So, after risking life and limb in Paraguay yesterday, I decided to take it a bit easier in Montevideo, the capital of neighboring Uruguay. After checking into the hotel, I asked for a suggestion about where to eat that was nearby and open now. The “open now” part of my request seemed to be the most difficult. It would appear that eating dinner at 6:30 p.m. is an unusual thing here. Most Uruguayans, I suppose, eat much later. I’m not that fancy.
“There’s a great place over in the shopping mall. They have chicken. And steak. But be sure to get it ‘to go.’ They’ll charge you to sit at a table and you’ll save yourself quite a bit of money.”
Yes, you read correctly. I was sent to eat dinner in a shopping mall. The last time I found myself in a mall was in Hong Kong. And I didn’t care for it. I’ve done my best to avoid them ever since.
In this case, however, the experience was somewhat more pleasant.
When ordering food abroad, I find it easiest to sort of be “directed” to something. In other words, I want to get a sense for the local fare whenever possible. I try to avoid, for example, the hamburgers and fish-and-chips that most tourists seek. Often, it’s great. Other times, however, it’s been nothing short of horrific. Like guinea pig in Peru. Or raw whelk in Tokyo. Or “Rocky Mountain oysters” in Jackson Hole.
I think many people like flavors of home when they’re somewhere else. Unlike me, they don’t take risks with their stomachs. I suppose that’s why there’s almost always a line of people wrapped around the Olive Garden in Times Square waiting to get in.
“Hey, Billy Bob! We’re in New York City! Let’s get some Eye-Talian!”
“Great idea, Marge. I could go fer some endless salad and breadsticks!”
But, I digress. In this case, upon discovering the restaurant, En Fogo, I learned that the “quite a bit of money” to sit in the restaurant was a “cutlery fee” of about 35¢. I figured I could splurge so I chose a table with a view. Soon, the waitress appeared and said something, which I took to be the Daily Special. It sounded like it might have included the word “carne.” I said,
“Sí, Lo quiero. Y, uno copa de vino, por favor.”
“Yes, I want that. And a cup of wine, please.”
A few minutes later, a sausage showed up. It was kind of sad looking, really. Not only was it all shriveled up, but it looked like it had suffered a painful sunburn. So, away I went. It reminded me of a gas station hot dog. You know, the pink ones just past their prime? I figured a bit of ketchup would do the trick. And there was some on the table. It was in one of those plastic envelopes that are nearly impossible to open. Finally, I got it and doused my sausage.
Hmmm. I wonder why this ketchup is clear? Wait a tick! That’s not ketchup. The Spanish word for ketchup isn’t ‘vinagre.’ That’s the Spanish word for ‘vinegar.’
Whoops. I was now faced with eating a shriveled, pink, vinegar-laced sausage of unknown origin. I cleaned my plate, which was the signal for the waitress to bring another course. This one was kind of like a shish kebab, but without the Indian spices. And it was good. In fact, it was so good, I almost forgot I was in a shopping mall with a view of the food court. Wait, is that a Burger King over there? Yes. Yes, it is.
With a full belly, I thought I’d wander the shopping mall. Shopping malls in other countries are surprising in their consistency. For the most part they’re just like shopping malls at home. Or at least my memory of an American shopping mall — I haven’t been to one in a decade or so.
The next day, I decided to expand my wandering beyond the shopping mall to explore the general vicinity.
They say one should avoid looking up at the tall buildings in a city because doing so labels you as a tourist and you’ll be mugged, kidnapped, and ransomed. In Montevideo, it’s tough to look anywhere but down. No one, it turns out, has the responsibility of cleaning up after the legions of feral dogs.
While walking around the area, I came across what I can only figure is the national car. Here’s a photo essay:
Montevideo isn’t a large city, but I wanted to see more of it than my feet would allow so I organized a taxi to take me by the Legislative Palace and U.S. Embassy on the way to the airport.
The driver, Julio, spoke far less English than I spoke Spanish. And he completely overestimated my Spanish. I think he was so excited to be a tour guide that he ignored my repeated requests to hablar despacio, por favor. I asked him to please speak slowly.
I think that, since I’d asked to see the Legislative Palace, he understood that I had an interest in government. So he pointed out what I could best work out to be every single government building in the city. I think, but can’t be sure, that he took government workers to be lazy fools because he kept pointing at government buildings, saying large numbers, and pretending to be asleep.
Julio asked me where I was from. “Carolina del Norte en Los Estados Unidos,” I said. He responded with “Muy loco.” and pretended to shoot a shotgun. I believe he confused North Carolina with Asunción.
In any event, he desperately wanted to ensure my comfort, which he accomplished by turning the volume up each time an English-language song came on the radio. Let me tell you, one hasn’t truly lived until one has ridden through Montevideo in a Volkswagen (of course) taxi with the Carpenters on full blast.
Buenos Aires, here I come!