We leave the comforts of Sur Hostel in Colonia and catch a 2 and a half hour bus to the capital of Uruguay, Montevideo.
We are not 100% sure where we are going to stay but I’m just trusting the universe here. Nacho meets us at Tres Cruces, also known as XXX – nothing pornographic now – it’s the main bus station in the city. He came with his bicycle and I’m wondering how we are getting all our stuff to his place. He suggests we take a taxi the 10 or so blocks to his house. Taxis are very affordable in Montevideo, just make sure the meter is on 0 and if you can, ask the price before you get in the cab. We drove the 10 mins for A$80 – R40. Not too bad I suppose bad.
We get to Nacho’s house in a great part of the city, near the stadium where the first ever Soccer World Cup was played. An old corner house, 2 stories with a roof terrace and basement. Nacho lives with 7 other guys in this 4 bedroom house. They all share bedrooms and work together on each other’s projects. They are all between 23 and 33 and are trying to change the world for the better. Our room for the weekend will be the basement. It is down a hatch in the floor, tiny steep wooden steps head down to a cool, wide open space with laminated wood floor, ping pong table and maps and mementos from cities all over the world against the walls. In one corner there are traditional Uruguayan drums (that are actually from African decent) and in the other, a few mattresses and some sheets. This is actually quite a great place to stay. Big, private and cool. Exactly what we need.
We spend the night drinking mate and getting to know everyone in the house. Now mate is something of a cultural institution in Uruguay, and to a lesser extent Argentina. The Uruguayans take their mate drinking very seriously and there is a definite etiquette to the drinking of this hot beverage. Yerba mate is grown in the Misiones region and is a tea, sort of..dry tea leaves with a very distinctive aroma are used to filled a specialised mate cup. Mate is served with a metal straw from a shared hollow calabash gourd. The straw is called a bombilla in some Latin American countries. The straw is traditionally made of silver. Modern, commercially available straws are typically made of nickel silver, called alpaca; stainless steel, or hollow-stemmed cane. This is how it works – The mate cup is filled ay 3 quarters with mate, and hot water from a thermos is poured over the leaves and it is left to be infused with the caffeine (or mateinne as they call it) from the leaves. The pourer is always the same guy, in this case it was Nacho. He hands me the mate cup and I sip slowly through the metal straw which has filter at the bottom end so none of the leaves are sucked through. When I’m done I hand him the cup back, and if I say “mmmm, that was great”, I get another serving after he has had and Nacho 2 (every guy’s name is either Nacho or Mauricio in Uruguay) has had a serving. If I just say “Thank you”, it means I’m done and wouldn’t like any more. Mate has a very bitter taste and it takes some getting used to. Almost all Uruguayans and Argentinians grow up drinking mate and they are almost addicted to it. You just walk down the road and every second person you see is carrying a mate cup and a thermos with hot water. With time all of them will have grown an extra arm to old their cup. I might be ostracized by my new friends, but I want to get a mate cup and straw and try the same with rooibos. Oh, how I miss rooibos..
Nacho formed an NGO called Uruguay Entre Todos. They bring volunteers and places who need volunteers together. On Sunday they are undertaking a big painting project and now, 2 days before the event, most of their 200 volunteers are cancelling because it is the weekend before Christmas! Luckily these two random South African visitors know how to paint a wall with the best of them! We’re in!
We crawl into our little bed that we made out of one super comfortable mattress and one pillow..oh the places we have slept. (We have found out that we can literally sleep anywhere)