“Sorry, can’t hear you.”
We are walking in the street in Montevideo, and we can barely hear each other as cars are speeding by. After sedate Colonia, Uruguay’s capital is a bit of a shock. It’s loud, mostly because of the traffic. Don’t cars have mufflers here?
Feng always says I’m very quiet. He isn’t, and neither is his family—the Chinese are a loud bunch. I used to think their parents were arguing, but in fact, they were just talking about mundane details such as “rice or noodle for dinner?”, shouting at each other. Doors are slammed on a regular basis and they don’t master the fine art of whispering. On the other side, I’m known to sneak in so quietly that people don’t even realize I stepped in or out.
Latinos are fairly loud too, in a pleasant and lively way. But it’s still annoying that cars are so loud here. I like chatting when walking around the city with Feng and Mark. On the plus side, I can pretend I didn’t hear Mark who still thinks any old building—bank, offices, nightclub, etc.—is a church that he simply must visit. “Church go? Oh no, church closed. Church closed.”
Montevideo is a strange mix of fairly new buildings (“new” as in the 1980s and 1990s) and old run-down structures with air-con units hanging precariously on window edges and dripping on pedestrians below. I wouldn’t say it’s a pretty city—not conventionally pretty anyway—but it does have some charm because the architecture is original and it has some great murals.
The commercial center is along 18 de Julio, named after the date the first Constitution of Uruguay was written (in Argentina there is always a “9 de Julio” street, July is a popular month for political events). The other main avenue is the several-kilometer-long Rambla that goes all along the coastline. It’s scenic and it feels a bit like Copacabana, although the mosaic sidewalk isn’t as pretty, the beaches are smaller and girls don’t walk around half-naked.
On the other side, people must have great hair here (I can’t tell, but…). There is an amazing number of hair salons in downtown Montevideo. Seriously, there are like two or three on every block, catering to both men and women. Services are cheap too by Canadian standards—but I already got my hair cut in Buenos Aires.
Compared to Argentina and considering Montevideo is a capital city, there are fewer foreign brands (fast-food joints, clothing, etc.) and less advertising than in Argentina. I guess the market is much smaller too, with a population of 3.3 million. However, the Internet is faster and more reliable, and it’s easier to get change (in Argentina, it’s very very hard to break a bill, and forget about coins… people hoard them!)
We haven’t met any travellers from North America, Europe or Asia since Buenos Aires (which was more international) but for a Russian couple in Colonia; the bulk of tourists are from Brazil, just next door. “Oh, cool, you speak Portuguese!” I noted, this morning, hearing the receptionist at the hotel picking up the phone while writing my receipt. She shrugged. “Nah, I just know a couple of words… I just speak Spanish with a Portuguese accent and they seem to understand.” I found it hilarious, even though I know exactly what she meant—I did the same both times we were in Brazil!