Arriving in the capital Montevideo we're quickly reminded that we hadn't been in a big city for a while, with footpaths crowded with people displaying purpose in their step. We had booked a hotel that we found online as the rates were considerably cheaper than a double room in a hostel. It was not so conveniently situated 3km from the bus station which made for a nice walk with our luggage, but it was located in the Centro area and close to the Ciudad Vieja, the old part of town.
We had arrived in the late afternoon, and after dumping our bags at the hotel, we made our way to Mercado de la Abundancia which had artesian shops, restaurants and a tango school inside. We hoped to find dinner there, but the restaurants were out of our price range and there wasn't much happening being well before the 10pm dinner hour, so we continued through the streets searching for a place to eat. Whatever we had can't have been memorable, as now neither of us can remember what we had!
In the morning we set of to explore Montevideo. The first place we wanted to look at was the Museo de Gaucho, but we couldn't find it so we proceeded to the Museo Andes 1972. Despite being $10 US each, this was a really interesting place to visit. It tells the story of a plane carrying among its passengers a Uruguayan rugby team, that crashed in the Andes in 1972.
Those that have seen the movie "Alive" (or read the book) should know the story. The plane hit the tops of a mountain in the Andes after taking a wrong turn. It broke into 2 main sections, and came to rest in the freezing, snow covered "Valley of Tears". There were a number of survivors, several of who managed to survive for 70 odd days in temperatures of roughly -25 degrees.
We began with a bit of a tour and explanation of the museum from the owner, who is extremely passionate about the story. We were then left to wander ourselves and look at artefacts that were collected from the crash site such as parts of the plane, the "machine" used to melt snow into water and articles of clothing, as well as read about the ordeal.
The museum included a day by day account from the crash to the rescue, including how the survivors made expeditions to attempt to determine their location, the expedition that lead to the discovery of the tail of the plane which contained valuable items such as clothing in the passenger luggage, batteries and the air-conditioner insulation which was used to make a sleeping bag, an avalanche that killed a further 8 of the group, and the final expedition made by 2 of the passengers over about 10 days which lead to the final rescue after they encountered a cattle farmer.
We checked out Plaza Independencia, which exhibits a huge statue of the national hero, General Artigas, and underneath, the Mausoleo del General Artigas guarded by men standing motionless and wearing pom poms. We were too scared to take photos or it, for fear of them coming to life and insisted that photos aren't allowed!
We then ventured into the Ciudad Vieja, the old part of town, and walked around the point, not really encountering much of interest along the way. At the port, we visited the Mercado del Puerto, a touristy spot which was firing up for lunch when we arrived. Smoke from the Parilla restaurants starting up their fires and grills spilled into the street. The idea of stopping here for lunch seemed inviting, though again the prices didn't suit our budget. While there however, we did run into a guy that we had met at our Spanish school in Santiago. He had been in Montevideo a month, and had started dating his Spanish teacher there, so thought he might stay a while.
An underwhelming pasta lunch that better suited our budget at least filled our bellies for a while. We attempted to find another Museo that we had read was free and quite interesting, called Museo Romantico. We searched the streets without much luck, and after consulting a city worker we discovered this Museum was only open in Summer.
Near Plaza Fabini, we came across a bunch of geriatrics sitting around with music blaring, while a few of them formed couples and danced the Tango. It possibly wasn't the best Tango display going, but was fun to watch for a while until it looked like we might get dragged into it so we made a swift exit.
Back around the area of the Gaucho museum, we had another search and eventually found the sign, but of course as museums tend to be when we are around, it was closed.
After escaping the cold for a while in the hotel then sharing a calzone for dinner, we had a quiet night in (as usual), before waking in the morning for our next destination.
We are starting to think we should spend less time in cities and more time in smaller towns.