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Rhymer´s Travel Diary: Entry 48, 9 January 2003
Latin Laxity, Tour de Fuss, Christ in a Tree!
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Montevideo Days


To my complete unsurprise, the day after we decided to leave Montevideo the weather turned beautiful and Montevideo became a charming city again. It's funny like that: European cities - and even Buenos Aires - are OK if the weather's crap. But little Montevideo is, as it were, as changeable as the weather. So again, we had some of the best food on the continent and enjoyed this funny little place. In a way, I suspect Montevideo is a better place to live in than visit. I said earlier it's a two day city. Well, either that or a two year city as it has difficult-to-find charm squirreled away in abundance.

It also unusual in that it has almost no brandscape to speak of: for some reason, there are virtually none of the corporate semiotics we know and love. The familiar Fast food joints, the banks, the crappy chains are largely absent. You should check it out - it makes you realize how lost you are without the fine urban furniture designed by the likes of the Colonel Saunders and the Burger King. Actually, what it really makes you realize is how much better - in every single imaginable way - local coffee shops are than Starbucks. Montevideo is an anti-globalisation protestors dream. Though I suppose if a load of disaffected 20-somethings recognized this and moved there, a Starbucks would open pretty sharpish.

Still, leaving somewhere when it's improving meant means you leave it with good memories. And, in our case pretty appalling hangovers as we'd managed to stay out until 4 the previous morning. We were pretty impressed by this effort but, as I we never saw a Uruguayan announce that he or she was calling it a night, I guess it's still pretty limp by local standards.

Latin Time

But before we could leave Uruguay we had to collect our tickets for our all inclusive package to Iguazu Falls, up on the torrid, jungly Brazilian border . How long does it take to pick up two tickets you've already paid for? Five minutes? Ten Minutes? Actually in these parts it's more like one and a half hours. Especially if the man you are dealing with views serving you as an inconvenience that gets in the way of talking to his family on the phone, joshing with his colleagues, kissing people on the cheeks, etc. etc. Worse if you try and hurry him along, he'll take the piss. I am a naturally slacker and have sort of got used to it. But Jane still clings to the ridiculously Anglo notion that you might want to do more than one thing in a day. So she tried to chivvy our chappie along. And, if there is one thing the Latin worker will put really put his back into, it's mercilessly mocking those who suggest that they might actually want to do some work. And even then...well, more of him later.

Eventually we managed to get out of town with our tickets. The road north more or less follows the line of the River Plate as it narrows from hundreds of kilometers to mere scores. Here must be some of the richest agricultural land in the world. Prosperous looking Estancias dot a lush landscape watered an astroturf green by a superabundance of rain I can personally vouch for. It is strangely treeless though, except for Eucalyptus. Truly the McDonalds of the aboreal world, the Eucalypt is a crappy, nasty looking tree which degrades any environment it is planted in and whose only virtues are that it grows anywhere and fast. Thus, as the Ronald's eaterie is the world's most popular restaurant, this is the most popular tree.

At the ferry terminal, we got quite excited. There were other tourists! Real tourists! From Europe and Norte America! There was a Danish couple: she tall and willowy, he a little earnest and twerpy; there was a german photographer who (natch) was shirtless and sported as nasty tattoo; and there were a youngish American couple. They were attractive, successful, polite, interesting and charming. Whew. After all that I'd like to say they made me puke or have them turn out to be evangelists or Bush Boosters something. But sadly no. They were just very shiny human beings. And, after four days in an almost completely tourist free Montevideo, it was genuinely thrilling to meet someone who a) didn't speak any Spanish and b) thought eating meat three times a day was too much.

The boat trip across the River isn't bad at all and is notable only because the river is so enormous. It's called a river but really it's a huge estuary, muddy brown, steaming in the sun and so wide it looks like you are out on a dirty sea. Buenos Aires itself rises out of the hazy mists looks very stylish indeed. Though closer up, I found myself noticing the poverty much more than before. In Montevideo there are quite a few beggars but in Buenos Aires they actually look like they need the money.

Latin Time II

As I think I may have mentioned, when we bought our tickets to Iguazu, we were offered an economically perverse deal. Either buy the tickets for U$215 apiece or buy a package with the tickets, four nights in a hotel, all our transfers, etc, etc. for U $199 each. When we got to the check-in desk, it suddenly made sense. Our f-kwit travel agent had sold us standby tickets. Not that he actually told us this. You would think that anyone who took about four hours to find and issue tickets would get them right. But actually, this is not what happened. We spent four hours waiting: he spent 3:49 engaged in non work activities and 0:11 actually dealing with us.

The guy at the airline didn't like much it either. For this meant he had to do work too! But Jane appealed to his better side and I kissed his ass and we got seats.

Tour de fuss

And, suddenly we were back in the land of the tour group. Specifically the Japanese tour group. It is an interesting thing about the Japanese. In a sense they are quite intrepid: you find them in all sorts of weird and wondrous locales. Indeed there is almost nowhere the Japanese won't go. As long as it's in a group of twenty led by a tour guide who treats them like naughty schoolchildren and tells them when they're allowed to use the toilet. To an outsider, it is quite ridiculous: there is no other nationality quite like the Japanse.

Moreover, all this oddity is doubly so in Latin America. The Japanese - men and women alike - fuss like mother hens. Everything must be just so. Within a tour group (and they are never without) it is 20 times worse, as there are twenty of them, all busily fussing away. But in Latin America, they are fussing to the wrong people. The Latin's don't worry about anything. Optimistically, they just hope it'll all work out in the end, that the chain of mistakes and laxity will have an agreeable ending. And, like our plane ticket non-disaster it usually does.

Christ in a Tree

The province of Missiones (at the top of which Iguazu is located) is appreciably different to BA. With its red earth, jungle (appropriately, intact on the Argie side, deforested on the Brazilian) and sultry heat, it is tropical: it feels more like Asia than Argentina. And, as our package minibus (with cheerful driver) whisked us towards our package hotel, I spotted a plastic tree by the roadside, branches like outstretched arms. But where the normal silly tree face should be on the trunk, there was a likeness of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. I knew that although I would only be spending four days here, Brazil would not let me down.