Back when we were sketching out our time in South America we figured we’d spend some time in Uruguay before moving on to Buenos Aires. It’s a small country – second smallest in South America after Suriname – and we’d never spent any measurable time in the country, just a day trip to Colonia once when we were in Buenos Aires. It always seemed as though Uruguay had a lot going for it though. The New York Times put the Uruguayan Riviera – beaches northeast of Montevideo – on it’s “52 Places to Go in 2014” list, and while maybe we’re a little late in the season who doesn’t like great beaches?
Then there’s all the stories about how progressive the country is. Over the last few years Uruguay has legalized both marijuana and gay marriage (I’m sure there’s a good joke there somewhere). The U.S. Embassy here put together a quick table showing how high Uruguay ranks across a whole range of factors relative to other South American countries: #1 in Democracy according to The Economist‘s Democracy Index; #1 in the share of population in the middle class according to the World Bank; #1 in press freedom; #2 in per capita income; and on and on. In global rankings it is the #1 provider of troops to U.N. peacekeeping missions and ranks higher than the U.S. in areas like press freedom and The Economist‘s Democracy Index.
Add to that the little bit of trivia that Montevideo is the southernmost national capital in the Americas (I was certain it was either Santiago or Buenos Aires, but not so) and how could we resist? After four days we learned a couple things. One, the fall here really is fall. The temperature has been pretty steady in the low- and mid-50s with slate-grey skies; so much for going to the great beaches. And it seems like a much better place to live than just visit, at least at this time of the year. There wasn’t a lot to do – no great museums or parks, and the weather wasn’t conducive to just sitting in a square and reading.
But – and it’s a big but – it’s a beautiful city. Our hotel was in the middle of the old city and the architecture was just stunning, almost Havana-esque. Beautiful old colonial buildings, most in states of substantial disrepair. I would walk around and just kept thinking “I want to buy that for a condo,” “Can’t you just see that fixed up with a great roof deck?” When you walked into the newer part of the city there were fewer old colonial buildings but more great art deco architecture. You just wonder what this city was like when it was, apparently, a lot richer.
It was really easy to fantasize about fixing up one of those buildings and living in Montevideo. Sure, there would be some drawbacks. Like the first night we walked out to dinner and within a few minutes some guy offering us cocaine. Or a few minutes later when another guy offered cocaine or marijuana, our choice. But it seems like a great urban area, where the main shopping street went on seemingly for mile after mile.So what was there to do or see in Montevideo? The city is on the mouth of the Rio de la Plata, and while the expanse of water feels like you’re on the ocean, the water was river-brown rather than ocean-blue so the long walkway along the coast wasn’t that attractive. We went to a crazy new modern art museum built in a former jail. Each cell was another little exhibit, though the museum itself took only a small portion of the jail. Another nice cathedral – we’re big church goers – and lots of nice little parks if the weather had been more accommodating. And if you like steaks and grilled meat, Montevideo is pretty much heaven. Grilled meat is everywhere and watching the process of cooking it is as much entertainment as you need at dinner. It was great, but even we were getting pretty tired of tenderloins for lunch, tenderloins for dinner. We’re eager to get somewhere with a little more choice.
Then there was the big milestone: we arrived in Montevideo three years to the day after we left Cambridge. Fittingly, Uruguay was our 50th country since leaving the U.S. Looking back, we weren’t at all certain three years ago that we would actually enjoy living like this, but three years in and we’re pretty confident it’s going to work. Back then I was certain that by our third anniversary we’d have started slowing down, taking a month here and a month there instead of constant travel. As the maps below show, though, it will clearly take a few more years before we can say we’ve seen the world. We’ve done a pretty good job in some areas like around the Mediterranean, but as you can see in the maps below there are huge areas that we still haven’t touched. Most of Africa, central Asia, the Caucuses. Minor countries like Britain, Brazil, India, and Japan. So three years seems like a good start, but there’s a lot to cover still. To be honest we’ve just recently had our first conversations about where we would live if we started thinking about settling but – for now at least – that seems like a few years off.
From here we take a boat across to Buenos Aires. We were going to stay for a week or 10 days, but we’re getting tired of the weather and are eager to go to Europe for the spring. So we rescheduled our flight to Paris, pushing it up a week so we will have two weeks there before moving around spending the summer meeting up with friends in various places. For now, though, here are a few more pictures of Montevideo.