Day 6- finally, a sunny day!! We started with perfect weather for exploring Colonia. It's a tiny, picturesque town on the coast of Uruguay that was historically fought over by the Spanish and Portuguese for its connectivity. We walked through its cobblestone streets, climbed the old lighthouse and nosed around in the boutique shops. It's a bit more touristy than the rest of Uruguay so wasn't my favourite place but still beautiful. We then walked along the coast accompanied by Jan (a German also staying at our hostel). It was a beautiful beach, only slightly ruined by all the dead fish we kept finding! Not sure how they ended up there, but there were loads. We stopped to have a drink at this tiny beach shack with an amazing view over the ocean- not a soul in sight. It was a great place to reflect on what a great start to our trip we've had and to look forward to all yet to come! And the cherry on top was we managed to find a Turkish restaurant that had falafel. My cup runneth over.
10 April 2017
We arrived at Almacen de la Capilla, the boutique vineyard we were visiting and were enthusiastically shown around by Diego the owner. I've never seen a more beautiful or charming vineyard. The bodega is beautifully designed as is the small factory and cellar. They only make 2000 bottles a year and everything is done by hand. Plus there is the cutest cabin on site for guests who want to stay there. We tasted 6 different wines (including a tannat which is only grown in Uruguay) and a grappamiel all accompanied by local cheeses, yummy bread and the best tomatoes I have ever eaten. Honestly, they have ruined all future tomatoes for me! We also met a lovely French girl who had just started an internship at the vineyard so it was a great conversation with Spanish, English and French all flying around but we managed to understand each other anyway. With Diego's generous pourings, Jen and I were quite tipsy by the end but nothing a coffee and a bracing 5km walk back for the bus couldn't cure.
Day 5- having arrived in Colonia last night, we planned to go Carmelo for wine tasting. The bus left promptly at 8am (Uruguayan buses are amazingly punctual) and arrived in Carmelo an hour later. And realised we had a problem. We had become so used to the free WiFi ubiquitous in Uruguay that we hadn't checked our route before arriving. And Carmelo is a beautiful but very sleepy town with no WiFi.I don't think they see many tourists here and certainly not English ones! Plus I was getting a caffeine withdrawal headache and as is not uncommon in Uruguay, there were NO coffee shops visible. We had a humourously disastrous attempt in a bakery where I asked for coffee and was given a sachet of instant for 2 pesos. But, with the help of some friendly locals, we found the Casa de la cultura where we were given a map, directions to the only restaurant in town with coffee and to our vineyard. It was 5km walk one way but we had beautiful scenery and played "spot the guard horse"- only in Uruguay!
9 April 2017
Day 4- Woke up at 6am having not had a great night's sleep as the other people in the hostel (sadly we were NOT the only ones by the time we returned last night) were quite noisy. Looked outside and saw grey clouds and rain ++ Not entirely unexpected but still a bummer. By the time Jen woke up and we breakfasted (as one does in Spanish!), it was still drizzling. So we decided to say goodbye to Minas early and head to Colonia- our logic being better to spend 6hrs on a bus on a rainy day rather than a sunny one(v British!) We had some time to kill though so walked to Minas hill to see the famous statue of Artigas on his horse. Turns out the hill is a mound at best but the statue is impressive. Jenny's reaction sums it up- "well its pretty bloody big, I'll give it that!"
Swung past the artisnal alfajores shop on the way back (Minas is famous for its alfajores) and only bought 14- we're not greedy or anything. Eduardo incredibly sweetly gave us a refund once we told him our plan- legend
8 April 2017
Once we clambered on the horses, the boys brought out the ones they were riding. Just as I said, "ah great we'll just wait for them to saddle up" they jumped on bareback. Yup, we were having an authentic Uruguayan gaucho experience! With our non-existent riding skills. The horses were great though- calm and knew exactly where to go. It was such a great experience, riding through the countryside and the boys were fun. We called them gauchos and they giggled, absolutely loving it! Best thing we've done in Uruguay so far!
