First, a few facts. (If you are among the cognoscenti, you can skip the next paragraphs.)
Uruguay is in South America. It is on the Atlantic Ocean south of Brazil and North of Argentina. It is not connected to Paraguay, which lies North of Uruguay with a big piece of Argentina in between. Uruguay is about the size of Washington State, and a bit smaller than England and Scotland combined. It has a population of approximatelly 3.5 million, which is a bit smaller than Costa Rica. More than two thirds of the people live in Montevideo and the Atlantic littoral. The rest are thinly scattered through the rest of the country, which is largely agricultural.
The language here is Spanish, but with Portuguese and Italian influences. Both here and in Buenos Aires, Argentina (130 miles up the Rio de la Plata) they pronounce the Spanish double L, “ll” as “sh” — they do the same with the “y” when it is a consonant. For example, the word “I — Yo” would be pronounced “show” and the word “key — llave” is pronounced “shah-vay”. One interesting fact: Uruguay has the second greatest reserves of water, per capita, in the world, after Canada.
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After living in the West Indies, former Yugoslavia and Costa Rica, Uruguay seems normal. Montevideo is a city of about 1.5 million people. It is a combination of old and new, rather like Florida’s St. Augustine.
It is at the same relative latitude as the North Carolina Capes – the climate is perfect for me.
On average it goes below freezing about 2.5 days/year and above 90F/32C only 6 days per year. As we all know, the Good Lord did not intend fat men in wheelchairs to live where it is hot!
The entire city of Montevideo is bordered on the south by beautiful wide white beaches.The water colour and waves remind me more of the Gulf of Mexico, than the Atlantic. Officially, the beaches are on the Rio de la Plata, or River of Silver, but don’t be fooled, the River here is more than 65 miles across – more like Delaware Bay than a river – and widens to officially transform into the Atlantic not too many miles from here.
The two dogs and I landed at Carrasco International Airport in Montevideo, at 1pm (10am Miami time) after an 8.5 hour nonstop flight from Miami. As I understand it, almost all flights between this part of South America and the US start at night and arrive in the morning, going both directions.
For those who can sleep on planes it is great. I did.
The airport was pretty modern, but with few bridges directly to planes.
There was a mobile stairway for our plane. However, since there were people on the plane in wheelchairs, they brought up a special truck with a room on a scissors lift. It was raised to the airplane door opposite the stairway, we rolled onto it, the room lowered, the truck drove us to the terminal, and we were deposited at ground level via a special lift on the truck.
I was impressed! I was even more impressed when they had a big brawny man get behind my wheelchair and take me through immigration, baggage claim, customs and to a waiting van Copperhead, my business partner, had arranged for me. Usually they assign a 90 pound woman wo can’t push the chair without me in it, much less the half-ton load I add. Immigration didn’t ask me any questions, but did welcome me to Uruguay. The veterinary official looked at the dogs’ health papers and cleared them both in less than a minute. Customs opened one bag – with my desktop computer – and then waved me through. All of that was accomplished within 45 minutes of the plane touching down.
Contrary to my impressions from afar, a high percentage of people speak some English. Between their English and my limited Spanish, we do pretty well. If it gets intricate, Copperhead comes to the rescue. If he is not available, I break out my PDA with its Spanish-English dictionary and work my way through it.
Copperhead had two vans organized. One took Lucy the German Shepherd to a veterinarian for a few days, and the other took me, Harry, Copperhead and 5 big suitcases to the Pablo Figari Best Western Hotel on the beach in Carrasco. The trip only took 15 minutes, but it gave me my first view of Montevideo’s wide, wellkept and tree lined streets.
The hotel room was $70/night including breakfast. The room was small, in the European style, but was well appointed and the bathroom was of a goodly size. A huge “Milanesa”, a steak breaded and covered with ham and cheese, was under U$S4.00 from room service.
Comment on currency symbols: Uruguayans use the $ sign for their Uruguayan Pesos (UYU), which are about 24 to the US Dollar. Consequently, when you see $ on UY websites, it means Pesos, not Dollars. Dollars are usually denominated as U$S. Argentina is similar, but the exchange rate there is 3 Argentine Pesos per U$S1.
Buenos Aires in neighbouring in next door Argentina is a big city with about 13 million people in the metropolitan area. It is 45 minutes by commuter plane, or 3 hours by fast Ferry, the Buquebus, from Montevideo. As far as I can tell, the relationship between Buenos Aires and Montevideo is roughly similar to that of New York City and New Jersey, respectively.
After 4 nights in the hotel, we moved into the new house only two blocks away and just across the road from the beach.
Excerpted from “Montevideo, Uruguay: Diary of an Ex-Pat” in Escape From America Magazine, Issue 83.
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