I’m not sure what I expected to find in Montevideo, with barely enough time to inhale the Rio de la Plata at La Rambla’s edge before being whisked away again. Truthfully, in the chaos and nostalgia of my trip I hadn’t given it much thought, instead focusing on remembering my Spanish and eating as many tacos as possible. As a result, coming back to Montevideo seven years after my departure was a bit of a shock.
I came to the city in early 2003 to work at a nonprofit in sustainable development law. Struggling to protect the Esteros del Ibera, Argentina’s largest wetlands, the nonprofit had me working out of a small office in La Barra de Maldonado, some 2 km from the nearest grocery store. Adjacent to the glamour of Punta del Este but a world away in spirit, I arrived to find that my office had no doors and that I shared my room with poisonous spiders. The living room, with a yawning attic far above and bookshelves to peruse on every wall, was home to a staggering amount of wasps, who also carpeted the couch and chairs. Spiders lined the stairway to the top floor (meaning I rarely went up there) and the only other person in the house was a caretaker in her seventies named Luz, who spoke no English.
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