And here we are, in Uruguay. Check the map, it’s right there, bordering Argentina to its west and Brazil to its north and east, with the Río de la Plata to the south and the Atlantic Ocean to the southeast.
It’s fairly easy to miss it. Uruguay is small compared to Argentina, Brazil or Chile. It’s home to fewer than 4 million people, which is about the population of your average Brazilian city, and most of them live in Montevideo, the capital. Quick test: can you name any other Uruguayan city? No? Don’t worry, neither could I before visiting Uruguay. I joked about it at the Terminal Tres Cruces, when we arrived from Argentina: “Hey, Feng, since we’re here, why don’t we ask for the bus schedule to… hmmm… Paysandú, Rivera, Tacuarembó and these other places I’ve never heard of?”
Sorry, Uruguay. Foreign tourists are more likely to buy a ticket to Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro than to Montevideo, and I only knew the capital’s name because for some reason, the French education system always picks it as the South American city example to explain the concept of time zones (no idea why, maybe it sounds funny?).
Uruguay is hard to get to. All the cities with non-stop flights to Montevideo are in South America, with the exemption of Madrid (the colonial connection?). Tickets aren’t cheap either. Those who travel to Uruguay from Buenos Aires take the boat across the Río de la Plata and usually stop in picturesque Colonia del Sacramento before backtracking to Argentina. Busing along the coast of Uruguay all the way to Brazil takes time and patience.
That said, Uruguay isn’t a hidden gem in South America. Both Argentinians and Brazilians have been beach-bumming in Punta Del Este and around for a long time. I can tell them apart—Argentinians carry their mate gourd everywhere with them while Brazilians wear Havaiana sandals. It’s even easier when they wear blue-and-white or green-and-yellow football jerseys.
It took me a bit of time to appreciate Uruguay because we always rushed through it, using the country as a land connection between Argentina and Brazil. But last year, I had a revelation—Uruguay is awesome. I didn’t want to leave Montevideo, I wanted to explore it further. Much like Santiago, it’s a city where you have to spend time to appreciate it. There aren’t any amazing natural wonders, no must-see attractions and you can’t even send a you-won’t-believe-where-I-am postcard because, well, it’s Uruguay and most people won’t know where it is.
So we’re back in Montevideo and I’m exploring it.
It’s as awesome as I suspected it would be.