Uruguay & San Ignacio
Dec 12, 2005
|As you have probably guessed from the title we have arrived in Uruguay, the home of the first ever world cup, and as we only spent four days there (two of which were in Montevideo) this should be short entry you'll be pleased to hear (unless Heidi gets carried away writing about the history of the place!).
Uruguay is the second smallest country in South America which probably accounts for why our trip only has three nights there, in Montevideo the country's capital, and in Salto. Shaun and I decided that we also wanted to also see the Portuguese founded town of Colonia del Sacramento, so instead of leaving BA with the truck on Sunday, we jumped on a ferry across the horrid brown waters of the River Plate. This was a fairly uneventful 3 hour trip in which we slept most of the way.
Colonia was founded in 1680 by the Portuguese in order to smuggle goods across to BA. It remained Portuguese until the Spanish captured it in 1762 (Uruguay by the way is a Spanish speaking country). The old town has cobble-stoned streets - so cobbled in fact that walking is difficult in places. It is on a small peninsula and many of the old buildings are well kept (well it is a UNESCO world heritage site!). The old town was pretty quiet on Sunday but there were many small restaurants open. After an hours' wandering through the town looking at the old buildings (the towns oldest building was the Iglesia Matrix, a church dating from 1680), we decided to sample a local parilla (see photo). Here you get given a small grill on the table where all sorts of meat is placed - and I mean all sorts. One of the pieces of meat we could not work out and it tasted like a farmyard. However we also tried morcilla which is a blood sausage made with cinnamin - very nice.
We then got on a bus that afternoon heading down to Montevideo to meet up with the truck again (which we actually passed on the way down). The drive was through the flattish countryside that was well stocked with animals for their parillas!
Montevideo was formed by the Spanish in attempt to try and halt the growing population of the Portuguese in the country. It is a pretty small capital with only 1.3 million people and has a large port on the River Plata. In the old part of the town (Ciudad Vieja) there are many old classical styled buildings still standing. These were built in the days when beef and wool production were high (early 19th century). The country in these times depended on these exports and was actually quite rich. However a bad bout of foot and mouth put an end to that and the markets collapsed, probably accounting for the large number of cheaply constructed buildings in the newer areas of the city. There are some pretty ugly building dispersed between some lovely older ones which seemed to be a common theme (but we think that in about 10 years time it will be a lovely city to visit as money seems to be pumping into the capital).
We spent one day wandering round the older part of the city as well as down to the port area where many people were fishing in the murky waters. One of the first things we noticed were the mate drinkers. Mate is basically a type of tea which is put in a small round cup that has a straw in it. Hot water is placed in the cup and then people drink the tea through the straws. Mate drinking is huge over here and every second person is walking round with a thermos flask of hot water and their small round mate cups. Most people do it for social reasons rather than the bitter taste. It is also done in Argentina, however it was Uruguay that it seemed to be very popular.
For lunch we headed to the mercado del puerto which is a large iron structure built in 1868. It is filled with different parilla restaurants and the wafts of BBQ meat were amazing (see photo). Five of us decided to share a large parilla which started off quite well with some lovely beef and lamb as well as blood sausage again. However once we dug down underneath this we found some unusual looking suspect meat. We decided to be good and try it before we asked what it was - actually the trying consisted of very tiny bites. Basically they tasted of fat and farmyard again. When we asked what it was, we found we had been eating throat, stomach and intestines - nice! Needless to say these items of meat were left behind on the grill! We washed the meat down with four or five bottles of medio y medio, a Uruguayan drink which is basically sparkling wine mixed with still wine (see photo). This was actually quite tasty so we ended up drinking quite a few bottles of it. The waiter was a really friendly guy and laughed at us for not eating the throat and intestines. We gave him a big tip and then when we were getting up to leave he came along with a free bottle of medio y medio for us! So it was rude really not to sit down and finish it off. We were about to leave again when he came along with another one, but by this time we decided we had to leave to ensure we actually made it back to the hotel!
On Tuesday we had a day on the truck driving towards the town of Salto where we were supposed to stay. This area is famous for its hotsprings, however most of these are slightly out of the town. We stopped at one of the hotsprings just before the town and found a cheap hostel so decided to stay there for the night rather than going into Salto town. This turned out to be a good choice as soaking in the pools was a nice way to end the day. That evening we both tried another big Uruguayan dish called a chivito. This is basically a piece of steak topped with cheese and plenty of salads - very tasty!
We crossed the border back into Argentina the following day and headed north towards San Ignacio. The day was pretty hot and the further we headed north, the more humid and sticky it got. Our campsite that night was beside a large river on which Paraguay was on the other side. There was a small beach on the river and an area of water was fenced off for swimming in, to keep the piranhas out!
The following day we headed to the Jesuit ruins of San Ignacio (see photo). The Jesuits basically founded missions in Brazil in 1610 in order to civilise and educate the Guarani indians. This was done on a co-operative basis where families had plots of land and grew crops - mainly mate. The original mission in Brazil was attacked by Spanish slave traders (who wanted the indians as slaves), so they relocated to San Ignacio. The ruins we saw dated from 1696 and are the largest in the area (there were other smaller missions around). The missions were eventually expelled from Argentina in 1767 due to the threats they posed to the government (they had strong political strongholds). It was a stinking hot day wandering round the ruins so our attention spans lapsed somewhat however some of the old church buildings were lovely.
That afternoon we drove up to our campsite on the Argentine side of the Iguazu Falls....but thats another update.