I boarded Buquebus one evening in Argentina. This was a fairly big ferry with scores of seats arranged a bit like on an airplane. The carpet was clean and the whole thing was new. The ship seemed to be made of white plastic. Soon we were whizzing out over the waves of the River Plate as evening fell. I sat down and went through my GCSE Spanish vocabulary book. I was leaving the land of Nestor Kirchner – since deceased. I was bound for Uruguay. I decided I had done with this Spanish vocab book and binned it. I had spent almost three weeks in the Hispanic World and had become a confident speaker of ungrammatical Castilian.
We docked in Montevideo – the capital of Uruguay. Montevideo means in Latin ”I see the mountain”. I got out of the ferry port. I do not recall there being any passport or customs formalities. The ferry terminal was surprisingly small. My ferry had been larhgely devoid of passengers.
I got into a cab and had the man bring me to a hostel that I had picked from my guidebook. This youngish cab driver obliged and we chitchatted happily. We arrived and it dawned on me that I had not withdrawn any Uruguayan currency from the ATM. Come to think of it I did not even known what money they used in Uruguay. I saw the figure on the meter and asked if I could give him his recompense in pesos. To my surprise he agreed with alacrity. That should have set alarm bells ringing. I handed over the banknotes and the car vanished in exhaust smoke. Only later did I discover that the peso was far more valuable than the currency of Uruguay,
Up the stairs and into the hostel. It was very clean and homely. It was small and there were hardly any guests. I got a room of my own. The receptionist was very tall and had a moustache and glasses. I noticed that this skinny receptionist had an unusual accent for this part of the world. It turned out he was a Spaniard from Valencia. I showed him my International Student Identity Card. I played him for a fool but he was not as dimwitted as I had hope. He pointed out that this card was expired but he gave me the reduced rate anyway.
On the floor two kittens lay on their backs. ”Estan felices” he said. He explained that the underfloor heating was what they were after. It was a chilly and a blustery evening. The rain had only just lifted. Despite this I headed out and had a good walk around.
The wind tore down the central avenues. I was approached by a hefty woman in ther 30s with award winningly badly dyed blonde hair. She invited me to a brothel. In those days I found the notion of prostitution repellent so i declined.
I went to an internet cafe on the corner of the main square. I had mail on Oxford Romance. It was from a bisexual Australian named Sean. I said I noticed he was bi but I was straight. He wanted to be friends. We ended up meeting and getting on well but that was a couple of months later. I confessed to being something or a porn addict.
A couple of years later I got to know two Argentine brothers in Oxford. These large nosed Lebanese boys had been to Montevideo a lot. I told them how I kept getting approached by madames on the street,. ”You must be the horniest looking person because it never happens to us!”’
The next day I had a walk around this not very fascinating city as a brisk wind came in off the Atlantic. On the main square I saw a chap celebrating his British heritage by wearing a kilt and playing the bagpipes. I spoke to a chap who was a friend of the piper and he told me that the piper was indeed of British descent.
I walked around the corniche. The buildings were much older here than in most of the rest of the city. The plaster was flaking off the buildings that were mostly yellowish and featured wooden balconies. At a bank I saw cash being delivered and a few security guards standing there vigilant – holding pump action shotguns. Down one street I spooted a plaque high up on a house. I read it and it indicated that this house had been the residence of Giueseppe Garibaldi. This leader of the Italian unification and independence movement had fled to Uruguay for a while in the mid nineteenth century. This son of Nice fought in the war between Brazil and Argentina. There was major rivalry between the two lands. Uruguay was carved out as a buffer between them. Ironic now that for this Italian super patriot his birthplace is now not in Italy but in France.
At a street side stall I bought a book. I was not up for reading a proper book in Spanish though I was capable of that since it would send me to the dictionary once a paragraphy at least. I spoke to the vendor who in fact had a command of English. They were classics and rather overpriced.
I spent only two days in Montevideo. Then I went to the bus station. Many signs up were up in Spanish and Portuguese. Although the official language of that country is Spanish some people in the northern portion of the country speak Portuguese. There was little point in having both languages there. Take the Spanish word change a single letter and usually have the Portuguese word. The coach station was not too big. The roof was fairly low and the place was only somewhat busy.
I boarded a coach to Brazil. Eventually I fell asleep. Not long after dawn I was roused and found some Brazilian police had boarded the bus. I got a stamp in my passport and admired it eagerly. It made me think of Katie – an incredibly gorgeous girl from my college. She had been to Brazil and met British train robber Ronnie Biggs. I was envious and wished to do the same. It had become impossible since Mr Biggs had lately returned to the UK to face justice because he could not afford medical care in Brazil.