From quiet Uruguay to chaotic Colombia!

LOCATION:  Cartagena, Colombia
WEATHER:  Hot.  High 90

We got up at 2:30 AM in order to catch a 3:00 AM taxi to the Montevideo  airport.  Our flight was at 5:00 AM, and it was good we got there early as lines were slow.  Colombia has some complicated immigration requirements.  We had to register ourselves on their immigration website yesterday.  It took about 5 tries each to do it.  I ended up typing in the wrong date of the flight, which I could not correct.  George lost his on-line immigration application in computer-land somewhere, so couldn’t do a screenshot. So, we were a bit worried that we would have issues.   At the airport, a friendly airline agent helped us retrieve George’s, and wasn’t concerned about my date boo-boo.   We had to complete the online registration by 4:00 AM.  Whew!

We flew on COPA Airlines which is based in Panama City, Panama.  Our flight took off on time.  We flew over Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia,  Brazil (including the Amazon River), Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and the Pacific Ocean,  landing in Panama City.     It was pretty much a 7-hour shot directly north and west up through South America.  We saw rugged mountains and then hours of hours of green  – perhaps the rain forest?  We are now officially in the Northern Hemisphere, but not too far north of the Equator.

As we neared Panama City, we saw the freighters in line to go through the Panama Canal. 

  In Panama City airport, they changed our gate at the last minute, so we had to sprint to the new gate, about a mile away.  Yikes!  The flight from Panama City to Cartagena was under an hour.  We flew over this pretty island on our descent.

The skyline of Cartagena reflects the “new Cartagena”.  We are staying in the Old Town – without high-rises.

Cartagena seems much more exotic than Punta del Este and Montevideo.  Definitely a Caribbean vibe.  Very chaotic.  Our chirpy taxi driver gave us a little tour on the way to our AirB&B.  He wants to be our private driver while we are here.  It is a big city of about one million people.

After getting settled in our little apartment, we started roaming the streets.  The front desk man gave us wristbands naming our building to find our way back,  just in case we got lost.  We thought it was kind of funny…..until we DID get lost and had to show our wristband to people on the street to help us!

First up was to get some Colombia pesos.  We are rich!  The ATM spit out $1, 111, 000 pesos.  We are millionaires!  (Equivalent is $200 USD.  I’d say that have a little inflation here! Each of the $50s is actually $50,000 pesos.

Next was to find George a baseball cap, as he had left his accidentally in Montevideo.  He doesn’t want to burn his bald head!   That accomplished by spending $25,000 pesos ($5), we found a bar to get out of the heat.

Final stop was to get a few groceries.  We will have breakfast in the room, and perhaps one dinner, but will mostly eat out. We bought a pineapple from a street vendor.    Such exciting food to try.

As evening approached, we went in search of dinner.  The horse-and-buggies were out driving tourists (mostly Spanish-speaking) around.

We found a place that only serves fish and seafood, which was fine with us.  It was quite exotic inside.

I had their ceviche which was out of this world.  It was served with plantain chips.

George ordered a whole grilled red snapper in a cilantro sauce, served over a bed of pureed yucca.  On the side were plantain fritters.

We watched this whole lobster being served..

We called it an early night, since we had awakened so early, and due to the 2-hour time zone difference.  Tomorrow we will do more exploring!

BOOK:   I read this entire book on the flight….. “The Stars Are Fire” by Anita Shreve.  I really like this author, and enjoyed a previous book of hers “The Pilot’s Wife”.  It is historical fiction, based on a real, massive fire in Maine in the 1940s.  5 stars out of 5

Preparing for Uruguay departure

LOCATION:  Montevideo, Uruguay
WEATHER:  Nice.  High 79

Today was moving day.  We packed our bags and left the little AirB&B apartment in downtown Montevideo.  It has been a good visit.

The taxi ride to the airport followed the rambla, the boardwalk, for miles and miles.  The Montevideo Airport is actually in a suburb, about 15 miles away. 

We checked into the Hampton Inn near the airport.   It is interesting how every chain hotel could be located in any country….they all have the same look.  This one is on a pretty lake and has an infinity swimming pool that flows into it.

We spent the afternoon in our room, reading and resting.  Not too exciting.

