Soy celeste

What a fun week it has been!

On Monday, I had my Adventure Tourism class. I was under the impression that we would be learning about mountain biking, but when I arrived at the day’s location and saw the professor tying ropes to poles and throwing the ropes down a rocky ledge, I knew we would be rappelling.

There are three types of rappelling that we would be doing: rappel down a slope, rappel down a vertical ledge, and rappel where you must lower yourself down to the ground, which in this case meant hanging off a bridge and lowering yourself down to the sidewalk next to a busy road. As scary as this all sounds, once we learned how to use the equipment and proper technique for each type of rappel, it was a lot of fun!

Rappel down a vertical slope

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Rappel was the workshop that I felt the most nervous for, but I survived! It’s pretty neat to be able to say that the first time I rappelled was in Uruguay.

On Tuesday, the Uruguayan fútbol team had a game against Colombia as part of the 2014 World Cup qualifying matches, and I was able to go! As noted before, Uruguayans are crazy about their fútbol. The stadium, which holds about 65,000 people, was practically sold out. Everyone was very spirited their jerseys, crazy blue hair, face paint, and wearing the Uruguayan flag like a cape. I even had my own little flag!

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Now, you’re probably wondering what “Soy celeste” means. “Celeste” is the blue that the Uruguayan team wears, similar to sky blue, and in Spanish, “soy” means “I am”. During the game, the crowd would chant “Soy celeste” meaning “I am celeste”.

The first half of the game was pretty uneventful, and the score was 0-0 at the half. We were anxious for something amazing to happen, and we certainly got our wish. During the second half, within about three minutes of each other, Uruguay scored two goals. The crowd went wild! Cheering, chanting, blowing horns, lighting firecrackers, jumping around, it was pure jubilation. Overall, Uruguay won! There will be another game in Montevideo in October against Argentina, and I would really like to go to that match as well.

From there, the week went on as normal. Classes, volunteering, and now it’s the weekend. I finally have plans to go to Buenos Aires for a weekend in October, so I am really looking forward to that. As for now, it is time to relax, because I have my first test in about ten days, uh-oh!

Chao!

 

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Rainy day observations

Despite the rain, thunder, and lightning, it has been nice having a weekend to relax after last week’s adventure.

As you may or may not know, fútbol (or as the Americans call it, “soccer”) is extremely popular in Uruguay. Last night, the Uruguayan fútbol team was playing an away game against Peru as part of the qualifying matches for the 2014 World Cup. Around 10:30pm, I began to hear loud cheering coming from outside, so I looked out the window from the apartment and saw this:

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I asked what was going on, and apparently when there is a fútbol game, a large screen is set up at the Intendencia (a large government building) so people can gather and watch the game. It was pretty obvious from the reactions of the crowd what was going on during the game: loud boos when something unfavorable occurred and thunderous cheering when Uruguay scored. Of course, Uruguay won.

Speaking of fútbol, I bought a ticket to go to the next game! Uruguay will be playing Colombia on Tuesday in Montevideo in another World Cup qualifying match. I am really excited to experience this extremely important aspect of Uruguayan culture. If you are able to watch the game on Tuesday, be sure to cheer for Uruguay!

Getting back to today, it rained all day with the occasional thunder and lightning. Being from Washington, rain really is not a big deal to me nor does it ever really put a damper (get it?) on my plans. In Uruguay, however, the world seems to stop when it rains. There were very few people out on the street and far less cars on the road. I guess the rain is a good excuse to stay in bed all day!

Supposedly, the storm will pass by tonight. I sure hope so, because tomorrow I would like to go to the feria (street market) and look for some Uruguay gear to wear to the game on Tuesday. For now, I will take of advantage of the time I have to relax before tests start popping up…

Chao!

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A much needed vacation

The trip to Salto was a lot of fun!

I traveled with five other students from my university, four Americans and one from England. We left Montevideo at midnight on Friday and rode in a very comfortable bus for six hours to Salto. I did manage to sleep for a few hours, but whenever I woke up I would look out the window. We drove basically through the countryside where there are very, very few lights, so at night the sky was filled with stars – probably the most stars I have ever seen in the sky. We arrived in Salto around 6am on Friday, took a taxi to our hotel, and slept for a few more hours.

After some much needed rest, we explored Salto. The city is along a river across from Argentina, so we got to gaze over the water to Argentina.

Hola, Argentina!

Hola, Argentina!

