Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Parada en Paysandú, Uruguay

article from July 23, 2012
by Julie R Butler

After driving for five days (at a leisurely pace) from San Rafael, Mendoza, to the Cataratas de Iguazú in the northeastern reaches of Argentina, then selling our car and riding the overnight bus to Colón to be dropped off on the side of a four-lane divided highway at the first light of dawn on a chilly Sunday morning, we took a taxi through the border crossing into Uruguay and on into the center of Paysandú, landing at the lovely Hotel El Jardín, where a warming fire, a fresh pot of coffee, and a serviceable staff made us feel comfortable and happy to be back to lil’ ol’ Uruguay once again.

The day was cloudy and gray and the mess of a big construction project on the main street of the city dampened the mood a little (they are installing fiber optics and putting all of the utilities under the sidewalks, which were greatly in need of repair, anyway). But after walking about and getting oriented, we found ourselves in a noisy pizza place that was full of soccer fans watching the World Cup qualifying match between Uruguay’s beloved team – known as La Celeste, the sky-blue color in the first flags of Uruguay and the team uniforms – and Peru. The pizza was great, plus we caught the dramatic, game-clinching goal and were a part of the thunderous celebration that it elicited. It was not a bad way to start things off.

Over the next few days, the weather brightened up as we explored the city. Happily, even though we didn’t know what exactly the Monument a Perpetuidad might entail, we wandered into this beautiful historic cemetery that features exquisite sculpture on par with what can be found in the famous Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires except that this memorial garden is much less crowded and very tranquil. The remains of the scientists and philanthropists, the housewives, children, and common men “who forged the Paysandú of today” rest peacefully here, and their memories are honored with amazing marble artwork by Italian masters of the day.

The third-largest city in Uruguay, Paysandú is a commercial and industrial center as well as a tourist destination, with attractive beaches and plenty of open park space on the Uruguay River along with the nearby thermal springs. The city is known for the weeklong beer festival that is held during the Easter holidays (it’s officially called Semana Turismo in Uruguay) and its Carnival season celebrations.

Paysandú has rich historical significance for the Eastern Republic, having begun as an attempt at becoming one of the Jesuit missions (known as reducciones de indios) that were set up throughout the Río de la Plata Basin beginning in the seventeenth century. It was located at a cattle crossing of the Uruguay River and soon became established as a port known for its leatherworks and beef jerky plant. The jerky was once popular with the Portuguese as inexpensive sustenance for their African slaves, while the leather from Paysandú is still prized to this day. The wool fabrics produced here are also prized, and the other main industries are forestry products, citrus, cement, and beer. Paysandú is probably most famous within Uruguay for the heroic defense of its outnumbered inhabitants against Brazilian invaders in 1865 – a common theme in this tiny country.

We learned all kinds of interesting information in the modest history museum, and everywhere we went in the city, people were proud to point out the many historical buildings and monuments.

Photos by Jamie Douglas and Julie R Butler:

Julie R Butler is a writer, journalist, editor, and author of several books, including Nine Months in Uruguay and No Stranger To Strange Lands (click here for more info). She is a contributor to Speakout at Truthout.org, and her current blog is Connectively Speaking.
email: julierbutler [at] yahoo [dot] com, Twitter: @JulieRButler

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