Thursday, May 31, 2007

Colonia football stadium

It's not really a stadium, more of soccer pitch surrounded by a running track, two sets of barbed wire fence and lots of concrete benches (no plastic chairs or wooden seating to break off and assault rival fans with).

Getting the kids to school in Uruguay

This is not an uncommon sight when school is about to restart after the lunchtime break.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Bilingual signs for the severely linguistically impaired

Colonia is a small tourist town so brimming with Disney cliche cuteness I almost threw up all over its narrow cobbled streets. The main tourist attractions included a large hunk of wall and a large hunk of history, both of which failed to grasp our attention for more than a couple of minutes. It was a nice place to spend a couple of days before climbing aboard a boat bound for Argentina. The locals were friendly, and the food was good.

View of the wall

View from the wall

The coffee was also good, which is strange. I am now worried that I may have forgotten just what really good coffee tastes like. It was good by South American standards, but compared to Melbourne?'s been too long for me to tell...

Lost in Colonia

Moon goes up

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Montevideo is an uninspiring city with a fun-to-pronounce name. The greyness of the city is complemented by the browness of the water lapping up against its walls. Accommodation was less than stellar. Infuriated by tepid showers, we left hostel number one and went to hostel number two where it was too cold to even consider getting undressed to bathe.

Shouldn't put big ugly buildings up behind national monuments

We sampled the local vegetarian cuisine, which proved hilarious, dangerous or just plain inedible depending on your opinion as to whether food served from a lukewarm bain-marie which is then microwaved (by the waitress) to a temperature approaching warm is suitable for lunch. Pigskin lampshades in a vegetarian restaurant were a curious choice of decor.

At a Chinese eatery I ordered a large plate of Mao Po tofu, which, although tasty seemed to have some sort of ...urgh... brains.... as an ingredient.

After getting used to the idea of microwaving our own food, we enjoyed a tasty all-you-can-eat buffet at one outlet of a chain(!) of vegetarian restaurants. Four to eight hours later, neither of us suffered any side effects and the meal was declared a success.

Montevideo sits beside a river of chocolate milk.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

Back to Punta

We jumped aboard a 1970's coach for the first leg of our short trip back to Punta. Arriving in Rocha, small town with no real purpose, we were dismayed to discover that the next bus for Punta del Este did not leave for another six hours. We set up camp in a cafe and spent the afternoon eating, drinking and trying to decipher cryptic Spanish messages delivered by a slightly drunk and very gregarious old Uruguano (something about football and smoking?).

Old bus

Back in Punta, we spent a couple of relaxing days sheltering from the weather and playing poker (Angie got 4 aces in one hand!- Unfortunately, money was not at stake).

Friday, May 25, 2007

Comparative Luxury in La Paloma

The guilt was worth it though. For three days we wallowed in the rare privilege of a hotel room. Get this- we had a warm double bed, a clean, private bathroom, a wood-panelled fridge that periodically shuddered in and out of life, a balcony, a tv and the privacy to run around as naked as God surely had intended. You take these things as given in the real world; rights- constant and unchanging. But not in this act. Here you deal with wafer thin single beds, cold and slimy bathrooms, mouldy fridges infested with untold amounts of ancient mayonnaise, "Friends" on the TV and barely a second to yourself. So, a private room in a hotel... a rare taste of civilisation in an uncivilised lifestyle. For three days we skipped 70 channels searching for something in English, had picnics on the bed and washed away the grime of 10 weeks in dorms in complete and utter privacy. Not once did someone bust into our room asking where we were from and if we wanted to buy cocaine. Bliss....

I spent most of the time hunting for surf, and hunting for the required gear for me to be able to ride that surf. In the end, the wind and swell would not cooperate, and we left without me having a chance to get in the ocean. We went for a walk around the point, which seemed to be the 'better' part of town. This area was made up of fastidiously unrenovated homes- there was not an added on porch or car-port to be seen. And all the places were in perfect condition, they looked as new as they would have when they were built back in the sixties. Lots of crisp, pastel American angles and planes contrasted with natural stone feature walls. Like the Brady Bunch house but in bite-sized portions. This place was an suburban architectural time capsule, as cute and sinless as pie.

Eventually, the absence of cooked food forced us to retreat to more inhabited places. The lack of people meant a lack of open restaurants (at least, restaurants that were turning over fresh ingredients), and as the hotel didn't have a kitchen for us, the closest thing we ate to comida caliente during our stay was the coffee that came with breakfast each morning. We did make some serious headway in the field of hotel room food preparation (bruschetta assembled and served on plastic bags was a major triumph), but a food pyramid consisting of Doritos (we consumed the towns entire supply) and alfajores (ridiculously sweet double biscuit things) sent us packing back to Punta Del Este.

