Punta Del Este and Montevideo:
Our trip to Uruguay got off to a somewhat rough start. We arrived in Punta Del Este (a beach town that they call the Monte Carlo of South America) and not only was it cold and rainy, someone at the bus station gave us wrong directions to our hostel and it took us over an hour to get there, when it should have taken 10 minutes. As I’m sure you can imagine, by the time we arrived, Dave was not a happy camper.
We checked into our room and as soon as we stepped foot back outside to explore the town, it started to pour. Instead of walking around in the rain, we decided to spend a few hours in our hostel getting some stuff done. On our way back, we found a place to drop off our laundry (it was very expensive in PDE – It cost us around $20 to do two loads, whereas in Iquitos, where we had done it the last time, it cost $4). We figured that it was worth it though because we could just get it done while it was gross out, rather than spending time in our next city having to figure it out.
We got back to our hostel, and they had lit a nice fire in the fireplace (it was freezing outside and inside, so we were very thankful for this). We made a couple cups of coffee and got to work. Luckily, they had a computer in the hostel so Dave and I were both able to be on a computer at the same time.
For the next few hours, we were very prodctive. I wrote a ton of blogs and Dave worked on the book that he’s started to write. By 2pm, it had stopped raining for the most part, we had finished what we had to do, and so we set out to explore.
Punta Del Este was pretty dead, but that’s not surprising for a beach town in the summer. In fact, we were the only people staying at our hostel. We paid $27 for the night, but they told us that in the summer, a room can get up to $250 per night (and there’s a 3-night minimum). So, we were bummed that we didn’t get to see it when it was crowded and everything was open, but we definitely were happy not to be paying the high summer prices.
We walked along the beach (which was very pretty) and to the number one tourist attraction in PDE, a giant hand statue that’s sticking out of the sand. Then, we walked through the town, scouted out a dinner place, went into a few stores, and picked up our laundry and a bottle of wine (the wine was the only cheap thing we found while in PDE – we got a decent bottle for $6).
While we were folding our laundry and enjoying our wine, we also got to video chat with my parents, Dave’s sister and then my brother. It was really nice to catch up with everyone!
For dinner, we had found a place with a veal milanese special, which sounded pretty amazing to us. We ordered that and a Chuvito, which is a type of sandwich that they specialize in all over Uruguay. This was our first meal of our trip (excluding Portland and Seattle) at a sit-down restaurant. It was delicious, though also not cheap.
We didn’t eat dinner until late, so by the time we were done, we were pretty tired. We went back to our very warm room (this was the first time of our trip that we’ve had heat in our room, and it was glorious!), and went to bed.
We woke up in the morning, had some cereal at our hostel for breakfast, and headed to the bus station for our 2-hour ride to Montevideo (luckily, this time, it only took us 10 minutes to find the bus station!).
We arrived in Montevideo, and decided to take a taxi to our hotel. It was only a couple dollars more than taking the bus, and after spending an hour lost in Punta Del Este the day before, we just wanted to get to our hotel quickly.
Once again, our hotel was in the perfect location right in the middle of town. We quickly dropped off our stuff and headed out to find the “old city” of Montevideo, and the Mercado de Puerto, which we had read was the number one thing to do in Montevideo (plus, we would never pass up a good market).
After being in beach towns for the past 3 or 4 days (and especially beach towns during the low-season), we were pretty excited to be back in a bustling city. We walked up and down streets, went in and out of shops, and finally found ourself in the old city of Montevideo with its cobblestone streets and street vendors. We were loving Montevideo already!
After walking around for a bit, we finally found the market on the edge of the old city. We went in and it was not what we were expecting at all. We thought it would be a market with different little stands, but instead, it was a building filled with different restaurants, all serving BBQ and grilled meat. We were pretty much in heaven.
The first thing we found out was that the market closed at 5, so we decided we were going to do a big lunch, and then a very light dinner later on (if we needed dinner at all). We walked around the entire market (it reminded us of Eataly with all of it’s different restaurants) and checked out all of the different menus before deciding on a place. We got a BBQ for 2, which included steak, chicken, chorizo, pudding sausage (which I had never had before and loved), kidney, liver, intestines, and more. It was huge and every single thing was delicious. We also ordered a pitcher or sangria, and we both thought that it was maybe the best sangria that we’ve ever had.