After our ride, we went for a hike up the hill (obviously, because its not a holiday if hiking isn't involved!) The views from the top were amazing but the best bit was the family we met at the top! Friends all on holiday with their kids. Such friendly people! We got chatting and they asked us to walk down together with them. Jenny got to practice her Spanish and I surprised myself with how much I understood! What left but to have a glass of grappameil and unwind?
Wow- what an amazing day! Minas is lovely! Tiny little town (we walked from the bus stop to our hostel in under 2min) and met the owner- Eduardo, who is the nicest man. We're his only guests at the moment so he spent ages explaining all the things to do. We ate lunch in his beautiful garden and then rushed to catch a bus to Arequita as per his recommendation. It's an estancia near a beautiful rock-hill. We turn up and see a sign for horse riding (absolute bargain at under £3 for half an hr!) which we're both keen to do. There's only a shack so we walk up and a 10yr old boy comes out. We ask about the riding and he nods and disappears inside. We wait thinking he's gone to get the responsible adult in charge.Nope- he comes out with a 12yr old boy who we later find out is his cousin! They start saddling horses for us and Jenny and I look at each and shrug- what could go wrong? We asked them to come with us and they looked at us as if to say "duh, do you think I trust you with my horses?"
Day 3- after our second terrible hotel breakfast (although coffee was much better than yesterday!), we got the bus to the central terminal (Tres Cruces) to get the coach to Minas. Turns out Tres Cruces is actually a shopping mall with the terminal in the basement. We've never looked more out of place with our rucksacks, turtle-esque and twice as wide as everyone else. Make it downstairs and wow! Buying a bus ticket in Uruguay is certainly an experience. There is no central ticket office or counter. Instead, there are about 10 different companies, running their own services at their own times to various destinations. No one will tell you when the next bus overall is- they will only tell you when their company's next bus is. Eventually managed to get the right counter and set off on our way to Minas! On a bus with super comfy seats and WiFi so we obviously picked a good company.
7 April 2017
We went for dinner at this amazing, cute place called La Fonda- fairy lights, bare bricks, chalk board menu made from local ingredients. Me in a nutshell. I ate the BEST pasta I have ever eaten. Including Italy. So freaking delicious- handmade, fresh pasta with tomatoes, olives, capers and lots of herbs. Sublime. We were then too sleepy for anything else so hone and straight to bed!
Ay caramba! Literally meaning "oh crumbs, oh darn" or in British English "blimey"! New favourite phrase for sure.
We got back to our room and while trying to plan buses etc to Minas for the festival, Jenny suddenly said "what would you do if the festival had already happened". Which it had. Last week. To say that she was unimpressed is an understatement. And to top things off, I finally figured out "Cicalo" meant! The woman from the Carmelo vineyard kept using it in her messages and we couldn't find a meaning in the dictionary. The only offering on Google was "Portuguese beef stew". It was only while looking through Lonely Planet for alternatives to Minas that I saw- that's the name of the company that runs ferries from Carmelo to Tigre. Jenny and I haven't laughed so much all holiday.
Had a chilled start this morning with some terrible hotel breakfast- honestly the coffee was so horrific I couldn't finish a cup. Did some more planning for next few days and then headed out in search of decent coffee (mission partly successful) and entry to the presidential museum (mission unsuccessful) only to be told it wasn't opening till midday today. So we mooched around, went to the Tits shop, sent our postcards and bought some empanadas at the market- Napolitana and dulche de leche. The fillings were delicious but the pastry was way too thick. Finally managed to get to the museum- which we were only going to to see the bloody stuffed dog but it was so worth it. It was so much bigger than I expected and the best bit is the painting hanging just above the dog showing the assassination of the president! Lol . We went walked along the coastline for a good couple of hours (probably walked 10k) to the Montevideo city sign- actually completely worth the walk but we bused back.
8. The police ride around on Segways
9. Their army has so little to do that they're used as police and once to pick up the rubbish when the bin men went on strike
12. The previous president thought his dog was lucky and took it with him ever where. When the dog died, he stuffed and carried it every where. Forgot it one day and got stabbed to death.
