Vagabond Tales: Nobody plans to visit a hospital in Uruguay

About the last thing that anyone wants to have happen on their vacation is to end up in the hospital. This much nearly all travelers can agree upon.

What’s even more fun is ending up in a hospital in a country that speaks a foreign language, realizing your vocabulary doesn’t yet include the translations for words such as “syringe”, “infection”, and “spinal tap”.

Luckily for me I found myself in a hospital in a country where I actually do speak the language (Spanish) and I didn’t need any of the aforementioned words listed above. Also, perhaps even luckier is that I wasn’t actually hurt, but instead was simply in search of some prescription drugs.

Allow me to explain.

Punta del Este, Uruguay is a South American beach oasis that’s part South Beach and part Las Vegas. Furthermore, it’s safe to say it’s one of the premier party spots for global jet-setters who may be interested in obtaining some prescription drugs for a big night out.

It also just so happened to be the beach town that my wife and I found ourselves in on our honeymoon when we realized the Xanax she had been packing for the trip home was actually long-expired and completely ineffective, and we had 21 hours of flying coming up before we were safely back home in Hawaii.

It’s been well documented here on Gadling that many people frequently cope with a fear of flying in their own personal ways, and the seriousness of this situation was not to be taken lightly. With the issue of the expired Xanax making itself known, we were really reduced to only two options: buying a used car in Buenos Aires and driving back to California without being kidnapped by FARC rebels in Panama’s Darien Gap, or finding the nearest hospital and getting another prescription whipped up and bottled with our name on it. Stat.Which is how I ended up in the waiting lounge of a Punta del Este hospital attempting to convince the receptionist that two twenty-something year old foreigners who hadn’t even checked into a hotel yet and held no travel insurance really did in fact need some prescription drugs and could only pay in cash.

Yeah. Right.

To be fair, I knew that extracting drugs out of a foreign hospital with no prescription in a second language was going to be a little tricky in the first place, which is why the hospital wasn’t the first place we tried.

Prior to aiming our rental vehicle for the skeptical confines of the Punta del Este hospital we had actually done our best to terrify everyone in an upper-class residential neighborhood on the tip of the doorman at our hotel. Informing him of our immediate need for Xanax, he gave us some rudimentary directions to what was essentially “the house of a guy he knew who could hook us up.” He said the guy was a doctor and ran a home practice, but it was sketchy at best.

Some people go to Punta del Este and lay on the beach or gamble at the casino, while others apparently creep out amongst manicured lawns and spend their day on a mystical hunt for a home-practice doctor who’s mentioned only in hushes and whispers. After having lurked around at least 6 or 7 different yards with the glazed determination of international drug fiends we finally settled upon the hospital as our best bet.

Finally planted in the backroom of the beehive that all hospital’s the world over seem to be modeled after, we actually received a doctor who was very understanding and forthcoming with the goods. No English, but at least forthcoming.

He said he could recognize the genuine nature of my wife’s distress, but we must understand that the number of people who go into doctor’s offices complaining of anxiety to get their hands on some Xanax had taken a disastrous turn in the past few years.

Counting out some little blue pills and securing them in a sterile clear baggie he finally handed over what was literally our ticket back home.

Come to find out later the dosage of drugs such as Xanax in Uruguay is apparently much higher than the legal dosage allowed in the US, which is why to this day my wife on airplane flights can usually be found spilling her drink into my lap with either her chin or eye socket.

Is the hospital in Punta del Este the best way you could plan to spend part of your honeymoon? Absolutely not. But it beats losing all of your money at the casino.

Read more of the Vagabond Tales here

The ten best cities for sunbathing

After you’ve been cooped-up inside all winter, that first day of nice weather at home feels like a gift from heaven. Clothes come off, frisbees start flying and the hardcore sunbathing begins. Even if it’s still cold where you live, the prospect of warmer days ahead looms large. In preparation for the endless days of spring and summer, here’s ten of our favorite spots for sunbathing around the world. Grab yourself a towel and some sunscreen and check it out.

