Monday, May 31, 2010

Mateando


Last week Argentina celebrated 200 years of independence. Downtown the streets were closed off, and concerts were held right in the middle of the Argentina´s grandest boulevard, the 9 de Julio. Victor Heredia played a tribute to Mercedes Sosa, Argentina´s best known, recently deceased female folk singer, and though it´s not my country I felt very happy to be there, next to a pair of drunken toothless old men from the countryside waving Argentine flags, singing weepily at the top of their lungs. This country´s been through a lot-- the dictatorship, los desaparecidos, the economic crises-- and they don´t try to hide it, it´s part of the culture. There is always a bit of melancholy in the background.
Then Toto la Momposina played, which was just lovely on a completely different, more visceral level.
And then, because it was a 4-day weekend, we went to Uruguay.

Southern Uruguay is very much like Argentina, except that it´s calmer, and cleaner. And they drink even more mate than Argentines do. People walk down the streets drinking it, their thermoses full of hot water tucked under their arms. I´ve even seen people on bicycles pedaling down the street with no hands on the handlebars, one hand being occupied by the mate and the other by the thermos.


It´s a pretty great place to go for a long weekend, especially if your visa has run out and you have to leave the country (Argentina gives you unlimited 3-month tourist visas, provided you exit before the 3 months run out. Certain people, ahem, should have gotten their student visa taken care of a long time ago.) You might end up with a lady in immigrations that wants to screw you over for being American, even though she can´t because she didn´t take the time to calculate when your visa expires before trying to charge you 300 pesos, so she ends up just being able to be really rude to you. But then you take a 3-hour boat trip, and you sleep because the boats only leave from Tigre at 7:30 in the morning. And you land, half awake, on a beautiful beach, with this house:

It´s directly on the beach. All I really want from life is to be able to nap with those pillows next to the window.
Instead we walked around, drank a lot of mate, slept, and ate Uruguayan food, which I was pretty happy about, although as far as we could tell Uruguayan food is pretty similar to Argentine food. Pasta, meat, pizza. They do have the ubiquitous chivito, which at first we assumed was goat, because that´s what it is in Argentina. I asked the waiter what it was and he exclaimed, "Uruguayans always get in trouble when they go to Argentina and order a chivito, and they bring you the little bugger (the goat) out on a plate!" Chivitos uruguayos, we learned, are sandwiches with meat, a fried egg, lettuce, tomato, and various extras that you can choose to pile on-- mushrooms, olives, red pepper etc. and various sauces. Uruguayans also have a dessert called the Martin Fierro, named after a fictional gaucho from a poem by the Argentine poet José Hernández. I liked that.
To get to Uruguay, the most common method is to take the ferry from the port over to Colonia or Montevideo. We went the longer, cheaper route, which is to take a boat from Tigre over, in our case to Nueva Palmira, a very chill town. From Nueva Palmira you can take a 20 min. bus ride over to Carmelo, which is where we ended up sleeping, in a dusky (and very inexpensive) hotel on the main street.
Tuesday night we came back on a very full boat. I couldn´t tell what criteria they were using to decide how many people to let on, as when we got on there were already no seats left, and they kept sending people, but precisely: I´m sending a group of five down! And another couple! We got stuck on the benches against the windows, which aren´t so great for afternoon napping, but you do get an unencumbered view of the end of your long weekend, which has ended up being quite lovely.

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