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Hostel Colonial, Colonia, Uruguay

I can't get over how expensive everything is here. The first hostel we looked at, off of the main strip, was $15 USD per person per night. It was empty and creepy, although it looked like it had been used a lot in the past and was quite spacious. We checked out a few hotels, thinking that maybe we could find something cheaper for 2 people, but everything was 3 stars and 100 bucks. Hostels it is.

Carlos actually stayed at Hostel Colonial like 5 years ago when he came with his cousin. It's right on the main road, close to a grocery store, restaurants and banks. The historic part of town is just a 7 minute walk. Although I wasn't too keen in staying here either, there wasn't anything to complain about except for the price. It's a bit musty and very simple, with breakfast (bread, coffee and cornflakes), linens, hot water and Wi-fi being the major perks. They accept dollars and pesos, of the latter both Uruguayan and Argentine. You can use the kitchen facilities- be sure to wash your dishes <em>before </em>using them because they can be a little scummy. There are bike and motorbike rentals, as well as the typical tours offered by any hostel. A dining/living area has a TV and 2 ancient computers, and there's a ping-pong table out back.

The staff is friendly and helpful enough, and the hostel is part of Hostelling International so you can get a discount. In Colonia if you're on a budget I suppose it doesn't matter where you sleep since most of the day you'll be out exploring or eating. Grab a bottle of Pilsen, Uruguayan beer, and enjoy a soccer game on TV or a round of ping-pong at the hostel.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 19:38 Archived in Uruguay Comments (0)


Cold and empty, like my bank account

overcast 16 °C

I´ve had all of these great blog starter ideas in my head, but now, that I´ve finally had a chance to sit at a computer, nothing comes to mind. Where can I start? We arrived at 5 am. We hung out at the airport for an hour because it was just too cold outside, and we wanted to at least see where we were going. So much for the 75 degree temps predicted by Weather.com. I froze my bum off in the 2 minutes we waited for the bus. The ride from the airport into the city was interesting. Lots of simple, middle class people going to work. No one too friendly, but at least I didn´t think the bus driver was out to kill me like the ones in Mexico. We got off the bus alright, found our hostel alright and I passed out on a couch bench in front of the TV. The hostel receptionist kindly woke us up to let us know we could go to our bunks early, and then I passed out again. Carlos complains that I fall asleep too easily and that he takes forever. Not my fault, but I can understand how annoying that must be. Later I´ll talk about the hostel where we stayed, Willy Fogg Hostel.

When I woke up, around 3 pm, it was too late to go around and do much. We first went to Ciudad Vieja, the old city, and wandered around. The thing that is most shocking, maybe since again, we´re coming from Mexico, was the lack of people. The city is just deserted. I think people´ve said the population is about 1 million, and all of them must be at home cozied up in their beds. I wouldn´t go outside either. Who knows. But really, the plazas were empty, and I seriously felt like I was walking through the set of I am Legend because there were just broken down buildings and nobody was around. The city is pretty enough. You can tell that back in the day they had some awesome architecture. Tall wooden shutters on elegant buildings. Now everything is broken and moldy and falling apart. There are artisans with their wares at the beginning of the Ciudad Vieja and there´s lots of hip stores, but after a few blocks people are few and far between. Plus the hostel receptionist kind of spooked us, reminding us not to have our camera out a lot like the gawking tourists that we are. There´s lots of cool grafitti and old school Coca-Cola signs everywhere. And dogs, but not as mangy as the Mexican ones.

We walked all the way down to the pier, a picturesque scene where men were fishing and couples were drinking. Montevideo is right on the water, which is pretty cool. Since it´s winter, the town doesn´t really have that beachy feel. I guess like Ocean City, NJ at Christmastime. We went out in flip-flops to air out our stinky feet, but everyone else was wearing boots, scarves and hats. Most people just looked at my feet as we walked. I guess Carlos wasn´t as obvious. Uruguayans also keep warm by drinking mate, a hot tea sipped through a metal straw (pronounced mah-tay...sorry, I can´t find the accent on this keyboard). I´ll write about that later because I haven´t even started to understand the phenomenon. I´ve been told, however, that while mate is popular in Buenos Aires and maybe other parts in South America, people here in Montevideo seem to carry it around like it´s their security blanket. And it´s true. On the bus, in the supermarket, hanging out at the beach with friends- people have it with them everywhere.

In the evening we took a bus to Pocitos, the newer part of town where we got chivito, the local dish. The bus system is fairly easy to navigate, and comes by every 10ish minutes it seems. It´s about a dollar or two, depending on where you´re going. The prices seem to change every time and we haven´t quite figured out the system. They do make change, and you get a ticket. There are also bus passes, obviously only if you´re from here or planning on staying awhile. Buses, we were told, run all night, but obviously less frequently as the night goes on. Pocitos has a lot more people around. We walked on the sidewalk that goes along the beach. More people were out at night, rollerblading, running, and drinking mate of course. More fun grafitti.

