My first impressions of Uruguay weren’t great. After climbing off the bus late at night in the middle of Montevideo, the first person I saw was a crackhead shitting in a park. When I made it to my hostel, in the historic Old Town, it was an absolute slum. Animals wandered the delapidated hallways, the whole place smelled strongly of farts, and an emaciated homeless man was passed out on the floor in front of my room. I thought I’d walked into a nightmare, but luckily I gave Montevideo another shot, because I ended up discovering it’s a really cool city – especially if you spend most of your time in the Pocito district.
Before getting into the delights of Montevideo’s beachside suburbs, I need to stress that the Old Town (Ciudad Vieja) is absolutely horrible, and should be avoided at all costs. In most places around the world, the historic centres of cities are full of bars, coffee shops, hotels and culture, but that’s not the case in Montevideo. This Old City is home to abandoned shops, junkies and pools of vomit on every corner. It’s depressing, scary and dangerous. It’s a shame, because this area of Montevideo has some really nice old buildings and parks, but they’re all painted with a coat of misery and suffering. Do yourself a favour, drastically reduce your chances of being butt-raped by a toothless meth addict and stay the hell away.
You don’t need to walk far out of the Old City before things really start to improve. You’ll even be able to put down that big stick you’ve been using to fend off attackers. Grimy buildings and congested streets give way to quaint houses and tree-lined avenues, with a more European ambiance. Closer to the coast, Montevideo can be quite lovely, with small beaches and swaying palm trees. The weather’s pretty shocking in May, but I imagine it would be a particularly nice place to visit in summer, when the skies are blue and the nights are warm. Outside of that, pack a raincoat.
The real star of the show is Pocito, with its sweeping beach and seemingly-endless rows of towers that look out at the ocean. It’s the liveliest part of Montevideo, and has heaps of bars, restaurants and clubs, and very few people shooting heroin into their eyeballs. There are all sorts of shiny towers and pleasant gardens, and there’s no dubting that all of the money that used to be in the Old City is now in Pocito. It’s certainly a top spot to get hammered whilst looking at all the pretty Uruguayan senoritas. So of course I said goodbye to the awful MVD Hostel, bid a fond farewell to my homeless housemate, and relocated to trendy Pocito at the first opportunity.
From then on, my life was flipped turned upside down, and I started loving Montevideo. I befriended the locals (several times, actually) and settled into life in this buzzing South American metropolis. Before long, I was basically a Montevideoperson… except for the fact I can’t speak Spanish and everyone looks at me like I’m a fucking idiot when I can’t understand what they’re saying. It was all good, though, because as I flounced through the dappled sunshine, I found a really big gun in a park, and hung off it like a teenage nymph hanging from Ron Jeremy’s oversized wang.
I discovered the Centro Nacional de Disfunción Eréctil, which I soon learnt is the National Erectile Dysfuntion Centre. Appropriately, it’s housed in a penis-shaped building, and when I walked through the doors I was met by a handful of depressed-looking blokes who were milling around with their hands in their pockets, kicking stones. I swaggered up to the front desk, winked at the sadsacks around me, and loudly proclaimed, “I have an erectile dysfunction,” before pausing for dramatic effect. “That’s right, I can’t stop getting boners and I can’t keep women off my boners.” I think it would’ve been more effective if anyone inthe room could understand what I was saying, but I reckon it was fuckin’ funny.
I didn’t want to spend all day in a clinic for fellas with dodgy doodles, so I decided to head off for a spot of shopping. The Punta Carretas centre is built in the remains of an old prison (the front gate is still there, but not much else remains of the bad boys home), and is a good spot to visit if you need a new tunic or a boob tube or something. I actually found my favourite shop in there:
While walking through a park, I saw a few dozen locals swarmed around some sort of metal structure. They were taking turns trying to climb up the weird contraption, so I tiptoed over and asked them whether I could have a crack at it. One bloke with a monobrow and a limp told me it was called el juego de escalar pene, which translates to the penis climbing game, and it’s the Uruguayan national pastime. The goal is to climb to the top as quickly as possible and sit on the pole. I’m not a fan of shoving poles up my blurter, so I just climbed as far as I could and called it a day.
As for food and drink, those little Uruguayan champions sure know what they’re doing. Patricia beer sounds like it’s been named after an English poet and academic from Exmouth, Devon, but is cheap and delicious. Uruguayan wine is great, and available all over the place. The food is awesome, with massive steaks, bulging sausages, and perhaps the greatest meal of all time, the legendary chivito, which is a sort of steak burger with cheese, tomatoes, bacon, eggs, ham, and anything else you can think of. It’s worth getting fat for.
Montevideo has certainly surprised me. When I arrived, I thought it was only slightly nicer than Huddersfield, which is to say I thought it was rubbish. But over the past week this city has revealed a wonderful, exciting, fun side that I’ve come to love. I’ve spent longer here than expected, thanks to a number of factors, but I’m really getting into the swing of things. Video might’ve killed the radio star, but Montevideo killed all my expectations (alright, that was rubbish).