New Year, New Country: Uruguay

My last full day in Argentina was actually spent mostly in Uruguay!

The old town of Colonia del Sacramento (now a World Heritage site) is a mere 75-minute boat ride from Buenos Aires, and since Uruguay has the misfortune to just be Argentina’s forgotten neighbor without any individual claims to fame*, we figured we’d better go see it while we had the opportunity… when in doubt, get another stamp in the passport! Uruguay brings my country count to 31 and my Spanish-speaking country count to 9, if you include Puerto Rico. Not bad!

*Note that our favorite red-shirted bartender from Rey de Copas essentially agreed with this assessment; after all, he was an Uruguayan living in Argentina!

Given the utter chaos we’d witnessed at the boat terminal on Wednesday, we were more than a little anxious about whether we’d even make it to Uruguay. As it turned out, we had absolutely no reason to be worried. We arrived a bit over an hour ahead of the boat’s scheduled departure and found the hallway that had previously been jammed with people to be practically deserted in comparison; we got our boarding passes easily and then went through customs, just like you do if taking the Eurostar from London to Paris.

The only problem was that it was raining. It had been cloudy when we woke up, and then about 10 minutes before we left the apartment, despite absolutely no forecast for rain, it started pouring. I looked out the window and remarked “well, at least the street isn’t flooding like it did when I was in Caracas and it rained like this,” but five minutes later I changed my mind – there was a river of water about three feet wide extending into the street from the sidewalk! It wasn’t supposed to be raining in Colonia either, so we weren’t sure what to make of the fact that it was raining in Buenos Aires.

I snoozed the entire trip over, and when we pulled into port, the rain had stopped. We didn’t have any kind of plan for the day, especially since we had no way of knowing what would be open since it was New Year’s Day. (Buenos Aires had been a ghost town – NOTHING was open, and only a few cars were on the roads.) I had a map from my guidebook, and we ultimately just walked out of the terminal and turned left to follow the coastline.

We had made it a block or two into the old town when it started raining again. Mary had an umbrella, but this wasn’t the tranquil kind of rain for which an umbrella will suffice; we rushed into the nearest place with an open door, which turned out to be a nice hotel, and took advantage of their wifi for about 15 minutes before, thankfully, the rain stopped and the sun began to peek out.

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From that point on, it was a lovely day. The old town reminded me of Old San Juan or the walled part of Cartagena, except smaller and more quaint. We wandered a bit and then found a restaurant recommended by both our guidebooks called The Drugstore. I have no idea why it was called that, but it was a fantastic place to spend a few hours of the afternoon. All of the doors and windows were open to let in the warm breeze, and a woman was singing to set the mood.

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The right half of this picture was one of the restaurant’s kitchens – just a few yards from our table!

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We had a horrible time trying to decide what to eat (there were too many good options), but we eventually went with the recommendation of our waitress and got a seafood stew which was incredible:

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Fish, squid, mussels, shrimp, and some other creature I couldn’t identify…

We lingered there, eating the stew and drinking sangria, until about 4:00, at which point we figured we’d better keep exploring. Here are a few pictures of the rest of the town:

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The gate to the old town

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We eventually found a beach and spent a pleasant half hour catching some late afternoon sun in the sand! The surrounding area was really beautiful too.

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I also loved this message on the wall:

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“More love, please!”

We had an 8 p.m. ferry back to Buenos Aires, during which we both napped again. Because there still wasn’t anything open, we ended up just spending our last night at home, which was fine. We did a little research on Uruguay because we realized we both knew very little about it and learned that it has a few claims to fame that seem not to have become popular knowledge:

  • It’s the second smallest country in South America after Suriname and is home to only 3.3 million people. (I didn’t think it was nearly that small!)
  • According to Wikipedia, Uruguay is ranked first in South America for all of the following: democracy, peace, lack of corruption, and e-government; it shares first place for press freedom, size of the middle class, and prosperity.

WHO KNEW!

Uruguay’s beach town of Punta del Este is supposed to be the Hamptons of South America… perhaps maybe one day I’ll make it there. At any rate, I’m glad to have seen Colonia and definitely recommend it as a day trip for anyone going to Buenos Aires!

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