Mate (not the Aussie pronunciation)

Upon arrival in Argentina we have noticed the trend of carrying a thermos under one arm whilst sipping something out of a gourd through a silver straw.
This is Yerba mate, basically a type of tea which people seem to drink constantly all through the day. (In fact as I am writing this we are sipping Mate while we cross the river from Montevideo to Buenos Aires)
We were told that you share a quick cup of coffee, but over a mate you laugh, cry and really bond with a person.
So we have bought ourselves a kit and now look like we were born and bred here!! Until we open our mouths that is!! T

  
Some classic mate drinking poses

  

  
This is an official mate hot water dispenser.  Free hot water available at the bus stations!

Far too quick, Uruguay 

So glad that we decided to spend a few days in Uruguay. Even though we have only had four nights here we have really enjoyed ourselves.
We were told by Alfredo that Uruguayans were like Argentinians after they had taken a couple of Valium!! You can almost see it as soon as you get off the boat. Life here certainly seems to be undertaken at a slightly slower pace. But with that comes a certain charm about the place, we noticed that people seem content just to wait and queue for things to happen. I will admit that it’s been some good training for me.
The hardest was when we were sat in a restaurant and had to say to each other that if we hadn’t hit menus within 15mins we would go elsewhere!! But as we looked around the place we realised that everyone was in the same boat.
As we have mentioned before there is a certain charm about both Montevideo and Colonia, it’s not just the old buildings but the people as well add to the beauty of the place. It would have been great to have explored a bit more of the country, but we think we might have got the best bits as from what I have read there is a lot of farmland and not too much else the further inland you go.
I wouldn’t say that Uruguay was stuck in the past either though, because in and amongst the old buildings there are some newer ones too with quite cutting edge designs and we have also seen a few wind farms and solar panels too! In fact the bus we caught from Montevideo to Colonia actually had wifi on it!!
Another strange thing we noticed was that every time we paid by card here the bill seemed to go down by about 20%! Well it didn’t take us long to work out that we were going to pay for everything by card. But it’s actually the case that the Tax added is 22% but if you pay with a foreign credit card this is deducted from the bill! Great stuff.
So all in all a really great place to visit so glad we decided to take the short ferry over the river mouth! T

Eating well in Uruguay 

The first Uruguayan delicacy we discover was quite by accident but boy were we happy about it. Asado is basically a form of BBQ. The center piece of which is a log fire which is burnt down to produce the coals to cook over an a large grill which is often angled over the coals to give a variety of heating options.
The best bits I have had have been the blood sausage and the chorizo, just fantastic but to be fair the steaks have been really good too! For sides we have noticed that fries seem to be the most popular, although they are often hand cut which is a bit nicer. We have had some grilled capsicum and roasted potato and sweet potato too which is nice.

            
The second Uruguayan delicacy we also stumbled upon by accident and was done in our usual way of not understanding anything on the menu and so blindly pointing at a couple of items which look exciting. So we picked Chivito which I presume is the Spanish for “heart attack on a plate”. 
They start with a mountain of fries and then place a steak on top of it, on this goes some cheese and then about an inch of bacon and ham on which is some more cheese and a fried egg! Oh and I almost forgot, some lettuce and a slice of tomato. Luckily we ordered two!! T

Colonia del Sacramento

After Montevideo we were very excited about our next Uruguay stop, Colonia. Colonia del Sacramento is a little port town and was established so the Portuguese could smuggle goods into Buenos Aries. The lonely planet states that Colonia simply had “it” and we agree that this place certainly does. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what “it” is but it’s a combination of an old port wall, cobbled streets, very cool stone buildings, old cars parked in front of said old buildings, old gnarly trees, quaint little restaurants, little cove like beaches and amazing sunsets over the bay with the tall buildings of Buenos Aries adding to the backdrop.
We have spent our time just wandering around the coast line and old port town. Something that piqued our curiosity was a drink called Mate, not just here but in Montevideo and Argentina as well, though it was definitely more prevalent here. Everyone was walking around with a thermos under one arm and a leather bound cup which had a straw that looked like a spoon in it. So we asked around and found out that it is a tea. You fill the cup with a load of loose leaves and then fill the cup up with hot water and drink the tea through the straw. The tea leaves are reused throughout the day. So we went out and bought our kit and Tim has been furiously making Mate ever since! S

     
A few images of the old town of Colonia, a truely quaint place.

