By Joshua Rapp Learn, Contributing Reporter
MONTEVIDEO – Come and witness the southern metropolis where gaucho culture comes together with chic imported fashion. Where great steak combines with a proud heritage for football that belies the country’s small population. Waves roll through the Rio Plata Delta from the Atlantic Ocean and crash against the seaside Rambla along the Rio Plata Delta. Montevideo is truly a thriving, trendy city that throngs with sophisticated South American pride.
Although it’s population is only just over a million people, Montevideo acts and feels like a true metropolis. Partly due to the international shipping port that has competed with Buenos Aires over the centuries since its inception, Montevideo’s energy belies its relatively small population. Unlike Buenos Aires to the south, however, the city’s manageable size gives you an overall sense of inclusiveness. With a little time, it’s easy to walk from one side of the city to the other, and a trajectory along the pedestrian thoroughfares of Sarandi and Bacacay will be broken up by statue and tree-filled parks around the Plaza de Independencia. Much of downtown is covered by old, balcony-adorned two story houses while the President’s house is right in the middle of the square, rising only a few stories from the ground.
Although some call it a small Buenos Aires, any Montevideano will act as offended as a Kiwi mistaken for an Australian or a Canadian for an American. Montevideo has carved out a niche for itself in the realms of culture and arts, producing such famous artists as the late poet Mario Benedetti and famed tango artist Carlos Gardel, although the latter’s nationality remains contested with Argentina and France.
In the Port Market, Chains hang down from the rafters, suspending a sizzling palette of meat that includes every cut you’ve ever hear of and more. You merely have to point out your choice and the chef will liberate a fillet of beef, chicken or pork from the flaming wood-burning fire onto your plate.
“Mate” is another staple of Uruguayan diet and culture. The herb-infused tea-like hot drink is ubiquitous in Montevideo. It isn’t uncommon to see locals pouring hot water into their mate gourds while walking down the street or sitting along the Rambla. Also famous is the chivito, a beef sandwich that provides a tasty street side snack. The Chivito Canadiense is the beefed up version of the beef sandwich, purportedly named after when a Canadian once ordered their chivito with back bacon on top of all the other available fixings.
Uruguay again burst into the international spotlight with its football team passing into the semi-finals of the world cup, due in no small part to the offensive (and defensive) qualities of Diego Forlán and Luis Suárez. Uruguay declared itself as an important player on the world football scene from the very first FIFA World Cup which they both hosted and won. They went on to win another world cup twenty years later in Brazil and made the semi-finals a further two more times before coming in fourth this July in South Africa. The players apparently received a royal reception from fans upon their arrival in Montevideo.