Along the Southern Atlantic Ocean look for six mountains to the west. Spanish navigators used this landmark during the 18th century when the capital city of Uruguay, Montevideo, was founded. Montevideo is the largest city in Uruguay with about 1.5 million people, almost half the total population. The city is built along the Río de la Plata, the widest estuary in the world and the international border with Argentina. We arrived here the first week of August 2013 at Carrasco International Airport after nearly two full days of travel from Eugene, Oregon. Our four-week program began with a tour of the capital with the Marcelo Sivack, an agronomist and president of OCC. Marcelo showed us the lay of the land and a variety of Uruguayan birds and trees, such as bright green parrots making nests in native palm trees along the Río de la Plata. The river is considered the entrance into South America, with access to two major port cities: Buenos Aires and Montevideo. During our first day in Montevideo we explored the city’s food culture. Inside the Mercado del Puerto we found an array of Uruguayan parrilladas—traditional barbecues sizzling with beef, sausage and chicken—one of the most popular cuisines in this South American region.
Week one began with lectures at the Universidad de Montevideo to provide students a background in science, the environment, and conservation in this small, progressive nation. Rodrigo García Píngaro, a marine biologist and the executive director of OCC, spoke about The Route of the Whale, a network of small coastal communities working on sustainable tourism, especially whale watching. Other speakers included engineers from Uruguay’s national gas and petroleum company, ANCAP; marine biologists from the Universidad de la Republica; conservationists from the coastal protection group EcoPlata; the oldest national park ranger in Uruguay, and renowned author and investigative journalist, Victor Bacchetta, who like many other writers was forced into exile in the 1970s during the time of the dictators.
Most afternoons we focused on cultural stories around the capital, such as fútbol. On a plane to Montevideo, Professor Carol Ann Bassett had the good fortune to sit next to one of Uruguay’s legendary soccer players who rose to fame in the 1950s: Hector Vita. She set up an interview with him at his home where he talked about his glory days with the Uruguayan football club, Tanque Sisley, and shared his treasured memorabilia.
Our time in Montevideo helped us polish our Spanish, as well as our interviewing and video skills, and gave us deeper confidence to pursue journalism in a foreign country.
Behind the scenes of the Hector Vita interview. Photo by Christina Belasco