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Friday, 01 March 2019

Uruguay: Cycling on the Other Side of the World

Written by Dale Fehringer
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It was on the third day of our cycling trip up the coast of Uruguay that it hit us: the countryside looks familiar. We woke that morning to fog – a dense gray mist that covered everything; including the lighthouse outside our hotel window, the large dark boulders that faced the waves of the Atlantic Ocean below, and the eucalyptuses forests that lined both sides of the road. It shrouded the countryside as we started our ride. Beneath the fog rolling green hills stretched as far as we could see, cattle grazed on pasture grass, and golden wheat fields waved in the breeze. On the other side of the roads, waves drenched the empty sand beaches. As we rolled along, we were struck by how similar this was to the coast of Oregon, or South Carolina, or Maine. But here we were, on the other side of the world.

 

Como No?


The people of Uruguay have an expression we learned shortly after arriving, which they use for a variety of occasions. When we hesitated while considering dessert, for example, our waiter asked, “Como no?” (why not?) We liked it as a cheerful way to rationalize trying everything, and now, after two enjoyable weeks in this very special country, if someone asks us whether we think they would enjoy traveling in Uruguay, we give them that answer: “Como no?”

 

Uruguay is a small country, about the size of Oklahoma, with a population of around three million people. It’s sandwiched between the much larger countries of Brazil and Argentina, which some locals said can be a little intimidating. But, in some ways, Uruguay is ahead of its larger neighbors. It was the first country in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage, the first country in the world to legalize marijuana, and it ranks first among its Latin American peers in democracy, peacefulness, lack of corruption, freedom of the press, and size of its middle class. Those characteristics, combined with a constitutional democratic government, free education, and one of the best public healthcare systems in the world make it a relatively comfortable place to live (and visit).


We knew little about Uruguay before we arrived. We had heard about Montevideo, the capital, which is a stopping port for cruise ships, and we had seen a television program about the Uruguayan Rivera, a stretch of white sand beaches along its east coast. We read in school about Uruguay’s cattle ranches (called estancias), operated by gauchos (cowboys). And we had a vague recollection of an airplane crash in the 1970s that stranded a rugby team from Uruguay in the Andes Mountains. But that was about it.


We were enticed by the 'newness' of it all, and by the opportunity to explore a small, progressive country in the Americas. We booked airfare, lodging, and guide services, and off we went. Our flight was direct from Atlanta to Buenos Aires, followed by a ferry ride to Montevideo.


Montevideo


Uruguay’s capitol won us over. While at first glance it seems an old-fashioned city, it is really a large, thriving, technologically-advanced metropolis with lots of history, culture, and a certain mystique. We spent two days touring the neighborhoods on bicycles, and the more we saw of Uruguay’s capital the more we liked it. With a population of around 1.3 million (nearly half the people of Uruguay), and a history of being fought over by the Spanish and Portuguese, there is a lot to take in. As we cruised the streets, we enjoyed hearing the history, and we took in the mixture of old with new, rich with poor, and cutting edge with traditional.

Uruguay 9

 

The people of Montevideo seem proud, and they talk about their accomplishments in art, music, and sports. And, as we discovered, they have reason to claim their barbeque (asado) is the best in Latin America. The streets are clean and generally in good repair, and most people seem content. Nearly everyone has a cell phone, and most have cable or satellite television. There is an extensive and well-used public transportation system, and the streets are filled with relatively-new cars during rush hour, but we also saw horse-drawn wagons picking up recycle plastic bottles for money.

Uruguay 2

In Montevideo we visited the “Andes Museum,” which tells the remarkable story of the 1972 plane crash that killed most of the members of a Uruguayan rugby team and stranded the 16 survivors for ten weeks in the freezing snow-packed mountains. (Their story was made famous in the book and movie titled "Alive.")

 

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Last modified on Thursday, 28 February 2019

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