Category: Uruguay

Ghost trains of South America

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The end of the line in the Atacama Desert

Most countries in South America, including Venezuela, Paraguay, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Chile, have no functioning passenger railways at all. (Except for the odd small tourist track.) It’s a tragedy which must massively impact their economies.

It wasn’t always like this; most of these countries had flourishing railways back in Victorian times; many built using British engineers, finance and design. But for various historic, political and geographic reasons they have fallen apart over the last century.

Countries chose different gauge size on their tracks which didn’t make joining  up easy. The environment, including the rains in Ecuador and the mountains in Chile, took its toll and most countries prioritised freight over passenger services.

In Asuncion we saw the disused main railway station which is now a museum and in Uruguay we have just seen a museum of old railway carriages. So all we have now are the relics and the promise of what might have been.

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All aboard – at the railway museum in Uruguay

A very bad business decision

dscf1574A little way out of Colonia we found the crumbling ruins of Plaza de Toros Real de San Carlos. Designed in a Moorish style, Uruguay’s only bullring could seat 10,000 spectators.

Officially opened on January 9, 1910, it was the business idea of Buenos Aires’ entrepreneurs looking to circumnavigate their country’s earlier banning of this disgusting ‘sport’. But Argentina’s elite were shipped across the Rio de la Plata for only eight bullfights before the Uruguay government in 1912 also put a stop to bullfighting.

The site is closed off today but that didn’t stop your intrepid bloggers getting under-the-wire. Standing in the centre of the arena we were reminded of Roman amphitheatres – and their similar bloodthirsty spectaculars.

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Sunset over the Rio de la Plata

img_4006Hilary photographed on the pier at Colonia.

Day to day at home we rarely stop to watch the sunset. It just happens as we email in the office or cook in the kitchen and then it’s dark.

In South America our memorable sunsets have included; on the Beagle Channel, over the Pacific Ocean at Iquique, in the Atacama Desert, at the estancia in Paraguay and now here. As Bern Williams said It is almost impossible to watch a sunset and not dream.

Colonia del Sacramento

dscf1614We’re doing some rest and relaxation at this tourist destination on the Rio de la Plata. We can also tick off another UNESCO world heritage site; before the arrival of the day-trippers from Buenos Aires we took these photos in the historic old town.

Founded by the Portuguese in 1680, the town then ping-ponged between Portugal, Spain and Brasil so the houses and cobbled streets show a mix of architectural styles. Good to see them preserved.

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Museo Torres Garcia

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Roger’s always enjoyed going to art galleries and in Montevideo he visited the Museo Torres Garcia. Over two floors it tells Joaquin Torres Garcia’s life story; born Montevideo, spent most of his adult life in Paris, then returns to Montevideo at 60 and shapes local artistic teaching. It also seeks to explain his invention of Universal Constructivism.

Now artistic manifestoes have always seemed to Roger to have something of the ‘Emperor’s new clothes’ about them, and it’s especially impenetrable when all in Spanish. But put simply, Torres Garcia’s later art combines a grid like structure with symbolic imagery – things like fishes, clocks, trains, houses and other outlines based on South American native art.

Torres Garcia said “a work of art must not represent nature but exist as the concrete embodiment of an idea. It must be self-contained, defined by its own order and inner rhythms”. So that’s clear then.

The art of hospitality

Here we are with the delightful owners of the Hotel Palacio – where we stayed in Montevideo. The family have run this hotel for 90 years. We are sure they do it every day with hard work, passion and generous spirits.

So what do we want from hotels on our gap year? Well it’s not much; we can’t be too choosy on our budget. And to give you an idea of what we’ve put up with so far, at one place Hilary screamed when she saw a frog in the loo!

However, it’s good to have a distinctive experience in keeping with the location and a friendly welcoming smile.

This is what Hotel Palacio gave us. Our room was full of antique wooden furniture. It had a private veranda with great views. The lift was still the original installed 90 years ago. Charming and just £41 a night.

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Hilary on our private veranda, where each night we drank beer and had food

Montevideo

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We walked 10km from the old town out to Playa Pocitos

As soon as we arrived in Buenos Aires, we got the ferry/bus combo to the capital of Uruguay.

Gosh how different this place feels. Just outside our hotel there’s a bookshop, and just next to that is an art gallery! First sightings for eight weeks.

This place has a European feel to it – street cafes, shady plazas, effective transport, clean streets etc.

To us it’s like two places combined. First the beach areas along the Rambla with modern high rise apartments and underground car parks – think Cannes or Nice, without the expensive yachts. Second the old town – but here don’t think old as in ‘Italian old town’, think more 1910s dereliction meets 1960s monstrosity. But hey this has a charm all of its own.

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A touch of Manhattan. The striking 29 storey Palacio Salvo in the main square. Planned as a hotel in 1928, it was South America’s tallest building
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Opulent wealth of the beef barons. On display at the Museo Romantico