Plaza Roosevelt

Plaza Roosevelt

Salto is the second largest city in Uruguay, but it only has about 100,000 inhabitants, and it’s also said to be a very touristy city. It certainly is very different from Montevideo – not because it’s smaller – but the lifestyle just seemed a lot more relaxed. There are a lot less cars, the streets are generally have only one lane and are one-way, and the air seemed a lot cleaner. A very pleasant city!

It was a really nice day, so after some exploring we took a bus over to the termas. From what I read, many, many years ago some people tried drilling for oil in this region, and instead of finding oil, they ran into some hot springs. Nowadays, the city of Salto fills pools with water from these springs to create the termas.

Termas - pools with hot spring water, kind of like a giant hot tub

Termas – pools with hot spring water, kind of like a giant hot tub

Since it was a beautiful day out, we also got to lay out in the sun – wait, sunbathing in the winter? Apparently you can do that in Uruguay!

We all were still pretty exhausted and running on very little sleep, plus spending the day in the sun and relaxing in the termas, so after dinner at a nearby pizzaria we all checked out for the evening.

On Saturday, after a hearty breakfast of bread, we went to go see the Represa de Salto Grande (“represa” means “dam”). The dam is built along the river between Uruguay and Argentina, and it provides 60-70% of the energy to all of Uruguay and about 7-8% to Argentina. We got to tour the dam and took a tour bus alongside it, and we even drove in to Argentina for about two and a half minutes, so I can say I have been in Argentina.

Represa ("dam") de Salto Grande

Represa (“dam”) de Salto Grande

Inside the represa

Inside the represa

After, we went and saw a lake, which is basically the river before it goes through the dam, but Uruguayans refer to it as a lake.

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Since we were on vacation, of course we wanted to relax, so we went to a parque acuático (“water park”) complete with a wave pool, slides, and more termas. We enjoyed it much more than the termas from the day before and managed to spend five hours there relaxing and laying in the sun again, since it was about eighty degrees out that day.

The wave pool - when I said "water park", I hope you didn't think of something like Wild Waves - no way!

The wave pool – when I said “water park”, I hope you didn’t think of something like Wild Waves – no way!

After another relaxing day in the water, we headed back in to Salto for dinner. We happened to come across a buffet, so of course, this was the perfect place to have dinner. For $15, we got unlimited food which included traditional Uruguayan dishes, a salad bar, the parrilla (which, if you remember, is meat from the grill – parrilla by itself would typically cost no less than $15 at a restaurant, but here it was included!), and a dessert bar. Needless to say, each one of us made several trips to get food and accumulated quite a few plates. However, we noticed that the Uruguayans who came to the buffet did not get nearly as much food as we did, and we’re not sure if the idea of a buffet in Uruguay really is to eat as much food as you can, or if it means something completely different. Regardless, we all left completely stuffed but very satisfied.

Sunday was our last afternoon in Salto. Our bus was scheduled to leave at 1pm, so we decided to take our stuff and walk over to a nearby plaza that was in the direction of the bus station.

Plaza Artigas - José Artigas is considered to be Uruguay's national hero

Plaza Artigas – José Artigas is considered to be Uruguay’s national hero

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It was finally time to leave Salto, so we started our six hour bus ride back to Montevideo, in which I somehow managed to sleep through four hours of it. When I was awake, I would look out the window – imagine land that is flat, grassy, and filled with cows, and you have the countryside of Uruguay.

Unfortunately, after a very fun vacation, it was time to head back to class, however, for one of my classes we went to the Museo del Gaucho (“Museum of the Gaucho”). If you are not sure what a gaucho is, the closest thing I can think to compare it to is a cowboy that lives on the plains with his horse. The museum was pretty neat, and at one point our tour guide showed us the traditional clothing of the gaucho, and proceeded to dress up one of the guys from my class. When it came time to demonstrate to traditional clothing of a paisana (the wife of a gaucho, basically), my professor volunteered me and I guarantee it was because my hair happened to be in a braid today. Anyway, I got to dress up as a paisana!

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It has been a very busy past few days! I can’t believe it is already September. Time sure is flying.

Chao for now!

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Hot and cold

It finally happened…my immune system gave in, and I have a cold. I was waiting for it to happen though because a lot of people have been getting sick lately, so I knew my turn was coming. However, I’m doing fine!

This weekend, I will take a trip to Salto, Uruguay, and I will be traveling with some other international students. We will leave tonight at midnight, ride a bus for six hours, and arrive in Salto at 6am on Friday, and we will return Sunday evening. Here’s an idea of where Salto is located:

salto-map

I am excited to finally be going on a trip! Of course, I will take plenty of pictures and let you all know how it goes.