It wasn't as good as it looks...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

La Paloma

La Paloma is a coastal ghost (ghoastal) town clinging to the edge of Uruguay. It has the dehydrated air of a failed experiment in touristifying a naval base- its a place you only go in summer, and the last summer here happened sometime in the sixties. At least that was how it felt on the gusty Autumn afternoon we arrived. Everywhere lay the remains of deserted buildings and aborted construction projects. Concrete bones and bare brick exoskeletons- it seemed fitting that the centrepiece of town was a dilapidated and rotting whale skeleton amid a decorative garden full of dead or overgrown plants. Just in case anyone ever decided to repair the display, there was a cluttered collection of spare bones on the roof of a nearby building.

Typical hotel

We checked into the only hostel open. A depressing lodging at best, at least in these wintery conditions. The bathrooms were a prime example of misconceived pragmatism- I imagine when the various elements arrived, the builder just looked at the white cube that was the bathroom and said something along the lines of: "Just get these things in that room and plumb 'em", and then left the work experience kid in charge. The impractical result was a bathroom with the toilet in one corner, the bidet all the way in the other corner, a little sink in the other corner, and a pipe protruding from the wall, leading to a showerhead which sat precisely in the centre of the room. No shower curtain could be of use- the walls were the shower curtain and everything in that room- your towel, your clothes, the toilet seat and toilet paper- would be soaked by the time you finished up.

The naval base

The one thing the bathroom did have going for it was the door. The door, because it was a normal size door and the only door in the whole place not designed for and built by little people. I named it 'Headache Hostel' because unless I walked with my head tilted to one side I constantly crashed into arches and overhangs. The two redeeming features of the establishment were the breakfast of pastries and fresh fruit, and the charming host, who somehow got the idea that Angie spoke perfect Spanish. The host was so nice that when we checked out of his hostel to move into a hotel down the road, we had to tell a lie and say we were leaving town.

The strange beach

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Monday, May 21, 2007

Punta del Este- sculptures decaying by the sea

Sometime in the eighties, someone invested a good deal of cash to artify the area between the beach and the highrises of Punta del Este. Since then, time, salt air and grafitti people have all taken their toll on the concrete decorations...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Punta Del Este

Punta del Este is a beach city modeled on Miami as it appeared in the early 80's. Geometric brick highrises are sprinkled liberally over the peninsula and surrounding areas. It has the synthetic look and feel of any mid-sized city which exists solely for the summer month tourists. When we arrived, the off-season was in full swing, so barely a soul wandered the pebblecrete pavements or browsed the designer shops. However, plenty of old women were on hand to read our palms or receive money 'for the baby' (theirs, not ours).

I finally had my first surf in South America, and it was cold. The waves were definitely nothing special, but they were brown and tasted like riverwater.

Scooterising Punta Del Este.

Along with our Danish friend Isak, we hired a trio of mechanical ponies to explore the further reaches of this strange beach city. The little beasts were a blast- we zipped along the wide, smooth streets (all three had broken speedos, so I don't know how fast we were going) and had a look at Casa Pueblo, a huge mansion/hotel/museum, built on a hillside by a Uruguayan artist. The entire building was handmade; it had no straight lines or geometric curves. The whole structure is organic; fluorescent white under a stark Uruguayan sun. We also found the best bridge in the world, an exciting double-dip affair that Angie scootered over three times.

This confirmed for Angie that she will be purchasing a scooter upon returning home. One with a speedometer, though.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Uruguayan football etiquette 101

"Haha, look at this country- 'You are gay'"
-Homer (Simpson)

From Buenos Aires, we jumped aboard a ferry to float on over the brown River Plate. During the hour-long voyage I remembered a conversation I'd had a few days earlier...

While relaxing in the TV room in a BA hostel, we got chatting to a guy from Uruguay. Just like the rest of South America, Uruguay is obsessed with futbol. What does that mean for us? Well, one of those weird tidbits that my memory inexplicably chooses to file in a safe and easy to reach place relates to the last World Cup, when the Socceroos knocked out Uruguay in the qualifiers. Something the coach said about Uruguay having a God-given right to be a part of the World Cup sticks out... Anyway, how would the average Uruguano on the street (or in the hostel) feel about this? Time to find out...

The first time I brought the issue up of that game, our Uruguayan friend happily ignored the question, and recited each of the three years Uruguay had successfully captured the World Cup.

I pressed again. The reply this time was simply along the lines of '...yes, football is very important for my country...'. Just a nibble, but this fish wasn't biting hard enough. I'd come this far, I wanted to resolve the question, for science.

One more prod... and a cold stare chills the entire room. The words come slow and quiet on icy breath: 'Yes, we were knocked out by some... kangaroo team'. Absolute silence. Even the TV stopped making noise.

