On leaving our hotel which is in quiet, safe, suburb of the city and heading for the city center, we notice how wonderful old buildings seem abandoned and unloved. Beautiful ornamental architectural designs are everywhere, with variations of Doric, Ionic and Corinthian decorations, on once almost regal houses, apartment blocks, and even shop fronts. Unfortunately they appear to be broken, chipped and crumbling. Churches and old town building have weeds growing from their roof tiles, with broken stained glass windows, and people sleeping rough in the doorways. As in most cities some areas had beggars, and “undesirable individuals” hanging around street corners, in places you obviously avoid. It soon became apparent that this capital city was once spectacular and wealthy, but had unfortunately fallen on hard times. I just needed a little makeover in bringing it back to its former glory.
Lunch in the old market place was better than I had hoped; the rustic venue was fascinating with its original ceilings and floors, which date back to around the early 1800’s. The meat is grilled on a massive fire in front of you which is an entertainment by itself; it is fascinating to watch mammoth sides of beef, half a lamb, chicken parts, and several types of sausages, of various shapes and colours being cooked a stone throw away from your plate. We tried the famous black sausage which was tasty and more appetizing than you think, and the chicken and beef were both mouthwateringly unbelievable!! After lunch we just wanted to curl up for a nice nap ,but decided more walking is good to burn off the enormous amount of calories we have accrued, before we keel over from overeating!!, We walk for about two hours in the 30 degree heat around town. We both start to become grumpy and decide we need to get a cab or bus back to our hotel. But despite waving frantically to every free cab we see they do not stop. Maybe we can get a bus to the hotel? So we walk to the nearest bus stop which happens to be a bus terminal and wait. We have been waiting for some time when a staff member tells us that because it is Sunday we need to get two buses changing halfway along the route to the hotel. Chris not impressed with this delay decides we should walk, and flag down a cab. Again no one stops, and we are both getting frustrated, with each other and the situation. Suddenly we hear a rumble of drums in streets one block away. On reaching the sound we find we have come upon a local street drumming crew with dancers!!We are transfixed, enchanted and charmed. We had heard and read about bands like this but to find one by chance was amazing. This was a Candombe (can-dome-bey), in which many drums beat in a certain rhythm derived from the drumming of African former slaves. It has been an important part of Uruguayan culture for over two hundred years and is seen in carnivals, street parades, and like today, local neighbourhoods. We are told by a captivating couple, Ignatious and Mary that this traditional thing, a social event, a community getting together to dance and drum. Chris and I walked from one end of the locality to the other, bewitched with the sound of the drums, the way the people move, the way they interacted with each other, the whole deal!!! Once they stopped playing we hung out with Ignatious and Mary, who explained ethos behind “Llamadas de Convencions” (the crew).It seems that everyone is invited to join in this dancing and drumming, and as we witnessed old, young, women and men do. Chris got some fabulous photos and film of the whole event, which we watched again and again after our cab ride back to the hotel, which we finally got after asking a nearby hotel to call one for us!!
The next day we planned to go the local zoo and spend some time at the beach for a swim. On arriving at the zoo we were told that it was a maintenance day and it was closed, but when we explained that we were leaving tomorrow they kindly allowed us a free entrance! We met a lovely man who was in charge of the sick turtles, who took us behind the scenes to check out his three patients, and we wandered around looking at the various animals. The zoo was a bit run down and actually did need some major maintenance. We noticed broken paths, broken fences and a lot of plastic bags and bottles. The zoo also had many wild feral cats which were sweet but I noticed was scaring some of the birds in the sanctuary area. We felt sad for some of the animals as they clearly didn’t have enough space, or were in the wrong habitat, such as big birds in small cages and big cats on broken concrete floors .On arriving at the primate’s area, we notice what looked like a rat trying to get into a cage. It was running up and down frantically and the animal inside was also doing the same. After a while realized that it was a tiny baby Aguti on the outside who had somehow fallen out of the cage and was trying to get back with its worried mother who was inside. We did not know what to do, as due to it being a maintenance day, no one was around. Chris was really upset and told me we could not leave this tiny baby outside it cage for long as the feral cats were close by, and it would not be long before they pounce on it. After a lot of running around I found a lady in an office, I told her that an animal was not in its cage, had fallen out, (I even mimed it!) But she seemed not that she was not interested or due the language barrier just didn’t understand me. It was a hard situation to explain, and as she flipped through her book saying “no problem” I realized that it was going nowhere. After a while I know this is bad, but I said “monkey escaped” and she instantly got to her feet and immediately understood me. She summoned a keeper with a net to the rescue, and after a while she and the keeper had mum and baby reunited. We left the zoo for a swim at Positos beach, and we could not help but feel a little pleased with ourselves for being part of helping save our furry friend.
At the beach we watched almost every other person, old and young, take out a flask and pour a liquid into a wooden mug with a silver straw. This was Mate the national drink, an herbal green tea which seems to be drunk and shared together at most social gatherings. I really like this country, and it has a laid back friendly atmosphere and is truly unique.
This was our last night in Uruguay, tomorrow Buenos Aires!