Many travelers barely pass through Montevideo. And after spending almost two full days here, I wonder why. The city due to its small size is easily digestible. There’s great history, culture, art and architecture. Parts of the city and surrounding area offer commanding view of the ocean and the river. But sadly it ends up just as a check on travelers lists — been there.
But I gave it another day. Having spent endless weeks, it seems, walking the streets of Buenos Aires I wasn’t about to give up on Montevideo. Today I took in the busy commerce district and saved the night for adventure in the historical district.
My mission was simply to feel the vibe, sense the rhythm and move with the people while grabbing a few shots here and there. Without any direction, recommendation or predisposition to dining for my last evening in Montevideo, I wandered looking for something different. I passed the usual parillas, cruised by the sandwich/hamburger stands on the street, brushed up against the pubs but kept moving on. As I wondered off the beaten path into an area around the financial district into a neighborhood that might be considered one you don’t want to walk alone at night, I started second guessing myself.
The usual warning signs were evident. There was no pedestrian traffic. As I walked passed a triple locked fence outside a courtyard, I was nearly jumped by a more fiercely sounding than looking canine. An incredibly skinny woman with pale lips and empty eyes crossed the street toward me. The hood to her cold weather jacket hung down her back while the frilly fake fur hung by loose threads. Her hands were red from cuts and fingernails read sick to me. I thought she was a prostitute. But she simply wanted a cigarette and asked what I was doing here. My fears were unjust. She was simply buzzed from a recent hit of crack or dope and walking in her own euphoric state. Then late model car pulled up at a stop sign. A young twenty-something kid hung his head out the window. He was lost. The three girls in the back seat, giggly and cut, all peered to the front seat as I muttered my best spanish and gave them my local tourist map and pointed them in the right direction. I knew where they wanted to go. But because I’d been walking the one way streets, it was difficult to tell them how to go by car.
Then they asked where I was from. Upon hearing the answer the blonde in the back seat sprung to life, “I’m from Philadelphia,” she said excitedly. Turns out she’s in Montevideo going to dental school. Interesting.
I continued wandering and after passing an old stone building sandwiched between two others that had been remodeled or reconstructed. There was barely a sign. But the soothing lighting and weathered wood tables with a group huddled around a couple of them. It was a restaurant. But not on my map and certainly never recommended. “La Siliencosa”. Housed in a 17th century old Jesuit convent which at one time served as quarters to an English tailor during the British occupation a hundred years or so.
As only one of two tables in the small to mid sized elegant restaurant, I was surprised the place wasn’t busier. But later I learned that they do most of their business during lunch as they cater to the business crowd from the financial and commerce districts. It didn’t bother me, I was happy to have the attention of the owner and the inquisitive server.
Serving up Uruguayan fare with a touch of French influence, I had the best lamb I’ve had on my entire trip. And with the hundreds of thousands of cordero I encountered in Patagonia, you’d wonder why not great lamb there? It’s all about the cut. But the chef/owner of La Siliencosa (the silent one) gets it right. A fresh caprese salad and a bottle of Uruguayan wine at his recommendation completed the meal. The server, a young man in his late twenties eagerly listened and asked questions about my trip. A scooter fanatic, he is planning on riding to Patagonia (San Carlos Bariloce) on his vintage 50cc Vespa. I gasped and wished him good luck as then the owner handed me the card of a Uruguayan Winery just minutes out of town.
He made me promise to visit and as personal friends with the owner of the winery, he’d call them to alert of my arrival.
So the next day I mounted Doc and headed to Bodega Bouza, which sits about thirty minutes outside Montevideo down a small dirt road. I was impressed to find that the winery housed a fine restaurant and that the owners were passionately committed to producing wines with structure, complexity and would manage yields from their vineyards. It’s places like Bouza that will help usher a new era of Uruguayan wine. Though it will be tough to compete on the international wine stage, I believe that Uruguay will find a small niche in North America and Europe, but perhaps even better will offer South American countries an alternative to Chile and Argentina.
Even more impressive than the wine was the classic car and motorcycle collection that the owner has accumulated. I’ll simply let the photos talk.
During my walk through the vineyards I met a couple from Brazil who owned a restaurant on the island of Florianopolis. After a tasting, good lunch and a sincere invitation to visit in Floripa (as Florianopolis is called by the locals) I mounted Doc and headed to the beach resort of Punta del Este.
Then wandering through the small but impressive collection of classic motorcycles. Maybe some of you can help identify the year and model of the less than obvious. Good way to take outside the city. The restaurant here is fantastic and you can try a variety of their wines.