July 5 – 6, 2012
We intended to fly from Lima, Peru to Buenos Aires, Argentina, but found out two days before the flight that the $160 per person “entrance fee” into Argentina only applies if you fly into Buenos Aires airport. If you come in some other way, there is no fee. So, we paid a minimal change fee and re-booked our flight to go to Montevideo, Uruguay instead. From there, it’s just a short ferry ride into Argentina. We had already thought of going to Uruguay anyway, so it worked perfectly.
Side note: Our flight from Lima, via Panama City (because that’s going in the right direction!), was through Copa Airlines. We got to the airport two hours early and tried to check-in. The airline proceeded to tell us that we had to show proof on onward travel out of Uruguay. So generally, most countries have rules that do ask for proof of onward travel, though we’ve never been asked for it but we know this is a general rule. And it is the airline’s responsibility to confirm this because if they do not, they are responsible for flying us back. So we told them we were planning on taking the ferry out from Montevideo to Buenos Aires and they said they would need to see a ticket. Flustered but acceding that this is a rule, we went and found the internet café at the airport and booked a ferry ticket online via Buquebus. We go back and show the guy our ticket. He asks his supervisor to confirm and she says no, it needs to be a ticket by the same means of travel which we entered – by air. So even though all Uruguay was going to care about was that we were going to Argentina, the airline now wanted confirmation of our FLIGHT back to the US or a flight out of Uruguay to somewhere else. This is after we had asked if the ferry ticket would suffice and were told yes. They basically told us there was no way we could get on the flight unless they had proof of a flight (even though all Uruguay requires is proof of onward travel but whatever) –and we had 15 minutes before check-in was going to close. So we run back to the internet café and book a ticket using my Star Alliance miles (knowing that I could cancel within 24 hours) from Buenos Aires to the US. We run back and show the supervisor lady our reservation and she proceeds to actually look it up in the system – like we had time to doctor a ticket or that immigration in Uruguay would look it up. Stupid chic (I have more expletive names for her in my head). We were finally allowed to get our boarding passes. And of course, no one asked us about anything at immigration. Frustrating!
We landed in Uruguay around midnight on July 4th. Our hostel had told us to take two different buses from the airport. Figuring the bus system didn’t run that late (we were wrong), or that we’d have to wait a long time (we were wrong), or that it would be complicated (probably still true), we opted for a taxi, which turned out to be about $65. The two buses would’ve been about $4 total. The only working ATM at the airport had a limit of $200 in the local currency (Uruguayan peso, about 21 to 1 USD), so we already used up 1/3 of it on taxi fare, before even being there for one hour. That was a sign of things to come… Uruguay was definitely a change from the great prices in Asia and the moderate prices of Peru! The other thing we discovered on the taxi ride is that the accent in Uruguay was crazy different from Peru or what we’re used to (Mexican Spanish) as we couldn’t understand anything the cabbie was telling us! But the accent was so gorgeous – like a song!
Uruguay is a very modern country with great infrastructure. It’s one of the few countries in South America where the tap water is safe enough to drink, even for foreign tourists. Some of the main industry is international exports of beef, dairy products, leather and wine. In the capital city of Montevideo, the buses are privately-owned, but fares are low, and the buses are always coming down the street, every minute. There are a ton of museums, theaters, plazas, parks, and other places to see/visit/hang out. There’s a wide boardwalk called La Rambla (actually concrete) that runs alongside the beach all around the city. They comb the beach daily, keeping it looking neat and clean.
We had about three nights and three days in Montevideo. The first night, we got in late and slept in the next day. In the afternoon, we decided to walk around the center part of the city. One of the most famous plazas in Montevideo is Plaza Independencia. Almost all of the plazas here have a statue in the middle – unfortunately, the statue here had scaffolding around it so we didn’t really get to see it. But this building amused us – It looks like a robot or something! Also, some of the major streets here are named after famous dates in history (like the date the Constitution was adopted, Avenido 18 de Julio) which I think is a great idea!
We continued our stroll down wide avenues and come across another plaza, Plaza Fabini. We sat awhile, taking in the sun like several others were doing around the plaza. We happened to notice a sign for an exposition at the Subte so went to it. It was a free exhibition of portraits of different women – Soy by Susette Kok. I really enjoyed viewing all the photos – some were really powerful and then reading some of their stories in a coffee table book they had lying around.
The next day, we figured out the local bus system which is really extensive and spent the day walking around La Rambla in a different part of town. The beach was decent (not the crystal blue ones we’d been accustomed to in Asia) but nice enough. The boardwalk was really pleasant, though it was cold! That night, we went to an Irish pub nearby with a live rock band singing both English and Spanish songs. We enjoyed the irony of eating Mexican fajitas at an Irish bar listening to some American songs drinking Cuba Libres in a bar in Uruguay 🙂
There’s not much to ‘see’ per say in Montevideo but we liked walking around the city and admiring the buildings, both old and new, and the numerous plazas.