Saturday, April 18, 2015

Urug-where?


I'm guessing the last time I gave much thought to the country of Uruguay was when I was studying for the South American countries and capitals test in Señor Powers' Spanish class in 4th grade.  

Which brings to mind the extent of my Spanish lessons for 5 years: "A, E, I, O, U. Me llamo Señor Powers, como te llamas tu?", "La Bamba", "Guantanamera", "Las Mañanitas", the pledge to the America flag... in spanish, but I'm pretty sure the class favorite was "Bistec! Bistec! Quiero, quiero, quiero el bistec! Oh no no no no el bistec! Los frijoles, la ensalada, las tortillas y el chile..."  Oh... what am I thinking? Of course the class favorite was Spanish Kickball (aka: kickball during Spanish class).  It's a wonder I ever got this far in my Spanish, but necessary to explain to understand how I've only gotten this far in my Spanish since I started learning it when I was 10.

Where was I? Oh, yes.

Uruguay. 

I had one week from the time Moms and Pops' South American Adventure came to an end in Buenos Aires and my flight left for Ecuador, also departing from Buenos Aires.  Not being a big "city girl" and feeling we had done a good job touring around BA the previous 4 days, I was looking for somewhere else to explore. My first thought was to head west to Córdoba or more north to Salta. It'd be a lot of travel and money for one week but I was about to pull the trigger on travel arrangements when I pulled out the map (always a good thing to do when planning travel).  And that's when I discovered that Buenos Aires was just an hour ferry ride from Uruguay. So I flipped to the relatively short chapter on Uruguay in my trusty Lonely Planet. A suggested itinerary indicated you could hit many highlights in a week.  Decision made! 

So I booked my ferry to depart the same evening as Moms and Pops.  I was already getting sad a few days before considering I'd be alone again after having constant companions for 2 weeks, and I knew it be a depressing evening in a hostel in Buenos Aires without them. After a tearful goodbye, I hopped into a cab for a rush hour ride to the boat terminal.  But tears were soon dried as a sympathetic taxi driver tried to lighten the mood. Turns out Miguel was from Bogotá, Colombia!  So it was fun to talk about his home as well as our shared interest in travel. And as I said a thankful goodbye to Miguel, I walked into the ferry office, when I met my first Uruguayo, Daniel.  He gave me some local food recommendations as well as a possible itinerary, a crash course in his country's politics and then an invite to the Peñarol soccer game on Saturday (which, sadly, didn't end up fitting into the itinerary).  

Moral of the story: Even when traveling alone, you are never alone!  I'm super thankful for these guys who helped turn a sad goodbye back into the unexpected journey I've come to expect. 

And then, suddenly I was back to hostel living: putting clean sheets on my bunk bed, chatting with new roommates about one another's itineraries and experiences and then connecting to the interwebs to catch up on what's going on back home. Admittedly, I'm usually the first one asleep in the room. I blame it on being "la viejita", the little old lady. But truth be told, being the first to sleep dates back to August 1999 and being the first one asleep on Third Center Olson at good ol' Taylor University. Some things never change. 

I shared breakfast the next morning with Annabelle. She is a lawyer from France who has also been bitten by the travel bug. We seemed to have lots in common in terms of style of travel and outlook on life. So it was nice to have a buddy to explore the quiet cobblestone streets of Colonia during the early morning hours. We snapped some photos before she headed on to her next destination. 





I wandered around town looking for a cafe to work on the previous blog when I stumbled upon Buen Suspiro, an unassuming wine and cheese bar that turned out to be number one on Trip Advisor. I enjoyed a quiet afternoon in the courtyard, catching up on journaling before going down to the river where I found a nice rock under the shade of the willow tree to take a nap. Again, it was a good time to reflect on God's goodness and thankfulness for his provision in my life. 







Back at the hostel I met my new roommate Els from the Netherlands. It was exciting to chat as she is a recent college grad and has one week under her belt of her 1 1/2 year long journey!  It was a fun reminder of the excitement of setting out on my own journey 19 months ago. 

The next day I took off in the morning on a 2 hour bus ride to Montevideo where I caught another 5 hour bus ride to Punta del Diablo, a chilled out beach town that my friend Daniel recommended but with the warning that once I arrive, I'll never want to leave. He was right. My reservation at the Hostal de la Viuda doubled from 2 nights to 4. 

I had the best welcome after a rather long day of travel and a somewhat unsettling arrival to a new town after dark and navigating the 10 minute walk on the dirt roads with yellow arrows to guide the way. Hostess Elle greeted me with the customary kiss on the cheek. When I inquired about food options, she said the hostel always has free pasta or rice available for travelers. It looked like pasta would be dinner, until I met Max and Erica from Seattle. They were just cooking up some freshly gathered mussels in a delicious sauce and offered to share them with me. Yes, please!  Basically, I decided this hostel was like a cool beach house some nice guy owned and invited all his coolest friends from around the world to stay... and then would serve you breakfast including homemade jam in the morning. Sweet!

The next morning I enjoyed some time in the hammocks with a long distance view of the ocean and then ventured down to the beach in the afternoon. I was definitely impressed... soft sand and clean beaches with only a handful of people in sight awaited. Punta del Diablo wins the award for nicest beaches of my trip although I've admittedly not spent too much time at the beach for this award to be that prestigious. But I was happy.



But the highlight of my time in PDD was the opportunity to catch up with my Patagonia Hostel fellow-volunteer Mèlo from France and her boyfriend Antoine!  We enjoyed wine, bread and cheese on the beach at sunset, some great food at Cero Stress, and a fun adventure at the national park Santa Teresa- complete with botanical gardens, a picnic lunch in a gazebo over the lake, a random zoo experience and a long walk back down Playa Grande to return to Punta del Diablo. It was fun to hear how the last few months of travel had treated us and how plans may or may not have changed for the future. And this is why I never say "goodbye" but just "see you later"!  










And another example of this, a few days after I arrived, Els showed up at the hostel in PDD as well!  Fun!! 

The beach was the perfect way to spend the last few days of my time truly alone on my journey, as the weeks ahead would all be travel with friends or family. 

I headed back to Montevideo for one afternoon of walking through the old town and then back up the boardwalk at sunset where Uruguayos were getting in some exercise or sharing their mate with one another. Which brings up the point, Uruguay definitely wins the award for consuming mate, herbal leaves packed into a gourd with hot water poured from a thermos and drank from a metal straw. It was more common that not to see the people walking down the street with their thermos under one arm and the gourd in the other hand. 

This day also happened to be my birthday. It could quite possibly be the most uneventful birthday I've ever had, but I think I could handle one day of lonesome travel considering all the other amazing days I've had in the previous year. But I did decide to treat myself to the top rated Francis Restaurante.  Sushi was on the menu and it did not disappoint!  





And I can truly say the same for my week long unexpected adventure in Uruguay.

Next stop... Ecuador!


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