Monthly Archives: September 2012

Buenos Dias Montevideo!

We talked for hours and didn’t go to bed until nearly four am. We said good night and agreed to wake up just five hours after going to bed.

Laura had a two bedroom apartment and gave me her room to sleep in while she shared the guest bedroom with her mom.

Around 9am Laura knocked on my (her) door to let me know that breakfast was ready.

As I sat down to the table she apologized for not having bacon and eggs.

I started laughing and asked if she learned that from watching US television? She smiled and replied yes. I laughed and tried to rectify this assumption. I let her know that I normally have a bowl of cereal. And I told her that some people even skip the first meal of the day.

Laura’s mom had gone to the shop to pick of breakfast and there were a few paper bags set out on the table while her mom prepared tea and coffee. I was curious what was inside the bag and as Laura opened them to set it out on plates, I found out that a typical breakfast consists of medialunas (croissants) and lots and lots pastries covered in sugar.

Uruguayans love their sweets!

American television does a disservice to the rest of the world, and ourselves, by how we are portrayed. The bacon and eggs reference was just one of many I encountered in my travels.

During breakfast the TV was on in the background airing Buenos Dias Montevideo, which is along the lines of Good Morning America, but they are dressed way more casual. Some of the hosts are beachside, even in swimsuits, giving their morning reports.


What the Hell Did you Talk About?

We sat and talked at the beach for hours. We talked about life, food (I explained what PBJ was), travel, our favorite tv shows (she knew US shows and we found out quickly that we have very similar taste!) and other pop culture (I explained what a ‘chick flick’ is).

We also talked about cultural traditions like weddings, marriage and last names (most people in South America have two last names).

Men and women take the last name from their mother AND father. So they start with three (or four, if a middle name is given) names! When they marry, they choose which one they want to continue with. So if  is the daughter, Julia, for example, is the daughter of (her mother’s maiden name) Rodriguez, and (her father’s last name) Bruno, Julia is given the name of Julia Rodriguez Bruno, and whatever middle name she is given. Then when she gets married to Pablo Garcia she can be Julia Rodriguez Garcia or Julia Bruno Garcia. Can be confusing but pretty cool to have so much history in one name.

Laura told me that when I get travel through Argentina, I might think that Uruguayans are lazier but in fact they are more relaxed than their neighbors across the Rio de la Plata. She said Argentines are always in a rush.

I laughed and from my experience in Argentina the prior year, I had told her that their ‘fast-pace’ was nothing compared to New York City. I told her that we rush rush rush with everything and that one of my goals with this trip was to finally, slow down. She told me Uruguay should certainly help with that.

Through all of our hours of chatting, I quickly began to realize that while we are from different places and have different backgrounds, we enjoy, and want, very similar things.

Say What?

When Laura and I headed back to her apartment it was nearly midnight. And we talked for hours more.

She explained that watching American TV in Spanish is not very easy. The translation is done in Spain Spanish and she told me that while she understands English and Spain Spanish, sayings and words get lost in the translation.

She also pulled up a few of her favorite American television shows and we watched each for just a few minutes to find American slang as she was curious what it meant. We watched a little bit of Mike and Molly, Two and a Half Men, Outsourced and various other American TV shows.

We watched shows in English with Spanish subtitles, we watched with Spanish voiceovers and English subtitles and we watched in English with no subtitles.

When a show from the States references a brand or product, the subtitles instead say ‘popular laundry detergent in EE.UU’ to describe the product. But even when she explained some of the translated subtitles, it didn’t make sense, and the content was clearly, lost in translation.

I watched these familiar shows with a different perspective and I realized how much of the conversations on television are full of slang! So I introduced Laura to Urban Dictionary so she could look up the definitions of American slang when I wasn’t there to help translate.

I have to admit, I had a hard time figuring out how to explain some of the slang!

Learning a Language with Linguistics

Laura is native to Uruguay and is an English teacher and she really enjoys the study of linguistics.

It became clear to me when I saw her bookshelves filled with linguistic books. She told me that it was through the use of these books that she taught herself English.

If you missed that, yes, SHE TAUGHT HERSELF ENGLISH. I was amazed.

English is my native language and looking through these books confused me! And they were using English words!

Laura happily shared tips on my pronunciation of words like tengo and pero so I wouldn’t sound like a total gringa on my onward travels! And she taught me how to pronounce words the Uruguayan way in preparation for my travel in Uruguay!

