Uruguay, the next vacation hot spot

Posted on October 7, 2008


I have now had a couple days to settle in to Montevideo. It has been much busier and exciting than I thought it would be. The armloads of books and movies I brought seem a little silly now. Uruguayans are very friendly and they have gone out of their way to welcome me. There are not many Americans who visit Uruguay and everyone wants to try out their English. All conversations start with an apology that their English is poor, than they astound me with how good it is. I really do need to work on my Spanish though, as I am having trouble communicating with cab drivers, waitresses, and cashiers.

The Uruguayan flag on one side of Plaza Independencia.

After arriving in Uruguay, I dropped my bags in my hotel room and joined mi amigos Trusha and Laura for a look around. Trusha and Laura are the other two EY CR Fellows based in Montevideo. We are all working on separate companies, but we are all living in the same hotel so we will be seeing a lot of each other.

We first checked out the Punta Carretas shopping mall, which is the largest mall in Uruguay and was surprisingly nice. It has all the necessities including a full American-size grocery store, two electronics stores, a food court, a billion clothing stores, two movie theatres, etc. In general, prepared food prices are less than half the cost in the US and the grocery store is about one quarter the price. Clothing is a little cheaper. My understanding though is that the mall is very expensive for Uruguay. I will post a separate entry at another time with some pictures of the mall.

The street near my hotel. The Sheraton I am staying in is in the background, the main entrance to the shopping mall is the grey building on the right.

We then travelled to Plaza Independencia in the old colonial part of the city for the annual Uruguay Heritage Festival. The plaza is dominated by a large statue of the hero of Uruguay, General Jose Artigas. Around the year 1811, General Artigas led the uprising against Spanish rule, then Brazilian rule. Though he did not live to see independence, Uruguayans revere him as the one who started it all. The statue is impressive and is on top of Artigas’s mausoleum, complete with a smartly dressed honor guard carrying automatic weapons.

Plaza Independencia is a large, European-style square surrounded by impressive buildings. There are not many tourists, which is refreshing. There were a couple popcorn vendors with carts that were heated by wood. As everywhere here, friendly stray dogs looking for a hand-out. From there we headed down the Avenue 18 de Julio, which was crowded with street vendors hawking mate bowls, clothing, and art. We found a great art cooperative with beautiful, interesting art at bargain basement prices. I hope everyone is expecting Uruguayan Christmas gifts this year!

After a short lunch at the outdoor café La Principa (grilled cheese, Pilsen beer), we headed into the heart of the festival. That was where I had my first experience watching flamenco dancers. They were intense and fun, keeping beat with a well played guitar and a singer. It was exactly the sort of thing I would expect to see here, it fit nearly every stereotype in my head. We ended the night by heading over El Pony Pisador, “The Stomping Pony”. There I tried my first Chivito (see tomorrow’s entry for a description) and watched two flamenco dancers who were incredible. They wore flowing dresses and danced in sync, stomping to the beat of the guitar, clapping their hands, and wowing the crowd. It was great fun and I would highly recommend it for your next trip to Montevideo.

above two photos courtesy of Laura B.

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