Monday, January 20, 2014

Uruguay’s “Secret”: Minas

article from April 19, 2011
By Jamie Douglas

The nation of Uruguay has become an attractive destination for many potential migrants from all over the world. Its educational system, which provides those cute little laptop computers to every single schoolchild in the country and provides free education to all, all the way up to post graduate degrees, serves as a brilliant example of what can be done with the state’s money when it is not squandered by corrupt politicians who add hidden earmarks to essential spending bills.

Most potential expats look not much further than Montevideo or Punta Del Este in their search for a place to settle. If you want big city life, coupled with big city prices, both of these two should do the trick for you. If, however, you are looking for something a little more laid back, there are many other options, one of which I will explore in this article: Minas.

Today, April 19, is the day when tens of thousands of pilgrims are gathered 6 km outside of Minas at Cerro del Verdún Santuario de la Virgin for an annual religious festival. The date is set, so this being Semana Santa, or Holy Week, can only be an extra added bonus.

On any other day, Minas is a rather quiet and charming little city, located about two hours northeast of Montevideo by bus. At an altitude of 450 feet in a lovely area of rolling hills, it is the capital of Lavalleja Department and is guarded by the world’s largest horse statute, with General José Gervasio Artigas on his mount.

The town was founded in 1783 by a group of Spaniards who had originally tried to settle in Patagonia. Today’s population is about 40,000, and its location makes for warm summers and cool evenings pretty much year round. There are no high-rise buildings here, almost everything is two stories, with an occasional three-four storied building in the center.

The town square, Plaza Libertad, is the heartbeat of town, where you will find all the very polite teenagers congregating after school, enjoying ice cream from one of the several shops around the square, which is dominated by a statute of General Juan Antonio Lavalleja, one of the leaders in Uruguay’s fight for independence. Generally, you will find a disrespectful pigeon sitting on the general’s head. You may also be approached by a rather frumpy lady (?) who is offering to tell your fortune or sell you some special gadget, who will give you the evil eye, should you not want to listen to her pitch.

As is the case throughout Uruguay, a large selection of fresh fruits and vegetables is always available, as well as cheeses that are made Colonia Helvecia, the Swiss settlement located between Colonia Del Sacramento and Montevideo that is so famous for its large variety of excellent dairy products.

Not far from town, about 10 kilometers west, you will find Parque Salus, the source of Uruguay’s popular mineral water as well as the Patricia Brewery, source of another of the country’s fine liquids. All this is located in a lovely eucalyptus grove that contains a small botanical garden, a reasonably priced restaurant and a more upscale hotel than you would expect to find here. The park is serviced by original antique buses that run frequently from the central bus station, or you can get there by taxi.

While we were in Minas, we stayed at the Posada Verdún, a charming, family-run inn just a few blocks from the bus station as well as from the center of town that features its own modest kitchen with very good yet reasonably priced food, a cozy dining room, a small flowery courtyard, and an upstairs terrace that lends itself equally well to sunbathing and stargazing. We went up there with our fruit and wine to admiring the little crescent moon setting in the west, when suddenly we spotted the International Space Station flying across the balmy evening sky!

Rentals in town are readily available, as is land outside of town as well as houses with land for sale. Bear in mind, however, that the houses are not exactly to North American or European standards. But when living in such a charmed area, some sacrifices should be expected, and you can always improve on the building or, if you own the land, build a house to your satisfaction. The prices for real estate and raw land in Uruguay have been rising, as many wealthy Argentineans have started to buy land in Uruguay to protect their money from being subject to the whims are the Argentinean Central Bank, but this is occurring primarily along the beaches. The Argentines love their Uruguayan beach getaways.

While only two hours away from Montevideo, Minas is even closer to the beloved 30s-era beach resort of Piriápolis, or to the east of that, the hip-and-with-it resort of Punta Del Este, from where more small beach towns dot the coast all the way to the Brazilian border. But your location in the Cuchilla Grande keeps you from being overrun by the mad hordes of tourists that congregate along the beaches from late December to the end of February, and it is at those times of the year when you will be happy that you are not living along the beaches.

All photos by Jamie Douglas:






















Enjoy life and be happy!
Jamie Douglas
Patagonia, Argentina

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.