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Vagabond Journey

A Bit of Culture Shock and Some Unexpected Surprises

Montevideo, UruguayAt 8:00 am Montevideo is calm and no one is on the street. The few people that have fallen out of bed cling to their wooden cups of maté like babies to their blankies; sucking them down hoping for that extra jolt of caffeine. Cars were few and far between. No makeshift huts lining [...]

Montevideo, Uruguay

At 8:00 am Montevideo is calm and no one is on the street. The few people that have fallen out of bed cling to their wooden cups of maté like babies to their blankies; sucking them down hoping for that extra jolt of caffeine. Cars were few and far between. No makeshift huts lining the streets, no loud busses, or shouting. The ordered chaos of the Latin American cites has vanished and been replaced by something more European and familiar. Its sanitary, orderly and calm which after a day and a half I’m finding a little boring. I’ve grown accustomed to cities with a little hustle. A little grime around the edges and people walking the streets that are mentally a couple cents short of a dollar. I’m so used to being slightly on edge while walking down the street that this place strikes me as odd because that ‘edge’ is gone.

From Montevideo 2011-02
Everyone (and I do mean everyone) drinks Mate

 The difference grows starker when entering the city fish market. There are tables neatly lined up with white, cloth napkins folded inside of wine glasses. Huh? No peculiar smell or remnants of a previous meal? This is a market right? I think it’s going to take me a few days to get accustomed to this new operating procedure. After saying this I do have to admit that the ‘normality’ of Montevideo has made me appreciate certain niceties that I haven’t seen for a while.

It’s nice to blend in with the crowd (until I speak).
It’s nice to be out of the U.S. sphere of influence.
It’s nice to see buildings made out of brick and stone.
It’s nice to walk on real sidewalks.
It’s nice to not see school buses.
It’s nice to see lots of beautiful women. Dressed well.
It’s nice to once again have a large selection of fruits to choose from

From Montevideo 2011-02
Fruit; it’s abundant and easy to find in Montevideo

Ails Over Ale

I arrived in Montevideo at 5:30 am; in the dark. Exiting the plane I was looking for any opportunity to waste some time until the sun rose (Riding public buses in an unknown city with my whole pack in the dark always seems like a bad idea to me). The ‘Duty Free’ sign hung above me and seemed like the perfect time wasting opportunity. A quick peruse through the duty free shop had me staring at a bottle of Fullers 1845 Strong Ale. “Ale!” I thought to myself, “Could it really be? Am I dreaming?” No, I was not. I had come face to face with an ale after five and a half months of yellow, fizzy Central American lagers. At $4.00 a bottle it wasn’t cheap but there was no way I was turning my back on this. They also had 6-packs of London Pride and the IPA for $17. Worried about transporting such fragile cargo on the buses and streets of Montevideo during commuting hours I opted for the safer course and bought only one bottle of the Strong Ale.

This afternoon, I cracked open the bottle and enjoyed the sweet taste of a delicious ale overlooking the streets of Montevideo. It was like being reunited with a long lost friend. I hope I can find more of this in the stores but I’m not holding out much hope. I will just give thanks for the fact that this one brief moment of ‘beer joy’ could be bestowed upon me.

From Montevideo 2011-02
Oh so good.

Carnival Kick-off
Throughout traveling there have been multiple times when I arrived somewhere and found out that I had arrived just in time for some random celebration that I had never heard. The dead give away to any festival is a Ferris Wheel in the central square. It’s a dead give away that a party is going on and I’ll be in town to celebrate.

Unlike these random festivals which are limited to one town or region Carnival is something that I thought I would see coming. This year Carnival falls later than normal and starts in early March with Ash Wednesday being March 9th. So why is Montevideo celebrating Carnival a month earlier than everyone else? Instead of the bulk of their celebrations being condensed in the week prior to Ash Wednesday they have spread them out over a couple of months so that one of their major parades, ‘Desfile de las Llamadas’, is a month before Ash Wednesday.

How to describe the ‘Desfile de las Llamadas’?

I would say lots of scantily clad women dancing in the street, massive flags waving in the air and Candombe music using tambores that fill the streets with African rhythms. That and the pictures below should sum up the celebration.

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Filed under: Cubicle Ditcher, Uruguay

About the Author:

Sam Langley left a comfortable and profitable job with an insurance company in the USA to travel the world. He has been going for years, and has not stopped yet. Keep up with his travels on his blog at Cubicle Ditcher. has written 147 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.