“What country is closest to heaven”?
“Uruguay, because it’s next to Argentina”
There’s no better welcome back to Montevideo from Buenos Aires than a nice joke about Argentines. Ceci and I were enjoying a nice birthday lunch of ceviche in Ciudad Vieja.
I had a 24 hour stopover in the capital before heading back to Cerro Chato, and had purchased a ticket for the 14:30 Turismar. I thought I had plenty of time to spare, but these Peruvian waiters didn’t seem to be in any hurry. At five past two, we finally got the check back, and paid up. I gave her a big hug and hailed a cab. Montevideo doesn’t have that bad of traffic, I thought. It’s a straight shot up along Calle Mercedes, and besides, it’s mid-afternoon on a weekday.
“Tres Cruces. Tengo 14:30. Dejáme en Haedo y Cassinoni por favor”. (Tres Cruces. I’ve got a 14:30. Drop me off at Haedo and Cassinoni please!) I told the taxista.
One way, one-lane cobblestone streets made for an inauspicious beginning to the ride. At 2:20, we had just arrived at Plaza Independencia, only six blocks from our origin. In a city that lacks expressways, and where just about everything is another city street, this was not going to be easy. Fortunately my cabbie was as ambitious as I was. As soon as we got onto Mercedes, he made mockery of the typically obedient Uruguayan driver. After somehow managing to stop at only two lights, he arrived at my indicated stop at 2:29.
Tres Cruces is a block north of the intersection of Eduardo Victor Haedo, and Mario Cassinoni, and it has its dedicated taxi queue inside the terminal. So you’re probably wondering why I had him drop me off at a street corner rather than the actual station. For anyone visiting Montevideo, and wanting to save time and money, here’s why. Aside from the Intendencia, Tres Cruces is the only building in Central Montevideo to take up two city blocks. As such, both the street to its north, and its south are westbound one way. Thus, taxis coming from the Centro to Tres Cruces have no way to enter the taxi queue without having to go on Bulevar Artigas and doubling back. If you are coming from anywhere west of Bulevar and tell a taxista to drop you off at Tres Cruces, he will take you all the way around Bulevar in a circuitous route specially designed for taxis, which involves long lines, and multiple stoplights. If I hadn’t told this cabbie to drop me off at the random intersection, my Turismar would have been halfway to San Ramón!
Red x = Intersection of Cassinoni and Haedo, where you should tell a taxista to drop you off, and then walk to the terminal.
Magenta = circuitous and costly path across Bulevar to get to the taxi stand
Yellow dots = stoplights (yes, five of them!)
Thanks to learning from past experiences, I still had a chance. I somehow had exact change, which I left in the tiny metal tray cut in the barrier between front and rear seats that became institutional after a raft of pasta base related robberies on taxistas during the economic crisis of 2002. I grabbed my suitcase, ran across the street just before the light turned green and three buses would have run me over, zoomed past leisurely diners enjoying their entrecôtes on the pedestrian block of Cassinoni, lucked out again by crossing Calle Ferrer Serra, ran down the steps and found myself in the terminal.
But I was not home and dry yet. The Turismar buses leave from three quarters of the way down the platform. I swerved past kiosks, sprinted past people without managing to knock a mate thermos or gourd off of anyone’s armpit, and gracefully made my way through the third sliding door to the left. The bus had pulled one bus length out of the bay, and as the guarda was climbing in, he caught me out of the corner of his eye, recognized me, made eye contact, and allowed me to run onto the bus while it was still moving in reverse. The coach was full, but I found the seat I’d reserved halfway down on the aisle, plopped down and felt right at home.