A week ago Uruguay was just another country that we could barely place on a map. But since leaving Montevideo we have visited two more Uruguayan cities that have given us a whole new appreciation of this small country squished between the behemoths, Argentina and Brazil.

Punta del Este was our first stop. It is a peninsula of land that has a calm beach on one side (Playa Mansa) and a rougher beach (Playa Brava) on the other. Lots of hi-rise condos run along the beaches making it look a bit like the Miami of the southern hemisphere. It’s a popular spot for well-off Argentinians, who come here to spend their summer holidays. At times, the condos and the fancy yachts in the harbour were a little overwhelming, but the people were so friendly and welcoming that they made us scruffy backpackers feel quite at home.

A definite highlight of the trip was buying fresh shrimp right from a boat in the harbour as we watched sea lions frolick in the water beside us.

Then we cooked up a very extravagant meal of shrimp alfredo pasta in the kitchen at our hostel. The kitchen was tiny and always quite crowded so this was an impressive, sweaty feat. (Side note: we highly recommend the hostel that we stayed at, 1949. In terms of location, vibe and cleanliness, it was stellar for the price.)

The next highlight, also food-related, was going to my friend Delfina’s beach house and sharing a meal with her whole family (excluding Delfina who is in Buenos Aires). Her house is magnificent, far from the downtown strip of condos, in a residential neighbourhood lush and steamy with vegetation. The house is beautifully decorated thanks to Delfina’s mom, Claudia’s, eye for interior design. We were greeted with wine and snacks, and then we were invited to join the bbq, or ‘asado’, that had been cooking outside and was filling the air with the rich smell of smoking meat.

Of course, being the only carnivore in our group, I was the only one who got to enjoy the meaty delicacies from the bbq. I must have eaten about six different kinds of meat, I can’t even remember what they all were. There were sausages, ribs, chicken and caviar on a stick, just to name a few.  The meats would have been slowly cooking on the grill for a few hours so they had picked up incredible flavours. Thanks again to Claudia, Delfina’s mom, for showing us around the house and treating me to AMAZING food. I’m sorry my fellow travelers couldn’t fully participate in this cultural treat. Hmm… that sounds like a jab at vegans and vegetarians doesn’t it?

After Punta del Este, we headed to another ‘punta’ (point) but this one had an altogether different vibe. I’ll let Dan write that post because the next destination was definitely his paradise on earth.