Not Backpacking Newbies, but….

Habla Inglés?

That seems to be what we found ourselves asking the Uruguayans of Montevideo mucho times. If we could rewind back the clock, we would probably had spent more effort trying to learn Spanish instead of binge-watching Unbreakable: Kimmy Schmidt (it was our award after long hours of packing up the house for this trip). Luckily the people in Montevideo are really friendly, so along with Tyler’s un poquito de español, we managed to get along pretty well so far!

Aside from learning to speak the land’s language, there are a few other preparations we felt had or would’ve made the trip a little easier:

1. Outlet Adapter – if you’re in any way in touch with today’s technology, you’re probably traveling with a shitload of gadgets like we did. For those who’ve been anywhere outside of the states, outlets are different and without an adapter you’re just stuck with a bunch of dead phones and laptops. Really, we should’ve known better but had forgotten about them during the packing frenzy. So avoid the mistake we made and get some (easily found on before leaving for your trip!

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Ty sitting patiently next to the only outlet that can charge our gadgets before we bought an adapter

2. Toiletries – okay, you’re probably thinking duh, this is a given but there were some items that even overlooked. Sure, this is after all a backpacking trip so we tried to pack light and in turn, disregarded a few things. Aside from the necessities (toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant) what do you really need, you ask? Well you don’t need to bring these items but they will certainly make your trip more comfortable!

If you’re truly backpacking, then most likely you’re going to stay at hostels. Not all hostels are the same; some are nicer than others and some, well, are a pig sty. The one we ended up in Montevideo wasn’t extremely horrible but it wasn’t pristine either. It missed out on the following I considered essentials: toilet paper, soap of any kind, and towels ($5 rent charge). Avoid having to pay surcharges or hunt down these items in an unfamiliar country and pack them along with these other useful items: hand sanitizer, flip flops (for the shared showers), bug spray, locks (you’re living with dozens other backpackers so better to be safe than sorry), steripen (to purify drinking water), lightweight sleeping bag (just in case you don’t trust their sheets), laundry soap ($5-10 for the hostel/hotel to wash your load will add up, so you’ll find yourself doing laundry the old-school way), and guys stop reading here, tampons (you won’t be able to buy these anywhere here).

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The girls get their private banos
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Our short-term home








3. Foreign-friendly credit & debit cards – this is a MUST! You should never carry around a pocket full of cash while traveling. Take out only small amounts at a time based on your needs (especially when you’re traveling to multiple countries that use different currency so you don’t have pocket full of leftover change). A credit card without foreign transaction fees gives you the flexibility to charge large purchases while receiving a somewhat good exchange rate. There’s a list of credit cards you can apply for based on your preference but we’ve found Chase Sapphire and Barclay’s World Elite to give the best travel awards. For cash withdrawals, we love using Fidelity! Not only can you easily pull out the country’s currency easily, Fidelity will reimburse all  ATM charges (which eliminates that as an additional expense). It’s truly been a lifesaver.

Again, this is based on our experience thus far so filter as you must (those who know me, know I am a little OCD). We do hope you’ll find these tips helpful for your travels!

Until then, stay calm and travel on.

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2nd floor lounge room view
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Very boho-chic, no?

Montevideo, Uruguay – a City Without an Identity, but a Meat Lover’s Paradise

When Anh and I first decided to travel to South America we looked to the obvious places: Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Machu Picchu, and Santiago. To be honest, we had probably never thought of the capital city of Uruguay. It wasn’t even on the radar, but with Machu Picchu hiking guides being booked until the end of the year and Visa issues into Brazil, we took the closest and cheapest alternative – Montevideo, Uruguay. We were armed with pretty much only a few facts: Montevideo is the capital city of Uruguay, it’s very close to Buenos Aires, and there are 3:1 cattle to people in the entire country. One episode of Anthony Bourdain later (being the carnivores and adventures we are), we pulled the trigger and bought 2 one-way tickets. What awaited us after 24 hours of traveling was a city that had a different feel than anywhere we had ever been.

The Vibe

At first glance, Montevideo seemed just like any other city. After landing we took a 30-min bus ride into the city (which was an adventure all on its own). The bus had standing room only so when 2 Americans with 70 lbs of luggage got on, we received a lot of stares. For you to fully understand how cramped this really was, my backpack was about as wide as the aisles. To cap it off, we didn’t even know where we were going. This was when my infant level of Spanish kicked in. I began throwing out every and any word I knew to get the assistance of the lady next me. With the help of a map and some aggressive hand signals, we had it slightly figured out. Then during one of the stops, a girl about 20 years old passed by us on her way out and said in perfect English, “have a good trip.” Imagine the conversation from her vantage point! It must have been the funniest thing to watch.

