Montevideo Ride, 29 Mar 2010


Note the fishermen behind Marilyn

The Montevideo ride was wonderful. The La Rambla is one of the best bike trails we’ve ridden. It goes on for nearly 15 miles along the Montevideo shoreline, is 10 yards wide and well paved the whole way and goes past representative sections of Montevideo.

The NCL Sun docked at Montevideo Monday morning after the 100 mile transit across the La Plata Bay. Our room lay immediately over one of the thruster engines used to help move the ship around a harbor when the forward speed is insufficient to give the rudder much force. As a result, we were awoken at 5am to a sound like a jet aircraft landing across the street. Fortunately, the noise lasted only a few minutes and we got back to sleep immediately. After breakfast on the ship, we prepared for the ride and untied our bikes from their ties to the railing across from the room. This was and will be a very convenient location for the bikes and our thanks go out to the NCL staff for their forbearance.

We carried the bikes in the elevator from our fourth deck suite to the third deck gangway and moved out onto the pier. Montevideo does not really have a cruise terminal; thus, the ship was tied up in an industrial section of the harbor near some Chinese fishing boats and a large German freighter taking on cargo. We had gained an extra task in the morning when we couldn’t connect our coffee grinder to the ship’s 220v outlet. We needed an adapter. My Spanish is nothing to write home about but I was able to put together a phrase intended to get us to a hardware store, a Ferretaria. A map was provided to us just outside the ship and a guide showed us the 6-8 block route across town to get to La Rambla, the bike path we had chosen to try for our visit to Montevideo.
We negotiated the two block ride out of the harbor and found a direct route to La Rambla up a shallow hill. Two blocks along this rode, I spied a Ferretaria and we began the negotiation for the adapter. I had drawn a diagram of the plug on our grinder and the plug on the outlet and the proprietor immediately turned around reached into a box and pulled out the requisite device. He then pulled out a plug simulating the plug on our grinder and proved that this adapter would fit. We discussed methods of payment and he agreed to accept 40 cents worth of Argentinean coins we had in our pockets. Problem solved. Then one of the two cronies also in the store pointed to the bikes outside and went into a fit of unrecognizable Spanish until I recognized the word Securitad and his hand signals simulating a bike lock and cable. Understanding him at this point, I promised that I would lock up my bike at all stops in the future. I considered the behavior of all the people in the store to be extremely friendly and helpful and looked for friendly interactions with Uruguayans for the entire trip. I was not disappointed.

At the top of the hill, I spotted the ocean and La Rambla ahead but also closer down the perpendicular street to the right. We decided to take the new shorter route for the four blocks to the ocean. Upon reaching the bottom of the hill and crossing the street, we immediately recognized La Rambla, a wide path with 15 inch square granite paving stones and a low wall 18-30 inches separating the path from the beach and ocean. Right here, I spotted dozens of fishermen standing shoulder to shoulder using long poles, usually without reels, dipping them frequently to try to attract fish. We stayed long enough to see a couple of fish caught. These were 5-8 inch long silver fish with a width of 1-2 inches. Some were being kept in creels and some were being thrown back. The fishermen, Pescadores, were mostly male but a few women were interspersed. Many sat of the wall fishing with a straw-containing mug next to them. They occasionally reached back to sip from the straw. I learned this was Mata.

