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Cruise Diary: Montevideo, Uruguay — Tango and ‘Candombe’ Too!

Day 20 – Jan. 25

Yesterday was a bittersweet day. The first segment of our 112-day World Cruise ended, and 90 passengers, including some friends we had made onboard, disembarked, while others embarked – a chance to make new friends during our second segment from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Sydney, Australia. A word about our fellow passengers: the majority appear to be 65-75 years old; most are well traveled Americans, many World Cruise repeaters including a lady I sat next to at the cinema who has been on seven circumnavigations of the planet. Others I have talked to have been on two or three World Cruises. It shows! Many a conversation starts with “Last year in Tahiti…” or “This wine reminds me of one we enjoyed in Chile…” So these veteran travelers are great conversationalists and good sources of tips for touring ashore.

Today, we visited Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, a country that is often overlooked as it is small and sandwiched between much bigger Brazil and Argentina, with which Uruguay has a rivalry as fierce as Yankees and Red Sox fans have in baseball. Soon after we boarded our bus for our shipboard-bought Highlights of Montevideo by Steam Train & Bus tour, our guide, Adriana, set us straight. “In spite of what you may have heard,” she said, “the tango was not invented in Argentina, but in the Rio Plate region” (where Montevideo is located on the opposite bank of the river from Buenos Aires). She cited one of the world’s most famous tangos, “La Cumparsita,” which was composed by Gerardo Matos, who was born in Montevideo.

Me and Humberto in front of the steam train.

Me and Humberto in front of the steam train.

Argentina is famous for beef, but Uruguayan beef is also delicious and plentiful, Adriana stressed. “We have three million people, but 13 million cows!” The highlights of our Montevideo tour included a ride in a restored early 19th century steam train. During the ride we heard a tango and the “candombe,” a rhythmic type of music, uniquely Montevidean, that was introduced by African slaves in colonial times. Three different drums are used to play the “candombe,” and Adriana and others danced it – down the length of our train car. Other points of interest on our tour included Prado park, where we saw a couple dancing to the “Por una Cabeza” tango, and shopped at a handicrafts market.

Tango dancers at Prado park in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Tango dancers at Prado park in Montevideo, Uruguay.

La Carreta, a colossal bronze of a wagon pulled by oxen that served as a gaucho’s home in the early days, was another point of interest, as well as the seaside Rambla promenade with views of the beach and the city, and the Plaza de Independencia in the heart of Montevideo, with a black marble mausoleum and an equestrian bronze of Jose Gervasio Artigas, Uruguay’s Liberator. The Teatro Solis, an ornate 19th century theater, is one of the interesting buildings on the Plaza de Independencia. Near the pier — within walking distance from cruise ships — is the Mercado del Puerto, a fine market with handicrafts, leather goods, jewelry and more. Tip: Prices are fixed so no need to try to bargain, but the prices are good – a rare occurrence with markets so close to cruise ship piers.

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