Bags packed the two ninja turtles assembled their shells onto their backs and were set for part two of their adventure. We savoured our last contact with a clean apartment and most importantly a real toilet seat, who knew the next time we would be blessed with one again. George insisted he bring his pasta to Uruguay and proceeded to tip the leftovers into a bin bag in an attempt to smuggle it across the border. I would usually welcome travel snacks, but having been strongly warned that food is an A-list prohibited possession, weighing up the idea of imprisonment over penne and tomatoes, I encouraged George to reluctantly leave it behind. We said farewell to the kind hotel staff, but were eager to have some time away from one American's constant efforts of impersonating James Dean.
Sat in the ferry boarding lounge we noticed in the distance that darkness was looming. Sea demons cackled and tears began to fall from the heavens. "Sir, you may encounter some slight movement on your journey" winked the ticket man who pointed to our lone vessel. On board pandemonium erupted with bodies everywhere flocking to their knees. We questioned the benefits, if any, that the locals gained from hurling themselves forward towards the height of the water's motion. Seemingly they were as loco as we thought and as stewards grabbed each passenger and pulled them back, within seconds like dominos the sickness began. George closed his eyes and plugged in his music separating himself from the chaos. As I focused on the desperate humming of the man behind me, I prayed, every little thing was going to be all right. To make matters worse, looking through the window we saw our opposition overtake us, gliding through the waves was the £20 more expensive 'Buquebus'. I envisaged business men smoking cigars and drinking cognac, ladies of leisure bronzing themselves on top deck, all mocking and pitying our pathetic attempt to cross the water. With George turning the colour of radioactive waste we both agreed some experiences are worth paying an extra dollar for.
Our next transportation, a comfortable recliner coach allowed us to relax and settle our stomachs. Beautiful countryside sped by, rich with cattle and watered by the rain; had we arrived back in England? Uruguay seemed a perfect transition from the fast pace and intensity of Buenos Aires and we allowed the calmness and tranquility to seep through our bodies. We pulled into the bus terminal, first impressions of Montevideo: morose and lifeless, but we were willing to give it a chance. Utilising our first Uruguayan taxi, we instantly noticed the glass panel that sat between us and the driver. Alarm bells began to ring, was this a reflection of the city's safety requirements? We were welcomed into the 'Urban Oriental Hotel' and were shocked how our cheap deal had earned us such luxury. Unfortunately we were directed to the 'Urban (not so oriental) Express' down the road, and closing our squeaky and somewhat stubborn door we were relieved to have arrived in one piece.
The word 'magnolia' not only describes the colour of our hotel room but also encapsulates it in a succinct and comprehensive manner. The walls? Boring. The bed? Boring. The view from the window? Let's not go there. But we weren't here for luxury, we were here for the experience, right? After a brief consultation with our South American Handbook we found a promising restaurant in its pages, good food with a cheap menú del dia. The prospect was tantalising and with our stomachs slowly rearing their seasick heads we were ready to take on some Uruguayan sustenance. The meal was good value and had a very sophisticated atmosphere but was juxtaposed against the scene of dodgy locals escorting their clientele back and forth. The performance was somewhat nerve wracking as we realised we would soon have to pay and exit the fragile haven of our glass window. Being safe travellers we asked the manager to call us a taxi in order to avoid any collateral damage from the locals antics and quickly made it back to our magnolia bed, maybe boring's not so bad.
We woke in the morning at 09:45 feeling proud of our acclimatisation, this pride was not to last however as we realised there was only 15 minutes left of breakfast. Having visions of a few scraps of neglected bread remaining we pulled on whatever clothes we could and rushed down, I never realised how dashing I looked in white socks and flip flops. The scene that greeted us left us perplexed, 09:50 and still platters brimmed with continental chow. We warily made our way over to the food, were we the only ones here? Was it poisonous? Both seemed like valid rationale for this bizarre scenario. Our answer came at 09:55 when the entire Uruguayan population of the hotel arrived in their hordes to gorge themselves in the 5 minutes they had remaining. Carnage ensued as little cups of juice soon became coveted treasure whilst old ladies duelled with tea spoons for rights of the toaster. Sat in a hidden corner we laughed as we sipped our smoothies, only to find we had picked up glasses of thick yoghurt, full fat no doubt.
With our breakfast digesting we decided to take a stroll through the old town of Montevideo. The weather matched our room and remained dreary throughout our time in Uruguay. We were not put off however and were determined to see the highly renowned Mercado del Puerto. Having already found the quickest way to our destination we set off at a brisk pace, not taking into consideration that a map cannot show you what the roads may look like. We made a left from our hotel and soon found ourselves in the middle of the Montevideo's 'picturesque' shipping docks. Men stood, blackened with pollution, chatting amongst themselves. The grinding of gears provided our soundtrack whilst petrol and smoke wafted in the breeze. We quickened our pace and made it to the sanctuary of the Mercado, it was exactly how the reviews had described. The hectic bustle of the outside world melted away as we ventured into a place suspended in time. The open fires of the asado's roared as meat sizzled and spat, detesting its demise. Open bars opposed the infernos with suave couples enjoying the traditional tipple of 'medio y medio' whilst feasting on entire racks of ribs.
