I took a flight to get away from Asuncion, far from the cheapest option, but it at least brought an abrupt end to my time in Paraguay. Before long I was in Montevideo, and now a capital city that actually was worth seeing. Asuncion had been pretty rough around the edges, but Montevideo was about to exceed my expectations. When you think of Uruguay, I’m sure there are many who would picture Luis Suarez sinking his chops into an opponent on a football pitch before they imagine what the place is like. Uruguay is a little gem of a country alongside two giants.
The whole country only has a population of 3.5 million people, and therefore Montevideo is an easy city to negotiate. With far more interesting architecture about, a big market and good places to eat, it felt nice to be back in normal civilisation. I longed to find a local to talk Suarez with, but the closest I came was probably the bloke sat on the gate outside the stadium of Nacional – the ground that hosted the first ever World Cup match in 1930 and the first club of Suarez – though this man really just shouted loudly at me in Spanish. I think he was basically telling me to piss off. Still, that aside I would recommend Montevideo to anyone. Perhaps the only thing missing was a good beach, the water there is pretty brown. Perhaps a night out here leaves a bit to be desired too. One night with a randomly assorted group of around 10 Brazilians, an Irishman and myself, I went to a place called the ‘Fun Fun Bar.’ It wasn’t.
After Montevideo I took a bus a couple of hours up the coast to Punta del Este, a rather fancy town with glitzier buildings and good beaches. Perhaps a step up in class from Montevideo, here those brown waters become blue, the Pilsens become Peronis. I only really came here for the beach, but it was here I came across two friendly Germans, Michi and Hinrich. We did go to the beach, and typically as the Englishman I got rather badly sunburnt. These two have been travelling in reverse to where I intend to go, and were going back to Buenos Aires to go onto Iguazu Falls. As luck had it, I had already decided to skip staying the night in Colonia del Sacramento due to a lack of reasonably affordable accommodation, and it is here where an hour-long ferry crossing will take you over to Buenos Aires. We travelled back to Montevideo together, onto Colonia then took the crossing, but the combination of two buses, a ferry, sunburnt skin and a big rucksack didn’t make it the most pleasant of days.
Still, I left Uruguay in far greater spirits than the last country I left, and we finally made it to Buenos Aires, the beating heart of Argentina. Having had a long day of travelling we sank a few beers to perk ourselves up, and mostly in my case to drink away the pain of the sunburn. Naturally, they brought up 2010’s Germany 4-1 England, I brought up 2001’s England 5-1 Germany. A few beers quickly escalated into staying out in Buenos Aires until 5am, a better solution to any after sun I’ve been trying.
The Germans had already been in Buenos Aires, and so had already seen plenty of the city. For me I slipped into the lack of motivation to do anything, the first time I’ve really experienced that on my trip. That was until the third day however, when we all went along to a football match, one of the things I desperately wanted to do before I came here. The game was the mighty River Plate against little Quilmes, and on the way we met a Dutch girl, the very chatty Lisa. Though our excitement was quickly lost when we were caught in the mother of all thunderstorms. I was so drenched to the extent my feet got no more wet by trekking through ankle deep puddles. Poor Lisa’s white t-shirt was now completely see-through, not that many fellas around us complained. The match was called off and rescheduled for the next day, which was to the distaste of Michi and Hinrich, they would be leaving the following morning. We trudged home and later drank away our sorrows at missing the match, with Lisa introducing us to two Danes, Anne-Sofie and Olivia.
The following day I said farewell to my German companions I’d spent the last four days with, and Hinrich and I agreed we’d go to Anfield someday. There was however now a distinct lack of men in our mini-group, leaving me to feel like the gay friend whenever the others spoke about girl stuff. Michi and Hinrich’s departure did give me the chance to see more of Buenos Aires as I wanted to however, not before River Plate vs. Quilmes take two, this time without the rain.
The atmosphere inside the ground was like nothing I’ve ever experienced at a football match before. Put it this way, never have I witnessed such a loud reception for a goalkeeper simply running out for his pre-match warm up. I realise I have banged on about football aplenty in this post, but it is difficult not to when the game is so embedded in the culture of the city, the country and the whole continent. Fans are so ardent. It is not unfamiliar for a River Plate supporting husband to divorce his Boca supporting wife over fears their children will support the wrong team. And at this match football’s universal reach hit home as I was sat next to a dad taking his young lad to the game. The young lad was probably no more than five, the same age I was when my dad took me to my first game between Liverpool and Sheffield Wednesday.
No away fans are allowed into games in Argentina, so I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Quilmes as they were torn to pieces by River, much to the amusement of the locals. A fairly disputable penalty decision and a red card you would probably see yellow for back home, Quilmes were totally up against it, and the goals began to flow. Each time one went in the constant singing would stop for a brief raucous cheer, before being followed by even more intense singing. Each time the little lad next to me covered his ears. The oles came out in the 68th minute. It finished 5-1.
For the rest of my time in Buenos Aires I got to see just how vibrant the city is even without a football demolition job on display. The city is so diverse, no chance of being singled out as gringo while I’m here. The areas Recoleta and Palermo are lavish metropolis’ inside the beast that is Buenos Aires. For what is becoming the customary weird thing to visit this time it was a cemetery in Recoleta, though this genuinely is a top draw for visitors. Many notable Argentines throughout history reside here, with thousands of beautifully sculptured vaults above the ground containing the dead. I found the place as fascinating as I did surreal.
I’ve now left Buenos Aires for Rosario. The intention is to spend the next couple of weeks working my way across various places in Argentina to eventually reach Chile, and head north from there. I’ve been in South America for over five weeks and have already seen enough to be satisfied if I were to go home now. But with Rio, Sao Paulo and now Buenos Aires ticked off my list, three focal points of the entire continent, I now feel the world I see is going begin to change.