The case for Uruguay

I still remember killing a rainy afternoon in Costa Rica over two years ago by simply trying to name as many countries and their capitals as my memory allowed. Of course, the non-boring factor of this rather straightforward game was my friend competing against me, but after we both realized our geographic orientation was pretty much on the same level, we started collaborating on filling the blanks.

And in South America, I was definitely confusing Uruguay, Paraguay, and the Guianas, not to mention Suriname. Actually, I still need a tad of help from Google to put everything up north in order, but I’m definitely (and thankfully) worlds away from ever asking “Uruguay? Is that in… where exactly is Uruguay? Africa?”. Well, to eliminate any doubts, Uruguay is right here:

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Sandwiched between two giants, Uruguay has probably remained unknown to many, save for the Simpsons’ fans who watched Homer misread its name as… “U R GAY”, or Argentina guidebook holders that flipped through the last chapter dedicated to… yes, the entire country of Uruguay. It doesn’t get much better than that. After my visit there, all excited, I shared some revelations about this tiny, impressive place with a friend who just looked at me and replied “Really? Uruguay? I thought it’s some poor 3rd world country…”. And not even that! My Uruguayan host, in good humor, told me how amongst Latinos his home country is referred to as an “extension of Argentina” or “the Europeans” and his Spanish misunderstood because of the yeísmo-filled accent.

Let me tell you – this fun-sized country might actually be a pleasant day trip away from Buenos Aires, but it is SO worth staying for longer, and staying in more places than just the touristy, overrated (World Heritage Site nonetheless) Colonia del Sacramento!

There’s definitely enough to intrigue and/or impress you: Uruguay’s population is only 3.3 million, but the vast majority (in the number of 1.8 million) fits in the capital, Montevideo, which is still roughly only one fifth of the area of Buenos Aires (and one tenth of its population… so much more space!). But hey, it’s still not the smallest country in South America!

And have you yet heard of the ‘poorest’ president in the world, who not only lives on a farm (he’s actually a farmer by profession according to Wiki), but gives out 90% of his earnings to charity? Yea, he’s Uruguayan. The president of the most socially liberal democratic country in the whole of Latin America, where same-sex marriage is about to become legal at the beginning of August (even though civil unions were recognized nationally since 2008), abortion has been legalized in 2012, and the possession of drugs for personal use has never been a crime.

More? All museums and cultural centers are free (with very few exceptions), and if you’re about to ask about food – fear not. Uruguay is the number #1 beef consumer in the world beating Argentina not only in steak-eating, but also in the amount of cows per capita in the country. It’s 4 animals per each citizen in Uruguay, while it’s only mere 1.1 cows per an Argentine. This really is a fun fact, though not my favorite, since I’m a vegetarian, but I still did not have any problems getting fed over there, even when we went over to a friend’s friend’s place for dinner.

All I’m saying for now is that everyone deserves a chance. Listen to the stereotypes, put them in your pocket, and go prove all those preachers wrong! I had a curiously amazing time visiting Uruguay, and I am most definitely coming back for a much more elaborate tour – hopefully under the full-blown sun that they carry on their flag.

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