There are no restaurants around the hotel so we ate in the hotel’s dining area.  George had a “Hampton Burger” and I had 2 empanadas.  They were tasty

BOOK:  “Bruno’s Challenge” by Martin Walker.  This is a collection of short stories about my favorite French small town policeman who loves his wine, food, and life in the Bordeaux area.  4 stars out of 5

Early to bed as we have a 2:45 AM wake-up call!!!   😦 

Tomorrow we have a 5:00 AM flight to Cartagena, Colombia, transferring in Panama City, Panama. On to new adventures!

A great good-bye….Uruguay’s iconic grilled meat

LOCATION:  Montevideo, Uruguay
WEATHER:  A bit overcast so more pleasant for walking.  High 79

On this morning’s hike, we walked into the city rather than along the beachfront.  Most of the streets are quite wide and tree-lined, giving it a very European look.

One bad thing about walking here is that you cannot look up; you have to constantly watch where you are going so you won’t trip on broken sidewalk cement.  Most of this is caused by tree roots…

Interesting art/graffiti….

We easily got our 10,000 steps in and returned home for lunch, then rest and reading.

Tonight is our last night here in town.  Tommorow we go out to a hotel near the airport (which is quite a ways out of town) in order to catch a 5:00 AM flight the next day.

With that in mind, we returned to George’s favorite place here, the Montevideo Brewing Company.  We had a stout (George) and an American Pale Ale – prounounced aaahpa – (me).

People don’t speak much English here, but they know what is important….

Then, we enjoyed a very iconic Uruguayan evening at a traditional parilla (grilled meat) restaurant.  Like in Argentina, Uruguay is famous for its beef cooked over a wood fire. 

The restaurant is called La Perdiz, which translates to The Pidgeon, but they call it the Famous Grouse, as in the whiskey.  So, of course, George had a shot of Famous Grouse Whiskey while we perused the menu.

DINNER:  George ordered the entrecote (sirloin steak) which was cooked to perfection.  He ordered it with a creamy mushroom sauce on the side.  I just had an arugula salad.  My father, who was a butcher, would be sad to hear me say this, but I’ve kind of lost my taste for big hunks of beef.  I did try some of George’s steak and it was delicious.  We paired the dinner with a bottle of Uruguayan Tannat red wine, and enjoyed the complimentary home-made bread rolls served with a creamy garlic butter. 

Here is the chef cooking George’s steak…

While we were eating, we watched the gregarious owner mingle with the guests while helping out the wait staff.  He kissed and hugged his regular customers as they arrived. 

After dinner, we were given shots of home-made limoncello to cleanse the pallet.  When we left about 9:30, the place was packed.  A real treat!!!

BOOK:  “Christmas at Patchin Place”  by Rhys Bowen.  This is a part of a  female detective series featuring lovable Molly Murphy.  It is very light reading, and I like the backdrop of New York City in the early 1900s .  4 stars out of 5

Learning about alchemy. Who knew?

LOCATION: Montevideo, Uruguay
WEATHER:  Pretty nice.  High 80

We took a walk in the other direction on the rambla, the long boardwalk in front of the beach.  Being a work day, there weren’t nearly as many people as yesterday, Sunday.

On our way, we saw a strange building with what looked like a ship’s bow jutting out in front.  As we stood around trying to figure it out, a lady opened the front door and said it is a museum, and a former castle of a famous (crazy) alchemist.  She encouraged us to return in the evening for a tour.

On our way back home, we strolled through the back streets that parallel the beach.  It is interesting to see European architecture right next to a new, modern high-rise

This is early fall, here in the Southern Hemisphere, so the trees and flowers are losing their beauty, but it must have been spectacular this summer.

Another crazy mix of old and new are these horse carts. Burly-looking men guide the horse carts around to the garbage cans and fish out recycling.  No one seems to think this is strange.

Back at the apartment, we figured out the washing machine and did a small load.  There is no dryer here and people hang their clothes outside like this…

I was a bit concerned about opening the window, stretching out to hang up the clothes, and hoping that I would not drop them 9 stories below!  So, instead, we strung the clothes on clothes racks around the apartment – in the sun and in front of the air conditioner.

