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March 31, 2005


The bus ride to Montevideo was pleasant, for a bit in the beginning we were close to the coast with occasional views of waves crashing on empty shores. There wasn't a lot of civilization before the approach into the capital, which is much as I expected. The only thing I knew about Uruguay was from a NY Times Travel section article I had read which described a week-long horseback tour which included two days with eight hours each of riding along the coast and no signs of humanity. Sounds lovely, maybe one day I can return and try it, but this time I only had a few days in the capital, where I arrived soon after nightfall.

Since I spoke no Spanish and did not even bring a guide book for Uruguay (or Argentina for that matter) I decided to stay in a hostel. English is almost always easily used in hostels and there's always plenty of information available.

Red Hostel Red Hostel

I was soon checked in at the Red Hostel which is one of the most pleasant hostels I've ever stayed in. Bright spacious clean and airy rooms, very pleasant staff and free Internet (w00t!). Within minutes of checking in I was in a discussion on how to get to the futebol stadium and buy tickets for the Uruguay-Brasil World Cup preliminary that would be held in two days. A young Australian had just returned from there, so he described the procedure and the hostel staff person wrote down all the necessary Spanish I would need:

  • Name of stadium: Estadio Centenario
  • The less likely to get mugged section to ask for: Olympica
  • The Brasilian fan section: lado Brasilero
  • Tickets: entradas

Josh, the Australian, had also gotten the Olympica section ticket. Which was one of the sideline seats (as opposed to behind the goals, which was the dangerous sections I was told). There were numbered seats for a little more, but Josh had bought a general seating ticket for $150 pesos. Which was like five or six bucks.

Josh said there was a long line when he was just there and the staff person said it might sell out so I jumped in a taxi pronto and made my way to the stadium. Once there I saw several lines and couldn't tell the difference between them. I asked someone "Olympica?" and they pointed to one. When I got to the front I said "Uno entrada para Olympica" and the guy started getting a ticket, then I said "lado Brasilero" and he started scolding me in Spanish and pointing to the left. I figured I was in the wrong line but there were no other lines to the left. I decided to just get the 150 peso Olympica ticket he had and worry about it later.

So after purchasing the ticket I walk completely around the stadium, which was a little sketchy in some of the darker areas, but maybe I was just getting paranoid. I never found another set of ticket windows so decided to just head back to the hostel and worry about it later. If I had to, I'd sit with the Uruguayans (although I surely would not wear my Ronaldo shirt then).

Then next morning, I was in the lounge by the check-in area when a British guy named Neal came in and started asking about tickets. A different staff person was telling him that in order to sit in the Brasilian section you had to buy the most expensive tickets (390 pesos), since they always sequestered the opposing team into an upscale section that was better protected. I ended up sharing a cab with him back to the stadium and this time asked for the America section, lado Brasilero. With new tickets in hand I gave my old Olympica ticket to the staff to sell to whoever else came in wanting to go to the game (many of the hostel guests were in town for the game it seemed).

New and Old Fountain

The next two days are a bit of a blur now. Not really much went on I guess. I was mostly just biding time until the game. Montevideo has an old European feel with many of grand statues and mostly old intricately decorated stone buildings (along with the occasional glass and steel box thrown in of course). I did like the buildings a lot, but it gets old quickly. I really liked this satellite map on the floor of the Itendencia, one of the historical tourist attractions near the hostel. It helped my get my bearings on where things were in the city very well.

Montevideo Graffiti Montevideo Graffiti

As usual I looked for street art (graffiti, murals, bombing, etc) and the picking were pretty dismal. Mostly scrawled words which I couldn't translate and simple line drawings. Some OK stencils, and I did notice a lot of tagging from someone named "How". Finally I ran across an actual work of art, and it had an email address on it! When I got back to the hostel I sent an email asking if there were any more examples of decent street art in Montevideo.

Montevideo Graffiti Montevideo Graffiti

Pretty soon I got a reply saying "Actually I'm not in Montevideo, I live in Buenos Aires and only get to Montevideo occasionally." I excitedly replied that I would be going to Buenos Aires in a few days, and maybe we could meet and he could show me some stuff there? He replied back: "Sure." w00t! I was really looking forward to B.A. now! I've been documenting street art for a little while and had never actually met one of the artists. I love the idea of them using email tags on their work.

At the hostel I had set the desktop background on the three Internet terminals to my three favorite photos of Mie at Burning Man [1,2,3]. Whenever hanging out in the lounge I enjoyed watching people sit down to use the machine and then spend a minute or two staring at the desktop image trying to figure it out. I started doing this every time I went to an Internet cafe too.

Grill in the Mercado Publica Grill in the Mercado Publica

On game day I walked down to the Mercado del Puerto which is a touristy little part of the city near the docks at the northwest corner of the old town. The central attraction there is a large old warehouse with a number of open air grill restaurants inside. Each restaurant consists of a brick wood-fired grill stacked with meat (and some fish) surrounded by tables. I sat down at one and had a great grilled salmon. As I was enjoying that I noticed a grilled provolone cheese dish that looked delicious, but I was too stuffed to try it out. Next time.

In the evening Neal and I headed to the stadium and managed (after a number of unsuccessful attempts) to find the proper entrance-way for our section. Once we got to our row we realized there were people in our seats but decided to just take a couple of empty ones nearby and hope for the best. So we stood on our seats (like everyone else) and watched as the stadium cheered and jeered the players warming up on the field. Neal, being British, actually knows something about futebol so he pointed out the various famous players and explained some of the rules I was unclear about.

Uruguay vs Brasil Uruguay vs Brasil

Before the game started the Uruguayans in the Olympica section across from us unfurled a huge "Uruguay 1950" banner. Oooo, cold. It was referring to the year where the Uruguayans won the final World Cup match 2-1 against the favored Brasil who needed only to tie to win the tournament ...in Brasil. It is often referred to as Brasil's Worst National Disaster. There's a great chapter about it in this book. The Brasilian goalie who let the goal in never was forgiven.

The Brasilians around us took this in stride though, simply chanting "Uno, Dos, Tres, Quatro, Cinquo!" over and over again and punctuating each numeral with the appropriate hand gesture. It was much fun and I was looking forward to some ass-kicking from the Brasilian side as they were way ahead of Uruguay in the current standings. Once game time started though, it was obvious that the Uruguayans were not outclassed and in fact seemed to be doing quite well. I think it was early in the second half when they first scored. That didn't quiet down the Brasilian fans though (although we were a pretty small group compared to the Uruguayan fans. Maybe 2000 versus 42000). The Brasilians ended up scoring soon enough and the game ended as a 1-1 draw. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed the opportunity to see some of the top athletes in the world perform for about US$14, and we even had decent seats.

For Your Own Safety

At the end of the game though, as we tried to exit the stadium, Uruguayan cops in riot gear wouldn't let us out for thirty minutes. Apparently for our own safety. When they finally did start letting people out they made sure everyone had hidden away their pro-Brasil clothing and banners. I suppose things have happened in the past but we didn't have any problems outside of the stadium.

06:44 AM in Travel | Permalink


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hi! I'm from Montevideo. I'm glad you enjoyed those days here, but there are a lot of places you didn't visit!! if come back, contact me in my blog. have a nice trip!

Posted by: Federico | Sep 16, 2005 12:37:05 PM

Nice post! Seems you had a good time in Montevideo. Check out my uruguay blog http://fromuruguay.blogspot.com/

Posted by: gabo_uy | Oct 18, 2005 9:14:16 PM

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