10. Barcelona, Spain
Barceloneta Beach is ideally located at the water’s edge in Barcelona with fantastic restaurant and nightclub options at the nearby boardwalk. While the cleanliness of the sand has been an object of controversy in recent years, Barceloneta cannot be matched for its proximity to the many urban options that Barcelona affords. When you tire of the Mediterranean sun, there is Las Ramblas, La Sagrada Familia, Montjuic, Park Guell, and the smattering of architectural tributes to Gaudi.9. Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles offers a wide variety of beaches, from gritty Venice Beach to trendy, hip Malibu. For the best sunbathing, Zuma Beach in Malibu is the destination. A city surrounded by beach options, Zuma is one of the largest and most popular options in Los Angeles County; known for its long, wide stretches of sand and excellent surf. It consistently ranks among the healthiest beaches for clean water conditions in Los Angeles County. Grab a red one-piece and imagine yourself in a Baywatch episode.

8. New York, New York (tie)
Manhattanites know about Carl Schurz Park. This 15 acre parkland on the Upper East Side boasts a waterfront promenade built over FDR Drive. Sunbathing options abound with winding, shady paths, green lawns, waterfront views, a large playground for children, and two dog runs. Bring a towel and picnic basket, plug in your iPod to Astrud Gilberto and imagine you’re on Copacabana Beach.

8. Punta del Este, Uruguay (tie)
South Americans looking for an escape retreat to Punta del Este, an upscale resort town invaded by wealthy denizens of Buenos Aires and Montevideo from early November until late February. With a heady ancestral mix of Spanish and Italian descendants, this Southern Hemisphere destination is perfect for those seeking the “endless summer.” Punta has scenic coasts and beaches with the Rio de la Plata on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. All beaches on the peninsula have public access. Sunbathers have the option of choosing quiet and calm areas to others with strong waves and the requisite surfers, all with fine white or golden sand.

7. Bondi Beach, Sydney
Located 20 minutes from central Sydney, Bondi (pronounced “Bond-Eye”) is the quintessential beach abounding with sun, sand, and sensuality You’d be hard-pressed to find more heavenly bodies than on this half-mile stretch of paradise. Bondi is replete with a wide range of food, entertainment and accommodation options nearby. Here you’ll find fantastic waves, sunbathing models, year-round sun and the coolest beach-side vibe anywhere. And if you really want to blend in and look like an Australian, take a surfing class. Lets Go Surfing, conveniently located in Bondi, is one of the most professional surf schools in Australia.

6. Boston, Massachusetts
Boston is certainly not a beach, and not anywhere near a very good beach. However, the banks of the Charles River come alive (and shirts begin to peel off) the moment mercury rises above 68. With a population of 1 in 6 attending any one of the many institutions of higher learning, this hip town has a great deal of young eye candy to enjoy without wandering too far from the dignified boundaries of Beacon Hill or the Back Bay. The Esplanade has miles of jogging and rollerblade trails, and an abundance of manicured lawns to enjoy your choice of literature from Isabel Allende to Emile Zola. After the sun sets, you may be lucky to enjoy a concert at the Hatch Shell.

5. Miami South Beach, Florida

It wasn’t long ago that South Beach was nothing more than a tawdry, tacky strip of forgotten beach land. South Beach has experienced resurgence in the past 20 years to become one of the “hippest” beach destinations in the US. The famous strip affords more miles of undulating sand and perfectly sculpted bodies than seems mortally possible. Beautiful bodies can be found on the beaches, but more so in the hotel pools that line the coast. At the end of the day, head inland a few blocks to the stylish clubs, restaurants and shopping along Lincoln Road, Washington Avenue and Ocean Drive.

