Friday, December 17, 2010

Montevideo, Uruguay, MIle 1,261, December 17, 2010

Greetings one last time from Montevideo.  Today is my last full day in town, and is also the last report I will write for some days.  Over the years, I have been on my mother´s case to visit Argentina, and she has finally accepted, and her flight arrives Saturday morning, so, for the next five days, I will be playing tour guide, first in Uruguay and then in Buenos Aires.  I will write one more report next Wednesday or Thursday with final mileage totals, and a final breakdown of expenses for anyone else interested in a trip like this.

Today, again, I got out my now spotlessly clean bike and went for a ride about town.  Again, it was extremely hot, although that has now changed and it is raining.  For the heck of it, I rode down to what was, once upon a time, the General Artigas central train station.  This structure is an absolutely huge, neo classical building that looks like a London train station, and is probably a copy of a London train station.  It is also, like most of the Uruguayan rail system, in complete ruin.

Following my ride, I went and picked up my rent a car that I am going to use for the next couple of days, and got a long lecture about not leaving ANYTHING, especially the face of the stereo, in sight when the car is parked.  It was even suggested that I leave the glove box door open, so any potential maggots will know without breaking the window that there is nothing to steal.  I then, for the first time in 35 days, actually drove something other than a bicycle, and took it to the garage behind my hotel. 

I then wandered about Ave 18 de Julio a bit.  Montevideo (The name supposedly comes from an old Spanish map, where what is today Plaza Independencia was marked as "Monte VI de EO", meaning the "sixth hill" "from" "East to West".) is composed of a port area on the point of land that sticks out from the city itself.  The port is very big and very modern, and could, if the country had a functioning rail system to move freight around, especially into Brazil and Argentina, be very busy.  Unfortunately, about the only thing that really functions in the railroads is the union, which makes very sure to prevent any privatization or foreign (read Brazilian) investment in infrastructure.  As it is, there is always a line of trucks with Argentine and Paraguayan plates waiting to get in and pick up containers.  Next to the freight port is Navy headquarters, and the Buquebus passenger terminal, from which we will depart for Buenos Aires in a hydrofoil on Monday.  Across the street from the passanger terminal is the "Mercado del Puerto", which is basically a tourist trap, but a very nice one, full of really good restuarants and interesting stores. 

Above this area, and climbing up 50 feet or so above sea level is the Teatro Solis, a nice old opera house.  Continuing north, one encounters the Plaza Independencia, which celebrates Uruguay´s independence, and has a large statue of General Artigas (a hero) in the middle.  On the north side of this plaza, one encounters a very strange building called the Palacio Salvo, which was, once upon a time, the tallest building in Latin America; the upper floor look like they are going to blast off for space at any moment.  This building is on the corner of 18 de Julio, which then runs north for several miles through office buildings, hotels and shopping areas.  The whole area bustles during the daytime, but tends to clear out at night. 

East of downtown is the Pocitos district, very high class, and in Pocitos one can find many, many interesting bars to visit.  Pocitos is also where  all the city´s beaches are, and they are absolutely packed these days.  West of downtown, as I mentioned yesterday, turns gritty-industrial very fast, and the only reason to go there is if you are planning to ride your bike up Route 5 to Livramento, Brazil, or west on Route 1 to Colonia del Sacramento.

The city of Montevideo has a population of 1.3 million, but the surrounding urban area (Canelones, Pando, etc) comes in at just below 2 million.  Since the entire Republic of Uruguay only has a population of 3.4 million, Montevideo represents almost 60% of the country´s population.  The second largest city, Salto, has less than 100,000 inhabitants, meaning Montevideo is about 20 times the size of the next biggest city.  (The urban area of Rivera/Livramento is bigger than Salto, but two thirds of it is not actually in Uruguay, so this does not count.)  This is the biggest discrepency of any country in the world. 

Montevideo is, in my opinion (jaundiced, having lived in Tijuana, Rio de Janeiro, and Washington, DC, all of which have been considered the murder capitals of their respective countries when I was living there...), a very safe city.  There is no large, dispossessed underclass like you see in Rio, and the cops do not have eyeballs in the backs of their heads, afraid of being shot.  While not as exciting as Buenos Aires (which is about 8 times as big), I like it.

And, on that happy note, I leave you.  Next report will appear sometime next week.  My one remaining goal on the bicycle is to get the mileage up to 1,312 miles, and thus beat what has, so far, been my maximum distance for one of these trips.  I am only 50 miles away...

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