In the evening, we walked back to the alchemist’s castle for a tour.  It was super strange.  We learned that the mast in front of the building was an addition because in alchemy, the  believers think life is a boat as we sail the sea of life. The tour taught us a lot about the symbolism of alchemy.  Part of the building was where his followers would practice alchemy and another part was his house, built from 1920-1950.  It was almost psychedelic. 

DINNER:  Arugula salad and leftover pizza from last night’s restaurant dinner. 

On the Italian Riviera? Or Uruguay?

LOCATION:  Montevideo, Uruguay
WEATHER:  Pretty nice.  High 79, cooling off nicely in the evening.

We tried to replicate our Sunday morning routine….George made some eggs and grits while I found some old CBS Sunday Morning podcasts to watch on my tablet.  Almost….

Before it warmed up, we took a long walk on “The Rambla” – a long boardwalk along the beach, stretching on for miles.  We were joined by about 5000 other people, strolling, jogging, and biking.  People really like to get out to enjoy the view and get some exercise. It seems very European.   Our apartment faces the beach on the Rambla Mahatma Gandhi Avenue….

Along the way, George checked out a little fish market, with some unidentifiable species….

On our way home, we found the neighborhood’s supermarket.  It is huge and very modern.  The deli section looked wonderful, including a poke-bowl station.  Cool! 

In keeping up with Sunday traditions, we had a Bloody Mary in the afternoon, then read and rested.

When it cooled off again, we were off to George’s favorite place in the neighborhood – the Montevideo Beer Company.  We figured out the system…..You go to the tasting bar to ask for a few tastes to decide what you like.  Then, you go to a self-service machine to order and pay.  It spits out a ticket which you take to the bar where they pour you the brewskis.  Pretty neat.

We sat outside in the cool evening and people-watched as we sipped.  Being Sunday, it was not as busy as last evening.

For dinner, we returned to a really nice Italian bistro that we had spotted last night.  We got there at 7:50, the first ones there, and waited until 8:00 until the doors opened.  The service and food were excellent.  We had a bottle of Tannat, Uruguay’s unique red wine and a pizza topped with prosciutto, slivers of mozerella, basil, and Parmesan.  The crust was like a cracker, and it was not greasy at all.  We ordered the small, and have leftovers for tomorrow.  It was really good, and a special experience.

BOOK:  “Evanly Bodies” by Rhys Bowen.  One in a series of books about a small town policeman  takes in Northern Wales.  In this episode, he runs across a Welshman from Patagonia – from the town that we visited a few weeks ago.  4 stars out of 5

On to Montevideo

LOCATION:  Montevideo, Uruguay
WEATHER:  Rain then hot then sunny then cool

It rained in the morning as we packed up to leave Punta del Este.  With all the window walls, it is neat to see the storm come through  The palm trees were swaying in the wind.

We took an Uber to the bus station and then took the “semi-directo” bus to Montevideo.  It was only 85 kilometers away, but we stopped about 10 times, so it took 2.5 hours.  The route pretty much followed the coast which has been built up almost all the way.

Once in Montevideo, we caught a taxi and took it to our AirB&B.  Montevideo is the capital of Uruguay and is more of a “real” city rather than the tourist enclave of Punta del Este.  It has a population of about 1.5 million. 

Our cruise ship had stopped here in the area known as the “Old Town” of Montevideo.  Now we are on the beach side with lots of new high-rises, so a very different vibe.  From our apartment, we can see the Rio de Plata (connecting to Buenos Aires) below.  Today, we watched the cricket players in the grassy area by the beach.

This apartment is not as nice as the one in Punta del Este, but it is comfortable, safe, and more than adequate.  We got settled in, taking the  old-fashioned elevator to our place on the 9th floor….

We got our bearings and went in search of a grocery store to get ourselves prepped for the next few days — coffee, bread, butter, cheese, yogurt, milk, and of course….beer and wine!    We will be here 4 nights. 

Then, off to Montevideo Beer Company (MBC) where we had some good beers – an IPA (eeepa) for me and a stout for George

We strolled around the area.  Being Saturday evening, a lot of people were heading to this pretty church for mass.

Uruguay, like Argentina, has a strong Italian presence, so we went looking for pizza for dinner.  We found a pizza restaurant on-line that looked good and started our trek there, only to find that it was boarded up.  A kind man noticing that we were looking forlorn recommended a Mexican restaurant nearby.  So, we had a pretty good meal there, sitting outside and enjoying the cool breeze. 

