After clubbing on Thursday and tango on Friday, Saturday brought another serious Argentine passion: football. Many would argue that Argentina can lay claim to the two greatest footballers to play the game, Maradona and Messi. Brazilians would no doubt argue the case for Pele but regardless Argentina has a proud, footballing heritage and alongside it a deep rooted, fanatical passion for the game (90% of Argentines claim allegiance to an Argentine football club). As a Leicester City fan I can not claim to have had the likes of Maradona and Messi grace my club (more Lineker and Heskey – two greats in their own right of course) but I do have a shared passion for the sport and so an opportunity to see a game while in Buenos Aires was too good to miss.
We spent the month of October in Buenos Aires. Up until then we had been on the move for almost two months, and while the travelling was amazing, we were starting to feel like we might all benefit from settling in one place for a little longer than a week.
Our plan for the month was to hunker down, save some money, try to improve our respective Spanish levels (more on this in an upcoming post) and find some enjoyable child-centric things to do together. All of this, we managed to achieve (except the save the money part – did someone say budget?) with – to our immense delight – a few additional gems squeezed in as well.
Buenos Aires is pretty dreamy. Beautiful to look at, fun to be in, it is grand, individual and full of life. We spent the first few days strolling about, admiring the architecture, mincing around in parks and generally just enjoying the relative stability of knowing we didn’t have to pack up all our belongings again any time soon.
“All I do is keep on running in my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence. And this is a pretty wonderful thing. No matter what anybody else says.”
― Haruki Murakami,
I love running. I love the “homemade void” as Murakami (one of my favourite authors) describes it – for me that’s the place where worry disappears, thinking itself disappears and you just put one leg in front of the other and enjoy a peacefulness that I find very difficult to recreate in any other environment. I don’t believe I have ever felt worse after a run than I did before it, even after the grueling 20+ milers when training for a marathon (a marathon that injury ultimately prevented me from participating in).
We feel it is time to dedicate a post to Amber. Given the amount of time we spend playing with her, cooking for her, talking about her, and worrying over her (the order of which changes regularly), a post about her is probably overdue.
She is at a exciting stage in life – less a baby, more of a toddler – her understanding of the world increasing by the day. We are in a privileged position to both be around for all her ‘firsts’ – the little things like her first ice cream and all the new words she keeps coming out with, as well as the big stuff (which make me cry) like her first hair cut and the first time she walked properly. As clichéd as it sounds, all of a sudden it feels like she is growing up unbelievably quickly. We did a double take in unison the other day when we realised how big she has become – suddenly before us was a little girl where I swear less than two months ago there had been a baby.
Puppetry is our new skill
We practice day to day,
Keeping Amber occupied
By making her toys play.
Her toys have unique talents
They are a gifted little group,
And their love of the spectacular
Makes them quite the circus troupe.
Bunny is our dancing man
He loves to rock and roll.
His very nifty footwork
Never fails to surprise us all.
We are now 11 days into our month long stay in Buenos Aires and it’s safe to say we love it here. After changing destination every week since August 26th when we left Rio we were looking forward to the relative stability of an extended stay in a city with a global reputation. So far, despite the fact our explorations have been cut short by Amber’s first illness since being away, we are very happy to be here – the city has met all of our expectations and in many cases surpassed them.
Here’s what we’ve learnt so far.
On Saturday 1st we boarded the high speed ferry from Montevideo to Buenos Aires and thereby drew to a close a wonderful, varied and relaxing couple of weeks in Uruguay. From the Puerto Mercado to Cabo Polonio we felt that despite only being in the country for a couple of weeks we achieved a lot.
As with our Brazil entry we wanted to wrap up our time here with a quick post highlighting some general observations around the country and what we got up to.
Uruguay is quiet. If / when sheep attain a collective consciousness then make a hasty exit because they outnumber humans 3 to 1. It is ranked 198 out of 244 countries in terms of population density with half that population living in Montevideo. Even in Montevideo itself the old town was eerily quiet particularly at the weekend – maybe, like us, everyone was in the Puerto Mercado gorging themselves on beef and wine. On the road we were often the only car. (I will confess that with a mile of straight empty road ahead of me I may of at times gone a little over the speed limit, no mean feat bearing in mind our rental car was a rattly little Suzuki that audibly groaned when it saw how much luggage we were carrying.)
Given our advancing years and inability to go out in the evening we appreciated Uruguay’s laidback, quiet style. There was something innately relaxing about being somewhere with so few people. The fact we traveled out of season helped as by all accounts the coastline swells with Argentinians and Brazilians come the summer months (December to February). This was no better reflected than in Cabo Polonio which felt like an extrapolation of the country’s serenity and peacefulness.
On Wednesday we went on an adventure. We left our house at the crack of dawn and drove over 200 miles. We walked through shrub and woodland, over sand dunes, and across a misty and deserted beach. We reached a remote and isolated village without roads, electricity or running water. We saw a herd of sea lions. And it was one of the best days of our trip so far.
Our destination was Cabo Polonio. Located on the east coast of Uruguay, the village sits on a small peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean. With a year round population of 95 (according to a 2011 census) it is less a village, more a collection of huts and houses, a grocery store and as a result of increased popularity a handful of hostels.
The cape is named after the Spanish sailing ship ‘Polonio’ shipwrecked there in 1735. Following the wreck, it became a settlement for sailors and fishermen, and due to its particular geography, rocky shores and fierce seas, it was the site of many more sea disasters. Legend has it that it was renowned among sailors and pirates across the world who believed the cape was cursed, that death would come to those who ventured there, and when in the vicinity of the cape compasses would spin with no direction causing ships to crash into the rocks of the shoreline.
Rather than do a blog on Food in Uruguay, (similar to our previous one from Brazil) this time we’re honing in on one particular location that we think encapsulates what food is all about here – the Puerto Mercado or Port Market, situated (unsurprisingly) close to the port on the north side of Montevideo’s Ciudad Vieja (old town).
One of the recurring images I would think about before we came on this trip was the three of us in Argentina gorging ourselves on high quality, cheap steak and red wine. And it was only as I began to look a little closer at Uruguay that it became apparent we would have the chance to be doing exactly that a little earlier than expected. Uruguay loves beef. Uruguay loves meat. In a country where close to half the population of 3 million live in Montevideo there are vast swathes of sparsely populated interior plains where cows (and cowboys) are the only living things you’ll come across. Indeed it is the only country that keeps tracks of 100% of its cattle, cattle that outnumber humans by three to one. With that in mind it’s no surprise that beef (and meat more generally) is big here.
Our limited research (a quick read of Lonely Planet South America) told us that THE place to eat beef alongside the locals is in the Puerto Mercado, particularly at the weekend. So last Saturday, the day after we arrived in Montevideo, we took that advice and headed down there.