A passing family poses with Marilyn with their fishing gear and mate cup

A young fisherman with his mate gear

Actually, Mata is the cup itself. It is used to drink a tea like drink prepared from store-purchased material called Yerba Mata, and looking and smelling like finely chopped tea leaves. I learned later in a store in one of the shopping centers about the Mata process. Mata is a gourd, which when dried and scooped out, leaves a cup sized bowl with a woody surface. The Mata acts upon the Yerba Mata in much the same way an oak barrel acts upon raw wine. Upon purchasing one of these devices, one must first season the Mata by filling it with the Yerba Mata, adding boiling water, and leaving it for a period of 2-7 days. This process draws out some toxins from the Mata material and adds some resins from the leaves. After 2-7 days, one pours out the wet leaves and scrapes the inside of the cup until the surface is smooth. One can then make and drink Mata from this device. We purchased an inexpensive version of the device and began the seasoning process upon returning to the ship. I’ll let you know what I think of Mata in a week or so. If we like it, we plan to buy a second one show each of Marilyn and I have a cup. We can use the hot water sources on the ship for the next 45 days, but we may then have to imitate the Uruguayans and purchase a thermos with an appropriate top valve to allow filling the cup. To prepare and drink the Mata, one uses a metal straw which operates through a spoon shaped strainer at the end. One fills the Mata bowl with dry Yerba Mata, adds boiling water, waits a few minutes and drinks the prepared “tea”. One simply adds more hot water as the water level in the cup falls too low, using the leaves over and over again for the better part of the day.

The Montevideo skyline along La Ramblas

Our ride lasted 10-15 miles along the coast over the next 2-2.5 hours and then back again after lunch. Along the ride, we saw many different faces of Montevideo. The beginning section of the ride was a lower income mixed commercial and residential section coming out of the port area. The people lived in 3-6 story apartment buildings, probably 20-40 years old, but interspersed with older buildings like churches and occasional municipal buildings. I don’t think this was a holiday, but the walls along La Rambla and some of the rock outcroppings further out in the beach and even into the water were liberally sprinkled with people fishing, perhaps 3-4 every fifty yards.

We moved into a more modern section with taller apartment buildings, up to 20 stories and some newer buildings housing organizations like Microsoft, Metropolitan Life Insurance, Ford dealers (with a Porsche dealer in the same building), and others. The path was moderately crowded with people, many walking and bikers every 50 yards. Few bikers wore helmets. On the water side, we saw a few remains from fortifications and other buildings. We saw fewer people with dogs, but soon, a dog walker leading 10 dogs passed by.

A dog walker follows ten dogs

La Rambla is flat near sea level, but we could see that the land inland rose up to 100 feet in many areas. We could see examples of buildings from earlier in the 20th century, built in the French and Spanish style. Church steeples also frequently rose above the surrounding buildings.

Gorgeous beach in downtown Montevideo

We came to a broad, deep beach right in the center of town. Nearby, we passed an amusement park with ice cream stores and a newer restaurant. The fishermen’s club controlled a section of the ensuing beach and had their own restaurant. We passed a military-owned warehouselike building which was collocated with some historic sites and contained tourist buses out front. What looked like another tourist bus turned out to be a parilla grill restaurant. Rising up a hill, we encountered a park containing another amusement park and a version of a Moscow Circus. Shortly thereafter, we passed a grassy park and found this was the Jewish Holocaust Memorial.

The Jewish holocaust memorial in Montevideo

Continuing on, we began to see newer apartment buildings, a few small hotels, and what surely must be more expensive than the area near the ship. We decided to try one of the hotel restaurants for lunch and found we were 30 minutes early at 1130am. We inquired about a nearby coffee shop/restaurant and were directed two blocks away up a hill to a shopping center. This was a walking hill for Marilyn, so we walked up it past newly-being-built upscale two and three story homes, interspersed with about 10% commercial establishments like motorcycle restoration shops, child care facilities, and eventually the shopping center.

Locking the bikes outside, we entered the shopping center coffee, perhaps lunch, and a Mata setup. The shopping center occupied several acres with a relatively modern two or three story facility containing clean, modern shops. We found a coffee shop and tasted their espresso, which was excellent. The price was slightly higher than we found in Argentina. The Uruguayan exchange rate was 19 to the dollar while the rate was 3.85 to the dollar in Argentina. They accepted my 100 peso Argentinean note and returned 140 Uruguayan pesos. After 30 minutes, we explored the shopping center further.The Montevideo ride was wonderful. The La Rambla is one of the best bike trails we’ve ridden. It goes on for nearly 15 miles along the Montevideo shoreline, is 10 yards wide and well paved the whole way and goes past representative sections of Montevideo.

