The year we lived in Chile, every three months we traveled to nearby countries to renew our visas. We visited Argentina, once in a small town up in the mountains and another in the capital of Buenos Aires. My husband and I went to an Italian restaurant for dinner. I believe we ate gnoccis, potato dumplings, at Broccolino (Brooklyn). The food was good, but it was our server who was the most memorable. When we told him we planned to visit Uruguay in a couple of days and see the capital and the countryside, he became very animated. He was from a small town north of Montevideo, called San Bautista. Martín wrote his name and phone number on a napkin and told us if we were serious, to call him before we left and he’d talk to his uncle.
Two days later, after touring near the Casa Rosada (Pink House, presidential residence like the US White House) and the Plaza de Mayo, we bought our Buquebus boat tickets to cross the Rio de la Plata the next day and called Martín. He called his uncle who lives on a farm, and his childhood friend, Gustavo “Bombon” Tejera, who drives a taxi, and would meet us in Montevideo.
When we arrived in Uruguay, we stayed in the capital, walking the colonial-style streets and touring the city by taxi. The next day, Gustavo met us at noon at our hotel. With his dark goatee and balding head he looked like a twinkle-eyed pirate from an old swashbuckler movie. He drove us to San Bautista, right to his own house! We met his wife Maricela, who immediately put us at ease. As she talked, she sipped on a drink in a big metal mug with a metal straw, yerba mate. This heavily caffeinated drink is popular in Uruguay and Argentina. She kindly made us a lunch feast. We met their children, Maricela’s sister, Gustavo’s father, and a couple neighbors. We asked about hotels, but Gustavo and Maricela insisted we stay in their home. We were stunned and gratefully accepted. Gustavo’s taxi business was doing well, and the Tejeras lived in one of the largest houses in town. Their older son slept in the room with his younger siblings and let us stay in his room.
The next day, after another lunch feast, we visited the Giraldi family, Martín’s uncle who lived on a farm just outside town. They had free range sheep, piglets, and chickens roaming in the grass next to their house. We had animated conversations about organic food, air pollution and global warming. They showed us several photo albums from Martín’s visits.
That night we bought the Tejeras dinner; carne a la parilla, grilled pork ribs and sausage cooked in an outdoor grill. Gustavo and Marcela took clients to Montevideo, and the two of us ate dinner with the kids. At one in the morning, we, the Tejeras and their friends, had a party at their Club Social until 3:30 in the morning. We expected to have a brief chat, but we got caught up in the fun of talking with such good conversationalists. Evan held his own with a long discussion with a new friend Ernesto in his increasingly conversational Spanish.
I got up early to go to the Giraldi farm where I rode a horse on a short jaunt down the road to visit the pigs with Martín’s cousin José Luis. Later I rode a horse to visit a ñandu farm nearby. Evan and I would have loved to stay longer, but we had tickets to fly out of Buenos Aires the next day. Gustavo and Marcela drove us back to Montevideo that evening and dropped us off at the Hotel Cervantes. Marcela gave us a delightful hand-made gift of a horse sipping mate, with a note her daughter wrote, “Yo estube en San Bautista.” (I was in San Bautista, see photo) The following day we left the hotel and took Buquebus back over the bay to Buenos Aires. We ate lunch at Broccolino and related our adventures to Martín, with affectionate greetings from his home town. We thanked him profusely. The afternoon plane took us home to Chile.
Thus concluded one of two of the best hospitality I’ve ever experienced stories. Is it any wonder I cheer for Uruguay?
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