I'm in Montevideo. I've just taken a three-hour ferry from the heady city of Buenos Aires. I'm now sat in my friend's living room and our eyes are glued to YouTube. A group of teenagers have just celebrated the birthday of one of the members of One Direction. A plastic bag floats on a dark seafront promenade. A little girl dances in front of the TV. Emma Watson smiles serenely as she is accosted by a mob of journalists. Just another week in Uruguay.
Tiranos Temblad is a YouTube channel where each week's Uruguay-related happenings on the Tube are magicked into an entertaining weekly run-through. Every clip is narrated in the same monotone voice, whether sweetly depicting a child laughing or showcasing the non-mystery of someone's birthmark being the shape of Uruguay.
Strangely, these grainy 9 minutes perfectly capture what I got to know of Uruguay and Uruguayans during my brief stint there. Each element of a Tiranos Temblad video is served with a wonderful yet dry sense of humour and a healthy side-helping of national pride. Thankfully, however, the dish is not peppered with the slightest bit of arrogance. The channel pokes affectionate fun at the hottest news being three cows crossing a street in Durazno. Each week there is a designated 'Watafac' (WTF) slot. Marvellous.
Sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil, Uruguay used to be waltzed over by the hordes of backpackers that dance their way along South America's gringo trail. No longer is this the case. Uruguay's striking coastline, laid-back vibe and the legalisation of cannabis in 2012 has made it a trendy gem of a getaway for hippies, surfers and Argentines.
Although I did make it to the renowned coastal town of Punta del Este, I for one fell head over heels in love with Montevideo. People often draw comparisons between Montevideo and Buenos Aires, labelling Montevideo a smaller, more accessible version of its Argentine counterpart. Wrong. Don't be fooled into thinking that Montevideo is Buenos Aires' weedy, weed-smoking cousin. It most definitely has its own thing going on. Edgy, political and, often, strikingly beautiful graffiti graces the streets of Montevideo. It boasts a vibrant and varied nightlife and, most importantly, a totally relaxed atmosphere that is rare to find in a capital city. As with any country, the people are what make Uruguay so special. I have yet to meet a Uruguayan that wasn't considerate, affable or without a sense of humour. Uruguayans tend to be deeply proud of their heritage without being nationalistic. They also manage to strike an impressive balance between respect for tradition and appreciation of mass culture.
There was a time when I thought that travel was about getting to the top of a volcano or uncovering the trendiest bar in town. If anything, being in Uruguay made me realise that travel is about relishing the day to day, about basking in the small details that elude us in our fast-paced working lives: melting before a basket of puppies in a Sunday market, watching tango dancers texting during their break and, naturally, really losing yourself to dance on Saturday night along with everyone else.