The afternoon was turning into evening as I set forth into the centre of Montevideo in the search of some Christmas dinner. The streets were eerily quiet and almost empty. A few late-night shoppers hailed the last available taxis, clutching their bags and looking about themselves with nervous apprehension. What was going on? A dangerous atmosphere seemed to have overcome the rubbish-strewn pavements in the oncoming gloom of dusk and there wasn’t a single security officer in sight. That’s unusual in a South American shopping district, in case you were wondering.
Bedraggled thugs and semi-conscious drunks stumbled around in dark side-alleys. Piles of tattered newspapers fluttered in the wind and a few bonfires spewed acrid smoke as the zombies began to claim the city for themselves. No, this wasn’t a horror film, it was Friday night in Montevideo, what’s more — Christmas Eve. When the working week ends in this city, so does any sense of security. The vagrants of the Uruguayan capital come out to wreak havoc and today they weren’t in the least bit festive. No ho ho ho, just zombies.
I got the hell out of there. Back in the hostel, Christmas dinner consisted of canned herring on toast and half a tub of yoghurt, washed down with half a bottle of warm white wine I found in cupboard marked “help yourself.”
Next morning I found half a dozen New Zealanders in the hostel’s lobby and they looked just like the zombies I saw in the city last night. The Kiwis had started drinking early in the morning and were now trying to put together a joyful midday feast to celebrate Christmas Day, with some variable results. The place was a complete shambles, so I decided to try my luck in the city again. Maybe it would be different during the day. Zombies avoid daylight, at least they do in the movies.
Again, I walked through the central shopping district of Montevideo. Gone were the human wrecks that had I had seen last night, replaced by a large contingent of belligerent-looking Uruguayan police officers with German shepherds and Russian machine guns.
As I wandered closer to the docks, I could see the reason for the heightened security level: two gigantic cruise ships were in port. Hmmm, nice boats, I thought. Soon the whole area was swarming with masses of befuddled cruise tourists hunting for tacky souvenirs. So, that’s what it took to make a city safe — elderly American cruisers buying Uruguayan trinkets made in China. I explored the central market, with its delectable charcoal grilled barbeque and delicious fruit, before it too was overrun by cruisers.
The walk back home led me away from the port and the security of the local security taskforce. I wandered back through some of the narrower alleys which led towards the main shopping district of Montevideo. The street directly behind one of the biggest shopping malls was empty, except for large piles of rubbish piled on the sidewalk which had obviously not been collected for several days. Such was the stench that it became necessary to hold my breath. As I tried to hurry around the corner to the mall, I suddenly stopped dead in my tracks. A pair of battered legs poked out from a rolled up blanket which had been thrown on top of the rubbish heap across the road.
I stared with astonishment at the realisation that I was looking at a corpse.
Judging by the smell, it had been a pre-Christmas demise. I wondered how the sweltering heat of the day would affect the decomposition rate of an average corpse. I’d Google it later, if I didn’t forget. These days, I have to write things like that down.
The poor wretch in the rubbish heap had been roughly rolled up and deposited here in a shocking display of total disrespect for human life. I wondered how low you would have to be to end up like this? It could have been one of the homeless guys from last night, or the victim of a drug homicide, who knows? Either way, there was nothing to do but leave quickly. I had never seen a dead body before, and didn’t wish to linger on the experience now.
I hurried back to the hostel and joined the Kiwis for a comforting swig of something very strong, also from the “help yourself” cupboard. I talked to my new friends about rugby and cricket, and tried to forget the gruesome sight I had just seen in the dirty back alley behind the main shopping street of Montevideo.
Later, I wondered how much a two-week cruise around South America would cost me. That would be nice.