South America Trip.7 – Uruguay and Argentina


Montevideo - Looking East from the Cerro Across the Bay
Montevideo – Looking east from the Cerro across Montevideo’s large, beautiful bay on the north coast of the Plate Estuary – August, 1967

Left Rio de Janeiro Sunday, August 6, 1967  by bus for São Paulo at 8 AM, arriving 4 PM. Stayed overnight. It was my first experience of the custom of blaring one’s horn for the entire time one is tied up in traffic. Incomprehensible to me why someone would want to make a bad situation intolerable. The cacophony was even audible from my tenth floor hotel room with the windows closed.

São Paulo is where all the men from Manaus went to find work, leaving their women unattended. São Paulo had the air in 1967 of economic boom. 5.5 million people, crowded, cool, hectic with fine shops offering beautiful items for sale.

Monday, August 7

At 6 PM  I left São Paulo by bus heading South for Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brasil. On the 22-hour bus trip my accidental seat neighbour was an evangelical pastor named Ivan Baker from Buenos Aires who spoke excellent English. Enjoyed our conversation.

Tuesday, August 8

Arrived in Porto Alegre at 4pm August 8, where we had a 4-hour stopover.  From my diary notes below:

shaved in the back room of a restaurant, watched Baker preach in a park (the main square) and a man he preached to invited us home, so we took a streetcar and walked up an unpaved hill, over a rotten stream to his house – three small rooms, five small children sleeping in cots. Wife haggard, tired, depressed. She seemed glad of the presence of Baker. The man was really pleased. “Look at the birds of the air…”

Impressed by Baker’s acting like a true disciple of Jesus, I left Porto Alegre at 10pm, crossing the border into Montevideo during the night. Ivan, on this second leg,  invited me to stay with him and his family when in Buenos Aires. At the border the guards checked our bags and passports, then let us through.

Wed August 9

Dawn broke shortly before 8:30 AM, when we entered a small Uruguayan city called Triente y Tres, named after the 33 heroes from the East who were instrumental in winning Uruguay’s independence.  It was cold, rainy and dull. The agricultural countryside (well over 90% of Uruguay’s exports involved the raising of cattle and sheep) was rainy and appeared almost in a state of flood. Again, from my diary notes:

Further on – pasture, sheep, beef cattle, horses and saw my very first “gauchos”! – On horseback, protected from the damp cold by thick, dark blue ponchos and shallow-crowned, broad-brimmed hats in Spanish style – but hats varied even to the beret.

Arrived in Montevideo at 1 PM. I stayed there in an unheated hotel room for three nights. Shopped for warm clothes that would be needed on the overland trip from Buenos Aires to La Paz, Bolivia.  I paid US$ 20 for a sheepskin lined suede coat. See Diary Notes and Montevideo letter.

From Diary Notes:

Montevideo is small but full of shops, cambios, tourist agencies. It receives many tourists from nearby countries such as Chile, Argentina and Brazil. There must be a fair number of Americans passing through too – saw a Diner’s Club card – someone in each arcade or store speaks English. Now everyone is wearing overcoats – mostly woolen. “Teachers here are well-paid,” said a fellow I met, “they can earn six dollars a day.” The land of opportunity! A man who works in a store told me it takes him three days to earn ten dollars! I suppose that many, like he, are dissatisfied but will never earn enough money to leave. The girls are friendly and attractive. I would like to see them in summer clothes.

I explored Montevideo (downtown and some of its fine neighbourhoods)  on foot and by bus. I visited the hill called, appropriately, the Cerro, that overlooks the city and the estuary of the River Plate. This and how much I loved Montevideo are in my diary notes.

Saturday, August 12:

Left Montevideo at 10 AM for Colonia, Uruguay’s port west of Montevideo on the north coast of the Rio Plata estuary – and took my first hovercraft, very likely a newly-converted US troop-landing boat called The Atlantic, across the estuary to Buenos Aires, Argentina, arriving in BA at 6 PM.

