Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Back in Buenos Aires and final thoughts on Uruguay

(*Note: I am under the gun to publish this by midnight and promise to post photos here and to Picasa tomorrow. Really, truly! Complete with interesting captions!)

I arrived safely back in Capital Federal today. My very friendly 70-year-old cab driver expressed relief that I did not want to go into the center, explaining that due to yet another subte (metro) strike and various protests, it was taking about an hour to go just a few blocks. "Yep," I thought, "I'm back all right." Then we had an amiable conversation about how Argentina's education system needs to improve if the politics are ever going to change. Amen, brother! An educated people is a dangerous one for corrupt politicians. I wonder why the education systems in so many countries with a history of corrupt politics doesn't improve...?

Anyway, my trip to Uruguay was overall very good, very relaxing, and a nice change of pace for a few days. After Punta del Este I was half convinced I could live in Uruguay happily for ever and ever, but Montevideo was a bit of a letdown, largely due to the dominance of rundown 1960s and 70s architecture. Even the historic part of town is filled with these depressing structures, with old-style buildings of character only dotting the landscape.

One thing I will give downtown Montevideo is its abundance of plazas. Within a 10 minute walk you can get to 5 different plazas right in the center of town. Also, during my cab ride to the airport today I was able to observe that their beaches are shockingly nice and sandy and the water surprisingly blue for being so near a city.

U.S. and Uruguay: Kindred Spirits?

I rarely consider myself a 'comparer,' i.e. someone who MUST compare everything to something familiar in order classify and compartmentalize one's experiences without giving anything the benefit of being unique, but I couldn't help but notice some interesting similarities between the U.S. and Uruguay.

First, people in Uruguay are really nice. Really, really nice. Too nice, according to Sol. And, this extends to customer service. Argentina has a lot going for it but customer service is not generally one of those things. And even people on the streets are friendly. People smiled at me without me smiling first. And, although it probably gave my mom a heart attack thinking about me hitchhiking, Uruguay seems like the safest place around, largely due to its relatively booming economy and the general attitude of the inhabitants, i.e. "We're so sweet it gives you a toothache!" kind of nice. (Mom I swear I never hitchhike when alone.)

Second, things are bigger here. Namely, cars and people. I saw some pretty huge cars, which you don't see elsewhere in the Southern Cone, and I also saw some really fat people. I'm not talking a little bit overweight; I'm talking really, truly, Biggest Loser-esque large. I don't think I've ever seen such obesity in Chile or Argentina, though they seemed to have similar diets. (Special note to any Chilean residers, specifically Valparaiso: Uruguay has its own version of chorrillana! Looking at those pictures makes me sick to my stomach, not to mention thinking about how many of them I ate while there... Anyway, it's called revuelto gramajo. I saw someone eating it and couldn't help but laugh.)

Also in the vein of bigger (I'm not sure if this applies everywhere or just to Montevideo), on my way to the airport we passed suburbia. Miles of miles of new, beautiful, huge waterfront properties and behind them block after block of equally lovely homes without any sort of commerical activity. Suburban sprawl is a rareity anywhere outside the U.S. as far as I'm aware, but Montevideo seems to have latched on to this wholly unsustainable concept.

Finally, Uruguay is currently engaged in a fierce anti-tobacco campaign. While Argentina has a 'live and let live (or die from lung cancer, whatever)' policy, Uruguay and its inhabitants are out in full force with a strong campaign against smoking. I saw ads on TV and in newspapers, stickers adhered to every possible surface, and no fewer than 3 stands within a 10-block radius surrounded by groups of 3-5 people handing out information about the dangers of smoking and providing resource options to those who want to quit. Also, smoking in most public places has been officially made illegal, including in taxi cabs. Uruguay, you could do without the suburbs but I salute your anti-smoking efforts!

In general I'm happy to live here and not there, though I'm also happy that it's just a short flight or ferry ride away when I want to spend a relaxing and friendly few days outside Capital Federal (and when I need to renew my visa, of course).


Desomniac said...

"I wonder why the education systems in so many countries with a history of corrupt politics doesn't improve...?" It's simple. The ones in power are educated enough to know they can't let that happen. And the oppressed go on being oppressed because they don't know anything else. However, there is some hope. With the proliferation of the internet you also have the vast proliferation of knowledge. Anyone willing to learn can (they just need to be a little careful what they believe). Now if we can just get the internet to everyone.

ElizaBeth said...

Thanks for that, Desomniac. I was being a bit tongue-in-cheek with my comment but I'll always take a hopeful message when I can get it!

Sara said...

Hey! I loved Montevideo. It was so cute and sleepy compared to BsAs. I don't think I could live there, but the long weekend I spent was perfect. And you are right. The people were really firendly. At first, I didn't know what to think. I thought they were all out to get me.

Only one bad thing happened where due to my idiocy I misunderstood a lady and the exchange rate and paid like 20 dollars for batteries. I'm over it. They were really, really good batteries.

ElizaBeth said...

Sara, that's hilarious! I had just one "bad" thing happen too, after my afternoon of drinking I found these street artisans I really liked and one necklace was 250 uruguayan pesos and another was 300. They said they could swap the pendant and the chain to make one perfect necklace but then once they found out I was from the U.S. the price magically became 350, then 400. I think they realized I was in a good mood/drunk/stupid so took advantage. But, whatever, it's a cool necklace and was still only U.S. $20.