'..but it doesn't really matter to me anyway.'

This from someone who doesn't even profess to be interested in the game. Experiment successfully completed, I shut my mouth and resolve that if this issue ever comes up in Uruguay, it will be me who sidesteps the subject (and claiming New Zealand citizenship if need be).

The boat docked, we were hurried through a just-for-show bag inspection and put on board a bus bound for a Uruguayan beach.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Angie Eats a Steak.

Angie vs cow.

Oh, Dios Mio!- they never shut up about it here. Steak. Everyone. Steak steak steak. Its all people want to talk about. And when I can't enthuse? And have to drop the V-bomb? So many time I've seen the look of embarrassment, mistrust, shock, pity. Some people apologise, some can barely disguise the horror.

Anyway, we went out to dinner with a friend and Angie ate a steak. I agree- It was spectacular- a great hunk of cow you could use as a pillow. I was more impressed by the nine delicious and perfectly prepared side dishes- roasted garlic and onions, pumpkin mash, mushrooms, green vegetables among the mini side feast.

Who needs steak? (I can hear you frown)

Buenos Aires- Episode One

We spent two weeks in Buenos Aires. Was it really two weeks? What happened there? Bits and pieces, most of the highlights are on the blog already. It was good to get into a city for a while- get amongst the noise and the people and the thick grey air. The best part, for a pair of (most of the time) herbivores such as us, was the chance to have someone else cook- proper food, not cheese pizza (a new staple). We ate a few vegie or vegie-sympathetic houses, ranging from floppy all-you-can-eat bain marie galleries, to wholesome Krishna food (cheap and tasty worldwide), to exquisite sit on the floor African, to Chinese mock meat spice extravaganzas. In a country as obsessed with beef as Argentina, the city provides blessed culinary relief; food for the belly.

An Australian with British citizenship eating African food in an Argentinian restaurant.

Many days we'd just find ourselves wandering around the streets, exploring the endless grid of concrete. Plans would be drawn up sometimes, but usually scrapped once we got a few blocks from the hostel because our path crossed something else more interesting.

The police cars are not threatening.

It was nice have a double bed for sleep, encased in a private room, free from the sporadic and always disturbing sounds of leaving, arriving, packing and snoring. Eventually the ever-present background noise of the city got to me. Noise is absolutely inescapable in a tightly packed city like BA. It was everywhere, always. Sometimes loud, sometimes soft, often kicking you in the eardrums with a pair of steel-capped boots. The streets are narrow, with tiny sidewalks and busses constantly spewing blue gas and black sound. Walking along these streets feels like climbing through an industrial revolutionesque smoke machine- all sound and grinding gears.

At the moment this photo was taken, every single vehicle pictured was blasting its horn.

So we left- but just for a little while. There's still plenty of things to see and to do (and to have done to us). Just a little while to recharge in some fresh air and undiluted sunshine on a beach in Uruguay- a holiday.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Edges of the Buenos Aires Sky

The Best time not to be in South America...

Oooohhhh, today I found out that one of my all-time favorite bands- Secret Chiefs 3- are currently in the middle of their first Australian tour in many, many years. I was almost sick when my darling brother broke the news that he had seen them in Sydney the other night. Waaah. So if you get the chance- go see them for me. Now I will go and listen to the Chiefs on the ipod and have a little cry. (aslo, I checked- there are no dates planned for South America)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Wandering Buenos Aires

How to amuse the kids while shopping- Buenos Aires style

This is the highest floor of the Abasto shopping mall, the largest cathedral of its kind in Buenos Aires. To placate the children who are unenthusiastic about capitalism, you can bring them here, where swinging pirate ships, dodgem cars, zeppelins on monorails and a rollercoaster emit a fierce golden sulfur glow. Infinitely more impressive than that plastic rocking car outside Woolies.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Recoletta Cemetery

Where Argentina's rich, famous and dead live in surrounds more luxurious than most of the hostels we've stayed in.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

MALBA: Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires

Malba is a big white gallery full of fantastic art from the 20th/21st Century. It houses mainly work by Latin-American Artists, but there is also a mezmerising collection 60's and 70's of Op-Art, the biggest single collection I've seen on display anywhere. Grooooovy! No photography allowed inside, so Angie only managed to sneak in one photo (from the permanent collection I think):

Everyone loves Che

Outside the gallery a towering VU meter flashes in reaction to the level of ambient noise.

Botanical Gardens- Catland

In a strange throwback to Ancient Egyptian feline veneration, cats have free reign over these gardens on the outskirts of the CBD. Much to Angie's delight, there are literally hundreds of kitties lazing around and being brought food by the local people.

Kitties everywhere

Myself and this beast were equally surprised to find two human babies suckling at her teats.