Monday, Aug 14:

Spent a long while at the Canadian High Commission. I had arranged for Anita and my parents to send me mail at the Canadian High Commissions of several capital cities on my route. This one was very welcoming. The Vice Consul, a man named Mike Temple, took me to lunch. It was Mr. Temple’s hot news that French Premier, Charles de Gaulle, had just made his famous, provocative “Vive le Québec libre!” speech in Montréal sympathizing with the aspirations of les Québecois for their own francophone nation. He claimed that the music in Argentina’s capital was better than that in London. I went to a concert at the Teatro Colón that included Beethoven’s 5th and, on Thursday night, I returned to that fabulous place to see Rigoletto with a friendly and helpful Argentinian woman whom I’d met on Monday at the High Commission. Tickets were only about US$ 1.50 each, which meant that many local working people could afford the best in music at one of the top 5 opera houses in the world. That was a huge cultural positive for the city. An upsetting negative was my conversation with an Italian Argentinian, who revealed his pride that there were “No Indians” in Argentina. They had all been killed off or chased into Bolivia and Chile. Canada was, on the face of it, kinder to our “Indians, ” but now I know how cruelly they have been treated here even up to the present day.

I spent a few days staying with Ivan Baker with his family in a suburb of Buenos Aires. Ivan, you’ll remember, was my seat neighbour for the 40+ hour bus trip from Rio to São Paulo.

My next step was to take the Argentinian railroad north to La Quiaca, a town right next to the Bolivian border, from where I planned to cross into Bolivia and take a train to La Paz. I bought my ticket.

Sat Aug 19:

Departed by train for La Quiaca. The trip to La Quiaca took, if I remember, two nights on the train, during which time we climbed to 11, 293 feet. My sheepskin coat came in handy. While I’m not sensitive to altitude, carrying my heavy bag from car to car on the train caused me some huffing and puffing. Starting out alone, I met four American Peace Corps volunteers on the train. They had, like I, just finished their two-year assignments. Theirs were done in Uruguay. There was a married couple and two single women in their group. I particularly remember a Japanese American named Jo Ann from Chicago who was either a Ph.D in Chemistry or on her way to doing one. She later visited me in Montréal. They all were fluent in Spanish and great company for me, alone since I let my companions George and Ian go ahead while I spent extra time in Rio de Janeiro.

We did make it to La Quiaca and crossed on foot into Villazón on the Bolivian side, and took a second train up through Bolivia to La Paz. This was a further 16 hours or so and about another 1000′ of elevation.

Letters:

Diary Notes:

Wednesday, August 9 – Montevideo

By a strange coincidence chance  I met Ivan baker on the bus from Sâo Paolo to Porto Alegre – Evangelist Pastor with intelligent views. Impressed!

About the trip. Sâo Paolo to Montevideo. Costs 54 000 C ($20). 22 h to P. Alegre. ^ h stop there. 15 h from PA to Mont.

Road from SP to PA. I didn’t see much as we left at 6PM but I saw the latter half. Nice country – big wide rolling hills and mountains – brown, green, grey – weird trees, clean, painted houses made of wood, some of stone, the odd cactus. Countryside more populated, less primitive than Sâo Paolo to Rio.

P. Alegre – was getting dark and dull when we arrived. Forgot sweater in bus – found it. Mailed an underposted (?) note, drank a beer (to Baker’s concealed dismay), shaved in the back room of a restaurant, watched Baker preach in a park (the main square) and a man he preached to invited us home, so we took a streetcar and walked up an unpaved hill, over a rotten stream to his house – three small rooms, five small children sleeping in cots. Wife haggard, tired, depressed. She seemed glad of the presence of Baker. The man was really pleased. “Look at the birds of the air…”

At 10 Pm we boarded the bus for the last leg. No toilet on this one. Seats comfortable (or else I’m getting accustomed).

Crossed border in the night – checked my bag – did not ask anyone for proof of smallpox vaccination – passport sufficient.

