Do you remember weeks ago I travelled from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento for the day?
I wrote that I was too tired to write up the journey and that I must pack for my travel to Montevideo the capital of Uruguay next day – because I would be leaving my hotel next morning at 5.30 am.
Here is the story of that day for you to read before you launch into the last of my Uruguayan experiences and then prepare for my southward’s sea voyage, The Grand Adventure.
The Hotel Tango organised a transfer car to take me to the Ferry terminal. I arrived early and was near the start of the queue for flashing the passport and receiving my departure stamps from Argentina and arrival at Uruguay. Once my backpack was screened in a perfunctory process, I was through to a large airy waiting space. Eventually we loaded onto the ferry and it was ‘first in first served’ to get a chair that would suit your needs. I had no idea but gravitated immediately to a swivel lounge chair at the rear of the ferry.
I was able to take my shoes off and rest my feet on the back-window sill and watch Buenos Aires recede into a hazy distance (the windows were salt/fuel smeared, so nothing was clear).
After a few successfully completed sudoku puzzles later, it was time to refit the shoes and prepare for disembarkation. It crossed my mind that this ferry, a catamaran, could well have been built by Bob Clifford’s Incat in Hobart. Later in Montevideo, another Australian showed me a photo he had taken– he had found a map of Tasmania affixed to the outside of these ferries. Clearly the Rio de la Plata ferries were Incat products.
About an hour after departure from Buenos Aires, we arrived at the ferry terminal in Colonia Del Sacramento. Cars and their owners departed from the bowels, and the rest of us walked off and into Uruguay. I picked up a map of the streets of this old Portuguese settlement (never needed to go near the newer/contemporary part of the city, located inland) and set off at a slow pace. It was not much past 9am, the sun was shining, almost no cars on any roads, and next to no-one around except the few day trippers like myself and the odd bus load of tour tourists who soon disappeared.
After the density and busyness of Buenos Aires I felt I could breathe again. I had space. The big open sky and the expanse of the Rio de la Plata extended that sense of space. I began to relax. I didn’t feel the need to maintain the level of vigilance characteristic of my Buenos Aires experience.
I decided to walk around the town staying close to the shoreline and then later in the day to meander the internal streets of this old settlement. It was seeing trees and plants and greens that attracted my attention first.
The first relic of the Portuguese past was a defensive stone wall.
Through this was a gate to the city.
I walked inside. Others felt a need to clamber all over it, but I chose to simply look and to try and feel the history.
A little further on I reached the Bastion de San Miguel.
I loved the aged cactus growing in company with a tree.
I reached the street of Sighs, much photographed for tourism brochures.
Different vintages of old architecture had lots of character.
Small islands seemed to float in the river.Once I began to step along the ancient cobbled streets of the ‘inside’ of the town, I felt weary from the sensory overload. It seemed best to stop and to eat an early lunch. I chose a restaurant before others were using the service.
I was the only customer when I sat down outside next to a peaceful park, accessed local WiFi and replied to emails. Then I ordered a Uruguayan speciality – Chivito. When the waitress asked if I wanted it with bread I said no – but at that stage I did not know what I was ordering. I am so glad that I rejected the bread roll. Fundamentally a Chivito is a hamburger with a lot; not the lot but a lot. The barbecued meat was melt-in-the-mouth tender. On that plate there was enough food to feed three or four people.
While waiting for my meal, I consulted my map and had a good look at the building edging one side of the adjacent park. The buildings and the streets were endlessly interesting because of the variety.
After the meal (I could not eat it all and wished there had been a wandering dog to feed) I walked uphill until I reached a museum.
Paid entry to this museum gave me free access to 4 other museums which I found as the day passed.
I came across the remains of a prehistoric animal.
Loved the original tiled floors.An original Portuguese house.
Then I headed for the Lighthouse. The tiniest narrowest circular staircase took me to the landing, with steep irregular risers making it a challenging climb. I stepped out and enjoyed a super view down onto the old city. But there was another level to go. Even tinier and potentially head splitting in places (when I thumped my head on a metal plate during my return, tears flowed. It was so testing a climb that I am not sure if it was the pain or the situation generally that made me cry). From the top I could see the new part of the city as well as all the details of the old town. Buenos Aires was softly visible on the horizon, away over the endless river.
Back on the ground I wandered through another park where local artisans were setting up stalls in a desultory fashion. A street or two later and I was in a large park/plaza with historical buildings on all sides.
Eventually I sat down at a little café close to the gate which I had entered earlier in the day, ordered a café con leche and sat watching people pass by for an hour or so.
The old city of Colonia is a pretty little place and I will remember it for the colourful displays of many bougainvillea and geranium plants. The ferry was not due to depart until 5pm but I had casually walked back to the terminal by 3pm, as had most other day trippers. We had seen and experienced all that we wanted, or had room for mentally, from Colonia. There was much to think about; the Portuguese settlers, the Spanish settlers, colonialism generally, a predilection for the presentation of military histories, and a failure to show anything of the women of history. I had been warned this was a tourist trap and to expect costs to be more than in Buenos Aires. It was more expensive, but later I found that Montevideo was no cheaper. Perhaps that is the cost of being a country with a stable democratic government when compared to others in South America.
Once back in Buenos Aires, I walked about a kilometer or two amidst the dense peak hour pedestrian and road traffic, to reach the closest underground railway station. In a packed train I travelled back to my hotel. Overloaded with memories of the day (there was much more than I have shown – I took many more photos of other cultural history locations and oddities. But this is enough). The day left me feeling very satisfied.
The day finished with a dinner half a block away and then the packing and closing of the suitcase ready for the early departure next morning.