Also, it is supposed to be a gorgeous weekend with highs in the 70’s. It’s strange because we still have three weeks left of winter…so if we are already getting sunny weather now, I can’t wait to see what Uruguay is like in the springtime.

Wish me luck on the trip!

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Knots and nostalgia

Aside from the homework that is starting to come in, it has been an eventful past few days.

In Uruguay, they celebrate Noche de la Nostalgia (“Nostalgia Night”) every year on August 24th, which is the day before the Uruguayan Independence Day. Apparently, it is one of the most popular and widely celebrated holidays in Uruguay, and the purpose of this night is to go out to a club, bar, or simply be with friends, and listen to “nostalgic” music and celebrate nostalgia. I’m still not exactly sure what that means, but it is a huge part of Uruguayan culture.

Needless to say, the following day around 3pm, Montevideo seemed deserted. I was waiting for a bus, and there were very few cars and people out, which is strange because I live on a major street. Perhaps some people had too much nostalgia?

I had my first official class of Turismo Aventura (“Adventure Tourism”).  We all met at a local part at 9am in the freezing cold, and the professor went over some basic equipment and procedural instructions. He explained the different types of ropes, carabiners, how to tie two different knots, and how to put on a harness. Apparently, I can tie very good knots!

Nudo pescador ("Fisherman's knot")

Nudo pescador (“Fisherman’s knot”)

Nudo de ocho (“Eight knot”)

Next, we learned how to properly attached two ropes between two trees: one sturdy enough to walk on and the other overhead to hold on to. Surprisingly, it really was not that difficult to do. In the end, there were several ropes between the trees, so we had a competition to see which team could complete the entire course the fastest. That was actually pretty difficult, because it was really cold out and having to grab on to the ropes was rough on the hands. Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun!

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We will meet again in two weeks and do either repel or mountain biking, but nonetheless, it’ll surely be a blast.

I think I will be going on my first excursion this weekend! More details when things are more set in stone.

Chao!

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New beginnings

So, things were not quite working out where I lived, so yesterday I moved to a new home with a new Uruguayan family in Montevideo, and honestly, I couldn’t be happier.

First off, the family is wonderful. I am living with a mother with her two daughters, one who also goes to UCU and the other who I think is 14 or 15, her son who is maybe 12 or 13, and I am sharing a room with another exchange student from Puerto Rico who also goes to UCU. It is definitely a full house, but that just means more interaction and opportunities to speak Spanish!

Secondly, the apartment they live in is fabulous. There is a 24-hour doorman who lets you in to the building, then I have to take the elevator to the eighth floor. The apartment is very spacious with wooden floors, an awesome view of Montevideo, and, would you believe it, heating! I no longer see my breath at night and can comfortably walk around without having to be bundled up.

Part of the living room and dining area

Part of the living room and dining area

Hallway

Hallway

The other part of the living area

The other part of the living area

At the dining room table

At the dining room table

Lastly, one of the best things so far has been all of the interaction and all of the practice I will get speaking Spanish. The family eats dinner together at the dining room table, everyone helps set up and clean before and after meals, the son enjoys watching TV, so I try to watch and understand, and I feel comfortable talking with everyone and asking questions if needed. Needless to say, I am really happy here!

Final good news of the day: I finally received a call from the community service office at the university. I will be meeting with my group on Friday (which consists of three other international students) and we should be finding out what we will be doing, and hopefully we will start next week.

As you can probably tell, things really couldn’t be any better! Now, if only it weren’t for the homework part…

Saludos!

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A carnivore’s paradise

I did some much needed exploring this weekend with some of the other exchange students. We checked out a part of Montevideo known as Ciudad Vieja (which means “Old City”) and all of the neat little things it has to offer. There was  small market going on, we went inside a large church, and went down by the water and walked along a really long jetty.

Ciudad Vieja

Ciudad Vieja

A view of the port area from the jetty
A view of the port area from the jetty

For me, however, perhaps the most impressive sight was the Mercado del Puerto (“Market of the Port”). Imagine walking into an indoor farmer’s market and being overwhelmed by the smell of smoke – but not just any kind  – barbecue smoke! Holy meat lover’s paradise. All you see are slabs of meat on large grills known as parrillas. I didn’t manage to snap a photo of my own, but here’s basically what it looked like everywhere:

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Of course, we weren’t going to leave without trying some of the meat. Among four of us girls, we ordered a meat dish meant to be split between three people, and this is what we ended up with:

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Chicken, pork, steak, two types of sausage, and some other type of meat that I wasn’t sure what it was. Needless to say, between the four of us, we weren’t able to devour the entire dish, no matter how delicious it tasted.

