Uruguay for a day

Trip Start Mar 13, 2009
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Trip End Mar 29, 2009


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Friday, March 27, 2009

Just across the river Plate

What do you do when you only have a few days to see a huge country? That's right: Take a daytrip to another country.

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, is just across the River Plate from Buenos Aires, and as such, it's a popular daytrip. It can be reached by catamaran in under an hour. Unfortunately, all the fast boats were full, so I had to take the slow ferry, which took three hours in each direction. That's six hours on a boat to get to this town. It had better damn well be pretty special, is what I was thinking.

Well, it was a nice day, but nothing all that special, to be honest. Colonia is a sleepy little town, which maintains a lot of its original Portuguese architecture, so UNESCO has declared it a heritage site. There's not a whole lot to do there, though. One main street with restaurants and shops selling the same cheesy souvenirs over and over again. It was also incredibly hot today, so after a few hours walking, I was pretty beat.

Cobblestones and legends

The ferry ticket I booked included a short city tour, which explained the history of the town. Colonia was founded by the Portuguese and kept changing hands every few years between them and the Spanish, until the Portuguese were kicked out once and for all in the early 1800s. It still maintains a lot of its original architecture, and there are a bunch of ruins, such as the city wall and the Viceroy's house. One of the original Portuguese streets is known as the Street of Sighs, and it is said that if you walk up and down it, you will get all of your wishes in love granted. Sounds terribly romantic, until you learn that the origin of the legend was that the street used to house prostitutes who would service the sailors who would come to the port. Yeah, maybe not so romantic after all.

I really only had the afternoon in Colonia, but it was enough to pretty much see the town. I had a delicious lunch of homemade pizza in a wood-burning oven, had an ice cream, wandered through the plaza and the craft markets a bit, and then returned to the ferry port for reverse customs and immigration to go back to Buenos Aires. We got a great view of the sunset from the ferry deck as we set out.

Ham and cheese, anyone?

The saga of dinner on the ferry is one of those travel anecdotes that bears telling. See, my ticket included a voucher for what they called a "snack on board". I was pretty hungry by then and the ferry would take another three hours to reach Buenos Aires, so I went to the snack counter to exchange the voucher. I was handed a ham and cheese sandwich. The subsequent conversation with the cashier went something like this:

Me: Do you speak English?
Him: Yes, a little.
Me: Do you have any vegetarian sandwiches?
Him: No, ham and cheese.
Me: I'm sorry, but I don't eat ham. Do you have any other kind of sandwiches?
Him: No, only ham and cheese.
Me: What are all those? (Pointing to a variety of different sandwiches)
Him: Ham and cheese on bread, ham and cheese on croissant, ham and cheese on roll, ham and cheese on wheat...
Me: Okay, well, can I have something else instead of a sandwich, then?
Him: Voucher is only for sandwich.
Me: Doesn't matter, I'll pay. What about those empanadas? What kind are they?
Him: Ham and cheese.
Me: Okay, how about the salad?
Him: It's a ham and cheese salad.
Me: Seriously? Okay, do you have anything on this ship that does not contain ham? Anything at all?
Him: One moment please. (Consults with other cashier.) Here you go. (Hands me a bottle of water.)
Me: Water? That's it?
Him: Well, it does not contain ham.
Me: Erm... gracias?

Needless to say, it wasn't exactly the best dinner I've had on this trip. I did manage to supplement it with a caramel cereal bar of some sort, but it wasn't exactly gourmet dining. If you are planning to take a ferry to Colonia and you don't eat ham, pack food.

Back to BA

Returning to Buenos Aires, I fought my way through the myriad scam artists to get a legitimate taxi. I may be a dumb gringa tourist but I know it's not $40 pesos back to San Telmo. $15 is more like it. Since I'd been in Uruguay all day, I had no opportunity to sort out my Argentinian cash situation, so I was stuck with only a hundred-peso note to pay the cab fare. Of course, the taxi driver refused to accept it, so I had to ask for change from the front desk of the hostel. They wouldn't give me change either, but they fronted me the cab fare and charged it to my bill. More fun stuff.

All in all, I am glad I got to see a small glimpse of Uruguay on this trip, though if you are planning to go, I suggest booking in advance to make sure to get the fast boat. It's really quite a schlep on the slow ferry.

One more day...
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