   
    
    
     

 

 

    
The classic mate pose, looking like a local

 
That is Buenos Aires on the horizon, not a bad place to watch a sunset !

  

Montevideo

Well I think it’s safe to say that Montevideo has certainly captured our hearts. We weren’t quite sure what to expect on arrival as it was fairly cold and bleak weather, and coupled with the grey buildings it seemed a bit like we had arrived in Gotham city.
We had read about a couple of places to go and so set off exploring, after a little bit of searching we found the place we were looking for and reserved a table. We were definitely the only non Latin Americans in the place and the music was great, great voices and atmosphere.
The locals here certainly don’t go to bed early and we were some of the first to leave in the early hours of the morning!
We noticed the next day that they are not early to rise either and even though it was close to 11am a lot of shops weren’t open yet and so our plan of going on a cycle tour was thwarted. (Turned out the shop opened in the early afternoon!!) Plus the weather was Baltic anyway so maybe a bike ride around the coastal boardwalk not a good idea anyway.
We did have a great walk around the old part of the city which is truly encapsulating. Like Buenos Aires there is a mix of styles from old European to Art Deco but Montevideo has certainly retained more of its charm. We had a great time wandering up and down the cobbled streets.
We discovered that the museums here are free, which was great. Unfortunately our Spanish isn’t quite up to scratch yet so we didn’t understand too much about the place but still admired the pictures and the antique guns.
Food wise we were lucky as breakfast consisted of coffee in a cafe which first opened in 1877 and then for lunch we stumbled upon a market area called Mercado del Puerto. The place was teaming with restaurants but not as we know them!! The places consisted of a bar forming four sides around a BBQ, so you all sat watching the meat being cooked over the wood. All sorts of meat were on offer and the chef just kept throwing (literally) more logs on the fire and cooking meat.
It was delicious and a truly great dining experience.
For the afternoon we wanted to go on a city tour to try and see a bit more of the place and find out more about the history of Montevideo and get more of an insight into the buildings. Unfortunately there was a bit of a language barrier and the lady did try her upmost but we certainly didn’t get as much information as the other guests.
In fact she would be talking in Spanish for a couple of minutes about a particular building we were passing including lots of laughs and jokes and then turn to us and would say “president’s building”. Still it was good and to be fair she did take us aside a few times and give us some info where she could.
All in all an absolutely great place to visit we have had loads of fun. 
A side note, they accept US dollars here more or less as currency and you can even withdraw US dollars from the ATMs! Sometimes you get change in US sometimes in Uruguayan and sometimes if you hold out almost enough money you can get away with it?! T

   
These two guys were the main stars of the show, although we actually went back the next night too and saw some amazing tango dancing being performed on the tiny stage.  Of all the times to forget the camera!! Still we will never forget, it was amazing the way the moved.  It was all leg flicks and passion!

 
Our walk around town really rewarded us with some amazing sights there are loads of these cool little shops.

   
 
The view of lunch being prepared.  Real wood fire and then all the meat being cooked over the coals as we sat at the bar/table.

   
It’s a little chilly.

 
There is a really cool vibe to the town centre, and while some areas seem deserted others definitely have a great vibe.

   
 
This iconic building, Palacio Salvo, dominated the square near where we were staying and was truely great to look at.  It was, when it was built, the tallest building in Latin America.

   
This is a last piece of the wall which used to surround the city.

 
The legislative palace, massive building just outside the old town.