Start: March 24, Buenos Aires
Finish: April 3, Iguazu Falls
Random Cow Parts Consumed: 12
Cuts of Beef Sampled: 4
Types of Sausage Ingested: 3
Duration of Meat-Induced Coma: 2 hours
We didn't originally plan to visit Uruguay, but we're glad we did. Since we added Brazil to the list we felt it was unfair to skip this tiny South American country. Before heading up to Igauzu Falls and into the third largest country in the world, we embarked on a 6 day circuit through Uruguay, including its capitol city of Montevideo.
Above all, we had one mission in Uruguay, and to be honest it alone was reason enough to come to this country. Ever since watching Anthony Bourdain chow down in front of a pyramid of meat in his No Reservation's Uruguay episode we knew this had to happen... a visit to Montevideo's Mercado del Puerto. A market dedicated to nothing but the art of grilling meat. Vegetarians may want to turn away from their computer screen now, things are about to get juicy.
From the city of Buenos Aires we drove north up the river that devides Argentina from Uruguay until reaching the first crossing. As with all of our South American border crossings, we make it into Uruguay without any problems.
Our first stop is the town of Colonia, where we setup camp and enjoy weather that's noticeably warmer than we've been used to in southern Argentina.
We're joined by our friends Brenton and Shannon at Ruined Adventures and our long lost pals, last seen in Guatemala hunting for cow testicle ceviche, Paul and Suzie from Head South. Both couples plan to return to the States in just a few days.
Paul and Suzie's faithful steed Philis has come to her final resting place. Soon to be stripped of license plates and VIN numbers and donated to a grateful and surprised campground host. Not a moment too soon, Paul managed to sheer off a shock moments before arriving at the campsite.
Bored of sitting around the campsite, we took an afternoon trip into the town of Colonia, a UNESCO world heritage site. Quaint, charming, packed with tourists and everything we've come to expect from Latin American colonial villages. After 19 months we've become quite jaded about things like colonial towns, ancient ruins and streets lined with tourist shops.
The next day we hit the road, following Philis and Ruined Aventure's 4Runner. Partially because we're heading in the same direction, and partially because Philis might give up the ghost at any moment. Benton and Shannon aren't ready to abandon their sweet ride just yet, their plan is to come back in six months to hit Patagonia in time for the summer season.
They came to Uruguay to stash their vehicle. There's a free place to park outside Colonia, and Uruguay customarily grants 1 year vehicle permits at the border. Although getting more than 3 month permit proved troublesome for Brenton and Shannon. We'll leave that story for them to tell, we've already given them enough crap about running out of gas at the border.
The parking spot is a sort of tourist complex with a restaurant and a museum. Recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records, this is the largest collection of key chains on the planet.
Paul and Suzie give Brenton and Shannon a ride to the airport while we head into Montevideo with plans to meet the Canadian couple that night for a meat-filled bonanza at the Mercado del Puerto. After checking into our hotel, we stroll through the heart of Montevideo's downtown area, enjoying a more relaxed and open environment than we experienced in Buenos Aires.
Unfortunately, we arrive at the market to find it closes after 6pm. Several restaurants nearby are open for service but we didn't want to blow our money on anything less than the authentic experience. Plans are made to return tomorrow for lunch before heading out of town.
Rested and starving we return the next day to the sight we hoped to see. Massive grills piled high with all sorts of miscellaneous meat products. Red bell peppers also make an appearance, but other vegetables are notably scarce.
There are 10 or 15 parrillas (grills) in the market, but shopping around wasn't necessary. Wishing to follow in Anthony Bourdain's footsteps, we chose Estacia del Puerto and grabbed five seats at the counter.
These grilling contraptions are completely new to us. Firewood is chucked in a large grate in the back, and routinely poked and prodded so that coals fall below to be raked under the grill. Meaty chunks that need higher heat go at the top, closer to the fire, and slow cooked cuts go down below. Estancia del Puerto's setup even has a chain-driven chicken rotisserie off to the side.
As we're seated we discuss our dining options over a few liters of beer. Given that it's lunch time, we decide to start small, a mixed grill for 3 is ordered at the recommendation of the guy behind the counter. Little does he know that we are somewhat experienced in the art of eating entirely too much meat.
Our order placed, we wait for the carnage to begin. We're early, the staff informs us it will be 15 minutes until we're served. In the meantime our eyes stare transfixed at the myriad cuts of meat sizzling before us.
Some are identifiable, many are not. Much obviously comes from parts we wouldn't normally choose to eat. We're told the big rolls wrapped in foil are pork loin stuffed with a variety of delicious fillings. We can't help but wonder what other mysteries meatopolis has in store for us.
Suddenly we are aroused from our meatful daydreaming by the sounds of a cleaver and the mad chopping of the grillmaster. Chickens are quartered, roasts sliced and choice cuts selected for our enjoyment.
The final presentation is made in a platter with a hollow base that contains a few pieces of coal to keep the meat warm. Not that we dream of giving it time to cool down.
Pork, beef and blood sausage, chicken, three different cuts of steak, tripe, ribs, cheese-stuffed pork loin, intestine and a few cuts we can't identify but are definitely some organ you wouldn't find in a supermarket back home. Brains, kidney, heart, who knows? All delicious.
Having polished off the first 3-person portion in under 15 minutes, we inform the waiter we're still hungry. A second bowl is delivered and the carnage begins again, this time at a steadier pace but with equal enthusiasm. A few small mystery bits are left over, we'd had our fill of braided intestine. But by and large we finished it all, albeit with heavy groans and sweaty brows towards the end.
Paul and Suzie proclaim it one of the best meals they've had on this trip, and we wholeheartedly concur. It was fun to meet this crazy couple again after more than a year and 10 countries later. Paul and Suzie are returning home in a week to work fighting forest fires in Canada. Hopefully we'll get a chance to come see them in action or visit their home on nearby Vancouver Island.
After lunch we take a slow walk back to our hotel room to pack up and head out. It's Easter weekend and we know that means traffic and campgrounds might be a mess. We didn't plan very well for this eventuality, and after falling back to our fourth option and traveling nearly all the way back to the border, we arrive at the largest campground we've seen to date.
Unfortunately it's also packed full of more people than we've ever seen in a campground. We manage to find a quiet spot at the far end of the property. Pretty sure camping wasn't allowed in that area, but since we arrived near dark and planned to leave in the morning we figured we could get away with it.
Feeling a need to avoid the Semana Santa zoo and start moving north again, we regrettably cut our stay in Uruguay short by a couple days. Rest assured that our experience in Montevideo's Mercado del Puerto was a highlight of our trip, one that puts Uruguay high on our list of places to return to.
Up next: One last border crossing into Argentina, followed by a couple long days of driving to bring us to the spectacular Iguazu Falls and into Brazil.