Montevideo the capital city of Uruguay is superficially a crumbling colonial city with a faltering economy but underneath this slightly grotty exterior there is a town with a rich history, chilled people and great food amongst other things.
Montevideo so called because 'monte, means hill in Spanish; 'VI, is the Roman numerals for 6; 'd' or 'de' is Spanish for from and the 'e' and 'o' are east and west. So when the city was established in 1726 by Czabala he saw 6 hills east to west. The other less interesting theories is that Czabala saw a hill 'Monte' and a forest 'vieo'. Mountainforest... not very imaginative. I was assured it had nothing to do with an English Sikh cricketer's YouTube channel.
Montvideo was founded by the Spanish to cement their power in the region. It started life as a fortress against Portuguese encroachment on the northern shore of the rio plata. It had an excellent trading position with a deep port and during its formative years it was fought over in many bloody battles. After independence from Spain gained by Artigas it was again fought over by Brazil and Argentina.
The reason there are no indigenous Uruguayans is that he invited them all to a banquet and massacred them all. They were called the Charrúa and today when the Spanish/European descended citizens of Uruguay are cheering on their football team, they chant for the spirit of the Charrúa who fought to the last against the superior arsenal of the conquistadors. Montevidean citizens came from the Canary Islands. In exchange for goods the canaries would send 10 families.
When I asked a local what made her proud to be Uruguayn she said their progressive President. You may have heard of him, ******80 years old, he has just legalised abortion, marajuana and gay marriage. He gives away 90% of his wage to charity and is a bit of a cool dude. They have free health service and education up until university. But she was most proud of their football history. Winning the inaugural World Cup 1930 (which England weren't in) and 1950. Luis Suarez is their hero and I have no doubt the cry baby Suarez will cost England in the World Cup. A stupid ref will see Suarez acrobatically dive when Cahill blinks at him, give a pen and we will lose 1-0.
Our stay was quite short in Montevideo. We got the boat across the the river plate, the widest river in the world and checked into a quality hostel ran by 2 Irish lads. I met a guy who was going to Brazil for the World Cup. After talking about England's chances for 30 minutes I found out he was a Millwall fan and we never spoke again. :)
So we stayed in the ciudad vieja where most of the old colonial buildings and interesting architecture were. Mostly designed by Italians, if it wasn't so grotty and their were less tramps you could be in Paris. I can imagine that if you were a rich family in the 1890's this would have been a beautiful city to live in.
We went on a walking tour, met some fun Irish girls, went to a traditional Indoor food market (designed by and Englishman so it looked like Paddington station) where there were huge fire pits cooking gut bustingly delicious meat of all varieties. I found myself drinking "medio y medio" a sparkling white wine drink with these girls, nattering and gossiping. I think I lost my man card for a couple of hours.. The night was spent hooking up with the rest of the hostel and drinking till the early hours.
Then we left for Colonial De Sacremento. We checked in to a cosy hostel within walking distance of the unesco old town with cobbled streets dating back to the 1600's. We ate the local cheese and drunk wine. We hired golf carts (the done thing) and pootled around town. After Laura tried her hardest to kill us both on a duel carriageway, playing chicken with a truck and confirming every woman driver joke, we chilled out ready for our partying in BA.
In summation Uruguay is an ageing actress. She used to be beautiful and desired by the whole world but now she looks a bit haggard with a tooth missing and a bit of a smell about her. But if you look into her eyes you can see a sparkle of vitality and passion.