Friday, February 09, 2007

Uruguay


Colonia, Uruguay
Originally uploaded by elizajanecurtis

On Saturday we took a boat to Uruguay. The day-trip across the river renews our tourist visas for another three months! I didn't realize we should have reserved our tickets at least a week ahead of time; lucky we managed to get some last-minute reservations on Buquebus, which runs the main ferry to Colonia de Sacramento, a sweet little historic tourist town on the opposite bank of the Rio Plata. It was a very crazy scene at the ferry terminal because this is the height of summer and everyone wants to go away for the weekend! We took a one-hour express catamaran. It was very comfortable and futuristic. At the ferry terminal in Colonia people boarded buses to go on to Montevideo or other spots in Uruguay. We wandered into town and found it amazingly quiet and peaceful. The old town of Colonia was built during Portuguese colonial rule and it is a UNESCO world heritage site which means I guess that it's lovingly preserved in its historic state. The town is surrounded on three sides by water, so if you walk to the end of any cobblestone street you can look out over the river. The Rio Plata is huge (you can't see the far banks), it looks like the ocean except it's milky brown because of iron in the land upstream. Stairs lead down from the cobblestone streets to the grassy and rocky riverbank and people were sitting under the fruit trees or climbing over the rocks to swim. It looked great so we jumped in to cool off. Later we went into an amazing old white church with a weird basement, climbed a lighthouse and looked over the town, had lunch in an expensive touristy cafe where everyone was speaking English and the menu had prices listed in pesos and US$, and then rented a motorbike. We rode out to the Rambla Costanera, a road that follows the waterside along a string of beaches. The beaches are piney and pebbly but the water is warm and shallow and the bottom is super soft and sandy. Everyone on the beach was speaking Spanish, and those who weren't swimming were barbequeing or lounging under the trees, drinking hot mate(!) on a very hot afternoon. Past the beaches is Real San Carlos and the remains of a 1900's leisure resort area which was barely used before it was abandoned. I wish we got to explore Real San Carlos more, but we were getting all sunburnt and exhausted and we moto'd back to town and got ourselves some homemade alfajores and a few bottles of Grappa de Miel, an honey wine that's an Uruguayan specialty. We got on the ferry at sunset. We rode home on the "barco lento," a bigger older slower boat that takes three hours to cross the river and has the size and feeling of a 1980's shopping mall. We skipped the video arcade and shopping area but had some icky packaged sandwiches in the food court, had some fruity cocktails on the roof and then curled up fell asleep under the stars, lying on the hard upper deck along with a sea of other tired travelers. It was a totally awesome day except for our arrival in Buenos Aires. We were delayed in the dock for an extra hour(!) while the boat rocked sickeningly and everyone went slowly crazy wondering why we couldn't get off the boat. Later we heard that the delay was probably caused by protests against a paper mill being built upriver. But still a great day and I recommend it. Colonia is pretty touristy but makes up for it by being unbelievably cute and tranquil and heavenly.

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