January 25, 2012 – Montevideo, Uruguay
Uruguay is the smallest country in South America. It is south of Brazil and east of Argentina, and Montevideo is its capitol. The country has about 3 million citizens about half of whom live in the capitol. Uruguayan demographics are unique in South America – the population is almost 100% Spanish and Italian, due to several factors. There were no resources to exploit in the early days of colonization, so no slaves were brought to the country. Unfortunately in the 1800s, following independence, the Uruguayan government conducted genocide of the indigenous population and those who were not killed fled the country. In the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries there was significant emigration from Europe, primarily Italy and Spain, the two countries now contributing to the bulk of population.
The people of Montevideo seem different than any we have encountered on the trip. This place seems more laid back, more civilized, less frenetic than Rio, or even Buenos Aires. No protests in the streets, no revolutions, no earthquakes, no hurricanes, little crime, no warnings from the ship to beware of pickpockets or muggings. Indeed, the tour guide told us that Montevideo is very safe, even at night, and that the people seem very accepting of their lot in life – content to live through the ups and downs of politics and the economy. She described it as a boring place – in a nice way.
The name of the capitol has an interesting origin. The Plata River is almost 100 miles wide near the point it meets the Atlantic Ocean and Montevideo is on the north shore about 50 miles inland from the Ocean. There is a hill near the city and the early Spanish marked it on their maps as the Monte (mountain), VI (sixth in Roman numerals), EDO (in from the sea). MONTE –VI-DEO.
The city of Montevideo has a different architecture. It is as though nothing has been constructed since 1950 – they are stuck in “Art Deco”, albeit an aging Art Deco. Indeed Uruguay experienced a long boom period, in the first half of the 20th century, exporting cattle and grain products. Turmoil in Europe during the WWI and WWII created prosperity in Uruguay that ended in the early fifties. Many of the buildings are constructed of formed concrete and while the shapes are varied, the color is uniformly grey.
Fifties era hotel in Montevideo.
Overall a friendly, safe place to visit with a growing community of American expatriates.