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February 21, 2012
Day 4: Montevideo, Uruguay

At the Estancia Finca Piedra

We have been enjoying a marvelous two days at sea. We’ve met many incredible people, enjoyed gourmet food, had our first formal night, and witnessed a midnight lightning storm at sea over the starboard bow. Russell often remarks that he actually prefers the “at sea” days, with no set schedule. That said, we have now reached the first port in our itinerary.

While Princess Cruise Lines offers many shore excursions, they have two disadvantages. First, they are very expensive. Second, they are very crowded. For our first port, Montevideo, Uruguay, we decided to make arrangements through the group on Cruise Critics instead.

On our first “at sea” day, we held a “meet and greet” reception for all of the Cruise Critic folks. It was great for us to finally meet people whom Gail had known for months only through online postings and screen names. Gail was amused to meet two others besides herself who were also wearing ankle braces. (So far she has held off going to the doctor and getting a wheelchair.)

For Montevideo, we joined an excursion that was comparable to – but much cheaper than – the “official” one through the cruise lines. Our party was scheduled to meet on Tuesday, February 21 at 8:30 am in the ship’s casino. Russell set the alarm for 6:30 am to give us time for breakfast, and of course the alarm failed to go off. We were awakened at 7:30 when the ship docked. We jumped out of bed, rushed to grab a bite to eat, and made our rendezvous on time.

Princess Patter: "Montevideo is the largest city, the vibrant capital and chief port of Uruguay. It is a great place for tourists as it boasts spectacular colonial architecture, sprawling parks and historical monuments. It is the only city in the country with a population over 1,000,000.”

The view of the Montevideo pier from the ship. As is typical, it’s very industrial.

We had 22 people scheduled to take a bus to the town of Mal Abrigo near San José, a 75 minute drive from the port and capital city of Uruguay, Montevideo. There, we would visit a working ranch, the Estancia Finca Piedra. (An Estancia Turística is a “tourism lodge.” Finca Piedra means “stone mansion.)

The Estancia Finca Piedra

The ranch is owned by a couple of French ex-patriots. Originally pharmacists, their life dream was to start a winery. Within the past four years, they have built an entire guest ranch where travelers can come for a day or stay for several days. The Estancia is specifically trying to promote eco-tourism by raising grain-fed beef and breeding animals. We saw a Rhea with 15 babies and three capybaras. Russell also saw a tarantula, but that was merely a native roaming around on the grass.

Our itinerary included a horseback ride around the ranch, followed by a barbecue lunch. Gail, not a heavy meat eater, said that the best part of the meal was the basil spread for the bread. We also sampled the Estancia’s own white wine and a local merlot.

Gail and Russell on horseback. The horses were supposed to be extremely tame, but Gail’s (named Tororito, or “Bull”) kept trying to break into a gallop.

The barbecue lunch consisted mostly of local meat, including beef, chicken, lamb, two kinds of sausages (including intestine sausage) and sweetbreads (pancreas). There were also potatoes and sweet potatoes. The sauce is chimichurro.

As an extra surprise, we were entertained by a group of locals who danced and played folkloric drum music. They also did a routine with boleadoras, South American bolos (round weights at the end of ropes) that they swung around and used for percussion. It was so impressive, Gail talked one of the young men into selling her his set of boleadoras (it is difficult to find them in stores) for our son Joss.

The folk dancers

We had good weather all day. It was 74º with 97 percent humidity, slightly windy, with very overcast clouds. But yesterday it had rained.

We finally got back to the pier at 4:15. Gail is fighting off the beginnings of a cold, so she went directly back to the ship. Russell stayed in town to walk around the Mercado del Puerto, an expectedly touristy marketplace.

We have ports for two days in a row (tomorrow is Buenos Aires, Argentina), so we are making an early night of it tonight. Gail brought some soup back to the room from the food station down the hall (she calls it her “corner market”). Russell went ahead to the dining room alone. The biggest event for the evening was doing the laundry.

El Mercado del Puerto


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