DINNER:  We shared an order of chips with guacamole and cheese, and a cheese quesadilla.  We sat down about 8:00 and were the first customers.  By the time we finished at about 9:30, it was standing room only. 

Yerba mate’ – a South American custom

LOCATION:  In our AirB&B in Punta del Este, Uruguay
WEATHER:  Another scorcher.  High 90

We took an early morning walk (before it got too hot), to the bus station to buy our tickets to go to Montevideo tomorrow.  $10 for a 2-hour ride.  Not bad.

On our way home, we walked along the beach. 

It is lined with some really nice apartments, including one that has a tiny swimming pool on each patio balcony.

As usual, we saw a lot of people sipping on yerba mate’.  This VERY popular drink is common in Argentina and Uruguay.  It is a kind of green tea.  People stuff the mate’ leaves in a cup.  They carry around a  thermos to make the tea, and then drink it through a metal straw that acts like a sieve.  Before Covid, they would pass the cup around for a communal drink.  I don’t think they do that now. 

On our walk, a group of scuba divers were taking a mate’ break.

Here is another guy carrying his thermos along the way….

And here I am giving it a try…

We stopped at our favorite fish stall to buy tonight’s dinner.  I told the cute gal that always helped us that today is our last visit here.  She threw in a lot of extra goodies with our fish – lemons and nice parsley. 

We stayed inside for most of the afternoon as it was too scorching to do much else.  When it cooled down in the late afternoon, we went to a pub along the waterfront for a drink.  Of course, at 6:00, we were way too early and were the only customers.  There was a nice breeze from the bay. I had an interesting drink that had a touch of jalapeno in it, along with mint. George had a Uruguayan Scottish Ale.

DINNER:  Salad to start.  Sauteed grouper bought this morning, along with grilled onions and mushrooms.  Side was rice.  A nice ending to Punta del Este meals!

BOOK:  “Black Diamond” by Martin Walker.  I love Bruno, the protagonist, of this series.  He is a dapper village policeman, gourmet, and gourmand, and  is very lovablel.  The series takes place near Bordeaux, France, exactly where we did a housesitting assignment once, so I enjoy reading about the scenery, villages, wine, and food that we enjoyed while we were there.  4 stars out of 5

Checking out the yacht world

LOCATION:  In our AirB&B apartment in Punta del Este, Uruguay
WEATHER:  Hot.  High 86

Before it got too hot, we walked down to the harbor, just about 2 blocks away.  Each time we go there, we pass this avenue of palm trees.  It is the parakeets’ favorite hangout.  It seems like there are hundreds flying around in the trees.  With their green foliage, it is hard to see them.

We walked around the docks, admiring the many yachts from all over the world.  There were several from Delaware, Florida, Jersey and Guernsey (England), Argentina, Brazil, and this big one from London…

We even saw one from Minnesota!!!

The view of the city is pretty from the docks.

We chatted with a French guy whose boat is registered in Jersey.  They shipped his sail boat from Europe and will spend the summer (December-April) here. 

We spent the afternoon inside as it was just too hot to do much outside.  We tackled the washer/dryer combo.  I muddled through the Spanish manual with instructions and features.  It seemed to work ok, and now we have clean clothes for our next leg of this trip. 

In the afternoon, we had a telephone meeting with Schwab, where Alexis had her accounts.  We have had a lot of these phone conferences and emails with companies getting her financial and legal paperwork in order.  All (except American Airlines) have been very understanding and have made things relatively easy.

DINNER:  Breakfast for dinner!  I made an omelette to clean out the refrigerator – eggs, bell pepper, mushrooms, onions, ham, and cheese.  George made grits for a side. 

A museum trek

LOCATION:  Punta del Este, Uruguay
WEATHER:  A bit hot.  High 85

From our glass-walled apartment, we watched a big thunderstorm come over the bay and make its way toward us.  The palm trees below our 3rd floor apartment were swaying with the wind.  It soon blew over, and it was time for us to  run to the fish market. 

We took this photo of the fish stall, so that I could look up some of the Spanish fish names before returning. 

Today, we bought cooked octopus and raw scallops.  This HUGE sea lion was begging at the stall.  I’ve never seen one that looks so much like a land lion!