Other than exploring, it felt good to relax! Classes are starting to pick up a little bit, so soon I’m not so sure I’ll have time to go out and explore. For now, I will take advantage of all the free time I can get!

Chao!

 

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There goes another week

Well, another week of classes finished, and now it’s the weekend!

I found this advertisement that pretty much describes my experience here so far:

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“The mind is like a parachute: it only works if you open it.”

Saludos!

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Getting into the rhythm of things

Just another day in class! Although having classes in the afternoon is great for my sleeping schedule, it’s not so great when it is nice and sunny outside and you are spending the best time of the day in class. Oh well, at least class is interesting!

Inside the university

Inside the university

Hallway at UCU

Hallway at UCU

Today, August 14th, marked the 45th anniversary of a big protest and rally that happened in 1968 at the Universidad de la República, Uruguay’s biggest public university in Montevideo. I am not exactly clear on what happened, but I think student’s were protesting for better education and teacher salaries. During that time, all of the schools in Montevideo were shut down and tanks and police were called in to try and control the protesters. My literature teacher said that she was in high school when this happened, and her mom drove around Montevideo trying to find her until she was finally able to call her mom and tell her she was safe. In the end, many students died in the protests, so August 14th is a day to commemorate the students and to hold peaceful protests for better education. I tried to read more about this on the Internet, but as my literature teacher told us, it is hard to come across any information about the incident.

After class, a few other students and I walked over to the Universidad de la República to see the march. The entire street in front of the university was filled with people with signs. After about ten minutes, the crowd began walking but I don’t remember where they were walking to. It was a really interesting sight to see, however, the march was heading in the opposite direction of where I needed to be. I managed to get a few photos, though!

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Only one class tomorrow, and then the weekend again!

Saludos!

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Still learning

It was another much needed weekend full of relaxation and mishaps.

On Saturday, I went to the mall area so I could kill some time and just look around. It’s about a twenty-five minute walk from where I live, so I decided to walk there. No big purchases, but I did buy a really neat book about Uruguay since it is virtually impossible to find any kind of visitors manual back in the states. Lots of really helpful and cool information!

It was finally time to head home, but it was already dark out, so I figured I’d take the bus. I had taken a bus from the area back home before, and although I couldn’t remember the exact number of the bus, I got on one that was going toward where I needed to be. However, this bus went in the complete opposite direction of where I needed to go. It ended up driving all around an area in Montevideo called Ciudad Vieja which is known for being a dangerous part of the city at night. Since I really had no idea where I was, I ended up staying on and riding the bus for about an hour until it went through a safer, more familiar part of town, and at that point I just decided to get off and walk the rest of the way. Safe and sound!

On Sunday, I went to the Feria de Tristán Narvaja with some other exchange students. It’s basically a huge outdoor market that takes of the streets of an entire neighborhood. Lots of people, lots of thing to look at. You could probably find anything you could think of at the market such as silverware, souvenirs, produce, shampoo, computer parts, washing machines, clothing, books, really anything. However, a lot of pick-pocketing goes on at such markets, so it’s really important to keep your bags nearby. For that reason, it definitely would not have been a good idea to whip out my phone or camera to take pictures, because that would have made me look like an easy tourist target. I did snap one picture, but it really doesn’t do the market any justice. This was toward the end of the day when things were winding down:

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Also, here’s some more miscellaneous Montevideo neighborhood photos:

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I finally learned how laundry works in Uruguay. There is no washer or dryer where I live, and apparently coin operated laundromats don’t really exist in much of South America. If you need clothing washed, you must call a local company and then they will come pick up your clothes, take them to be cleaned, and then return them to you the next day. Definitely a concept that is very, very different. I might actually prefer doing my own laundry to this method, but nevertheless, when in Montevideo, do as the Uruguayans do.

Back to class today! I started off the day with my first Adventure Tourism class, and it sounds like it will be a really fun but challenging course. Every two weeks the class meets in an outdoor location, and throughout the semester we will be having workshops on canoeing, repelling, camping, mountain biking, canopy (not sure exactly what it’s called, but it’s when you tie two ropes between trees and one is for you to stand on the the other to hold on to to get between two points), and how to use tools such as a compass, GPS, and topographic map. Each session is not only learning about the equipment needed for each activity, but also the safety aspects and then actually doing it. At the end of October, our class will go on a three-day camping trip where we will apply everything we learned about each activity. For me, this class is a good way to get out and try new things and see more of Uruguay. This will definitely be a very challenging but very exciting course.

Other than that, it was just a typical school day! I was at the university from 8:45am-6pm today, so I am more than ready to turn on my bed warmer and get some sleep.

Chao!

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