You read that right; it’s country #2 time. Like the daring, syphilitic Spanish colonialists all those centuries ago, I have crossed the River Plate from Argentina to Uruguay. However, I personally managed to avoid emotionally or physically abusing any aboriginals during my transit; in fact, in a sad little tugboat-ferry hybrid pumping out thick black smoke as it wobbled uneasily across the estuary, it felt more like I was on a school trip to the Isle of Wight in 2005 rather than on my way to gut the Incas of their precious metals. But either way, here I am in Montevideo.
Uruguay. The home of Edinson Cavani, of Diego Forlan, of Diego Godín – indeed of Luis Suárez himself. I have set foot in a country of footballing royalty and over-achievement; three million people, two Olympic gold medals, two World Cups, fifteen Copa Americas. All Latin American people will tell you that their country is the most football-crazy on Earth, and from an outsider’s perspective I was always inclined to lean toward gifting Argentina that title. Yet, bizarrely, I only found one native in Argentina who admitted to even liking football, let alone being crazy for it. And shortly after I swung the conversation toward Messi, Maradona and my beloved Tevez, he swung it off in a different direction. He wanted to talk about some islands off the coast of Argentina that have been the cause of a few disputes in their time. You might have heard of them. After such a weak demonstration of football fandom from Argentina, as soon as I got to Montevideo, I got in a taxi and started chatting football, eager to see if Uruguay would take the crown.
- “So do you follow football?”
- “Ah sí, football!”
- “Great! Who do you support?”
- “Oh support no-one.”
- “Oh really? Not even Barcelona? Because of Luis Suárez?”
- “I do not know this Luis Suárez.”
The conversation quickly drifted into incredulous, disappointed silence as I sunk back in my chair, put my chin in my hand, and looked up. At that exact moment, we had stopped at a traffic light next to a gigantic billboard of Suárez himself looking down on us, his little rat-faced stare towering over the avenue like an infallible hero of the nation. If you only knew, Luis. If you only knew.
To those of you who don’t like football; I digress. I guess there hasn’t been a blog update in a few days so there’s more to write than normal. There have been few highlights in the past few days, with copious amounts of booking and other organisation having taken up valuable time, along with day-long hangovers borne of atrocious South American alcohol. The main culprit being a 9pm-9am night of clubs across the Palermo district of Buenos Aires, fueled by an ungodly number of espresso martinis supplied by my trusty enabler Dan, a fellow traveler.
The next day I took a walk down to La Boca to check out La Bombonera, the iconic home of Boca Juniors – one of Buenos Aires’ major football teams and one half of the infamous SuperClásico derby match. The neighbourhood directly surrounding the staidum is a little sketchy; about six people – with a combined total of around two teeth – approached me to ask random questions in slurred Spanish, even once I tell them I can’t understand the most basic sentences in received-pronunciation Spanish, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from a couple of close calls (and a few hostelmates being less fortunate) it’s do not let people stop you on the street in Buenos Aires. Somewhere in the city is a giant pile of wallets, cameras and mobile phones of the poor souls who made the ultimate sacrifice, and stopped dead in their their tracks at the sight of a dirt-encrusted man with a low-riding baseball cap waving around a pair of socks.
In fact, La Boca took the ‘dodgy neighbourhood’ vibe to an extent at which it became surreal. Walking through Parque Lezama, I witnessed a homeless man and what I can only hope was his son pelting a tree with stones. I was stood on the other side of the tree, so assumed they were either playing a game or maybe attempting the world’s slowest quest for timber, but when I walked round to the other side, and they paused for a moment, I saw a rat clinging to the side of the tree. Not moving, but very much still alive. Then – boom! This kid slung a rock as hard as he could and – I’m not exaggerating – it hit the rat flush in the face, knocking it off the tree. Then the dad tried again and he too got a direct hit. And a third, and a fourth. Their marksmanship was genuinely staggering, as was the rat’s inability to realise that it should RUN. After I subsequently realised I was about to witness a brutal murder (yeah, they were almost certainly going to eat this diseased little city park rat for sustenance), I turned away, only to look back at just the wrong moment as the dad slammed a boulder down on top of the little bastard. What a city.
Although, a rival for strangest moment so far would actually have to come from my brief time in Montevideo. Arriving at the bus terminal at 6pm, I realised I hadn’t eaten anything all day, so took a seat in a burger restaurant with quite comfortably the worst customer service I’ve experienced outside of England (and France). The waiter – who spoke English – had no idea what I wanted, as if asking for food in a restaurant was some sort of strange performance art I was attempting, and kept wandering off before I could finish my sentences. So when my truly bizarre ‘Hamburguesa Canadiense’ arrived, complete with whole hard-boiled egg, olives and mustard, and a spider jumped out of it and threw itself off the table just before I could take my first bite, I had experienced enough inexplicable bullshit in this place already that it didn’t phase me.
And yes, after convincing myself that my hunger may have been causing me to hallucinate, I ate the burger anyway.