The Magic of Montevideo

When we woke up around 7.45 this morning, the Arcadia was already docked in Montevideo, on the Rio de la Plata (River Plate).  We went out onto our balcony for our first glimpse of Uruguay, our 71st country visited.

After breakfast we assembled at 8.45am in the Palladium for our shore excursion, the Montevideo city tour.  We were looking forward to exploring this very interesting port and capital city, and we were due to spend the whole day and night here, the Arcadia remaining in port overnight, so we would have the chance to have a good look round.

We disembarked the ship and made our way to the tour buses waiting nearby.  The bus set off slowly through the bustling city streets full of people on their way to work.  We took the route along the ‘coast’ which is actually the shoreline of the River Plate, although it has 13 kilometres of white sandy beaches and the water looked clear.  At that time of the morning (and with it being a working day) the beach was pretty much deserted so it allowed us an unimpeded view of the sweeping coastline.

After a while we arrived at our first stop, Plaza Independencia (Independence Square) which is one of three main squares in Montevideo.  There was certainly a lot to see and do there and there were several other tour parties like ours.  We saw the Solis Theatre and the well-known Palacio Salvo (Salvo Palace) with its main tower and four distinctive turrets.  The sun had come out by now and the sky was a clear, cloudless blue.

Back on the bus our next stop was to the Palacio Legislativo (Legislative Palace).  From the outside, at first glance, it looked a little like Buckingham Palace, and inside it afforded us a welcome respite from the already very hot sun.

The décor and architecture inside the Legislative Palace was breathtaking.  Frescoes adorned the walls and ceilings and the columns, cornices and window edgings were wonderfully carved and sculpted.  Many statues paid tribute to great Uruguayans past and present as we walked along the cool marble floor.  We spent about 40 minutes in there before emerging, once more, into the bright sunshine.

Our next visit was to a lovely public parked called Parque Batlle (pronounced: baht-shay), named after former Uruguayan president José Batlle y Ordóñez (1911-1915).  The park contained manicured lawns and flowerbeds, a small lake and a famous life-sized sculpture called Monumento La Carreta, which shows a loaded wagon being drawn by yoked oxen.  The detail was amazing, right down to the visible rib-cages of the oxen.

Outside the park a few vendors had set up their stalls selling souvenirs from carved wooden gifts to maté flasks.  Maté is a popular green tea with a somewhat bitter taste which is widely drunk in Uruguay (definitely an acquired taste!).  There was a stall selling colourful, hand woven woollen scarves of a typical Uruguayan style, so I bought one in lovely muted shades, knowing that it’s still freezing winter weather back home!

On the bus, driving through the streets, we passed the football stadium and other interesting buildings and monuments on our way to the shoreline.  We alighted from the bus and enjoyed the gentle breeze as we strolled along the water’s edge, then it was time to head back to the Arcadia and some lunch, as we would have plenty of time to go back ashore again, as I wanted to buy and send some postcards from Montevideo.

Seeing the football stadium made me think of the rugby that is also popular in Uruguay; in fact it was a rugby team of university students and some of their family and friends from Montevideo whose aircraft crashed in the Andes in October 1972, leaving them stranded for 72 days with no food; they were forced to eat the flesh of those who had died in order to survive.  I have read the excellent book by Piers Paul Read called Alive; in fact I think I’ll re-read it when I get home as it’s the best true story of survival and endurance I’ve ever read.

After being fed and watered we left the ship once again to have a look around the nearby vicinity.  There was an area of the port that was given over to the remains of a World War 2 German ship called the Admiral Graf Spee which had been mortally damaged during the Battle of the River Plate in December 1939.  Rather than allow the enemy to take the ship, the captain scuttled it so it sank in the River Plate, and parts of it (the anchor, telemeter and other bits and pieces) have been salvaged and are on display.

We wandered along the narrow, tree-lined streets with their fashionable pavement cafés and bars, all of which were doing a roaring trade from the Arcadia‘s passengers.  Seeing the cold beer and wines suddenly made me realise how thirsty I was!   😉

Passing the post office which we noted was open, our first quest was to buy some postcards; we knew we’d be able to get the stamps for them.  We walked into town, having a good browse round the shops and stalls (no shoe shops!!) and eventually found a little news kiosk and bought the cards and returned to the post office for the stamps.  Now all we had to do was find an attractive bar and write out the cards over an ice cold beer.

I noticed that several of the bars and restaurants had a sign outside saying “Patricia” and this, in fact, is the name of the local beer which was also my sister’s name.  Tricia was killed in a road accident in Hong Kong in 1996, so it was only fitting that we went into a nearby bar and ordered a litre of “Patricia” each and raised our glasses to her in a toast.

The beer was cold, delicious and thirst-quenching and went down a treat in the lively bar, as I sat and wrote out the postcards and posted them.  I could have sat and had another beer, or tried some of the wine, but time was getting on (it was after 4.00pm) and we still had to walk back to the ship and get showered and changed in time for dinner at 6.30pm.

We also had to make a start with our packing, as we were due to disembark the Arcadia  tomorrow morning and take the local ferry for the three-hour crossing of the River Plate over to Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Originally the Arcadia had been due to visit Buenos Aires, but as the Argentinians are kicking off against Britain over the Falkland Islands again, 30 years after the Falklands Conflict, they said that if any ship flying the Red Ensign attempted to dock in Buenos Aires they would seize the ship, so P & O decided not to risk the fact that the Argies might not be bluffing.  Hence our cruise would end here in Montevideo.  😦

As the Arcadia was in port overnight, they decided to invite some of the local entertainers on board to treat us to a Gaucho show.  It was a husband and wife act, Ricardo and Jessica Diaz, and they gave us a tremendous display of dancing, drumming and singing, as well as a tango which was practically dry sex; it was so seductive and passionate.  What a really great show.

Afterwards we went along to the Rising Sun for the last time.  All the others from our table were there; Paul and Tatiana were also disembarking tomorrow, but the other two couples, Frank and Brenda and Chris and Sue were staying on for another leg of the world cruise; in fact Chris and Sue were doing the whole shebang.  Tonight the quiz was called “Back to the 70’s” and featured songs and artistes from that colourful era of glam rock, which also happens to be my era.  Yippee!

So it was with confidence that I answered the 20 questions on 1970’s music (you got a point for the song title and a point for the artiste) and our team won the quiz with 39 out of 40!  Yay!  I chose a bottle of house white wine and asked the waiter for more glasses so we could all have a share.  It was quite good that we won the quiz on our last night on board and, despite having to be up early in the morning, it was once again well after midnight when we dragged ourselves out of the Rising Sun for our last evening in cabin C149.

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