Saturday, January 26, 2008

Day 22

Day 22  January 25, 2008   


     Mate is the favorite drink of Uruguay; it is an herbal tea and many people here drink it all day long.  Walking the streets we see men and women carrying their thermos of hot water and a mug with a straw.  The mug is full of leaves and stems and each time they drink the mug they refill it with their hot water.  It looks very awkward seeing them carrying this around tucked under their elbow.  But most of the people we have talked to love it and say they could not survive without their mate.  One local called mate his "friend".


     Today we walked over five miles, from the hotel all along the Ramblas, or beachfront up to the old part of town. Fishermen were selling their morning catch right from the dock.  It was warm and sunny so we stopped a couple times to sit on a bench on the beach and watch all the people playing football, or jogging, or volleyball.  Most of the people had a thermos with them and we took a lot of photos of the mate nation.


     As we wind down this tremendous trip we have been thinking about what we have learned.  We have met dozens of very fine and generous people. The landscape is varied and rich.  The architecture is European of the 19th century, but also includes some fine modern structures like the Telephone Company Building in Montevideo, the City Hall, the Radisson and Sheraton Hotels.  They have less work stoppages here than in Argentina.  The people seem to be mostly of the middle class and there is less extreme wealth than in Argentina and not much visible poverty.  The taxes are high, a 22% VAT here and a 21% VAT in Argentina.  The governments are Socialist or Populist. In fact both Argentina and Chile have women presidents.  Everyone asks us if Hillary will be our next president.  Most of the small business people are either content or resolved to make the best of the situation.  They are hard working and hopeful.  They have planted some beautiful orchards and vineyards and are outward looking, planning to grow an export driven economy. The worlds financial markets have been on a roller coaster this entire month so the daily news provided us a lot of serious economic issues to discuss with the locals.


     Last night Rodolfo and Claudia took us to La Perdiz, a local restaurant, for an evening of good food and talking about the fruit business.  We hope to be able to return the favor to them in Wenatchee.  In fact there have been many people in South America who would like to come to visit America and we have invited quite a few to come see our beautiful part of the world.  We expect some of them to come north for a visit.


     The carnival grandstands are being set up all over town and the festivities will grow in size and passion over the next two weeks before Lent begins.  In the main plaza, where the permanent giant statues of the nation's heroes stand guard over the Uruguayan heritage, we saw workmen setting up booths for the judges to sit and watch the giant inflatable floats and dancers and  listen to the bands play.  Everyone seems quite happy now.  This is a joyous time of the year.  The crops are being harvested.  Fresh fruits and berries, salads and vegetables, fish and meat are in abundance.  The people are a rather homogeneous mixture of Spanish, Italian and some Germans.  They celebrate their native cultures and are also proud to be part of this small and peaceful nation.  Tomorrow we get back on the boat and return to Buenos Aires for our last two days.


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