Monday, August 24, 2009

Montevideo I: The Red Hostel

I was surprised that it was somewhere around 90F when I landed in Montevideo. Given that it had been a chilly few weeks in Porto Alegre and I was heading south, I only packed turtlenecks and woolly things. This meant that I was rather warm for the next four days while the “Little Summer” lingered in the southern, Southern Hemisphere.

I checked into the Red Hostel on Wednesday. It was red.
The building was really nice.

There was a fireplace in the lounge and a gorgeous rooftop terrace that I would have enjoyed if the temperature didn’t drop so drastically at night….and if there had been more than six other guests. It was pretty quiet there.

The hostel staff was of the we’ll-speak-when-we’re-spoken-too variety, and I was disappointed that I didn’t get any good leads on the best neighborhood dinner joint or other good insider information on how to enjoy my stay. In terms or mutual irritation, there was a handyman who neglected to tie a string or post a note warning that he had just painstakingly refinished the wooden staircase leading to the rooftop. On my fifth sticky step, as I realized that the adhesion probably wasn’t the trace of toppled cocktails, I’m not sure who was more irked. On the other hand, there was Nicholas
a shade more amiable than the rest of the staff—who invited us all to come see his band play on Saturday night (which Cath and I did, from what I recall).

The Red Hostel will, however, be memorable to me because of Cath and Edu. Cath is in her early 30s, a London primary school teacher with a wicked travel list already behind her. We hit it off immediately and spent a good part of the next few days breathless with laughter. Eduardo is a Porteño who was in town just a few days ironing out some family business. He and I share an appreciation of futebol (he’s River Plate, not Boca Juniors—so he’s automatically decent in my mind) and the art of old-fashioned construction and engineering.

More on each of them in the next post.

Like the Red Hostel building itself, I found much of Montevideo’s Ciudad Vieja charming. Unsurprisingly, it reminded me of Madrid. I found many pleasant plazas, sprinkled with fountains and monuments of old heroes; gorgeous craftsmanship in the hundreds of tall, thick, ornately carved (and heavy) wooden doorways; and uniqueness in addition to beauty in the intricate detailing on the facades, the wrought-iron balconies, the turrets.

On Friday, I planned to check out the Museo del Azulejo. It’s a museum exclusively of tiles, which sounded sufficiently quirky to pique my interest. It is situated in Pocitos, an upscale neighborhood about five or six miles from the Old Town by way of the Rambla, the windy path that follows the curves of the Rio de la Plata. I like to walk. I set out mid-morning, enjoying the unseasonable warmth, despite being overdressed for it.

I stopped along the way to watch a little tugboat pushing a much larger and wounded vessel into the repair dock. I watched them for a while as I got caught up in wonder about the lives of those seamen.

I was obligated to ask these fisherman if I might capture the image of their morning’s catch for you. They graciously agreed and even told me a little about it—in Spanish, so it was a bit touch’n’go—but I did get that the thing weighs 70 kilos, or, over 150 pounds.

I think I got some color to soften my winter pale, but the wind off the water kept me from having a meltdown.

When I arrived at the Museo del Azulejo, this is all I got.

Don’t let the open door fool you. It was closed for remodeling. Strike 1*.

I changed hostels after two nights, hoping for a little more “scene.” I found it.
Look who else I found…


*Learn about Strike 2 and Strike 3 in the next posts!