Sunday, April 10, 2016

Montevideo in Color

10 April 2016

We've been in Montevideo, Uruguay for about five days, and will only spend a week here.  We had hoped that it would be easy to have our medications sent here, but it turns out to be really complicated.  We'd need to go to the Ministry of Public Health, fill out forms, give them copies of all kinds of documents, and then wait for a series of bureaucrats to sign off and give us permission to receive our prescription meds here.  So we'll just go back to Chile, where it was only a little bit complicated.

The easiest way to get to Montevideo (pronounced mon-teh-vih-DAY-oh, not mon-teh-VIH-dee-oh) is to take the ferry from Buenos Aires.  We opted for the direct ferry, which only runs twice a day.  It's a two hour trip in a rather posh ferry - and yes, they take cars as well.

Our ferry was the Francisco Papa - yes, that's the Pope Francis Ferry!  The boat is so new, passengers aren't allowed on until they put little paper covers over their shoes.  These aren't easy to put on when one is wearing a backpack - a young staff women came over to help me, since I was having problems.  Of course, then I helped Richard and nearly ripped these little covers trying to get them over his size 13 running shoes!  I felt like we were all prepping for surgery in the OR!!!!!  (Yeah, too much Grey's Anatomy for me.)

The trip is about 200 km, roughly 120 miles.  The route crosses the Rio de la Plata (the Plata River), though Montevideo is technically on Montevideo Bay.  The city is on a peninsula jutting out into the bay or river, and this bay is off the Atlantic Ocean; so this part of Uruguay is prone to wet weather.

The city of Montevideo, capital of Uruguay, was established in 1724, and is now home to some 1.3 million people, about one third of the population of Uruguay.  

One bit of odd trivia about Montevideo - this is the southernmost capital city in the Americas!

Uruguay is situated between Brazil and Argentina, so the old cities were built something like a Go board, with the Spanish and Portuguese trying to gain territory and influence.  Eventually the Spanish won, the country became independent after a while, there were coups and dictatorships.  In recent years, this democracy has become one of the most liberal governments and countries in South America, and is often cited as having one of the best living standards in this region.

So we arrived, excited to be here and see what the country was like.  We also thought, with some of the liberal attitudes toward drugs (marijuana has been legalized nation-wide), it might be easier to have our prescription medications shipped here.

As with most preconceived ideas, the reality never lives up to one's expectations.

Our hotel is in the old part of the city, the Ciudad Viejo, in between Plaza de la Independencia and Plaza del Constitucion (Independence Plaza and Constitution Plaza).  There are various government buildings in this area.

And on our arrival, we discovered a demonstration in Plaza de la Independencia.  Curious as always, I asked a young woman what was happening, why were people having this demonstration.  The young woman explained the situation to me (as her friend recorded us on her smart phone, which I found very odd).

Turns out this once peaceful and tranquil country is going through some social upheaval.  The crime rate is increasing, and recently there have been murders by mostly young men.  The laws of the country prohibit harsh sentences for minors, so many of the citizens feel these laws don't prevent crimes.  (Of course, worldwide there are mixed situations proving both sides of that equation.)

At any rate, people were protesting for stronger laws, more police, more enforcement of laws, less leniency.  People are scared, probably rightfully so.  And they are trying to get the government to protect their lives and their property.

Needless to say, this is a rather disconcerting welcome to the city and the country!

So we're being our usual city-smart and cautious selves.  We don't have fancy jewelry or big cameras or cell phones, we don't carry a lot of cash, we don't walk down dark alleys, all that stuff.  We also stay aware of our surroundings.  

So far no problems.

However, it turns out getting medications sent in would be a major hassle.  We talked to the FedEx people, and we need to get permission from the Ministry of Public Health to receive prescription medications from outside the country.  While we have current prescriptions, letters from doctors, etc., I can only imagine how long the paperwork might take moving through the usual bureaucracy.  So we'll just enjoy Montevideo for a week, and then head back to Santiago, Chile, where we know the system already.

Anyway, we're in a lovely hotel that was built some time in the late 1800 or early 1900s, with all sorts of ornamental flourishes and decorations inside and out.  The halls have huge open courtyards covered with stained glass roofs, and ornate Ionic capitals on square pillars.  