First daylight Uruguayan town – Triente y Tres – rainy, dull, coldish. Old cars (in good shape) and new (?). Took a nap.

Uruguayan countryside on this road – flat, almost in a state of flood – houses unimpressive, rainy.

Further on – pasture, sheep, beef cattle, horses and saw my very first “gauchos”! – On horseback, protected from the damp cold by thick, dark blue ponchos and shallow-crowned, broad-brimmed hats in Spanish style – but hats varied even to the beret. Men Spanish (as most are here except Italians).

Indians are not here any more – decimated.

Sheep, cattle and agriculture account for 98% of Uruguay’s exports – no wonder the gaucho has got status.

Passed Salve park, south of Minas, and finally entered Montevideo. In Montevideo bought coat $2000, purse, $1000, slippers $350. Here the “$” means local currency – Uruguayan pesos.

Jueves, August 10 – Montevideo

Montevideo – cold in morning and at night at this time of year – 50-60 degrees F. Breath condenses. It must go down to 40 at night. Slept with 3 blankets last night – fine!

This morning was cold. With a preternatural effort I got out of bed and even showered and shaved.

Went shopping – Avenida 18 de julio is the main shopping street. Bought some long underwear – pants $260, shirt $195. Bought a lovely shirt for $550 – would be double the price in Mtl. Gloves – $70 – womens.

Woolen goods very cheap here and good too – cashmere scarf $450 – thick woolen shirts – $700. People in stores talkative – slightly dishonest.

This place makes me feel like spending all my money on clothes but am fighting the urge. Prices are one third what they are in canada.

Montevideo is small but full of shops, cambios, tourist agencies. It receives many tourists from nearby countries such as Chile, Argentina and Brazil. There must be a fair number of Americans passing through too – saw a Diner’s Club card – someone in each arcade or store speaks English.

Now everyone is wearing overcoats – mostly woolen. “Teachers here are well-paid,” said a fellow I met, “they can earn six dollars a day.” The land of opportunity!

A man who works in a store told me it takes him three days to earn ten dollars! I suppose that many, like he, are dissatisfied but will never earn enough money to leave.

The girls are friendly and attractive. I would like to see them in summer clothes.

Friday, August 11, 8:38 PM – Montevideo

Will stay home & read Zhivago tonight. Today was eventful. Went to the Cerro. The Cerro is a low mountain, on top of which stands a fort with a lighthouse. Around the fort is brownish-green, short grass. The terrain has many small, jagged rocks. Horses and sheep graze there unfenced. Low on the hill are very poor houses – squatters, I suppose. The view of Montevideo and the Plate estuary is lovely and the natural beauty of the surroundings of the fort reminded me of home. The sun was bright and I did not feel cold, even without my coat. The air was cool, fresh, invigorating – made me feel great, on top of the world!

As I came down I walked through a residential district – modern and older Spanish style houses – multicoloured and each different. They were not rich but were colourful against the blue sky. I felt like shouting “Buenas dias” to each person I saw.

Took a bus and got off on Avenida Agraciada because I wanted to walk some more. This district was lovely – old and new buildings, tree-lined streets (without leaves). On another street some houses had, outside, palms and evergreens, beautiful evergreens. Everything was so varied. No doubt I got some rich pictures today!

The fort filled me with ideas about the future – what about a teaching job in Northern canada – in the Rockies? Land Rover – vacation to travel – principalship – cultured house and wife – simple life – lovely kids – success? maybe.

I believe (feel) that whatever my field will be and however my future goes – it will not be an ordinary one!

Leaving tomorrow at 10 AM for Colonia & by 6 PM I’ll be in B.A. Doubt if I’ll enjoy a day like this one here or the Saturday in Rio.

My Trip: July 13 to September 5, 1967
My Trip: July 13 to September 5, 1967. If you’ve been reading about earlier trip sections you already know this map. It’s here at the bottom now for your reference.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
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Author: mytiturk

Travelbug Minstrel: Strum for my supper, croon for my cuppa Search for a sign, write for my whine

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