For example, in Uruguay double l’s are not pronounced how I learned them.

Take the word caballo (horse)
How I learned it: cah-bah-YO
How Urugayans pronounce it: cah-bah-SHOW

And if the l’s are in the front of the word like llama (name)
How I learned it: YA-ma
How Uruguayans pronounce it: SHA-ma

And the one-syllable word yo (I)
How I learned it: YO
How Uruguayans pronounce it: SHOW

Soon I’d be leaving Laura, ready to put my new knowledge to use!

Mate, Pronounced like Mah-Tay

Later in the day Laura’s cousin, Irina, came over and joined us.

At this point Laura invited me to stay the night. I had cancelled my reservation at the hostel and went with the flow.

Together the four of us chatted like old friends, visited the aquarium, more of the waterfront (where I had been the day prior before meeting Laura), a church and the main street in the historic section.

Before sunset, Irina and Laura’s mom headed to a concert in a park and Laura and I headed to the beach for one of Uruguay’s most beloved traditions. Mate!

I learned about mate when the boyfriend and I visited Argentina last year and I was about to get reacquainted very quickly.

To say that mate is tea doesn’t do the popular beverage any justice.

Mate seems like a complicated concoction with the thermos tucked away in a leather case, a silver-rimmed cup made from a gourd and silver metal straw. And that’s just the paraphenalia needed to prepare mate. There is also a bag of yerba leaves, the brand is debatable depending on which mate-crazed country (Uruguay, Argentina and Uruguay) you are in.

First the mate goes in, packed tight in the cup, and one has to shake it a bit to get rid of the loose leaves. Then the hot water has to be poured at just the right angle so the leaves don’t float. The metal straw gets placed in just right.

And then it gets passed around. It’s just a chance to hang out and chat. There’s an etiquette. If you don’t want to drink more, you politely decline.

You know it’s time to add more water, when you hear the slurping noises when you are solely sipping air and leaves.

I was actually given the opportunity later on in my trip to prepare the mate. I drank leaves. You’re not supposed to. Let’s just say I will leave it to the experts to prepare.

Laura had packed plenty of snacks and we headed off to one of Colonia’s beautiful beaches. We shared mate on the beach and watched the sunset.

Exploring Colonia with Laura

Before we left, Laura’s mom, who was visiting from Miami and did not speak any English, had asked what we wanted for lunch. I knew I was in meat lovers country but I did let her know that I wasn’t much of a meat-eater. And she said no problem. That, I understood!

Note: I became a “vegetarian” later in the trip, not because of my experience here, because apparently pollo (chicken) is not considered meat. I love hamburgers but this is not hamburger country. This is a land that loves carne (meat) and enjoys all kinds of tastes and textures that, unfortunately, I just cannot appreciate. It was easier to just say that I was soy vegetariano (I am vegetarian). If you know me, please laugh. If you don’t know me, I say this because I am not the biggest fan of cooked vegetables yet I ate more than my share on this trip.

Laura and I ventured out and we walked into the historic center of town. We passed a lot of places I had visited the day before, but this time I got a fully translated explanation of what I was looking at, and the history behind it. I couldn’t have asked for a better guide!

Laura gave me a history lesson on the Spanish and Portuguese influence on this very important port city.

There are eight museums in the (for lack of a better word) system. Each focuses on some part of the Spanish and Portuguese history that this city is so full of because of the history that created this city. All of the placards in the museums were in Spanish with no translations anywhere.

As a teacher, Laura was keen to improve my Spanish before I left Colonia! She’d let me read the plaques in the museums and once I got the words translated to the best of my ability, I had to give her my best guess of what it actually meant. Then she would give me a proper English translation since many of my translations didn’t make much sense! Close, I was told. I think she was just being very nice.

We walked along the waterfront and chatted like old friends. I learned that Laura didn’t like heights but she insisted I climb to the top of the lighthouse for some incredible water views while she waited on solid ground below.

The walk up, was not for the faint of heart.

I did love these trees on the way up.

The views up were incredible.

Laura was sure to point out the Calle de los Suspiros, a famous street in Colonia that I had noticed the day prior but did not know why everyone was taking photos since there was no signage noting the street had any significance.

After museum hopping for a few hours, we went back to Laura’s apartment where her mom, Marcela, had prepared us a traditional Uruguayan lunch – Ravioles Con Tuco. She had made the raviolis from scratch while Laura and I were out exploring Colonia.

