After a three hour bus ride, we arrived at Montevideo. Uruguay’s biggest city, Montevideo is much like any city, really. Lots of buildings, lots of people. It was fairly clean though, and there was an interesting mix of old fashioned and modern architecture.
When leaving the bus station, we were told by the lady directing the cabs at the taxi stand that we couldn’t all go in one cab. Only four per taxi, she told us. It’s the law. I sure am glad that the government is there looking out for me. Otherwise I might, in my callow naivety, get hurt.
Harumph. We went instead up the street, where we found different cab. As we were getting in, another lady came up and told us the same thing. The cab driver didn’t seem to care, but the people who work at the taxi stands are pretty hardline about this issue.
This was frustrating, and I began to wonder if there would be any cabby in Montevideo willing to break the rules. Just in case not, I went back to the bus terminal to get a map. If nothing else, I could send the family in the cab and go on foot myself. When I came back with the map, we hailed another cab and I prepared to send the girls off with the address of the hotel, but thankfully this cab driver didn’t care about the rule, and he had no nanny looking over his shoulder to stop him. So in we all piled and off the hotel we went.
The hotel room was not the greatest, and Laura was mad about the fact that the only way to let in light from the single window was to open up the storm shield, which is like a roll up garage door. There were no curtains, so if we wanted natural light we had to be in full view of the street, which was right out the window. Laura was upset enough to want a different room, but I didn't want to bother with that. Instead we headed out to find some food.
I found several options on the internet, but most of them were only lunch places, and it was nearing five o’clock. Like Argentina, Uruguay has unusual hours for restaurants. The only place that are open throughout the day are cafés, which tend to only serve drinks and maybe some basic sandwiches. We came to really appreciate vegetarian buffets, but they are almost exclusively lunch places. All the nice dinner places don’t open until eight o’clock, usually. In contrast to our meal schedule at home, where we tend to eat lunch at three and dinner at eight, on this trip it seems we’re always going out to look for food between four and six, when everything is closed.
I thought I had found a buffet place that was open until six, but when we arrived, after a fairly long walk, we learned that the buffet was closed, and only the store (where they sold dried foods and health products) was open until six. So much for that.
Thus began what was becoming our daily drama. We would go looking for food, and if we didn’t find it right away, or if we found something but rejected it because of poor selection or high prices, the girls, Eva in particular, would pitch a fit. We had some dramas with Eva earlier in the trip, but by the time we got to Uruguay, we were dealing with the same situation every single day. Her fits involve snarling, sarcasm, hate-eyes, and often refusal to walk with us. Sometimes she just sits and won’t come along, unless threatened.
After about a week of this, I lost my patience for it and told her that if we were walking to eat and she pitched a fit about something in this fashion, then she would not eat. I thought that hunger would motivate her to get control of herself, but I was wrong. Since then (and this has continued well past Montevideo) she has missed at least three meals, simply because she refuses to let go of her anger. I don’t even set the exclusion in stone; even if she does pitch a fit and hurl vituperations, as long as she makes peace with us and apologizes, then she is welcomed back into our company. Several times she has refused even this, choosing to remain angry rather than to eat, and it boggles my mind.
I was much like her as a kid (my mom wrote to me that this is some sort of payback for all my ‘I hate everything when I’m hungry’ fits while traveling as a kid), and I could get really mad over silly stuff, but I valued food way too much to miss out just so I could stay mad. In a battle between pride and hunger, my hunger would win every time. For Eva, this is not so.
Anyhow, we had such a day that day, and the rest of our walk was tainted with acrimonious complaints and lamentations about how we’re the worst family ever, having the worst day ever, on the worst vacation ever. It was frustrating having to walk around for a long time while hungry, only to find that the places that were open were not so good. But sometimes you just gotta deal.
To add to this, Lila was obsessed with this playground we passed on our walk out, not too far from our place. It had only two pieces of playground equipment, but one was a brightly colored pirate ship of sorts, and she very much wanted to play there. I told her we could not, since we were all hungry, but that maybe we could go after dinner. She asked about it the rest of the way.
When we finally found a place to eat, I discovered on the map that we were only about two blocks from our hotel. We had walked over a mile on our quest, only to end up right back where we started. (Seems a familiar tale…) We were, however no longer close to the playground Lila wanted to visit, so she was devastated when I told her we wouldn't be going.
