certainly tried to do the best we could with the limited time we had.

We said some quick “see you soons” to rest of our group and then rushed to the airport to catch our short flight to Puerto IguazĂș. By that evening we were settling into a slower pace in the small jungle town, and preparing for a couple of days of exploring one of the world’s largest waterfalls!

3 comments

  1. It has been so lovely sharing your travel experiences in these fantastic places. Maybe you’ll end up writing some short stories about these time. That’s something I’ve done over the years, and it is really great to revisit those memories in a different kind of way.

    1. Thank you so much! I do a bit of fiction writing when I get the time (I’ve been working on a personal project that incorporates some of my experiences from visiting Egypt), but I do end up focusing more on painting in my free time because it’s become a bit of a side job.

      1. That’s interesting that you paint. I hope you enjoy success with this. I started my working life as an illustrator, and went into exhibiting my art and tutoring. But now writing has taken over and I sketch or paint as a hobby.

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