Colonial beginnings…

28 Jan

Salta to Buenos Aires is 20 hours on a bus.  Usually dreaded, this time we enthusiastically bound up the stairs and sink into our leather seats (faux no doubt, but comfy so who cares), flipping the switch to swing out flat. Roaring along in the setting afternoon sun, I note the typically freezing air conditioner seems to be non-existent. About an hour after take-off we pull into a bus mechanic. Hmm, signs aren’t good, but we soon smile again when, after a bit of a tinker, we chug away. Dinner is lasagne, too bad for me, but I eagerly await the drinks tray arrival as my pre-trip planning told me el vino tinto is available. As he shows me the expanse of coke and lemonade, I turn back to Fidel’s autobiography (see birthday presents referenced in Mendoza post), cursing the fake promises made to lure tourists. Then, in a blink and you’ll miss it moment, I spot the bus attendant carrying a suspiciously un-fizzy dark liquid to a fellow passenger.

‘Tu tienes vino tinto..?’, I tentatively say.

‘Si, si’.

Success. Sniffed out faster than the banana dog at Perth airport.

And of course, Oliver Twist makes an appearance… ‘please sir, can I ‘ave sum more?’.

Without sound aircon, the faux leather seats erupt with squeaks and squelches from passengers in the night, before finally at 7.30am the driver admits defeat and we pull over. Broken down, an hour passes before our saving semi-cama only bus retrieved us.

Reasonably well rested, we arrive in BA 3 hours late and follow the Lonely Planet’s directions to the ferry terminal. ‘Sorry love, you’re in the wrong joint. It’s 20 blocks thatta way.’ (Aussie interpretation of the Spanish). Seems the LP, our new bible, is really about as accurate as the latter.

With only minutes to spare we board, the ferry is fast but we’re faster, too fast, when we try too hard to escape the other disembarking passengers and find ourselves a bee’s whisker from being locked out of the terminal without our bags, failing to have noted the baggage carousel in the corner.

But we have finally made it safe and sound, thankfully with all our clean undies, to Colonia del Sacremento – our first stop in Uruguay. A country squished between Argentina and Brazil, Uruguay is the size of England and Wales combined, but with a population of only 3.5 million (the aforementioned hovers around 55 million). With a long coastline, and a history of being battered between the Spanish and Portugese (and briefly, the British), the LP promises a country of plenty of diversity.

Rolling up at our hostel, the Oriental, we happily find a stunningly renovated old colonial house (I know, in Colonia, can you imagine?), with high ceilings, spotless bathrooms and a dark, breezy bedroom. Another winner to relax and catch up on a few hours kip. Arriving so late on this first day, we head to the appropriately named, ‘El Drugstore’, for a quiet evening of tapas and vino.

Located near the Plaza de Armas square, the restobar’s bicycle herb garden and old cars are likely the most photographed icons in Colonia.

Day 2, after a wander through the small town’s tree-shaded cobblestone streets of Barrio Historica – a UNESCO World Heritage site – we follow our noses to El Santo, a restaurant close to the town’s lighthouse. Indulging in a delicious lunch of fresh garlic prawns, soy-crusted local fish, salad and sangria…

We merrily bounce our way up the lighthouse stairs to take in the pretty view.

Over an essential café cortado (to combat , we muse how cheap it is to view Colonia’s many museums. Only AU$2.50 to access all 8 of them!, the majority in walking distance. Bargain. Or so we think… Our first museum is a traditional Portugese house (Colonia was first founded by the Portugese in 1680, whereby a number of battles then took place between them and the Spaniards, before the latter finally took control nearly 100 years later). Hmm, it is tiny, with very few exhibits (even less in English). I ignore the sign not to take any photos…

7 minutes later we’re onto number 2 – the museum of many of the town’s historical documents, number 3 – Portuguese tiles, 4 – Portuguese rocks…  you get the picture. In between MC’s quips and destructiveness (growth directly correlated to an increase in rules or boredom – when the two combine, nothing is safe), we knocked out 6 of them in 90 minutes before heading to The Drugstore to close off the night. Imagine the look on his face when he finally gets to a place of rest and we are inundated with the too-loud Spanish singer and his Casio music master.

After a bit of blog work, a viewing of Fahrenheit 11 in the hostel, and a smack on the nose to the hostel dog for craftily stealing the last piece of chocolate, we’re soon again drawn to the wide comfy bed for some luxurious snoozing.

The following day, the sun is shining and the coastline beckons us, so we set out early to walk the 5kms to old bullring of Real San Carlos. It was part of the construction of a tourist resort in 1908 and was started by the union of Real San Carlos (the square was named after it). The bullring, with Moorish origins, was open for only 2 years. It’s completely enclosed in a fence, but the rules appear not to have reached this far, and we follow the Argentine tourists through the hole in the fence to explore the dilapidated surroundings. Surely, it’s not breaking and entering if you don’t do the breaking in?

MC is quick to note, while everything else is falling down, someone is at least mowing the lawn.

The next day comes too soon, Colonia is so quaint and peaceful, but we’re heading to the big smoke, Montevideo, for a couple of days.  Enduring the 3 hour monologue of a South African woman’s opinions and experiences of every place she’s travelled, we arrive to discover a small error on my part – Montevideo Hostel is not the same as Montevideo Port Hostel.  Trudging the distance in the humid air, rolling in a bit sweatier than planned, we are fast brought back to reality by our shoebox-sized room and crusty looking beds. Scuttling out of there, its lunch at Mercado Puerto – renowned for being cheap and cheerful. Then more museums in the afternoon including the Carnaval Museum.

Unfortunately we again found they weren’t particularly interesting, and unlike Colonia, nor very cheap! Feeling slightly dejected, we wander through Ciudad Vieja (apparently the nicer part of town), and hang out in the very pretty bookstore…

Over an afternoon beer, (raising one to the motherland for Australia Day)…

Both feel Montevideo seems a little soulless and for English-speaking travellers on a budget, the city isn’t offering us as much as we’d hoped for. So as the estancia confirmed we can start our stay on Feb 6, this gives us a little over a week to explore elsewhere in Uruguay. So the following day, deciding we will check out of Montevideo tomorrow (a day earlier), we spend the morning at the bus station planning our trip along Uruguay’s eastern beaches, then walk the 6kms back to the hostel via the coast…

Admiring the Uruguayan parking…

It’s an early start the next day, but we happily set off.  Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to the beach we go…

x kel

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One Response to “Colonial beginnings…”

  1. Wendy May 13, 2012 at 10:42 am #

    Wow love the tiles. Loved the old car the bike and the plants think I can do something with Pete’s old ute afterall!!

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