Thursday, September 20, 2007

South America Part I: Montevideo

Buenas días, amigos,

If we thought twenty-two hours (not all spent in flight) was a long time to get from Chicago to Montevideo, Uruguay, consider that it took a member of our group thirty-seven hours to make the trip from Hong Kong. Thanks to Ambien, I got six hours of sleep on the plane—just enough to keep me from becoming psychotic.

All went smoothly until we arrived in Buenos Aires, where our connecting flight to Montevideo was delayed for no particular reason. It seems that airline schedules are somewhat capricious south of the Equator. However, our luggage was waiting when we arrived, unlike last year in Australia when my luggage (but not my husband’s) disappeared for two days without a trace; a nightmare. I didn’t even own a spare rubber band for my ponytail. I digress.

The Montevideo airport is guarded by humorless-looking militia men bearing Uzis. These guys appear to be about twelve years old. To my husband’s enormous relief, I curbed my enthusiasm for taking their photograph. In the BA airport, I did take a photo of a woman wearing the most breathtaking array of silver bracelets, necklaces, and dangly earrings I have ever seen on one individual. Unfortunately this shot shows only the rear version, which sort of tells a story of its own. This old girl was probably well into her eighties. Again, I digress.

When I travel, my attention tends to digress. I notice the quirky stuff other people with their tour books and maps either overlook or chose to ignore, usually for good reason. My hermana, Laura, is the consummate travel writer with her ability to describe the local scene and illustrate her comments with the most gorgeous photos. (Hint, Laura.)

At the BA airport, we had to pay an airport tax. We paid in dollars. At first we thought the clerks were examining the money to see if it was counterfeit. But no. They were amusing themselves—even the police guard was laughing—at some folding trick they did with the bills. Nothing builds a taller wall than laughter in a language you don’t understand.

Speaking of speaking, my Spanish is limited to a few words. One of them is hola. I didn’t think I’d learned much Italian when we were in Italy, but in this country I find myself reverting to it. That, and French, a language I do speak reasonably well. But I seem hopeless to learn another language at this point in my life. Say “Buenas días” to me and I will reply, “Buon giorno.” In the elevator, when asked what floor our room is on, I’ll reply, “Dix-huit.” Brilliant.

To Richard@LonelyPlanet: the grass is not literally greener here. It’s barely spring and rather chilly. Yesterday was blustery. The day before was a big storm that churned up the water, making it a dirty taupe color. Today is overcast. Soon I will take a walk and discover what the temperature is.

The neighborhood of our hotel is a blend of very old and beautiful with ugly Sixties and Seventies-style architecture. Yesterday we found a pedestrian mall with little shops and many street vendors—quite European in feeling. I looked up and discovered angels in the architecture.

Dinner in this part of the world BEGINS at ten o’clock PM. It’s impossible to know how people manage to be in their offices by nine AM. Perhaps they’re still a little bleary from all the late-night food and wine.

Last night’s group at dinner (marketing people from my husband’s firm) were from the US, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Hong Kong. On meeting each other, everyone exchanged a kiss on the cheek, even people meeting for the first time. It’s a nice custom that sets a friendly mood. We had a lovely dinner at a restaurant called the Partridge (in Spanish) and some good red wine. When my husband and I and the woman from Hong Kong left at about eleven o’clock (we had arrived "early" at 8:30) the rest of the gang was still carrying on, as was a family whose table was adjacent to ours. These people had very young children, who were shrieking and running around at such a late hour. I guess that’s common here too.

I hope you are having a buenos dias. (Buenos dios apparently means Good God!) BTW, for some reason Blogger here is in Spanish! Buenos Dios!

So, au revoir for now. My Internet connection is rather fragile and I hope I can post this before getting kicked off again. One more photo. This is a cute newstand.