As we were eating, we heard all sorts of hubbub in the streets, with flag waving and shouting and cheering. We concluded, correctly, that it was related to futbol. Apparently Uruguay won a big victory. Ah, sportsball. It brought to mind an old favorite from the Onion: “You will experience humiliation when the sports team from my region defeats the sports team from your region.”
The next morning, I struck out early for my walkabout. We had bought some fruit so the girls could have a light breakfast, and we planned to go back to the veggie buffet for lunch. Since the girls tend to sleep until ten or so anyway, this gave me plenty of time for my perambulations. Alas, I had to heave a hefty Santa sack of dirty laundry over my shoulder on my way, since we were way overdue for a washing.
It took me a long time to find a lavanderia, but finally I did, and my burden thus lightened, I started out for old town, my camera at the ready. I had a nice walk, at a brisk pace. I made my way through downtown, and into old town, heading for the waterfront. Montevideo, like Colonia, is also on a peninsula, I wanted to check out both sides. The first point I went to was by the shipyard, where a massive cargo ship was being unloaded. I had seen pictures of these behemoths before, but never had I been so close to one. It was enormous! It looked like it might have been a hundred feet at the beam. I can only guess how long it was.
(I looked it up: the biggest ships that can go through the Panama Canalare 965 ft. long and 106 ft. wide. The biggest tankers on the sea are as long as 1132 ft. and 177 ft. wide. To put this in perspective, the Titanic was 882.75 ft. long and 92.5 ft. wide.)
Thousands of shipping containers were stacked on it, and tons of people were milling about. I walked right in amongst them, slipping around a gate, ignored by the guard who seemed only to be watching for cars. I didn’t linger long though. I had other places to go. As I was walking along the North side of the peninsula, I caught sight of what I was sure was the tallest building in the city, further up the coast. This sleek, curvy, glass building was the most modern looking structure I had seen in Montevideo, and I wanted to check it out. Maybe I could get up to the top of it. But first, I wanted to look out towards the ocean, from the other side.
I crossed the peninsula through old town and walked along the water on the other side. There was a long esplanade with several staircases going down to the rocks, for swimming access, I supposed. The color of the water just didn’t seem too inviting to me.
I walked back in towards the main square, and then zigzagged around a bit, getting good views of different buildings and squares. I wasn’t sure exactly where the big glass tower was, but I followed my general sense of direction until I could finally see it on the horizon. It was further than I thought, so I picked up the pace.
I walked through what seemed like a sketchy part of town, passing a huge abandoned building that had been a train station. When I came to the tower, put my camera away and made ready to just waltz in and find the elevators like I belonged. Inside, I discovered a security desk, and two different walkways, one which said ‘personnel’ and the other which said ‘visitors.’ I went over to the visitor side, doubting I was going to get past the guard at the turnstile, but when I asked if it was possible to go up, she said sure and passed me right through. I had to wait a bit until two ladies came to escort me and several others who were waiting up to the 26th floor. The observation deck was free, and it offered a really nice view of the city.
When I made my way back down, I realized that the day was getting on and that I should probably head back. I still had a long walk ahead, and my ankle was starting to feel sore. The ankle I injured was no longer lame, but because I had been favoring it and not using it at full strength for so long, it had gotten a bit weak, and after a long morning of walking, it was tiring faster than the other. Nothing like a good hard push to whip it back into shape.
Once I reconvened with the family, we made our way to Bambu, the Asian vegetarian buffet that we had hoped to go to the day before. I made sure to stop at the little playground that Lila so loved, redeeming myself after her disappointment the day before.
Somewhere along the way there, surprise surprise, Eva found something to get upset about and started spitting venom once again. I told her she better knock that off and be nice if she wanted to eat, but apparently she wanted to be sour more than she wanted to be fed. She sulked while the rest of us filled our plates with delicious vegetarian food.
Before leaving, I made sure to get a to-go box full of food that I thought she might like, just in case she came around later on. We continued our walk, going to many of the places I’d visited earlier that morning. At one park we saw some guys doing some sweet spinning jump/flips that appeared to be some kind of art form, like a martial arts dance. It reminded me a bit of capoeira, but it was not exactly the same thing. They would do spinning jump kicks and then twist their bodies into diagonal straight-legged flips. It’s hard to describe, but I got it on video and took several pictures.
We also stopped in at an artisans market, to tease ourselves with all sorts of things that we wanted but that we weren’t going to buy. Same old issue. Space and budget. There were some really nice things, though, and we spent a good deal of time exploring, thankful to be out of the rain.