13. Uruguay has no indigenous population so is very liberal and pro-immigration. Everyone is welcome.
14. Medio y medio- bizarre Uruguayan invention of half champagne, half white wine, super sweet but delicious!!
15. Wine is often cheaper than coke
16. Carnival lasts 3 months here and can be even longer- they add a day for every day that rains!
17. Dulche de leche is the fastest way to get diabetes but it is worth it. Especially in empanada and alfajores form
18. Any alcohol that's not wine or beer is whiskey
21. The two types of fish are tuna and pescado (all other fish that is not tuna)- they really just want you to eat beef
Facts about Uruguay-
1. 3 million people, 13 million cows- 4.3 cows per person. Turns out being veggie here is more taboo than being gay
2. They have a prison called "Liberty Prison" and plains called "Flat Hills"
3. They legalised abortion, gay marriage and marijuana- partly because they're progressive, partly because no one really cares and they are really not religious.
4. As they aren't religious, they don't tend to get married. However, women kicked up a fuss because they couldn't wear their fancy wedding dresses so now people have fake weddings and everyone picks their role out of a hat
5. The few weddings that do take place happen in the registry office. Which is next to a shop called "Tits"
6. They say wiki (whiskey) for photos (queso doesn't work!)
7. Mate and football are religion here. People have fights over the superiority of their mate (everyone is a connoisseur and most people make their own) but are always willing to share. The saying is "good mate guarantees friends"
6 April 2017
We snoozed for a bit and then headed to the theatre to watch a tango version of Othello- really interesting! Done in the round with just 2 dancers (other characters were filmed). Really brilliant dancing and the play lends itself so well to a tango. Then headed for dinner. We meant to go to a veggie place but it was closed so ended up in quite a fancy restaurant but the food was amazing and we drank a whole bottle of medio y medio (champagne and white wine). It's a Uruguayan special- sweet, slightly fizzy and absolutely delicious. Ate goats cheese with aubergine, vegtable tempura and peach and camembert- all scrummy and I can't wait to make them myself at home. By this point, the jet lag and alcohol well and tried kicked in and all we could see were our beds so we headed back.
I have been bitten about 10 times already on my arms and legs!! This is not a good sign of things to come...
6 attempts later, Jenny managed to get some US dollars (still no luck with pesos) and we rushed to buy some dodgy, overpriced coffee (THERE ARE NO COFFEE SHOPS!) and just made the start of the walking tour. Our guide was a hilarious guy called Valetino- hands down best tour guide I've ever had. He really made the culture come alive and was full of interesting stories and jokes. As an aside, he totally fancied Jenny!
The reason for the lack of coffee shops also became clear- everyone here drinks mate (tea made from dried herbs) The cup, steel straw and thermos (with obligatory football team logos) are ubiquitous in Uruguay. We also found out that pizza here is sold by the metre! Austin and Himaya's spiritual home I think!! Jen and I shared a half metre for lunch and wandered back through town, stopping to buy tickets for a theatre show (theatre only accepted pesos but we finally managed to withdraw some!! Turns out we we're trying to get out too much) and got to our hotel for a siesta.
We landed at 7.30am, having had a LONG journey to get here. I thought I was used to long plane rides now, having done the UK-Sydney flight three times, Sydney-San Francisco and NZ-UK in the last 8 months but I forget every time how much I hate flying. Isn't it funny- I love travelling but really hate flying or any form of the actual process involved in physically getting from one place to another. Anyway, I digress. We got here in the morning, and got a taxi straight to our hotel (excellent money well spent!). Luckily we were able to check in straight away and felt almost human again after a quick shower. By this time, it was 10am and we wanted to catch a walking tour starting at 11am- plenty of time! Or so we thought. Jenny and I figured we would get money out and grab some coffee pre-tour- sounds simple enough. However, we couldn't find a bank or ATM for about 20min and then were unable to withdraw money despite trying different cards and different banks!