April 4th, 2015


Colonial heritage and parillada

We awoke to find rain pouring onto the greensward and the vineyard visible from our bed. The corrugated roof funnelled the rain into thick solid rods outside the glazed doors. By the time we had eaten toast and marmalade the rain had stopped and the sky turned to a bright greyness. The road was damp and dustless but the heavy rain had left no puddles as we drove back to the old town. The historic district was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. The port had been founded as a Portugese colony in 1680 as a monitoring post and an irritant to the Spanish settlement at Buenos Aires. Over the next century or so it passed back and forth between the two nations until becoming part of the new independent state of Uruguay in 1828. This turbulent history is reflected in the surviving fortifications from the eighteenth and nineteenth century and the cobbled streets are flanked with old houses of which some are still residential if they have not become restaurants, shops, or civic offices. A queue outside a narrow stone doorway in a worn brick wall indicated the location of the old lighthouse that offers extensive views of the town and river to those willing to wait in line before climbing the stairs to a small viewing platform. We were not among that number but we did enjoy exploring the melange of ruins and carefully tended foundations among the many standing buildings. In the middle of the square a middle-aged man sang Latin American ballads as an Argentinian day-tripper of similar age danced alone.

Some of the historic streets were so roughly cobbled that it was hard to imagine ordinary tyres coping with them but the place was littered with classic cars and we particularly enjoyed a turquoise Cadillac.

As we walked up and down Calle Santa Rita seeking a restaurant that had appealed to us on Friday we kept passing a parillada with thick white walls enclosing an open patio beside a large wood-fired grill (the parilla). We were sceptical of a place promoted by a life size mannequin dressed in gaucho costume but we could not find our intended destination and the menu looked promising so we stepped inside. We were seated in the middle of the patio with a clear view of the black clad cook working strenuously to deliver an unbroken flow of grilled meat, sausages, and potatoes. We had a delicious plate of sliced fresh tomatoes to accompany a vast special parilla for two: a mixed grill of spatchcocked chicken, beef loin, beef ribs, neck sweetbread, blood sausage, and a spicy beef sausage with buttery grilled potatoes. At the next table a family of six tucked into a brightly coloured paella. We would recommend El callejon de la discordia to anyone with a hearty appetite seeking a rustic Uruguayan experience.

We were surprisingly comfortable as we walked the hundred metres back to our car after such a big meal. This time we drove to the bull ring past a busy roadside parillada called Lo de Pedro with chalk boards advertising paella. W stayed in the car as I walked all round the bull ring taking photographs. It was surrounded by a tall wire mesh fence littered with strenuous warnings of the dangers of entry and broken by frequent large holes through which people were climbing to gain access to the grassy central ring. I chose to stay outside the barrier and capture my images from a distance.

Later that evening I dined on cheese, olives, and a litre of alcohol free lager that I had bought in error on the previous day. The local cheese is very similar to Gouda and I enjoyed my light meal; yes, even the light beer tasted good. Sitting in a deckchair reading on the balcony felt good and I wonder if this sense of wellbeing was a factor in the reduced blood pressure and blood sugar levels that I was seeing since arriving in South America.