4. Paris, France
Though not anywhere near a beach, Paris tops our list of “urban” sunbathing options. In 2002, Paris introduced “Paris Plage,” (Paris Beach), a free summer event that transforms the banks of the Seine River into 3 distinct districts. Those in search of a “traditional” beach (as “traditional” as one might find in a city of 3 million) should head between the Pont Neuf and Pont de Sully bridges. With classic French panache, this location features sand and grass beaches, parasols and chaise lounges–all free! Even the obligatory Le Hot Dog is served in French fashion–stuffed inside a baguette.

Near Pompidou Center, the area takes on a tropical flair, while in the northern reaches of La Vilette boating and water sport options abound. When the sun sets, enjoy many of free concerts offered throughout the season. Considering Paris already has nearly everything a visitor could want, we can now add the “Best City for Sunbathing” to the list.

3. Honolulu, Hawaii
With Diamond Head as an impressive background, the beach at Waikiki is a slice of Hawaiian heaven, offering great weather, good restaurants, and a two-mile stretch of fantastic, sandy beaches. Though Waikiki can be particularly costly (parking and food) and overrun with tourists, nearby Kuhio Beach Park is a quieter, more affordable option. The warm, clear, shallow waters cannot be beat. You may be fortunate to be present during the many events the beach hosts throughout the year, including surf competitions, hula dancing, outrigger canoe racing and outdoor performances. Don’t be tempted to lift one of the grass skirts to see if there’s some sort of vibrating mechanism underneath. These movements should not be attempted at home unless a chiropractor is nearby.

2. San Diego, California
In San Diego, the beach is a way of life, a source of pride and a defining influence in people’s lives. San Diego comes in a strong second due to the sheer number of beaches that run the length of an entire county, from its northern extremity at Oceanside to its southern border with Mexico. Additionally, with 365 days of perfectly balanced sunshine per year, San Diego can’t be beat. La Jolla, an affluent neighborhood with several stunning beaches, tranquil coves and foamy surf, is ideal for families.

Heading north, the exclusive communities of Del Mar, Solana Beach and Leucadia have dramatic coastlines and vistas. Film buffs will recognize the Hotel del Coronado from “Some Like It Hot” on Coronado Island. Your sunbathing may (or may not be) interrupted by troops jogging by as the San Diego Naval Base is situated nearby. When the sun sets, the many activities and pleasures of San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, Mission Bay, and Sea World are at your doorstep.

1. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio’s Ipanema Beach has long been considered one of the Sexiest Beaches in the World, Combining the very best any city has to offer with great restaurants, fashionable clubs, and world-class museums, the beach at Ipanema tops our list. Brash with Brazilian style, Ipanema sways to its own captivating rhythm. Somehow I must have gotten by the sensors on the beach which magically prevents anyone from entering with more than a single-digit body fat index. With bravado, the young, fit and beautiful Brazilians hold court one of the most enticing sunbathing destinations on earth.

Photo of the Day (3.22.09)

This past Friday was the first day of Spring, but here in New York you would have hardly known it. Friday morning we had snow showers, and temperatures have been hovering in the 40’s and 50’s. I’d much rather be hanging out with Flickr user wesleyrosenblum who took this quirky shot on the beach down in Punta del Este in Uruguay.

First off, I’m really fond of the framing here. I like how the tiny people and the hand are condensed down at the bottom of the frame, leaving the rest of the image for a seemingly limitless blue sky. Aside from that, you’ve gotta admire any municipality that will install a “giant hand” sculpture in the sand. I bet it makes for quite the sight when you come upon it on the beach.

Have any fantastic photos of Uruguay you’d like to share with us? Or maybe just from Utica, NY? Why not add them to the Gadling pool on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

“No Reservations” season 4, episode 14: Uruguay

Location: it’s a Bourdain family vacation to Uruguay, the hidden secret of South America. Quietly tucked between beach-strewn Brazil and boisterous Argentina, Uruguay is the unsung hero of grilled meats, beautiful scenery and a quintessential “laid-back” lifestyle.

Episode Rating: Four bloody meat cleavers out of five. The cleavers are extra bloody this week from the insane amount of meat Tony eats during his Uruguayan odyssey. It’s worth noting that the high ratings so far this season are not inflated – every single new episode this summer has made for highly-watchable television.

