a detour to South America: my week in Uruguay (Part 1)

December 22 & 23, 2014

For Christmas this year, my family and I took a trip down south to Uruguay to spend the holidays with family. If you have not had the pleasure to visit, or are googling a map of South America to see which country I’m referring to, let me give you a little background. Uruguay is hands-down the most beautiful and peaceful country in South America with gorgeous beaches, delicious food, and fantastic people.  There are only about 3 million Uruguayans, with almost half of them living in the capital of Montevideo.

My father was born in Uruguay and moved to the US with his parents and brother when he was just two years old.  Since then, he’s visited many times and I had the priviledge of going once in the winter of 2002, summer of 2009, and this summer of 2014 as well.  I should mention that their seasons are the opposite of our seasons here in Washington, DC, which was an absolute joy as we left 36º and rainy DC weather for the sand and 90º sunshine of Montevideo.

This trip was to be a particularly special one as my mom and Ingun were making their first visits to Uruguay.  My mom, dad, and I flew from DC –> Miami –> Montevideo while Alec and Ingun took a several flights from Oslo –> Paris –> Buenos Aires –> Montevideo.

After a significant delay and nearly roasting to death on the plane in Miami, we all arrived safely in Montevideo on Tuesday afternoon, ready to see family, eat good food, and take a nice long nap.  My great-aunt Charito and her beau Dario came with Alec and Ingun to pick us up at the airport with huge smiles and big hugs.  We were whisked away to Charito’s apartment for a lunch of Torta Pascualina, baked zapallitos (squash) with salsa blanca, caprese and a carrot and peanut salad.  It was absolutely delicious and hit all of my cravings for Uruguayan food all at once!  Maybe I’ll make torta pascualina next for my food blog! :)

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After lunch, we decided to take a quick detour at the Carrasco Lawn & Tennis Club before Alec, Ingun, mom and dad went off to their respective hotels for a nap.  My great grandfather was the president of the Club long ago and his name was even on a plaque on the wall!  I should take this opportunity to quickly mention that because Uruguay is such a small country, my relatives know EVERYONE.  The entire trip we couldn’t go anywhere without Charito saying hello to an old friend, and at the Club it was no different!  It always fascinates me that this is the one place in the world where my last name, Oyhenart, and my family names, Aviles, Boschi, and Martinez, are well known to everyone.  Its pretty cool :)

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We emerged from our naps a few hours later, showered and refreshed and ready for the highlight of the day: gnocchi!  My dad is a food lover, especially Uruguayan food, so Charito promised him a dinner of gnocchi for his first night in town.  She invited aunts, uncles, and cousins to join in and we had a spectacular night eating inside and outside on the patio, catching up and chowing down!  The gnocchi were served with a sinful porcini mushroom sauce and a delicious red sauce with braised chicken. It was so good!

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In good old Uruguayan fashion, we finished the evening around 3AM and, much like jet lagged zombies, pattered off to bed to get ready for another day of family and fun!

December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve in Uruguay, like many other places in the world, is the big day of celebration (unlike the 25th in the USA).  We had plans to drive to our favorite beach town, La Paloma, to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with the Boschi side of the family:  Jorge and Susana (the matriarch and patriarch) were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and all of their kids (Jorge Enrique, Susi (Cookie), Ignacio (Nacho) and Adriana (Yaya)) were going to be their with all of THEIR kids… way too many for me to type out :)

Its about a 3 hour drive from Montevideo to La Paloma so we decided to split the difference and stop in Punta del Este, one of the most famous and popular destinations in Uruguay, for lunch.  Just outside of Punta, we stopped at an overlook with breathtaking views of the city and the water.  Alec and I decided to get a sibling Christmas picture!

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Next on my list of Uruguayan foods that I was craving was a “chivito”, or steak sandwich with every topping you can imagine. There is a great chiviteria in Punta del Este called Marcos, so naturally we stopped there for our fix.  My mom and I split a chivito but Alec, Ingun and my dad all took one for the team and finished one themselves.  We all decided to get the classic preparation: steak, ham, peppers, onions, fried egg, lettuce, tomato, and mayo.  Its a beast of a sandwich but is so, so good! Here’s my lunch:

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We stayed a few nights in Punta del Este on my last trip to Uruguay in 2009, but since we were en route to La Paloma and didn’t have time to stay on this visit, I made sure that we showed my mom and Ingun my very favorite feature of the town: Los Dedos.  There is a spot on the beach where five stone fingers come out of the sand and look like a hand has been buried.  Its the coolest little piece of artwork and has become a symbol of the town.  Naturally I had to take a jumping picture with them!

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Full and happy, we continued on to La Paloma and arrived around 7PM.  Our family owns a farm outside of town called “El Casco”, but we have always called it “El Campo”, or “the farm”.  It sits on a bazillion hectares (a quadrillion acres it seems like) where we have a beautiful farm house, barn, and tons of land for horses and cattle.  We were going to stay at El Campo for those two evenings so we headed up while it was still light outside to settle in before going to the beach house.  Check out this view!

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We all piled in to the car and headed down with a sack of Christmas presents to the beach house right on the water where the rest of the family had gathered for dinner. Nearly everyone from the Boschi clan was there (minus Emi, Flor and Santiago), so we had a grand total of 17 Boschis plus the 5 of us ready to celebrate Christmas Eve with a barbecue dinner and some fireworks on the beach!  Dinner was slow cooked grilled pork and tons of different cold salads, sort of “picnic style”, with wine and beer all around.

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The little ones played with sparklers and had great fun writing their names with the glow from the sparks.  It was so neat to see how grown up they all were just 5 years after my last visit.  New cousins I’d never met, old ones who were no longer little babies– and they all had incredible patients with me as I regained my Spanish fluency :)

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We distracted the kids with fireworks on the beach as the clock struck midnight on the 24th marking the arrival of Christmas Day.  As they marveled at the huge firework display over the beach, my aunts and uncles and I rushed in to the house to put the presents under the tree.  In Uruguay, Santa Clause is called “Papa Noel” and he brings presents at midnight.  The kids came bursting in to the house as soon as the last spark fell with wide eyes and huge smiles as they saw that Papa Noel had been there.  “But I was watching the whole time!” one yelled, confused as to how he didn’t catch the man in the act. “How did he get in the house?” I asked one of them, pretending to be very confused.  “Papa Noel has keys to everyone’s house, of course”, came the reply of the littlest one.  It was such a sweet moment!

Here’s the before:

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And the after!

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The best gifts were the football kits that my little cousins Matias and Agustin got from Papa Noel.  They were absolutely thrilled when they saw the set of gloves, shoes, shirt and pants from their favorite football players.  Agustin, only 4 years old, knows every single flag of each country that played in the World Cup, along with every player and their team AND their jersey number! He is adorable.  Here they are in their new kits:

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All in all, it was a great Christmas Eve to spend in my favorite spot: La Paloma.  Sun, sand, good food and family… what more could you ask for?