Message in a Barrel – Postcard # 2: Montevideo , Uruguay

Message in a Barrel – Postcard # 2: Montevideo, Uruguay
Montevideo , Uruguay

Now for a geography grad this may surprise you, but before getting to Uruguay I knew only three things about Uruguay:

1:Uruguay is not Brazil
2:Uruguay is not Argentina
3:Homer Simpson once pointed at a map of the world and said “Hee hee! Look at this country!:’You are gay.’”

That’s it. Four years spent looking at maps to get a B.A. in geography and that’s all I’ve got.

“Knock knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“Two random people who picked your Uruguayan-addressed postcard out of a barrel on a deserted Pacific island.”
“Two random people who picked your Uruguayan-addressed postcard out of a barrel on a deserted Pacific island who?”
“Two random people who picked your Uruguayan-addressed postcard out of a barrel on a deserted Pacific island and can’t come up with a punch line cause we’re useless in Spanish and you’re a 60 year old Uruguayan lady speaking Castellano through an old-scratchy intercom and even if we were standing face to face you’d likely be as confused as us, probably scared to your wits based on my eagle-emblazoned clothing alone.”
“Que?”
“Uh….¿habla Ingles?”

Postcard number two. Montevideo, Uruguay. The plan was perfect: Spend a month and a half crossing South America from Quito to Montevideo before our plane out of Buenos Aires on May 30th. By then, of course, our Spanish would be polished up to a shine and we’d have a fun afternoon with the postcard’s addressee. Problem is, nobody told us that Uruguayans speak Castellano Spanish with a curiously Italian-like accent at a rapid-fire, tongue-rolling velocity that would give an M-16 an inferiority complex. Gone were our days of traveling on Gringo-filled Andean buses to destinations where linguistic inferiority is greeted with encouraging patience. Our Spanish was stretched to its maximum but we were losing the patience of our deliveree second by second. Fast.

There we were, trying to convince Lelia that we were doing her a favor by delivering her mail, not two deranged mumbling psychos taunting her from the street by means of a conveniently-placed intercom box. It took a few hair raising minutes where confusion reigned supreme, but we finally figured out that Lelia’s intercom-muffled shrieks of “Quién es?!” were simply a question: “Who sent the postcard?” Lelia gave up on technology, stomped across to the overhanging balcony and hung her head over asking for what was surely ‘the last time’ before calling the police, “Quién es?!” I glanced at the ‘from’ address on the postcard, and said meekly, “Andrea?” then looked up to gauge whether to stand or flee. Lelia’s face broke out into a grand smile and she cried with delight, “Andrea! Ah!, Esto es bueno….MUY bueno! Si!, Uno minuto, uno minuto.” Her face appeared as the door opened. We were met with a joyous but skeptical look as the door was inched open. The armor-piercing Castellano equivalent of “Whoareyoutwo,whatareyoudoinghereandhowdoyouknowAndrea?” shot out of her mouth, hitting my ears with its full brunt. My ears reeled from the verbal onslaught, saying to me in unison, “Well pal, looks like you’re on your own with this one, we’re outta here, goodnight.”

We looked at Lelia, looked down at the postcard, then back at Lelia. “Es un postal(postcard). Andrea. Por tu. Si?”
“YesIknowwhatapostcardisbutwhatIdon’tunderstandiswhyyoutwoarehere, whoyouareandwhatthiaisallabout.”
“Si, es bueno. Un postal por tu. Si, Andrea. We don’t know her.”
“Sowhyisitthatyou’retheonedeliveringthispostcardtome?”
“Uh, well, in this place in the Galapagos there’s this barrel and it’s, uhhhh, full of postcards, and, uhhh…..”
“Que?”
“Well, it’s a long story, it involves a barrel, postcards, us, and now…you. I’d like to explain everything. Do you have a minute?”
“No.Ineedtogotothedentist.Now.Youcomebackhereonfridayat4pm,okay? 4pm.Friday.Here.Bye.Gottago.”
“Okay, we’ll be back at 4pm on Friday. Here. 2 days from now.”

So we killed two days between postcard drop off and meeting. Montevideo isn’t the worst place to spend two days. Dollar for dollar, probably one of the cheapest places to eat high-quality meat-based meals on the planet. Favorite meal? Easy. The “Canadiense” (Canadian) is a fine hunk of steak blanketed with a layer of ham, which is topped by a layer of cheese, which is topped with a layer of egg, over easy. The whole contraption is perched atop a mound of fries. Total cost, including half-litre of wine: $3 USD. Heart attacks don’t get cheaper than that.

So where were we, oh yes, Lelia’s apartment. Friday, May 27th. 4p.m.

Either Lelia goes to the slowest dentist of all time, or she’d gone for another dentist appointment just prior to our scheduled meeting, because when we arrived at her apartment for the second time that Friday, her top lip was frozen. She pointed to her stationary top lip and offered, “Dentista, anestésico, es congelado.”

I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried to understand a sexagenarian Uruguayan speak Castellano through an upper lip filled with novocaine, but it isn’t exactly the sort of thing I’d recommend after a night spent filling your body with low-price grease-based protein-centric restaurant meals served with astoundingly-cheap wine.

It was rugged, Dom estimated our comprehension somewhere in the 20 percent range. I, being the eternal optimist, put the figure higher, more like 21 percent. Volumes of highly interesting material were lost as words tumbled out of Lelia’s half-awake mouth onto our all-asleep ears, but some good bits were gathered, namely, Andrea.

Andrea is Lelia’s daughter. She works on a private yacht for some ultra-rich family from Monaco. Andrea left Uruguay 20 years ago for a life on the high seas, working for the big cruise lines out of Miami and the Mediterranean. Lelia misses Andrea like crazy, and was absolutely delighted to hear news from her, any news at all. Andrea dropped the postcard in the Post Office Barrel a few months previous on a trip through the Panama Canal to the Galapagos Islands. She was currently on her way up the West Coast of the U.S. to Alaska. Lelia became quite emotional talking to us about Andrea, not quite Barbara Walters Special emotional, but definitely into Oprah territory. Tears began to well up in her eyes as she described how tough for her it was to have a daughter roaming the earth, far from home. The novocaine began to wear off and her top lip started to tremble as she explained how nice it would be if Andrea spent more time in Uruguay. Just when I thought the dam would burst, Lelia straightened up, looked strong and said with a tight smile, now fully formed, “In December. That is when I will see Andrea again. December.”

We hadn’t understood much verbally for the better course of an hour, but one thing was clear through the universal language of emotion: Lelia truly missed her daughter. Our postcard delivery stirred up emotions within Lelia ranging from glee, sadness to outright confusion. We waved goodbye to Lelia as she stood at her doorstep with a red scarf blowing in the wind, ready for the future, waiting for the future, needing the future. We promised to stay in touch and send her another postcard, this time from Montreal, by established postal service. Unlike some chance-encounter temporary-travel-acquaintance mail promises, I intend to keep my word on this one. Lelia will get her postcard, and her December.


To follow Kyle MacDonald’s postcard-delivering adventure, go to www.messageinabarrel.com.

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