Thursday, October 26, 2006

Colonia, Uruguay

Last few days in Buenos Aires and I have an idea which leads to a new stamp in the passport. Not an original idea, but an interesting one nonetheless.

OK, I WAS in Buenos Aires when thinking of things to do and it hit me - day trip to Uruguay! I had been enjoying BA very much but was tiring of staying out or up til 5, 6 or 7 in the morning (as is normal in the city). This leads to sleeping in til 1,2 or 3 afternoon. Bad pattern to be in. I wanted to have a good, constructive day. So, for $117 (pessos) I took the 'Buquebus' ferry for the 3 hour trip across the Rio de la Plata to Uruguay.

Nobody much goes to Uruguay, and it's a shame. They are friendly people and have some beautiful coastline. If I had time again I would have gone for a few days and worked my up to the capital, Montevideo, and back again. Alas, I had only a few hours in the city of Colonia, and I had to make the most of it.

My transport, the Buquebus, is a glorified floating brick (albeit a very comfortable brick). I half-suspected swimming would have been a quicker option. But no matter. By 8.30am I had been stamped out of Argentina and into Uruguay. At least I hoped it was Uruguay, I couldn't make out the stamp perfectly. It was fine though, and I really quite enjoyed relaxing back in the seats as we took off. It felt like we were flying toward the sun, lying back in those seats. Maybe this is how planet Earth will ultimately end, J. G. Ballard-style with hundreds of Buquebuses taking of towards new Colonia's in space. It would be cool. Especially if you got an interplanetary stamp.

We arrived at noon and after much confusion over what bus to get on and where to go I found myself onto the English speaking tour. Colonia has a lovely historical quarter where it's nice to take a stroll around town. I was shown the most famous street in Uruguay. Why was it so famous? I have no idea.

A pecularity of the day was bumping into Brad, a guy I met in the Pantanal in Brazil. Bizarre. He had been working his way down from Montevideo. It is always a nice surprise to see a familiar face. Sadly, I couldn't stay to talk with him for very long before being forced to go, lest my tour bus leave without me.

On the tour I met one of the coolest stereotypes so far on my travels. A bulky, friendly American shook hands with me. I was relly hoping he was called Bob or Chad. He said, "Hello, there Andrew, my name's Chuck." Even better. Chuck was from Arkansas and works with cattle. He was in his fifties at a guess and he just fancied seeing a bit more of the world I think. Cool.

Colonia is a nice place, but where we were it was a bit saturated by tourists. I must include myself in that number, I suppose. So I shouldn't complain too much!

At the end of the 3 hour ferry ride back, we arrived back into Buenos Aires at night. It's a beautiful city lit up in darkness and it felt quite special to see it. People took pictures. Maybe they knew that the photos would never come out in the dark. Maybe they didn't care.

I left Buenos Aires after 10 days. I never really took to the Milhouse Hostel. I'd been hanging out quite a bit with James and an Irish guy called Steve at Estoril Hostel and I think I'd spent more time there after I left than when I was staying there! The Milhouse was fine, I just felt more at home at Estoril. At Milhouse, you have to party, party, party at night. Sometimes it's an effort to try to meet new people every night when it's a bit noisy and everyone's going ker-azy. Also I think when a hostel has a reputation for being a 'party hostel it can attract a, er, 'special' crowd. Most of the people I met were nice, but you know when you just can't be bothered with some people? I think I' recommend Estoril to anyone staying in BA. It's nice, clean, warming, friendly staff, good location. Lot's of pluses.

Anyway, Buenos Aires was really good. restaurants, caf├ęs, parks, football, some nice people. It is a fast, chic city, but somewhere it's easy to slow down the pace, especially on a Sunday. On Sunday I had a lovely day firsty walking around the antique market in San Telmo, one of the older barrios (neighbourhood's) in the city and walking around La Boca, seeing the famous colourful house on Caminito Street. The houses were an idea by, er, some guy at...some point in history. I'm not exactly sure. It's in my Lonely Planet but I've forgotten. Google it. It was cool, but still saturated by tourists and locals just trying to sell you things. I prefered just walking to San Telmo through La Boca. At night I imagine it's quite dangerous but on a sunny afternoon it felt fine. San Telmo and La Boca are areas of the city where the upper classes moved away from after the cholera or yellowfever outbreak in 18something (again, Google). This means that this areas still have original colonial architecture from the olden days, except it's all run down and crmbling. Still, looks cool and has loads of character.

I think I went to a couple of really good places for steaks. I think the city, and probably Argentina as a whole, deserves it's reputation as an amazing place for meat. Some people say this is because of the fertile soil of the Pampas where the cattle graze and the lack of intensive farming. But I prefere to believe the 'Happy Cow' theory, which states that a content cow ambling around grazing in plenty of space and with lots of freedom to roam makes a better steak. So basically happy cow = tasty meat. There's no scientic support to empirically validate this idea. Not yet at least. But it' s the theory I like.

So it´s goodbye to Buenos Aires, and onto Puerto Madryn to see some wildlife at Penninsula Valdes. First, of course, a 16 hour bus trip.

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