Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Our "picturesque" weekend in Colonia

October 22, 2011
Yesterday was Steph's birthday, so we decided to enjoy a weekend getaway - and renew our tourist visas - by taking the ferry across the Rio Plate to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay. It's a UN World Heritage site, and was recommended by several people in BA. I had a cold this week, so we waited until Thursday night to book the tickets, by which time only the 6:30pm ferry from BA was available.

I imagined Colonia being something like Nantucket: the ferry, its smallness and oldness, the word "picturesque" being used to describe the town. And I imagined with a 6:30 ferry, we would at least catch the sunset.

Getting to the Colonia Express terminal was a trek: a subway, a bus, then a long walk through a residential neighborhood next to a highway underpass. We were advised to arrive an hour early and were half an hour earlier than that, with most of the passengers already there. We checked in and sat on a concrete slab for an hour. Then we went through passport control and customs, and had our passports stamped for an Argentina exit and Uruguay entrance at the same time. Then we entered a holding area leading to the ferry, and waited... for several more hours.

There was no food or drinks in the waiting area, nor on the ferry itself (except duty-free booze). Many passengers had their mate with them (the guidebook says the drink is even more popular in Uruguay than in Argentina). Amazingly, no one asked why the ferry was delayed or complained about being in a locked holding area. Eventually we boarded.

The ferry seats were like an airplane's, comfortable enough to nap with a pained neck afterward, and it was pitch black outside. A big tv played a silent nature show.

We arrived in Colonia into a large terminal building. Everyone on the boat seemed to be at baggage claim, or vanished, so there was no crowd of tourists to follow. (I guess only the Uruguains take the nighttime ferry in that direction.) There were exits on 4 sides of the building and no signs anywhere. We asked a guard the way to the centro and she pointed us out of the building.

Outside there were no cabs and still no signs. We figured out the way with my phone's compass and the guidebook map (the data connection being off to avoid roaming charges) and found our hostel.

For dinner we ordered a parillada completa at a nearby restaurant. That's a big assortment of grilled meat, and we decided to be adventurous. The intestines were pretty gross except with chimichurri sauce. The blood sausage was edible with the onion and pepper sauce. The chicken was dry and the beef steak and regular sausage were overdone. Oh well, it must be hard to grill all that simultaneously... fortunately the sangria was pretty good.

The hostel was fine, but we didn't sleep very well for whatever reason. Breakfast was white bread with jam and coffee. We checked out and went down to the barrio historico. We passed boats, old cars, grass, adobe houses. Groups of school kids were everywhere handing out some kind of missionary literature.

Colonia is very picturesque. But we discovered that when people describe a place primarily as picturesque, what they really mean is, it's boring. There's pretty much nothing to do in Colonia. I can see the appeal if you're a harried city executive with no time to relax, but our lives have been pretty tranquilo lately. We walked the whole acreage of the historic district 3 times by noon, and then had 8 hours to kill before the ferry back home.

We had lunch at The Drug Store, a restaurant recommended by the guidebook and an expat couple in BA. The menu had everything from hamburgers to sushi on the menu, which should have been a warning. I got fish, which was bony and bland. Steph's teppenyaki was too salty to eat. A couple started to play very nice guitar music in front of us, but the show barely lasted 20 minutes (long enough to be added to the bill), and they packed up.

The highlight of the day

The weather didn't help: it was 60F and cloudy except for 15 minutes of sun after breakfast. Between us we had decided, out of wishful thinking, to only bring one sweater. Sitting outside - how picturesque! - was made more difficult by crazy pigeons who kept charging at us, undoubtedly conditioned by tourists dropping crumbs.

So we went in search of a cafe to read our books. Most of the cafes were big touristy joints that were too big to be pleasant and had mediocre-looking food. We were thinking how lucky we were to have so many cafes in Palermo, when we found a place called Blanco y Negro, with a Jazz decor, and "artisanal" pastries. (Walking around Colonia, one learns from the shop signs that everyone is an artisan.)

Over several helpings of tea with milk and then some cheesecake that tasted more like ice cream cake, we killed time with good books. On one wall was a tv playing the local version of "Funniest Home Videos," this episode highlighting skull-crushing bicycle collisions. So we kept our heads down in our books. I read "The Ridiculous Race," an adventure tale of two guys racing each other in opposite directions around the world, being deliberately buffoonish but with the comedic self-awareness to make it all hilarious. Steph read "The Perfect Man" on the Kindle, reportedly also a good book.

At one point, a parade of horseback-riding men passed by the cafe, their skin all painted in gray and wearing loincloths, looking like some kind of zombie aboriginal mimes. We weren't sure what to make of them.

Now we're sitting in the terminal, it's 6pm and the ferry is scheduled to leave at 8, but at least it's warmer in here. (I'm drafting this post on my phone.) We had a pleasant enough 24 hours, but won't be coming back to Colonia anytime soon.

UPDATE: Alas, something eventful happened! The ferry on the way back was extremely choppy. I've never been seasick in my life, I thought I was immune to seasickness, and I was taking deep breaths for an hour to keep the tiny bit of chocolate I had eaten since lunch down. The stewardesses kept hanging out plastic bags, and many other passengers had it much worse.

Finally we got back to BsAs, caught a taxi home together with another couple in the neighborhood, and (stomachs now settled) had a huge spaghetti dinner.

- Ben

1 comment:

  1. At least the cloudy skies made for some beautiful photos :) And there's nothing like a big spaghetti dinner to settle an upset stomach!


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