Location/Culture Reports

Uruguay

The first country our Racers visit this year is Uruguay, or, as it is formally known, the Republica Oriental del Uruguay. As we saw, Uruguay is a beautiful country, but not at all well known to most of the world. So here's a brief overview of this lovely place, once known as "the Switzerland of South America" because of its governmental stability, stable economy, and social peace.

GEOGRAPHY:

Uruguay, slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Washington, is the second smallest country in South America, and is situated between Brazil and Argentina on the eastern coast, divided from Argentina by the Rio de la Plata estuary. The land consists primarily of rolling grasslands, ideally suited for raising cattle and sheep, with only 2-3% of the land forested. The majority of the interior consists of cattle and sheep ranches. West of Montevideo, the land levels out, while east are beautiful beaches, dunes, and headlands. Uruguay is located at approximately the same latitude in the Southern Hemisphere as San Diego, California in the Northern Hemisphere, and has an equally temperate climate year-round, with frosts almost unknown, and about 1 meter of rainfall annually. During the winter and spring, however, there can be high winds, in particular a pampero, which is a chilly and sometimes violent wind blowing north from the Argentine pampas. Uruguay is one time zone east of U.S. Eastern, or GMT -3.

HISTORY:
The aboriginal inhabitants of Uruguay, the Charrua, fiercely resisted exploration by the Spanish, even killing the first Spanish explorer to arrive in 1516.
Uruguay has a long and interesting history. The aboriginal inhabitants of Uruguay, the Charrua, strongly resisted exploration by the Spanish, even killing the first Spanish explorer to arrive in 1516. Between the fierce natives and the apparent lack of mineral deposits, there was little reason to explore Uruguay for the next century. The Spanish finally began settling parts Uruguay in the 1820s.

The Portuguese arrived in 1860 and built Colonia across the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires, Argentina. The Spanish retaliated by building a citadel at Montevideo, which is the capital today. The Brazilians moved in and took over, and there were also occasional interventions by the British and French, but eventually, through the efforts of JosÚ Artigas, now considered one of the founding fathers of South American independent states, Uruguay liberated itself from all the colonial powers and became a buffer state between Argentina and Brazil. While the country had its typical share of civil war, dictatorship, and political intrigue, it still continued to prosper. In the 1880s Uruguay was ranked fourth in social and economic development among all independent nations in the world.

In the early 20th century, President JosÚ Battle y Ordˇ˝ez turned Uruguay into a prosperous "welfare state," with a wide range of free social services, but over the next 50 years the state-supported enterprises gradually became corrupt. There was a violent Marxist urban guerrilla movement, the Tupamaros, in the late 1960s that resulted in the military being "invited to participate" in government. The congress was dissolved, and although the guerrilla movement was crushed very quickly, Uruguay suffered under military rule until 1984. In 1985, the return to democracy began. The country has gradually been working to reduce the size of government, promote growth and foreign investment, and sell off the state monopolies. However, the devaluation of Brazilian currency and the collapse of the Argentinian economy, coupled with a recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, has made it difficult for the Uruguayans to achieve the stability they are working so hard for.
Uruguay, slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Washington, is the second smallest country in South America, and is situated between Brazil and Argentina on the eastern coast, divided from Argentina by the Rio de la Plata estuary.
GOVERNMENT

Uruguay is a strong democracy today, with a president (elected for a five-year term), 12 cabinet ministers, and a bicameral General Assembly. Uruguayan politics is characterized by two deeply divided political parties, the liberal Colorado Party and the right-wing National Party. The Colorado party was dominated by the Battle family through much of the 20th century. The current president is Jorge Battle Ibanez.

POPULATION AND ECONOMY

The Uruguayan population is about 3.4 million. The country has a fairly low birth rate and a long life expectancy. The population is primarily ethnically white (88%) of European descent, with 8% mestizo and 4% black. About 66% of the population professes to be Roman Catholic, with 2% Protestant and 2% Jewish. The majority of the population speaks Spanish, but there is some Portuguese and Brazilero, a Portuguese-Spanish mix found on the Brazilian frontier. More than a third of Uruguay's population lives in the Montevideo area. The country boasts a large middle class and far less social polarization than in most of Latin America.

The economy is quite strong, while recovering from the effects of the economic collapse in neighboring Argentina, and the people are well-to-do and well-educated - 98% of the population over 15 can read and write. The Uruguayan economy is primarily based on agricultural exports, particularly wool, hides, and beef, but tourism is growing as the world discoveries the beauty of Uruguay.

LOCATIONS VISITED BY RACERS
Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, was founded in 1726, and is home to a large portion of Uruguay's population.
Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, was founded in 1726, and is home to a large portion of Uruguay's population. It has a historical Old Town (Ciudad Vieja) dating back to colonial times, and the whole city is banded by pristine white beaches. It is modern, bustling city, with a wide variety of museums, theater, and shopping.


Punta del Este dominates the Uruguayan tourist industry, and has hotels and restaurants of every price range; according to the Lonely Planet, it's possible to get by as a budget traveler on US$15-30 a day, or you can stay in luxury in one of the beautiful hotels or villas that are located all along the coast. The Conrad Hotel where the Detour occurred is one of several five-star hotels in this area. The beaches in Punta del Este are famous for their cleanness and their white sand. There are two types of beaches: "playa brava" (violent beach) has powerful waves ideal for surfing and "playa mansa" (gentle beach) shows a relatively peaceful tide.

Gorriti Island takes its name from Commandant Francisco Gorriti, who was the military commander of present-day Uruguay in the 1740s. Today it is a natural reservation, declared a national historical site. Archeological excavations on the island have revealed ruins of military batteries as well as settlers' homes, some as much as 200 years old. In its west bay at Deep Beach, you can encounter sailing ships and yachts during the summer. Commercial vessels sail from the east coast. There is a small inn located on the island. Only daytime visits can be made to the island, and fires are only allowed in a certain area. Spending the night is normally prohibited, although clearly an exception was made for the Racers.

The Pit Stop for this leg of the race, Club Hotel Casapueblo, is a stunning and unique building. As its website says, "Casapueblo was created by the versatile Uruguayan artist, Carlos Paez Vilar. His main objective was to create a sculpture itself to live in, where he would have the chance to paint and sit around with friends." Today it is a luxurious hotel. A far cry from the tents of the previous night!

And last but not least, for those who think the Star Spangled Banner is the most pompous national anthem in the world, I present for your consideration the Uruguayan anthem, "Orientales, la Patria o la tumba" (Uruguayans, the Fatherland or Death!):

Orientals, our nation or the grave,
Liberty or with glory we die.
It's the vows that our souls pronounce
and which heroicly we will fulfill.

Liberty, Liberty, Uruguayans.
This is the outcry which our nation saved
and its braves in fierce battles
of sublime enthusiasm enflamed
This Holy gift of Glory we deserved
Tyrants: Tremble!
Liberty in combat we will Cry Out!
and even dying, Freedom we shall also Shout!