Horse-and-cart Waste Removal

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“It’s a social problem,” our homestay mother explained to us, as the horse-and-cart garbage collector picked the bags up from the curb.

I can’t speak to whether it’s a social problem or not, but it’s certainly a curiosity that in one of the most developed countries in Latin America, waste disposal is done in such an old fashioned way. I suppose it’s a reminder that outside of Montevideo and the glitzy and hippy beach towns, Uruguay is a very rural country.

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Learning Spanish in Montevideo

Plaza Matriz near the academy


It had been years since I graduated university, the last time I had spoken Spanish with any consistency. I was rusty. On top of that, I still had Brazilian Portuguese rattling around in my head, mixing with and supplanting some of my Spanish vocabulary. Rosie was at a beginner level, and wanted a firm grasp of the basics.

We looked on-line and found Academia Uruguay, located by Plaza Matriz, near the edge of Ciudad Vieja in Montevideo.

Courses

There are various options for group or individual courses. If you sign up for a four hour a day intensive group course, but they can’t find a class to put you in, they’ll give you a three hour a day individual course for the same price. When we signed up they had an offer that if you join with another person, the second person gets a 50 percent discount.

We decided on a two week course, twenty hours a week. In that time, I had three different teachers. As a teacher myself, I could tell that the standard of teaching was quite high. They know their stuff and they keep the classes varied and interesting, using Uruguayan advertisements, rock songs, games and of course, a textbook.

Extras

One of the best things about the Academy is the free additional activities offered in the afternoon. These include pronunciation and listening workshops, visits to parks and museums and other excursions.

Every week, they also offer an hour a day course with a teacher from another Spanish-speaking country. These optional classes aren’t free, but can be interesting and offer another way to supplement your learning. In the second week, I took the class with a Venezuelan teacher, who each day presented a different aspect of his country; the landscape, the language, the food, the music and the controversial Hugo Chavez (our teacher definitely wasn’t a chavista).

Accommodation

Students can pay to stay at the school’s hostel, at a homestay or arrange their own accommodation. We chose the homestay for the extra Spanish practice. The family was great, but it wasn’t exactly the immersive experience I thought it would be. They had their own things to do, and didn’t spend all their time indulging our attempts at mastering their language. Still, they were very accommodating and a five minute walk from the beautiful Malvin beach.

Cost

We paid $782, which included 40 hours each plus accommodation at a homestay. The homestay included breakfast and dinner (except on weekends).

Location and Contact Info

Juan Carlos Gomez 1408, Montevideo, CP 11000, Uruguay

info@academiauruguay.com

Tel: +598 2 9152496 / Fax: +598 2 9152496

http://www.academiauruguay.com

Montevideo

Montevideo is a relief for those who find Buenos Aires too hectic. But that isn’t to say it’s a mini Buenos Aires either. It has its own charm, from the miles of easily accessible beaches within walking distance from nearly anywhere in town to the crumbling beauty of the old city (don’t walk around there at night). Buskers ride the bus for free–Sinatra-like crooners and folk guitarists alike. Construction workers have an asado over an open flame on the side of the street. Cyclists fill their mate flasks as they ride, passing horse-and-cart garbage men in this modern city that feels much smaller than it is.

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Punta del Diablo

Punta del Diablo is a small town of beach huts and sand dunes. From a small fishing village on Uruguay’s Atlantic coast, it becomes a hippie surfer hotspot in the summer. Visiting during the shoulder season means you can wander through feathery grasses and along sandy paths virtually alone, but still enjoy the daily catch and cocktails in town at a few restaurants that stay open.

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Stay: Hostel de la Viuda
Bus: 4 hours from Montevideo

Asado in Uruguay

On our first night in Uruguay we ate asado in our hostel. One of the hostel staff, Nacho, said: “It’s the only thing we are good in Uruguay…growing meat and burning meat. And eating meat.”

My Spanish teacher told me there’s something like 3 million people and 5 million cows in Uruguay. Uruguayans eat the most beef per capita.

On my last day in Montevideo. I saw some builders cooking lunch, at eleven in the morning.

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Seems like builders everywhere have the same attitude to break time, only their style differs.

Three places to visit in Colonia del Sacramento

Founded in 1680 by the Portuguese, Colonia del Sacramento sits on the bank of the Rio de la Plata in Uruguay. It’s not quite as picture postcard perfect-looking as Paraty, the colonial coastal town we visited in Brazil, but it still charmed its way under my skin. Like a manifestation of the Uruguayan mentality, it’s easy-going and not too grandiose.

Barrio Histórico

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A lighthouse to climb, a giant chess set to play with, wobbly tables to dine at, gently sloping streets with cobblestones on which to stub your toe, big old doors and old-fashioned cars to photograph….this is the old town in Colonia.

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It’s small enough to walk around in an hour, but there are plenty of museums and inviting places to stop and have an ice cream, coffee or snack. We ate in a small restaurant on Calle de España near the pier, Muelle de Yates; the guacamole, and chicken and apple salad were a welcome change from all the ham and cheese salads in Argentina.

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Beach Road

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Although it looks like the sea, the wide Rio de la Plata is warmer, calmer and browner. Don’t be fooled by the unusual colour. It’s clean and safe to swim and there are plenty of beaches in Colonia where you could spend the whole day in and out the water and picnicking on the sand.

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Walking (or cycling) along the Rambla de las Americas you’ll pass lots of new apartments and holiday homes, groups of families and friends drinking mate at the water’s edge and even a section of beach with black sand (Playa Oreja de Negro). At the end you’ll find the only bull ring in Uruguay, built in 1910 and used for only two years before bullfighting was prohibited.

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Swimming Hole

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The Cantera de Ferrando is an abandoned quarry pit, now filled with water and surrounded by sandy tussocks and eucalyptus trees. Our hostel owner said it was very beautiful because the water was blue – and until I saw the contrast with the yellow-brown water of the beaches, I didn’t quite understand.

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There are a few spots where you can jump straight into the still water, and even a Tarzan swing for plunging in. You can wade slowly in the shallower parts, but watch out for rocks and slippery weed. We saw lots of little fish in the clear water and some larger silver fish leaping out above the surface in the darker centre of the lake. I can only imagine what predator lay beneath in the invisible depths.

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Colonia del Sacramento
Transport: ferry from Buenos Aires, bus from Montevideo
Stay: Hostel Sur

Feria de Tristán Narvaja in Montevideo

Owls, mice, kittens, guinea pigs, biographies of Simón Bolívar, old maps, broken telephones, antique mirrors, used postcards, chorizo or hamburguesas with olives, mushrooms, peppers and peas, faded paintings, fruit and vegetables, children’s toys and live music.

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