The weekend here was pretty busy, but now it is very quiet.  This windows in this  apartment building in front of us are mostly shuttered down.  They were all open this weekend.  School starts now in March (their fall), so tourism has really decreased for the year.

For lunch, I used that cooked octopus to make an octopus salad – with arugula, tomato, and avocado.  It was quite tasty, and the octopus was surprisingly tender.

Then, we were off to today’s destination – the Ralli Museum.  We had heard good things about it.  It is a private museum with mostly modern Latin American artists.  We thought we would check out taking a bus.  What an adventure!

First, we found a bus stop near our apartment.  Unlike in many cities, there are no numbers posted and no routes listed.  Also, the drivers don’t seem to know anything except their own route.  We hopped on the first one that came by.  I asked the driver if it went near the museum, and he directed us to get off at the bus station and ask.  So, we did.  However, the main bus station turned out to be for only long, overland buses – to Montevideo, Buenos Aires, and inland.  There was no one to ask and we didn’t see any local buses.   So, we got out our map, thinking we would hail a bus on the road leading to the museum.  It was getting quite hot, and we were starting to flag a bit.  We found a bus stop to wait.  A lady joined us.  I asked her about a bus toward the museum.  She said there wasn’t one, and that we would need to take a cab.  What to do?  Her bus came by and she verified with the driver that there were none we could take.  As the driver was closing the door, he shouted…..”You could always walk….it is about 15 blocks”.  So, we took off.  At this point, I am really getting hot and tired.  We weren’t sure we were going in the right direction, but the map indicated that we were.  We walked through several chic neighborhoods and it was interesting looking at the houses and shops.  Finally, is it a mirage?  It was a sign for our museum! Yay!!

We followed the signs, and made it to the museum, nestled in a park with lots of trees and open space. 

The museum itself is a lovely, open-air building and houses lots of interesting artwork.

There are several Salvador Dali’ sculptures, including one with his famous melting clock.

We had the museum almost to ourselves – strange but great.

We took a taxi back home, as we were pooped.  George said it was the best $12 he has spent in his life!

In the evening, we went across the street to the brewpub.  At 7:30, they were just opening up.  Again, we were the only ones there, but they were preparing for a busy night ahead, starting at about 11:00.  Their busy times, per their website are 11P – 2A.

DINNER: Tomato/avocado salad to start.  Seared scallops in a garlic/butter sauce with pasta on the side.   

A quiet day Punta del Este

LOCATION:  Punta del Este, Uruguay
WEATHER:  A bit warm.  High 84

We are enjoying our cute little AirB&B apartment.  The sun streams in so much that we sometimes have to put the black-out curtain down.  But normally, we keep it open so we can gaze out to the Atlantic.

There is a nice grocery store nearby where we went again this morning.  Food prices are interesting.  I looked at a rotisserie chicken — $15!!!   Then, I found the meat/poultry section and bought a raw chicken quarter for about $1.50.  I wanted to buy a can of soup to use up some fish broth.  They don’t seem to sell canned soup here.  Wow!  Things are overall not as inexpensive as we had thought they would be, probably because of all the wealthy tourists here.

One of the delightful things about Punta del Este is the wild parakeets and parrots that flock around the palm trees.  There are thousands of them.  It is hard to spot them, but we hear them chattering.

Our apartment is in the artistic, old historic section of town.  There are a lot of pretty murals.  This is on the police station….

In the afternoon, we had a wonderful visit by a German couple that we befriended on the cruise ship.  They stayed on the ship to Buenos Aires, and will continue on the ship,  doing two more back-to-back cruises until Lisbon, their final destination.  They docked in Punta del Este today, and we invited them over to visit.  It was fun chatting with them.  We will see them again in January on our next cruise.

DINNER:  I sauteed that chicken quarter, then cooked it a long time with bell peppers, onion, garlic, and tomato sauce.  I served it over polenta….otherwise known as grits when we have it for breakfast! 

BOOK:  “The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach” by Pam Jenoff.  This is a series of historical fiction taking place in WWII.  4 stars out of 5

Our apartment has a TV but almost everything is in Spanish.  We found the British “Escape to the Country” series and watched a few episodes.  One of my favorite shows.