Montevideo

I can’t say that I knew much (anything) about Montevideo before I traveled the uncannily like-Leicestershire-in-the-summer countryside. I guess I did have a creaping curiosity about how a national capital predicted the rise of the VCR, or perhaps gave it its name?

The route to my digs took me straight past the heavy, heavy port industry and though the city centre with its bustling pavements and grid street system. A system which seems to favour traffic lights at some cross-roads and absolutely bloody nothing at others. Never sure who has right of way is not a nice feeling trying to keep up with traffic at 40 mph but some how it works. The locals (and Garmin bizarrely) seem to know the roads that are in a permanent state of flow, with cars entering from the right or left having no chance of edging into the current.

For the first time on my trip I’m lording it up in a high-rise with views over the lower-downs to the delta. Me likey. Just a small single room with bathroom off to the side, but great air-con and wi-fi. Leaning out the window and looking down to peg my handwashing outside was interesting, be quick with those pegs!

A quick walk into town suggested Montevideo to be a safe, calm place and relatively unremarkable. Not for the first time a place looked rough around the edges that wasn’t a rough town at all. I think tagging has plenty to do with this. Self-obsessed teens with nothing political or creative to say, but who just want to write their name everywhere. I don’t get it and there’s no need. Definitely not big or clever kids. This scrawl always stands in marked contrast to the amazing street art that seems to be everywhere I’ve been so far, thankfully.

I spotted some cool old buildings in Barrio Sur, south of the centre that had managed to remain standing and have been re-purposed as genuinely characterful bars, no doubt ahead of the inevitable creeping gentrification to come.

Being back in a new big city with the weekend approaching of course calls for a get out at night explore to see what the city has to offer. To try to compensate for the disappointment of the big Montevideo Carnival parade being moved a week due to weather concerns, I decided to hit one of the several carnival evening shows that run most nights through the carnival period. Extending over two months, this is one of the longest carnivals in the world. After queuing in the (non-signposted) wrong line for 45 minutes for tickets at the outdoor velodrome, then being told I’d have to join the other long line I nearly spat the dummy and moved on, but I persevered. I’m glad I did (I guess). The carnival shows are a mix of entertainment troupes performing some kind of bizarre, costumed, comedy sketches and songs about 10 people strong. The place was packed and kept getting busier and busier. The same kind of chilled, mate drinking vibe I’d seen elsewhere seemed to extend to this environment. Kids were left to their own devices to swing like chimps from scaffolding or make makeshift cardboard sledges to plow down steep concrete velodrome track. Parents and (nonewhatsoever) security seemed to give no two ****. Not in the neglectful, feral way seen at the lay-bys across the UK but in the way that I used to play out all day by myself with my mates in the early 70s.

Thankfully, for a stressing Brit at 9pm on a Thursday night with no beer in his hand, I found one of the very few, small beer stalls and hauled 3 plastic pints up to the cheap seats. I then endured an hour of unintelligible (to me), bumble-bee man, “Aye Caramba!!”, “Scorchio!!!” comedy skits which had the people around me bellowing. I’m pretty sure that even if I understood Spanish and got every “joke”, it still wouldn’t have been for me. When the troupe scurried offstage for a quick change and returned dressed as a toilet brush, a rat and a sanitary towel I knew it was time to beat a hasty retreat…

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