The NCL Sun docked at Montevideo Monday morning after the 100 mile transit across the La Plata Bay. Our room lay immediately over one of the thruster engines used to help move the ship around a harbor when the forward speed is insufficient to give the rudder much force. As a result, we were awoken at 5am to a sound like a jet aircraft landing across the street. Fortunately, the noise lasted only a few minutes and we got back to sleep immediately. After breakfast on the ship, we prepared for the ride and untied our bikes from their ties to the railing across from the room. This was and will be a very convenient location for the bikes and our thanks go out to the NCL staff for their forbearance.

We tried a few leather stores, looking for purses and wallets. As in Argentina, we found the goods attractive, but not up to the quality of the top leather goods agents like Coach. The hardware was not as high quality and the linings were muslim rather than silk. Many of our shipmates found these great bargains, but we decided not to purchase. We were directed to a small kiosk for Mata guidance. Here, they showed us various Mata bowls ranging from US$20-50. They explained the Mata process and directed us to a nearby supermarket for the Yerba Mata itself.

The supermarket was wonderful, like we were used to at Whole Foods in the US. It had wonderful fruits and vegetables and also had prepared foods. The Yerba Mata section was five shelves high and 30 feet long. We sought guidance from one of the clerks stocking shelves nearby and selected a 1kg bag (about the size of a 5-lb sugar bag). We then found a $7 Mata setup and we were on our way to trying Mata.

Among several restaurants in the center, we chose one which advertised a Cheviso sandwich (traditional thick sliced beef sandwich with ham and cheese, lettuce and tomato, and even hard-boiled egg) on the menu. As you may remember from our planning blog, this was one thing I wanted to try. Marilyn ordered the broiled fish with mushrooms and capers. Hers came with small boiled potatoes and my sandwich came with a tall stack of French Fries. Dessert, dulce de leche ice cream, was included. The bill for everything, including soft drinks, came to US$22. The food was excellent.

We packed up, found and unlocked the bikes and negotiated back down the hill we had climbed to La Rambla to begin the ride back. The view in the opposite direction seemed different from the view on our way out. The beaches had more swimmers now, and we could see some of the establishments inland which weren’t apparent on the way out. I recognized the US flag flying over what I assumed was the US embassy. I noticed that each park had its own name and many were named after different nations, like Argentina, Peru, France, and Chile. Actually, the La Rambla street took on different names containing these same nations. The fishermen, too, seemed different. I saw more fish which had been caught. I watched while one young man worked against a fish for a minute or so, and then pulled it onto the sidewalk before unhooking it and throwing it back. This fish was larger by 50% than most of the others I saw being caught earlier, so I don’t know whether this was an undesirable species or is he was more of a sport fisherman than s sustenance fisherman.

Marilyn rides on La Ramblas

We took an alternate route back to the ship completely along the harbor rather than using the shortcut over the hill inland. Thus, we passed through the working port for a mile or so before entering the area where our cruise ship was moored. As we spotted the NCL Sun in the distance, I realized that Montevideo, like Buenos Aires, does not have a real cruise ship facility. There is no terminal and customs facility per se. Both were handled substantially aboard the ship itself. NCL had taken our passports, substituting our NCL ship’s ID card, and the Uruguayan guards accepted this for ID. (Earlier in Buenos Aires, when I objected to the taking of our passports, NCL gave us copies to use if needed. They weren’t needed in Montevideo.)

As we have found at other cruise ports, our return to the ship with the bikes was greeted on numerous occasions with questions from our fellow passengers whether we had rented the bikes ashore or brought them aboard ourselves. When we told them we brought them ourselves, all of these inquisitors reacted by saying what a good idea this was and that they would try to do this themselves soon in the future. We referred them to this blog. We will obtain business cards so we can be assured they will find us in the future.

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Filed under bicycle, bicycle cruising, bicyclecruising, bicycling, bike tour, cruise, cruise ship, cruising, cycling, day rides, tour, travel, Uncategorized

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