Now for a small rant. (Of course these are all just observations of a very tired traveler who hasn´t gotten out much)... Unfortunately we haven´t even been to the museums, and we aren´t going out at night because everything is so dang expensive compared to our lifestyle in Mexico. A can of Coke is 18 Uruguayan pesos ($1 USD), and 6 Mexican pesos ($0.50 USD). And that´s how everything is, if not more costly. The hostel has been our cheapest thing so far. And people wise, they´ve all been friendly when we have, but I don´t feel that... feeling I get from Mexican people. They´re quieter, more reserved. Maybe more like us cold, cold gringos?

Tomorrow we head to Colonia, which is supposed to be quieter and even emptier. Even though I loooove the quiet and prefer to be alone quite a bit, I don´t really enjoy an empty city. It´s just weird. It´s like having lots of people at the park with you. Each place is supposed to have a certain number of people. But now I´m mentally prepared, and so I´ll make sure I just sit and write and let Carlos take lots of pictures. The hostel and the people staying here are AWESOME, so stay tuned for the next post!

Posted by UnMejorHOY 19:26 Archived in Uruguay Tagged beach travel bus city south america hostel visit mate casa alternative montevideo casa_hoy Comments (0)

Eating Chivitos with the Chivitero

Every citizen is proud of their national food. Mexicans can talk for hours about their favorite food- enchiladas, mole, tacos al pastor. In this southeastern region of Uruguay and northern Argentina the regional food seems to be all meat based. Wacala (gross). I'm not a vegetarian anymore but when I heard that a popular Uruguayan dish was "chivito," a meat sandwich, I was not very thrilled.

The receptionist at our hostel, as every good Uruguayan national should, raved about chivito and eagerly explained how to get to Chivitos Marcos, the best chiviteria in town. We took a bus toward Pocitos, a more residential area and the newer part of town. Chivitos Marcos is off of Espana, on Sarmiento, up a few blocks from the kiosko newspaper stand. We were obviously not on the local eating schedule; the place was empty. But that was perfect because apparently you build your own sandwich and with the accent handicap we could have taken all evening.

A chivito is a sandwich stacked with everything. Like I said, you can build your own. Ingredients include: ham, bacon, thin steak, lettuce, green olives, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, banana peppers, marinated veggies, red pepper, mayonnaise and mozzarella cheese. Apparently they also come with egg, but ours didn´t. We got everything on our sandwich but mushrooms and marinated veggies. To drink we had Paso de los Toros, grapefruity soda. I was very skeptical when I saw it. 175 Uruguayan pesos, roughly $12, for what looked like to me a very thick Subway sandwich. Not to offend, Uruguayans. It actually looked even more like the Cubana sandwich in Mexico, which is only 25 Mexican pesos, or about $1.75. So again, visually, not impressed. But once I took a bite- I can´t even explain. It´s not even like there´s a sauce on it, just a mayonaisse and ketchup mix called salsa golf. There must be a secret ingredient that the owner didn´t want to share with us. But it was friggin´amazing.

After we wiped our fingers on a bajillion napkins, I got over my shyness and started talking to the owner. He had been working at Chivito Marcos for 8 years, ever since it had opened. He said the original chivito became popular about 45 years ago, when an Argentine guy asked a Uruguayun for a "typical" Uruguayan dish. The guy created this sandwich for him, and it became a hit. Originally chivitos were sold in carts, like any good street food. This guy sold about 1,300 chivitos a day, working a big cart with about 4 grills. The wait was at least 2 1/2 hours- you would order and then come back later. You´d get a ticket with a number, like waiting in line at a theme park.

Over the years though, the business went under, and a former employee, Marcos, took over, establishing what is now Chivitos Marcos. There are about 6 chiviterias. The owner at the restaurant where we ate was very animated and interested in explaining the history to us. He even said that the Discovery Channel had come to film a piece about chivitos. If only we had brought our "staff" passes maybe we could have saved a few pesos on these delicious, but expensive (for the Mexican traveler) sandwiches.

At the hostel where we´re staying, the Willy Fogg Hostel, people have all been talking about their chivitos experience, comparing prices and marveling at the simplicity of such an amazing sandwich. You can´t leave Uruguay without trying one.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 18:55 Archived in Uruguay Tagged food travel uruguay typical alternative sandwich chivito Comments (0)

Willy Fogg Hostel, Montevideo

We got into Montevideo at 5 am. You can take the bus into town at that hour, but it was freezing cold and we didn't want to wander around in the dark. Contrary to inexistant belief (who actually goes to Uruguay?), it can be a dodgy town sometimes and we were warned to keep our eyes open and our cameras in our bags. Ha. Like that was going to happen. But we wanted to minimize risks as much as possible. We slept for an hour with one eye open, and then took a bus right outside the airport to the downtown.

