The first taste of IFAJ proper began Sept. 1, 2013, not in Argentina, rather in the ferry terminal in Colonia, Uruguay. After a couple hour bus ride up the coast to catch the quick ferry to Beunos Airies, the first stop was – with no surprise – the banos, or washroom. As we wait in line, Lilian says, “Hey, our people must be here – she has an IFAJ tag.” She is looking at the woman at the sink washing her hands.
Sure enough, we walk out into the waiting area, and there are the pre-congress Uruguay tour delegates. Like us, they have spent three days in Uruguay. They visited a large dairy and a large beef farm, while we visited historical towns and the beaches, with a bit of ag colour added in by our guide, Maria.
Maria, is mid-forties, married, Uruguayan, and a wonderful tour guide. She is a translator by profession but does tours like ours from time to time. She grew up in Colonia and lives in Montevideo now so she added just a ton of colour and stories to our tour.
In three words, Uruguay is a wonderful mosaic of styles and cultures – a melting pot of Italian, Spanish (Maria was half and half), Portuguese, French, British and even a bit of Russian. When asked where people in Uruguay originate from, Maria says the favourite answer is “the boat.” Sounds a lot like Canada.
I have never been to a second world country so had no real expectations. I didn’t realize until last night where I had heard the only stories of Uruguay until my travel companion’s father mentioned on Facebook the Uruguay round of ag trade talks some years back. I still know nothing about the place, but at least, I’d heard of it before.
Best advice now, don’t leave Uruguay to the end of the tourist destination list, or start your world-wide list and work from z to a so that you get to see this interesting place.
Highlights: Leg, public artworks, green space, architecture from every one of the above mentioned cultures, and now modern too, beaches, world heritage sites, feeling safe, shopping for leather and jewellery as the country has many semi-precious stones, …and of course, good food. Not so much salad but delicious sea food, meat, and crème de leche – a carmel cream that they are famous for. Oh, and mate – their non-alcoholic, cultural drink.