The first thing that registered in my mind about Uruguay was everything works. How could this be Latin America? Where was the poverty in the streets? The highways were perfect? The traffic was orderly? There were laws, and people actually followed them? The police could not be bribed?
I realized it was not Latin America as I knew it. There were theaters everywhere, art, bookstores on every corner, sidewalk cafes, culture. The way the Spanish was pronounced and the last names, Lorenzo, Musso, and Galione sounded Italian. It seemed so European.
That is until I met the neighbor for the first time who welcomed me with a huge smile and a sloppy kiss on the cheek. I was taken back by his friendliness (in most Latin countries men only kiss woman), but then I began to feel the familiar warmth of the Latino heart and remembered I was in Latin America.
As I sat in a café watching the world go by, I realized things were different than in other places in the Southern Latitudes, but not so different. Life still moved at a slower pace. I noticed every fifth person walking by was drinking from an elaborate gourd covered in leather with a pewter straw and a thermos under their arm. Where else but Latin America would anyone take the trouble to carry so much gear just to enjoy their favorite drink (Mate, the hot herbal stimulant many Uruguayans are addicted to)
I thought to myself this is Uruguay, a contrast between modern and tradition, sophisticated and earthy.
On the plane going down I noticed the passengers smiling, walking up and down the aisles, talking to each other as if they were good friends, but they were not. It occurred to me Uruguayans were one big affectionate family bound by a common history and culture. With only 3 million inhabitants, their sense of tribe is much stronger than in most countries.Uruguay was still gaucho country. The sophisticated urbanite was equally at home galloping a horse on the pradera, and certainly nowhere else on earth had I seen a beautiful woman dressed in exercise clothes scarf down a two-pound steak with the skill of a Texan butcher. Walking through the park on a Saturday, I watched the old people dance the tango with the passion of enamored youth.
The airport security was lax. There was no tension in the air. People were not thinking about terrorists. This was quite possibly the world’s last true refuge where human beings live in harmony and an abundance of brotherly love. I thought to myself, other people will love this too, why not start a development called Sugar Loaf?