Ok sorry for the long side-bar, back to Montevideo. As we wandered toward our hostel, we noticed that the streets we rather empty for an afternoon. Montevideo is about the size of Philadelphia, but really doesn’t have the feel or glam of a modern day city. The skyline halts around 15 stories with rundown buildings that seemed out of place and sidewalks that needed major repairs. Having been occupied by Argentinian, Spanish, British, Brazilian, Portuguese, and French influence, the city displayed a lack of identity and struggle to find its own personality. It didn’t have much draw for an international traveler, as we tried to find it. Unlike any other coastal city we’ve been to, Montevideo did not have any cafes, bars, patios, or restaurants lining the beach. It was as if the inhabitants of Montevideo were oblivious to the beauty that was in their front yard. After miles of walking, we couldn’t find a place to have a drink to enjoy the view and bought a bottle of wine to bring back to the hostel (yes, I am very romantic).

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The path to the port
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Different architecture on every block
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A gaucho roaming the streets
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Strolling the waterfront











The Food

Variety in food is not something that Uruguayans and in particular, citizens of Montevideo, have a lot of. However, it doesn’t mean that they don’t do it right (vegetarians, you may want to skip this section). I am talking of course parrilla, or when translated it simply means grilling.  After watching Bourdain gorge down on plates of meat, we knew we needed to visit the famous Mercado del Puerto near the port of Montevideo. With every step closer I noticed I had begun to involuntarily salivate. I love to smoke meats at home and have my own home smoker, but this was smoking on ecstasy. The masterful mix of both the smell charcoal and natural wood chips filled the air outside. With the anticipation nearly having me jump up and down like a kid getting ready to go into a candy shop, we walked inside the red brick building.

It was open layout with high ceilings, brick walls, and bars after bar lined up. The bars do not showcase booze but rather the 15-ft wide open brick chimney with barbeque grates lined with sizzling, crackling, juicy cuts of red meat waiting for me to devour them. I was in heaven! It was hard choosing which bar to try until we saw an Uruguayan businessman devouring down some baby back ribs. We immediately grabbed the stools next to his. As we sat there, the host poured us a complimentary glass of Medio y Medio (1/2 champagne and 1/2 wine) then we were presented with slabs of ribs to choose from. Let’s just say, the experience and flavors definitely met our expectations and we fell in love with parrilla! We were lucky and got the chance to try it again the next night, only this time with the local Uruguayans at the hostel. I got to watch them during the preparation as they used a mixture of both coals and wood pieces to start the fire. It was an honor to be invited into their intimate circle since parrilla is mostly shared between family and friends. The barbeque ribs, sweetbreads (innards), chorizo, and blood sausage were to die for! Possibly one of the most memorable experience yet.

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Mercado del Puerto
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Yummy ribs!
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Parrilla with the locals
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I’m in heaven here
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Tyler trying not to salivate…


















The Drink

Yerba Mate. You’ve probably heard of it before or seen a commercialized can of it tucked in the drink aisle of Whole Foods, but it is EVERYWHERE here. Wandering through Montevideo, we saw many Uruyuaguans (mostly students and elderly) holding a special cup with a metal straw-like stick, and a thermos bag. It was cult-like and reminded us very much of our own Seattlelites and their Starbucks cup in hand. After more interrogation and study, we realized that Yerba Mate is very common beverage in South America and in some countries, surpasses coffee or tea as a stimulant. It naturally contains a lot of nutritional values and has a very unique social symbolism behind (its origin and details are very fascinating and you can read more here One of our hostelmate shared with us his gourd (cup of Yerba Mate) and we got to try it. To our unfamiliar tongues, it was really bitter and has a lot of tannin. Not yet a fan of its taste but who knows, we may learn to love it by the end of our trip!

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Yerba Mate drunk on the streets
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The gourd sold on street markets






After Thought

All in all, Montevideo was a very work-oriented city voided of vibrancy and pizazz. We are still glad we had a chance to experience what it had to offer as the streets felt safe and the people are inviting. We walked over 20 miles, met good people who welcomed us to their dinner table, and ate some of the most amazing barbeque…AND I got to do it with the most amazing woman in the world! Montevideo has left me with the hunger for more.

Until next time, keep exploring!