Thursday, August 26, 2010

Montevideo, Uruguay

Once again, I have confirmed my belief that travel is my own personal best educational tool.

When you are traveling, things that you tried to learn in school naturally have their turn:
1. Planning and organization - the most basic skill students try to master 
2. Geography and map reading- unless you have a GPS
3. Weather - The decision between an umbrella or sunglasses 
4. Math - especially word problems regarding distance, time, and money
5. History- taking tours and visiting monuments and museums

I hated studying history in school, so names, dates, and events (basically everything about history) never stuck. When I was studing in Spain, my friend Becky and I took a trip to Vienna, Austria. For no particular reason why, we just chose a place on the European map and booked our plane tickets. We passed a very large, elegant yellow palace that stood apart from the modern architecture that surrounded it. Reading a sign, I exclaimed "So THIS is where the Hapsburg's live!" A textbook could never have captured my attention the way this larger-than-life historical structure did. That day was a turning point in my travel life. 

Montevideo shares some of the same significance. If a year ago I had been asked the location of Montevideo, I might have said a small town outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. Nope! It's the capital of Uruguay. I also wouldn't have known where to put Uruguay on an empty map of South America. But everything about it fell into place this winter vacation.

So from the favored Calafate we flew to Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay. We arrived at night, walked the streets with our massive backpacks and I made the mistake of asking a less than credible man selling hotdogs (se llama completos) how to get to our hostel. He responded, “walk up this street and to the plaza, then ask someone else.” I nodded my head with great thanks and appreciation for a few seconds until my mind could make the translation. Jerk. Montevideo is hard to describe. It has beautiful statues and bountiful fountains, old architecture aaaaaand palmtrees.  We decided that the cloudy skies and cold gusts of winter don’t do the city justice. Summertime must liven the vibe altogether. Lonely Planet directed us to an Arabian restaurant that didn’t exist (and must have never existed according to the reactions we got from local store owners). 

There was a small but eloquent museum for J Torres Garcia, an artist born in Montevideo. To broaden our cultural experiences, we visited the Estadio Centenario, the stadium which held the very first World Cup in 1930. I can thank Greg for this opportunity, because without him I would never have known it existed! Without a doubt the most excited thing about our trip to Montevideo was that we were able to attend  a city parade for the national futbol team as they arrived home from South Africa. Greg and I joined the crowd early and felt a little dismissive of the event. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize just how early we had joined. Four hours later, we could see the team hanging out of the windows and the roof of their tour bus as it creaked slowly down the main avenue toward the legislative building where a stage and a mass of hinchas were waiting. Watching the madness I realized that my lifetime wish to one day attend the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade was no longer necessary. From the night we arrived to the day we left, I slowly grew to appreciate this city that didn’t really seem to care what I thought in the first place. Montevideo “es lo que hay” as many would say. It is what it is and you can love it or leave it. For that reason, it has earned my respect very well and has it's place in my heart and mind - a place more valued than a textbook on my bookshelf. 


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