Montevideo and Colonial del Sacramento, Uruguay: A Traveler’s Reflections
“Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves that you forget, truly forget how much you have always loved to swim. – Tyler Knott Gregson
I love South America. One of the biggest reasons has always been the people. In any place I’ve visited in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, the people generally possess a love for life that is so abundant that it cannot be contained and thus spills and sloshes over anyone or anything close by. You’re always receiving invitations to go to this party or that dinner, or to share mate (a special kind of tea the people here are addicted to), or to meet someone’s girlfriend or mother or cousin…
Montevideo is the exception to this rule. The people are friendly enough, but that extra warmth is missing. That extra sparkle, that gloss, that makes any other South American city with its graffiti, trash, and dilapidated buildings, still BEAUTIFUL, is lacking. Within its folds it has pockets of this glimmer, the barrio (neighborhood) Pocitos, for example, but intertwined exists this overall aloofness that permeates the very concrete.
Additionally, Montevideo continues to experience increased violent crime, and I did not escape the experience of being mugged. The rising crime rates can be attributed, in part, to the very prevalent cocaine-based drug called “pasta base,” which from what I observed, creates living zombies.
The people using pasta base do not present a real danger; more worrisome are the traffickers. I should note that I was living in Ciudad Viejo (the old city), which is by far not the safest place in Montevideo. Couple the safety factor
with the remoteness of its people, and the city becomes darker still.
At the Academia Uruguay, a fellow student and I discussed these nuances, and I have to say I tried to defend Uruguay some, as it was the country I’d been dreaming about living in for more than a year! When I tried to tell her that I had made plenty of friends here, I suddenly realized that not one of them is from Uruguay.
I had cultivated plenty of fantastic connections, but not ONE was Uruguayan. They were Irish, Argentinean, Brazilian, Austrian, German, and Dutch. All of these connections were usually made in one day, in a few hours before departing for a new destination; and yet, after almost three weeks in Montevideo, I had not broken that barrier with a native.
I discussed this phenomenon with my Spanish teacher, and he was able to shed some light on why
Uruguayans are so distant. Because Uruguay is so small in comparison to her behemoth neighbors Argentina and Brazil, he pointed out, many
Uruguayos (pronounced Uru-guay-shos, meaning the people of Uruguay) are wary of connecting with strangers or expats.They are a very proud people, and believe that most of the world doesn’t know they exist – which I find to be somewhat true.
Where IS it?
When I told people I was moving to Uruguay, many did not have an idea about where in the world it was located! So Uruguayos tend to band together and keep outsiders out, an attitude that keeps visitors like me at arm’s length.
Uruguayos are deeply connected with the land and its people, and if you’re allowed into their inner circle, I believe you’d find a people with rich traditions and warm hearts. Unfortunately, I failed to earn an invitation and thus was left with a melancholy echo of what could have been.
With all of these thoughts swirling around in my head, I was very excited to have the opportunity to join my Academia Uruguay roommate Doro, for a weekend jaunt to Colonia del Sacramento. Colonia is a peaceful, small town about three hours away from Montevideo; a world heritage site that exudes old world charm.
In fact, I like to say it’s where I found my Zen. Last year I visited Colonia for a brief, yet life changing eight hours.
Doro and I booked Hotel Ayers, a small place quite close to the bus station on Avenida Artigas that had hot showers and free breakfasts. The room only cost us $60/person USD for the weekend!
The moment we stepped out into the misty morning, we felt the difference in the atmosphere. We weren’t afraid to walk to the hotel from the station.
There were no drug addicts or strange men crowding the area or following us at a meager distance. I felt free and unburdened for the first time in three weeks. Doro mentioned it first, and I was so relieved to hear her say it!
This is a woman who lived in Egypt for 16 years. She’s one tough broad and in fact, quite intimidated me when I first met her. For her to say how relaxed she felt being out of the city made me realize even more how tense I had been.
I realized that I had forgotten how to swim; being so focused on treading water and keeping my head above the waves in Montevideo, I had completely lost sight of the fact that this is what I love to do. I LOVE to travel. Why? I love connecting with people and learning about different ways in which to live.
In my opinion, that is one of the most important reasons to explore the world, to gain a global understanding. This is what was lacking for me in Montevideo, the opportunity to connect with the native people to see how they live their lives.
I got a glimpse, through my text books in my Spanish classes, and from enlightening discussions with my teachers; but the opportunity to really see and experience what life looks like through their eyes never materialized.
When I arrived in Colonia, my soul felt at home. It’s as if my body is a tuning fork and when I step foot in the barrio historico, it sings. Once again, my body was humming a joyful tune, and with just a few notes, I knew I needed to move.
Doro and I returned to Montevideo that night, and within two hours I had found and rented an incredible studio in the historic quarter for $600/monthUSD.
It’s not the cheapest lodging available, but it is on a residential street in a safe part of town. Being alone, this is worth the extra change.
In a strange twist of fate, later that evening my mother informed me that my previous landlord had finally sent my security deposit back – and it just happened to be for the amount of my first month’s rent. Everything happens for a reason. I just have to remind myself to keep swimming.
Caitlin McAllister authors the travel blog Adventure Ingénue in South America. Her striking photographs complement her whimsical prose. Heeding her heart’s desire, she recently left her job as an event planner and set off to explore Uruguay, Argentina, and Brazil. Caitlin currently lives in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay. Read her blog, Adventure Ingenu.
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