“Where nobody is better than anybody else” is Uruguay’s motto. It rings in our ears as a powerful statement. The smallest country by population (3.3 million) in South America and about the size of Oklahoma, only Suriname is smaller size-wise.
With more sheep than people, Uruguay exports livestock and is the only country to keep track of 100% of its cows. There are three cows to each citizen. Most of the population live on the coast, while cows and sheep dominate the interior.
The government provides all children a free education, laptop and WiFi. No wonder their literacy rate ranks at a booming 98.6% and explains the abundance of books. Everywhere we look we see books for sale, being read, shared and discussed.
In Uruguay, Latin America’s only non-religious country, most believe in God but not religion. Perhaps this equates to being nonjudgmental. They were the first Latin American country to legalize abortion (outside of Cuba) in 2012, legalize marijuana in 2013, and same sex marriage in 2013. The names of religious holidays like Christmas and Holy Week have been changed to “Family Day” and “Tourist Week.” This liberal country is also the safest country in South America.
Boasting the lowest poverty rate and population growth in South America, all Uruguayans have access to drinkable tap water, which we really appreciate after traveling for a month in Ecuador.
Jose Mujica, the former president, donated his salary to noble causes, and lived in a one bedroom house with a three-legged dog. Ninety-five percent of electricity generates from renewable sources. What’s not to love?
However, after all those facts, what really rings with me is the grilled meats! Beef rules, but lamb and pork and organ meats accompany.
Yes, “laid back” describes this population in an accurate manner. Hardly any affect compared to a more jerky, nervous person such as I. Most folks come off as friendly, but European in the sense of little eye contact and few smiles. At the barbecue grill, everyone comes to animation and life!
What does not show up in any “fact check” is the odd manner in which vehicles actually stop for pedestrians in this walkable city of Montevideo, where most folks live.
Montevideo is full of culture, where the old city meets new and the Rio de la Plata meets the Atlantic ocean. We score a top floor room with a view of cargo ships coming and going through the night.
Marilynn is lucky enough to stumble into a Picasso exhibit at the National Museum of Visual Arts.
While I continue to stumble through the Port Market for more grilled meat, she finds a rare seafood restaurant and indulges in grilled octopus.
Cannot hit the road without a taste of “Chivito” the national sandwich. Anthony Bourdain called it a “terror-inspiring heap of protein.” Yep!
Time for a five-hour bus ride away from the crowds to the remote coastal town of Punta del Diablo where we find a lovely guesthouse complete with a kitchen, wood-burner, and ocean view.
Marcos, proprietor of Las Escamadas, tells us that about 300 people live here during winter season and that most are from countries other than Uruguay.
A retired pilot from Italy, he laments the loss of coffee culture. “Many Italians have moved here, but they forgot our coffee culture. Everybody now drinks mate’!” he exclaims. “My wife and I have to travel to Brazil to get decent coffee beans!”
We definitely have noticed that most Uruguayans carry a thermos of hot water under one arm, and a gourd-shaped cup of yerba mate’ in the other.
Each day, a different dog accompanies us on our walkabout. They have a great life here and are as laid back as the people.
We spend our final day in Uruguay during a rainstorm in the town of Colonia del Sacramento, rich in Portuguese history.
On a warm, sunny day this would be a lovely town to explore, and eat at the outdoor cafes. Alas, it is a rainy, windy, cold day.
Our adventure continues, as we board the one-hour ferry to Buenos Aires, Argentina where we hope for clear skies to view a total solar eclipse.
Thank you, Abundant Universe!