Tuco, is actually like a meat sauce. But it was more meat, less sauce.

I was slightly nervous to dig in as I knew I was in meat-eating country so I asked for a small, pequeno, portion of sauce. I made it a point to try everything put in front of me on this trip.

I don’t know how she did it but Marcela had me asking for seconds. With extra meat sauce.

Yes. Really.

Cuanto paga?

It was a short walk from the bus station to Laura’s apartment.

I would drop off my backpack, reserve a hostel for the night and then we would set off to explore Colonia for the day.

Laura’s apartment was a two bedroom, one bathroom with an open living room/dining room, kitchen and a small terrace. She had beautiful views of the sea and it could have been in New York. Except for the price.

We chatted a bit about cost of living and she asked me how much I paid for my apartment. I told her. And then I couldn’t help but ask her the same question.

After the quick currency conversion I was in shock at the number she told me, just like she was in shock for the number I told her.

This conversation was enough to tell me to get out of the NY area quickly upon my return. It also told me that if I was asked again (which I would be asked plenty) to lower that number by a few hundred dollars to reduce the shock factor.

And speaking of accommodations, I booked a room at a hostel for that night. I let them know I would be checking in later in the day. But first, Laura would give me the best tour ever.

Waking Up in Uruguay

The next morning I checked out of my apartment knowing I would need to book myself into a hostel for the second night.

As promised, I met Laura at the bus station at 10am.

Because it was summer time AND my next destination was a popular beach resort AND I would be departing on a Friday*, Laura had suggested I buy my onward bus tickets a day in advance.

She kindly offered to meet me at the bus station before we started our day together to ensure I got the right ticket.

Purchasing the bus ticket was easy. Understanding that I would have to buy another bus ticket in Montevideo on a Friday afternoon in the summer took a little while to sink in.

We learned that this bus company, and in fact, all of the companies that ran outbound buses from Colonia, would not run eastbound service past Montevideo and I could only purchase the Colonia – Montevideo leg today. So much for buying my onward ticket to Punta del Este in advance. Oh well.

Laura explained that I would take this bus to Montevideo. Upon arriving in Montevideo, I’d need to find a bus company that ran onward service and hope that I could get a ticket on a bus on a Friday afternoon in the summer.

I’m a city girl. My Spanish is sufficient. I can do this. Tomorrow.

Today, I am in Colonia and I am spending the day with Laura. And more importantly, I needed to book a room for the night!

* For someone who knows traffic is a nightmare leaving a major city (read: New York City to beach towns) on a summer Friday, I sure did a great job of inadvertently doing most of my travel through major cities on summer Fridays.

I found myself in the bus station quite a bit on a Friday afternoon in the summer between the hours of 5pm and 8pm. It happened in Montevideo, Uruguay. It happened in Buenos Aires, Argentina and it happened again in Santiago, Chile.

For someone who had the utmost flexibility, Duh!

What is CouchSurfing?

Are you wondering what CouchSurfing is and why I chose to utilize it? It connects like-minded people to one another.

You don’t need to host to connect with other travelers, you just have to want to meet them.

In fact, I did not contact Laura to stay with her. Laura is an English teacher and we had been communicating in English and Spanish via email. I had contacted her to meet up and see a place through a local’s eyes.

I chose to contact Laura for several reasons. Her profile was interesting and came with a lot of positive reviews (yes, you can review people), she was my age and she taught English. I had figured that no matter how bad my Spanish was, we could always fall back on English.

When I was getting ready to leave Colonia, I thought that if my first CouchSurfing experience with Laura signaled a sign of things to come, it has to be the best idea ever.

Word of the Day: Ferrocarril

As Laura continued showing me around Colonia on my first night, I learned my first new word on this adventure; ferrocarril.

The second attraction we visited was the Museo del Ferrocarril, a railroad museum.

We wandered around and Laura translated the guide’s explanations for me.

I learned about the railway lines that transported people, animals and cargo around Uruguay many years ago.

Everything was the original and all of the items had been restored. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos in the actual train cars but we walked through them.

Laura and her mom needed to get ready for dinner* for a friend’s birthday so they dropped me off at my apartment at 10.30pm so we made plans to meet at ten the next morning.

Thanks to the kindness of Laura and her mom, I received an incredible welcome on my first day in Uruguay!

* Yes, really. I was quickly reminded that dinner is not served early.