Even the elevator is fancy, with beautiful wood doors in a lacy metal cage.  It looks like an afterthought, added years after the building was complete.  Plus there's a button for the non-existent fifth floor, which seems very Willy Wonka or Harry Potter - I'm tempted to push the button and see if we go sailing out of the roof!

The hotel is just a few blocks from the old gate to the city.  The Spanish built defensive walls around the original city in the 18th century, and parts of these walls remain.  The gate leading from our walking street to Plaza de la Independencia is the original gate to the old city, though reinforced by cinder blocks on the back.

One of the little oddities we've found is that missing cement sidewalk blocks are replaced with random mosaics of ceramic tile.  No idea who does this, if it's the city repairing the sidewalks or some local artists being creative.  But I'm enjoying the little mini mosaics as we walk around.

We also managed to find a gorgeous bookstore with a café.  The stained glass window is incredible, and the entire place was just so beautiful.  It seemed a shame that it's now a bookstore rather than, well, maybe a museum or something.  A truly beautiful building inside.  Many of the restaurants are equally decorative, since many of these buildings are former homes of the wealthy colonists and land- or business-owners.

I'm not great on architectural styles, but most of the buildings in the Spanish colonial period seem to reflect influences of the Beaux Arts decorative and ornamental style, with elements of neo-Classical or neo-Palladian pillars and symmetry.  The metalwork on doors and balconies is absolutely amazing, as are the door knockers.  Works of art themselves!

And then there's the occasional Art Deco building, somehow fitting in despite the contrast.

As usual, we've found great places for hot drinks, necessary in this city of grey and damp weather.  The Palacio del Cafe was founded in 1937, and still is serving wonderful coffee.

The weather right now really rather cold, very autumnal.  The winds blow up from the Antarctic and across the Atlantic, bringing mist, rain, clouds, and wind.  We've been layering our clothes and sleeping under multiple blankets, because even though it probably is only about 60 or 70 F (15-20 C), we're just cold.  And the dampness from the mist and rain makes it feel colder.  We've only had one sunny day thus far!  (Just one more reason to only stay here a week.  We'll return next year, during the warmer months.)

Amongst the grey weather and the grey stone buildings, we've found the occasional bright pop of color, cheerful blue or red or green buildings brightening the city.  Then there's the random rosy pink car, as well!

The Plaza del Constitucion has a wonderful white marble fountain, with water dragons and sea nymphs and dolphins all spouting water, shining white in the sun.  (We were there on that one sunny day.)  It's a really gorgeous fountain, and is lit up at night so it glows in the darkened park.  This is one of our favorite places to wander, because vendors set up tables selling arts and crafts, or antiques.  Interesting to walk around and see all the wares.  We've bought a few small items, my new favorite being my tango dancers lapel pin.  Tango is a big thing here, as well as in Argentina.  Although tango classes don't seem to be as readily available as in Buenos Aires.

Part of the old city wall ran along the coast of the Montevideo peninsula, protecting the shore from the sea as well as from pirates and marauding navies.  Much of the old wall has been either reinforced or rebuilt, and now comprises Las Ramblas, the walking promenade along the coast.

We walked along the Ramblas closest to our hotel, and saw the open garrison with a crenallated wall for the cannons, one cannon still in place.  There were a few buildings that seemed almost as old as the original walls, such as this church.  But most of the buildings have been replaced by high rise apartment buildings and condominiums.  History and heritage so often give way to capitalism and greed.

We found murals down by Las Ramblas, some on the side of various buildings.  But one in particular was a huge old warehouse covered in one of the longest murals we've ever seen.  This particular mural was a collaboration between school children in a variety of countries, not only in South America but also in Europe.  Students learned about the history, geography, and natural resources of Montevideo, and then designed the images.  Schools in the city participated by painting the designs created by all the involved children.  It really is a wonderful international and multi-disciplinary group project, one of those lessons that teaches so much more than the basics usually covered in schools.  (It's also a little reminiscent of the Beatles "Yellow Submarine" movie, so there's movie history in there too.)

So I will end by simply including photos of the murals.  And at the very end are a few maps so that you can see where Uruguay is compared to the rest of South America, as well as the distance from Buenos Aires to Montevideo.









No comments:

Post a Comment