Like mosquitos to a light we were drawn in with the promise of sweet smelling wine and salted meat. Our Union Jacks flourished as we perused the market place, every breath singing Jerusalem - the gringo's had arrived. Peso signs flashed in the eyes of the restaurant frontmen, 'For you, Sir...' 'Come this way, Madam...' 'Please see the special...'. We weren't stupid, we knew from the advice of previous generations, never take the first offer. After nearly completing a full circuit of the fiery gauntlet we were confronted with the vice of any Englishman - free booze. The medio y medio (half white wine, half sparkling white wine) glinted in the firelight. Bubbles slid to the surface, bursting in an elegant eruption of fragrance and flavour. We savoured the refreshments for all of 2 seconds as we quickly sunk the offerings, was there more of this stuff and where can we get it? 'Please follow me, Sir...'
Not yet savvy with portions or exchange rates we ordered what we thought may have been enough to sustain us through the day. When our food arrived we were unsure as to whether the cultural barriers had benefited the consumers or the vendor. Platters descended upon our bar mats and a litre of our new acquaintance, medio y medio, made a much welcome appearance. Linguistic challenges dissolved as the lightly sparkling wine loosened our Spanish tongues, even provoking a laugh from our bartender/waiter - more directed at our inability to produce a coherent Spanish sentence than our intended humour. Still, smiles speak a universal language and we left with two of the biggest as we discovered we hadn't been swindled a second time for the food. We raced through the city with my scouting navigational system and returned to the hotel. The time? 4pm, time for a nap...
I squinted into the darkness, my head bound to the pillow by sweat and saliva. My stomach grumbled, it must be time for dinner. I shook George but as per usual with his afternoon naps he was dead to the world, so instead I hunted for any device that displayed the time. Predicting it was roughly 20:00pm I was horrified when I saw my iPad light up, 04.55am!! Ah! Now even with the laissez-faire South American attitude to evening soirées, turning up and expecting cooked grub close to the crack of dawn is impossible. Apart from the few party goers, the city would be bare, with business resuming no earlier than tomorrow's lunchtime. Instead I settled on devouring half a pack of Oreos, not quite the dinner I was hoping for but on the plus side a cheap one. Somehow I was still exhausted and so enjoyed the idea of a few hours more sleep until tomorrow morning, let's be honest, it's good to have a rest!
To this day I am still not entirely sure what hidden ingredients complete Medio y Medio but I can safely say sinking a bottle of it with your lunch knocks you for six. We groggily dragged ourselves down to breakfast at 07:30am, fully aware we would have the luxury of it all to ourselves for a good two hours. Like creatures of habit we targeted our table and robotically collected our usual five course spread. The weather outside had won the battle over my optimism and contrary to the never reliable forecast it was worsening hour by hour. We were both thinking the same, but as salt poured into our wounds it was hard to admit defeat. I approached the topic with haste, and whispered "Do you think we should change our plans tomorrow?" George looked at me hurt and disappointed, I mirrored these emotions but we had to be realistic.
Let's skip back to England. We had both discovered a tiny fisherman's town called 'Cabo Polonio' that doubled as a hippie backpacker's best kept secret. The beach was only accessible via 4x4 trucks that transported you over 7km of sand dunes before you reached your idyllic destination. We knew it was low season and that had only strengthened our desire to go. With no electricity, and only two small beach hostels open, it was a perfect escape from civilisation. Overwhelmed by the pressures of working with often difficult clientele, we wanted an escape and booked immediately, 9 days in total. Yet, bringing ourselves back to the present, we questioned our choices. We had been satisfied with the predicted 18 degrees, in England Tesco turns vegetarian and t-total, as meat and lager aisles get obliterated, its practically the height of summer. But in Uruguay 18 degrees was another story altogether. For example outside a game of stuck in the mud had began, people froze catatonically to the spot, in any tactical position that avoided being dragged by the wind. We knew no other fools would be waiting in these conditions for the trucks, we knew no trucks would arrive for any waiting fools. So, like true travellers we appreciated flexibility and at random selected a point on the map on route to Puerto iguazu. Our dart landed on 'Rosario' and looking at Google Images and the weather forecast we were more than satisfied with our selection.
We set off to the station and selected our seats for the following day's departure. This took up a large majority of our day and we headed back to the guide book to select the evenings meal. Having been spoilt by copious digestions of red meat we decided to opt for another cuisine, an atmospheric Spanish and basque house. Once entering the restaurant I pictured a favourite Kevin Bridges' comedy sketch, and fired my best Spanish at the waitress. "Una Mesa, para dos, por favour" and feeling smug pointed to the table by the window. The waitress rolled her eyes and asked in perfect English "you want a table for two?". It was becoming tedious, our attempts at improving our Spanish was often shot down by the locals ability to speak our language. Like a tug of war we both fought for the opportunity to practice our foreign tongue. Still being first hand gringos our feet never stuck hard enough into the mud and we almost always lost the battle. We tucked into our creamy, moreish sharing paella dish, complimented by a jug of refreshing sangria. Another beautiful meal and a nice end to our time in Uruguay. We had enjoyed our short stay and felt rejuvenated and charged for part three of our journey. Although we couldn't take the memory of sunshine with us, we could always savour the memory of the sweet taste of Medio y Medio.