My CouchSurfing contacts convinced me to stay an essential extra day in Montevideo. I got to see that the city is a lot less quiet and empty than I had experienced on Sunday and also learn a lot more about Uruguay. The current prolonged economic slump, privatization of public industries along with a burgeoning demand for private services by the concentrating upper class has called into question many past social welfare achievements in education and wealth-distribution, even the solidarity of the nation. This is causing a lot of introspection, including ongoing reflection on the years spent living under the brutal military dictature of the 1970's. On a personal level, Uruguayans are very close people and from my experience, have an admirable propensity for focusing on and appreciating good human contact. Those who have the need to stand out tend to move to Buenos Aires. In Uruguay you should be yourself and talk from the heart. This is partly reflected in the act of drinking mate together and the custom of frequently visiting and gathering in each others' homes (much more than outside in restaurants or bars). I can recommend that you visit, but try to go in the summer and make an effort to contact someone there beforehand!
a) Montevideo from the Intendencia municipal government building b) Colonial del Sacramento, a 16th century Portuguese settlement 2.5h west of Montevideo from where I took the ferry c) Arriving in Buenos Aires with a view of the new foreign-owned towers in the posh neighbourhood of Puerto Madero built while the Argentine peso was deflated.
Yesterday was my first full day in Buenos Aires and it coincided with an enormous country-wide call to protest by the socialist Left. More than a hundred thousand people congregated in front of the presidential palace in Plaza de Mayo to demonstrate against the current government of Cristina Fernández, demanding more supportive economic measures for workers (mainly, the elimination of income tax for certain brackets, an increase of the minimum wage and greater availability of subsidized housing) and an end to uncontrolled concessions to the mining industry and large landowners.
The gathering of worker syndicates from all over the country, in particular from the transport and logistics sector, culminated with a speech from the Hugo Moyano, current Secretary General of Labour and Vice-president of the Justicialist Party. He spoke pure rhetoric and focused too much on political party delineation than on the issues at hand, but I still came away inspired from the whole experience. You don't often witness a country come together as a people, with backing from political representatives, to defend a collective optimistic vision and belief in their nation. The principal message was that even if Argentina has managed to bounce back from the economic crash of 2001-2, it hasn't taken care of its society as a whole, disparities have widened and that it has allied itself with the wrong partners for growth. This not only implies a belief in the power to change things but also a healthy optimism for the future and passionate national identity! This city so far appears very different from what I expected, it's an interesting place to be in!