The bus dropped us off and we walked about 4 blocks. Willy Fogg is only 3 blocks from the shore and 7 blocks from the city center, in a quiet little neighborhood with giant broken down buildings. While Willy Fogg may have mixed reviews online, they have the cheapest beds in town, and it's honestly one of the best times we've had at a hostel. We booked two beds for one night at $10 a pop. (The minimum at other places is $15). We were in a room with 18 beds, but it's not a super popular time of year to travel so we didn't feel packed in. Your night includes towels and linens, breakfast (bread with jelly or butter), cereal, fresh fruit, coffee and juice. We never got up early, so we usually just got bread and butter and cold coffee; our fault, not theirs. You also get a locker and a lock. Bathrooms are clean and there's hot water.

Obviously the fun you have at a hostel depends a lot on the other travelers that are there, but Willy Fogg does a good job offering options to keep you entertained. Wi-fi, TV, free computers with Skype (sorry I didn't call you, Mom), cheap bike rentals, walking tours, free maps, kitchen access, several spaces to hang out in, an outside patio with a barbeque; seriously- why leave? There's a pub crawl and trips to the beach, as well as a weekly calendar that fills up with activities such as drumming, Spanish classes, the art of mate (the tea) and more.

We were lucky to start off our trip with an awesome group of travelers. We met people from Chile, Brazil, Canada, the US, and Uruguay. Everyone was eager to share where they had been and where they were going. We got some great travel tips and were able to learn cool things about different countries and lifestyles. Some people had just started, and other people had been traveling for almost 9 months. Some people were working their way across countries, hitchhiking and others traveling until the money ran out. We have yet to see what kind of trip this is going to be, although I really need to work on my accent if I'm going to get a job around here.

Going back to the main topic... When we came trekking back in the second day after a failed attempt at Couch Surfing they were quick to take our reservation for another night and even gave us an upgrade to a nicer room for free. Even though I was anxious to write this lovely blog, we spent most of the time chatting with other travelers, playing poker or watching games of fútbol. We were able to "cook" in the kitchen (there's a grocery store 2 blocks away with great cheese and produce, etc.) and watch other travelers prepare steaks to drink with their bottle of wine.

All in all, the staff is friendly and answered all of our annoying travel questions. They know what they're doing and do their best to make your stay enjoyable. So if your travels take you to Montevideo, grab a bottle of wine and definitely stay at Willy Fogg.

Some travel tips:
Talk to other travelers, even if you are traveling with someone. You'll get great tips and maybe even make a new friend.
Bring a converter for the outlets in Uruguay. They're two or three cylindrical prongs. Look online.
Pack plastic flip-flops for the shower.
Ask hostel staff for restaurant and museum recommendations.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 18:49 Archived in Uruguay Tagged people parties planes international visit uruguay Comments (0)

24 hours with TACA airlines

American's think they've got the best service industry in the world. We've got majors in tourism and degrees in hospitality management. And in many areas we are pretty darn good with our customer device; heck, we've even got greeters at Walmart. But the airline industry has been lacking. Our recent experience with American Airlines at the Miami airport made me even less fond of the "state of things" in the States; stumpy women yelling at people for being in the wrong line, no help with ticket changes. And forget about smiles.

So when we got to the counter with TACA, our airline for this 24 hour trip from hell, we were very pleasantly surprised. The lady attending us was able to change our seats so we could sit next to each other AND, gasp, we got breakfast on the plane. US airlines have really lowered the bar- I'm just happy with extra sugar in my coffee. TACA airlines has mini TV screens on the back of every seat, which means you have your own personal flight experience. They've even helped out Mom and Dad. Your personal entertainment screen includes a map with up-to-date flight info and a little map. Oh, and I forgot the most important thing: free alchohol.

On our subsequent flights, we were served lunch and dinner. I got red wine with lunch which quickly put me to sleep. In Costa Rica we realized, literally 5 minutes before we boarded, that they had mixed up our seats. Carlos talked to the lady behind the counter and got everything figured out. We got pillows and blankets, free headphones, and snacks before landing. Overall it was a much better experience than what I was expecting, and I'll definitely fly TACA over any other airline in my budget. Unfortunately airlines in the States have cut out all of those details that make flying an enjoyable experience. Maybe someday they'll realize that a bag of pretzels really is part of customer service.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 20:19 Archived in Mexico Tagged travel international airplanes voluntourism taca Comments (0)

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