After lunch, we were both in a food coma, and decided that the only thing to do was try to walk it off. Since arriving in Uruguay, we’d seen pretty much every person carrying around mugs and drinking something that we later learned was called Mate. You have a cup filled with some kind of herb (tea), and then a separate mug filled with hot water. You continually refill the cup with hot water and drink the tea out of a metal straw. We were very curious about this Mate since it seemed as though everyone owned their own kit (often in nice leather cases) that they carried around with them at all times. And, we had read that you get a buzz from drinking it, so between those two factors, we had to try it.
We read an article about a famous Mate place, which we tried to find, but then learned it had closed. Then, we found out about another market (the Agricultural market) on the other side of town, that also had a Mate shop. We were curious why there were so few places that served the drink, but then figured that it was probably because everyone just had their own kit (we saw tons of street vendors and shops selling the kit, but we simply wanted to try it without buying the whole kit).
We took a bus to the other side of town, got out at the government palace (which we had wanted to see anyway), and then made our way to the market. We walked in and immediately found the Mate shop. After a few minutes of trying to explain what we wanted, they finally set us up with our Mate. We each took a sip and thought it was the grossest thing we’d ever tasted… and we both pretty much like everything! I can’t even describe what it tasted like, but it was so bad that I couldn’t even drink it and needed a piece of gum after to get the taste out of my mouth. And, worst of all, we didn’t get any kind of buzz from it.
As bad as it was, we were still glad we tried it. At this point we had just enough Uruguayan pesos to get us back to the bus station the next morning, so we headed back to our hotel. We relaxed for a bit (we tried to catch up on the Bachelorette, but no luck), and then headed out again for another walk.
We had read about an area called Palermo, where supposedly there was tons of live music places, all for free. It sounded cool, so we walked about 20 minutes to try to find it, but when we got to the street where it was supposed to be, there was nothign there. In fact, it was so desolate, we got a little nervous and immediately headed back to the busier part of town.
We had read about the closed Mate shop and Palermo in the same article, so were thinking it must have been pretty out of date, since both were shut down!
We had a full and great day in Montevideo, and it had quickly become one of our favorite cities of the trip so far. We went to sleep and were ready for another 20 hour bus ride the next day to Mendoza, Argentina, home of Malbecs!
We arrived in Mendoza early in the morning and after a short cab ride to our hostel, we dropped our bags nd were ready to hit the town. Our plan for our 2 day stay was to explore the city on day 1 and then spend day 2 biking through all of the wineries.
The first thing we had to take care of in town was exchanging money. Without saying too much, within minutes we were $100 richer than when we started. Not a bad way to start the day! After we were done with our errand, we walked around town, went in and out of shops and then made our way to the central market for lunch. Somehow, on our way out of our hostel earlier, we picked up a stray dog and he spent at least an hour following us around. He even waited for us as we went in and out of different stops. We finally lost him though after our stop at Independence Plaza. Maybe that´s because we told him to stay and started calling him a bad dog.
We got to the market, and as always, we were in heaven. After walking all around and checking out all of our options, we decided to have a few empanadas for lunch – one chicken, one beef, and one ham and cheese. After lunch, we walked around the city a bit more and our plan for the afternoon was to go to the huge park in town. We were going to run there and then spend a few hours exploring, but first, we stopped back at our hostel for a quick siesta.
At around 2, we were ready to head out and luckily (and by luckily, I mean THANK GOD!!), Dave asked the guy working at our hostel about our wine tours for the next day. Well, once every 4 years is election day in Mendoza and that day was tomorrow. Not only would all of the wineries be closed, no alcohol would be sold anywhere in Mendoza. Dave and I looked at each other and we were pretty much both in a panic. We had just taken a 24 hour bus ride for the vineyards in Mendoza and now there was a chance we wouldn´t even be able to see them. We pretty much immediately ran out of our hostel and onto the 40 minute bus to Maipu, where all of the vineyards were.
We got dropped off at Mr. Hugo´s bike rental (the best bike rental, according to Trip Advisor), and were greeted by Mr. Hugo himself. He got us set up with our bikes while Mrs. Hugo went over our paperwork and assured us that we still had plenty of time to complete the wine tour. We felt a little better, but we still couldn´t believe that we had chosen the one day that the wineries were closed (in 4 years!!).
