Sunday, February 13, 2011

It's Right There, So Why Not?

Up bright and early to catch the overpriced (because I have become so non- committal and didn’t book until the last minute) 7:40am ferry to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. Sure, I had to leave at 6am to clear customs and whatnot, but I would get there in plenty of time to enjoy the beach.

Yeah, a nice plan in theory.

Unfortunately the ferry’s entire computer system crashed so we left 3 hours late (after boarding). Of course I had NO idea why we were delayed since all the announcements were in espanol. All I knew is that I kept falling asleep and waking up and we still hadn’t gone anywhere. I couldn’t understand why the locals weren’t getting all pissy.

So, instead of getting there around noon, I didn’t get to the #1 ranked hostel until after 4--- not the beach day I had envisioned (after getting a taxi that cheated me a few bucks even after I fought with him for a while—I guess he knew I would at some point tire of arguing about the exchange rate.)

I did make it to Pocitos Beach eventually and it turned out I really hadn’t missed all that much. The beach was fine as far as city beaches go-- full of locals enjoying the Sunday afternoon, but it was so windy the sand was blowing everywhere making it somewhat unpleasant. I stayed for a while since I really wanted some beach time, but eventually I gave up and went back to extract sand from every crevice of my body. ;-)

I thought the day was a total loss until I met two guys (from LA and Switzerland) who were headed out to dinner. I joined them for Uruguay’s traditional sandwich- the Chovitos. YUM!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I thought a Philly cheesesteak was bad, but this trumps it! Imagine a hot sandwich of grilled steak, ham and bacon with melted cheese, a hardboiled egg, lettuce, tomato, peppers, pickles and onion (I opted against the mayo of course). It sounds kinda gross but it is pure deliciousness!

I even found room to share an apple pie and dulce de leche cake afterwards. Okay, I will admit after that I did feel kinda sick.

Since I didn’t really see anything redeeming about Montevideo (it was a ghost town when I arrived on Sunday) and the hostel was booked, I opted to move up my plans to go to the estancia (giant farms in the interior).

I took a 3-hour bus to the middle of nowhere, Cerro Colorado, to experience life in cattle country at San Pedro de Timote, a 253 hectar farm with buildings dating back to the mid-1800's (it was owned by the Jesuits until 1767).

I spent the next couple of days eating, riding horses (thanks Sargento- my horse), eating more, reading (I loved the library room with the spanish tile, dark wood and comfy leather chairs), sleeping and sitting by the pool. It was really very lovely looking out as far at the eye could see at the endless landscape. The only down side-- the biggest bug bites ever!

One morning I had a private ride with Beto, the gaucho/ horse riding guide, when we taught each other words in English and Spanish- it was quite amusing to say the least. I think I mistakenly told him that I am an only child, but sure he understood the traveling for a year bit based on his facial expression.

I happened to find myself in the middle of some cattle wrangling too, which was pretty sweet.

The return bus was not as seemless since first I couldn’t figure out how to buy a ticket, then it was super late and finally it dropped me off at some random stadium. Luckily I figured out how to take the free shuttle to the main bus station where I caught another bus to Colonia (I didn’t even need to try to figure out how to buy this ticket since a nice woman held my hand a bought the ticket for me- yay!).

Colonia is a super cute town only about an hour ferry from Buenos Aires- when watching the sunset next to the lighthouse you can see BA in the distance. The town was founded in 1680 by the Portuguese governor of Buenos Aires and was a source for smuggled goods much to the schagrin of the Spanish (it officially became part of the Spainish empire in 1750).

It doesn’t take long to see Colonia's Barrio Historico (another UNESCO site)--- about 2 hours of slow walking and you have seen all the sites: the 1745 city gate, the two main squares (like everywhere, one named after the 25th of May and the other Plaza de Armas), Inglesia Matriz (the oldest church in Uruguay) and the various old colonial homes that now house small museums (a tile museum, really??) .

That leaves a lot of time for eating and reading, which is pretty much how I spend my two days here.

I enjoyed reading in the old park until a Uruguayan man wanted to chat. I wasn’t really in the mood to try to decipher Spanish, but despite repeated “no hablo espanol” he kept talking. Eventually I just had to vacate the premise. ;-)

Colonia has many waterfront restaurants to hang at and watch the sunset over the Rio de la Plata, and even one with legitimately good pizza.  Sure, there is nothing to do here, but I found it very charming and relaxing.

Since I skipped Punta del Este as it sounds kinda cheesy like Miami, I pretty much covered all the destinations within reach of Buenos Aires.

After all I had to return for one more day of debauchery in BA before heading to the ‘bottom of the world’.

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