By the time we made it to old town it was time to eat again. Usually it’s everyone else pushing for ice cream, but this time it was me who wanted some. Mainly because it was hot. The rain had stopped and the sun was out, which made it muggy, and as usual, I had Lila on my back, which always makes me sweaty. We found a nice gourmet place, and they even had vegan ice cream for me.
I am not strictly vegan, but I do prefer to avoid milk and butter, and frequently when the girls get ice cream, I decline. Eggs and cheese are more tempting for me, and without them, on this trip, I would have gone quite hungry. Ideally, I would love to be 100% vegan, as I was for some time, but I found it socially isolating, and it made meals complicated at home. Plus, I am easily tempted by cheese. It’s not quite as bad as Monterry Jack, from Rescue Rangers, but I definitely like a good sharp cheddar or gouda. Mainly, though, I find it easier to be vegan in a supportive community, where I am not constantly offending people by rejecting the food they offer.
I have heard the joke, “How do you know when there’s a vegan in the room? They’ll tell you.” I, however, was never that kind of vegan. I really don’t like to have the conversation about eating animal products with people who do, because it’s just awkward, and seldom is it constructive. People have to feel out the world with their own hearts, and while I may be a man on a mission with a sermon to preach about eradicating statism and re-planting the garden paradise of original creation, I have little interest in promulgating what I consider to be more minor aspects of the larger vision, such as diet, sexuality, or aesthetics. I love to talk about such things with those who are interested, but it’s not my preference to force these issues.
Anyhow, during our ice cream time, the battle between Eva’s pride and her hunger finally reached a turning point. She came over to us and did her best to make peace. We accepted her back into the family and gave her some ice cream. I also told her about the food I’d gotten for her, which brightened her mood substantially. We went to a park for her to eat it, and we watched the people and the dogs go by. There are stray dogs everywhere in South America, and it’s so funny seeing them sleeping in strange places like in the ATM rooms or in the bus station. They often roam into restaurants and stores as well. People tend to ignore them.
The place where we got ice cream was actually the restaurant Laura had picked for dinner, so while Eva and I went to get the laundry and take it back to the hotel room, we agreed to meet there at six. Laura took Lila and Gaia to explore old town some more while we walked towards the lavanderia. When we reconvened at the restaurant, I learned that it was closing, right then. Oops. It seemed another drama was inevitable.
We had a lead on a restaurant on the other end of town, and when someone explained to us that it was easy to get there by bus, we decided to head out there. The bus ride was easy, but when we got to the restaurant it was closed. It was now dark, and upon asking around, we found that there were not many options in the area for healthy food. Plenty of pizza and pasta places. We got some advice from a nice man who spoke English, but of the two places that he recommended were not workable. One was mostly meat and bread and the other did not exist. After at least another hour of walking around in the dark, we settled on a pizza place.
It was not the greatest food, and we managed to lose Lila’s water bottle on the way, but at least we didn’t have a huge drama about finding food. Everyone was tired, but tempers were held in check.
The next morning we had an early departure to Salto, which is a small town on the Argentinian border in the northern part of Uruguay. We already had a house rented, and there were some hot springs and water parks to check out with the full day we had there. It was hard waking up at five, but we managed, and I was lucky to find a cab driver who would take us all to the station in one load. Fortunately, we would be tired enough to sleep on the bus ride for the first several hours, making the trip seem shorter. We were all more than ready to be done with all the bus travel.
Salto would be our third to last destination (even though it was a stopover more than a destination.) After that, we would be going up to Iguazu Falls, which would be the climax of the trip, a place I was very much looking forward to seeing. From there, it would be off to Asuncion, where we would have only a day before flying back up to the Northern Hemisphere to attend Anarchapulco. The time has flown, and yet it also seems like ages ago that we were traveling through Ecuador. It’s been an incredible ride, and I’ve been delighted to get to share it with everyone here on Permagora.
I plan to get back to doing more issue-focused journalism once I get back to the US, but it’s been nice writing adventure travel articles, like I used to do way back when I had my first website, the World of McCool. I’ve been attempting to merge the life-paths of adventure travel, permaculture, and agorist activism through Permagora. It’s been enjoyable, and I hope to have the site better organized before too long, sorting all my articles into clear categories, as I know some people follow my work with more interest in one category or another.
Thanks for following along, and keep on doing all you can do, my dear friends, to make this world a better place!