After a 30-minute bike ride, we reached the wineries. We made our way through 3 or 4 of them, getting different tastings at each (but of course, the tastings always included a Malbec, the Mendoza specialty and also one of our favorite wines). We started out with 4 half glasses for 60 pesos (about $8 for 2 full glasses). At the next winery, we opted for 3 full glasses for 15 pesos each. This was a better deal. I don´t remember the deal we got at the final winery, but by then I was half a beer (we stopped at a gas station before the 1st winery and downed a big bottle of beer since we got such a late start) and 3 or 4 glasses of wine in, so can you really blame me?
Once we were at each of the wineries, the scenery was beautiful with views of the vineyards and the mountains. The bike ride to the wineries though, not so much. While we had been expecting that beautiful scenery during the whole trip, we were surprised to find that Maipu seemed pretty run down. But, with all of the great wine flowing, it didn´t bother us too much.
In the end, we made it through the wine tour, but with zero time to spare. In fact, when we arrived at winery number 3, they were locking the doors. The whole time Dave had been telling me that in order to consider it a ¨legit¨winery tour, we at least had to stop at three different places (this was my first one, so I guess I wasn´t up on all of the rules). When winery #3 told us they were closed, I was almost in tears because I thought I wouldn´t be able to complete the official tour (according to Dave’s admittedly arbitrary rules). Luckily, there was one more winery another half mile up the street and we got that third one in at the last second. Also fortunately, Mr. Hugo was forgiving when we returned with our bikes 15 minutes late. On our ride back, we were party escorted by the “tourist police” which we had read about in a few blogs. I guess they help the tourists find their way back after dark and after one too many glasses of vino:).
As soon as we got back to the city., we immediately headed out again to Aristides Villanueva street, which Dave had read is the strip with all the best bars and restaurants in the city. We were determined to go out, but after drinking since 3 and hearing that no one goes out until at least midnight, we were a little skeptical. Once we got there and realized that none of the bars would even be selling alcohol after midnight (some after 8pm – damn election!!!) we realized it probably was not meant to be. Instead, we found a great Italian restaurant, got some calamari, pizza, and this amazing pumpkin ravioli (just what the doctor ordered since we basically skipped lunch once we found out about the winery mishap) and then we called it a night.
Our other worry when we learned about election day (aside from the fact that we may not be able to get to the vineyards) was that everything would be closed and we wouldn´t be able to find anything to do for our 2nd (and last) day in Mendoza. So slept in a little (9am, which is late for the Staves), and decided that we´d go for that run to the park that we had been planning for the afternoon before.
The park was huge – maybe even bigger than Central Park in NY and complete with a full 18-hole golf course, at least 2 sets of tennis courts, and much more. We spent several hours running and walking through the park (and of course stopping at at least 3 of the outdoor fitness facilities that Dave loves so much), and as the day went on, we were more and more glad that our schedule had worked out like it did. We had gotten everything in the previous day and then got to take it a little easier and relax a bit on day number 2.
After a few hours in the park, we were starving and ready for lunch. We went back to Aristides Villanueva street and after checking out all of our options, we decided on a place that specialized in milanese (we had seen it the night before but were in the mood for pizza and pasta so decided to forgo it). But we´ve never seen anything like this place. Their menu consisted, for the most part, only of milanese dishes, but each topped with something different. There were probably 30 different kinds, and they came in sizes of 1 to 4 persons. Well walking by and seeing an entire family eating a huge single piece of milanese topped with fried egg had us hooked. We ordered veal milanese for 2, half topped with cheese, tomato, and fried egg, and the other half topped with some sort of amazing creamy spinach sauce. Our waiter told us those were the 2 most popular. The milanese was huge and delicious. And not only were the toppings amazing, but the actual veal was so much thicker than you typically get when ordering this dish (it seemed like two veal milaneses stacked on top of each other). And all for $15. On top of the great food, the place also had a great ambiance and was super packed, mainly with very trendy Argentinians dressed to the nines (Dave and I of course were in our workout gear; Nicole, if you’re reading this, don’t hate us:).
After spending the evening relaxing (and not eating dinner because we were still full from lunch), we were ready for an early departure to Santiago the next day.