Summary: Little did we know, but the Bourdain family has a colorful family history, starting with Tony’s grandfather who headed across the Atlantic in 1918 to settle for a few years in Uruguay. It is this mysterious voyage across the ocean which frames Tony’s trip. Who were his ancestors? What was life like in early 20th Century Uruguay? To help in his quest, Bourdain invites along his brother Chris, and the siblings set off to try and find some answers (and possibly eat some animal flesh during their downtime).
There’s no better place to begin a trip to Uruguay then by visiting the country’s capital, Montevideo. It’s a majestic old gem of a city, full of crumbling old buildings and picturesque streets. And perhaps no landmark is more emblematic of Uruguay than the Mercado del Puerto, arguably the “beating heart” of the country. The market is filled with vendors selling a virtual cornucopia of meat of every shape and size, slow-cooked a la parrilla (on the grill) over the burning coals of a huge wood-fed fire.

It’s here that Tony lays out his “meat manifesto” for his brother while the two gorge themselves on steak, sausages and loins served with a side of the ubiquitous chimichurri sauce. The consumption of potatoes, vegetables or bread of any kind while eating meat is forbidden! It only serves to fill you up so you can eat less meat. Mercado del Puerto truly seems tailor-made for Mr. Bourdain.

But this is Uruguay after all – there’s much more grilled flesh to be eaten, so Bourdain and his brother travel to “Gaucho country” near the village of La Galleja to visit a Uruguayan estancia. While there, Tony is hosted by a family originally from Canada that has made the Uruguayan countryside their home. The family cooks a huge feast in honor of Chris and Tony’s visit, including a whole piglet a la parrilla, an Estofado (a South American stew) made with sweet potatoes and Nandu and the centerpiece: an armadillo. Tony’s reaction: it tastes like chicken. Really Tony? Is this not the cardinal sin of food television?

Next up is the sleepy village of Garzon, population 200, where Tony pays a visit to renowned chef Francis Mallmann. Mallman has retreated from the glitzy dining scene of nearby Punta del Este to focus his energies on simple, traditional Uruguayan cooking. To demonstrate his new focus, he prepares Tony a meal using the traditional styles of asado – meat cooked between two iron grills, meat cooked in salt crust, vegetables cooked in hot ash and a pascualina spinach-egg pie on the side. As they eat this simple, delicious meal, Francis and Anthony discuss virtues of patience and the ultimate simplicity and primal nature of barbecue. The normally vitriolic Bourdain is downright mellow and rightfully so – an enormous simple meal of grilled meats seems to be perfectly suited to Bourdain’s temperment.

Seemingly satisfied with his time in the interior, Bourdain heads for the coast where he relaxes in Punta del Este, Uruguay’s infamous summer beach retreat for the rich and famous. After sunning himself on a beautiful stretch of sand, Tony and Chris have dinner seaside at La Huella, where they dine on fire-roasted prawns and sauteed octopus. Not surprisingly the Uruguayan seafood is just as good as the barbecue.

The two brothers then head up the coast to the hippie enclave of Cabo Polonio. They drink at a small bar with a local named Raoul, downing shots of the local moonshine made from grapes while the bar’s pet penguin, Pancho, scurries about beneath their feet. How did the penguin get there? He just sort of got lost one day and decided to stay. About the same way most wanderers find themselves in Cabo Polonio.

Upon their return to Montevideo, Tony and brother Chris conclude their visit at a raucous street fair featuring chorizo sandwiches, some drum based candombe music and siete y tres cocktails made from a mixture of red wine and coke. Though Bourdain and his crew clearly planned the event for television, the scene quickly becomes a full-fledged party as the friendly locals notice the commotion and begin to gather. It’s fairly typical of Uruguay – it just sort of sneaks up on you with its beauty, its surprising and fantastic food and the unassuming friendliness of the locals. But don’t expect Uruguay to stay under the radar much longer – a place this good can only stay a secret for so long.