Tuesday, 1 April:
We woke up, got ready, and took a cab to the Buquebus terminal in the Puerto Madera district of Buenos Aires, arriving about an hour early, as recommended by our ticket agent. Customs control was fast and efficient, with an Argentine officer stamping us out right next to the Uruguayan who stamped us in, a huge improvement over our experience going from Argentina to Chile via bus!
As is so often the case, having arrived at the designated time, we spent over 30 minutes waiting around as the ferry arrived and docked. Eventually we were allowed to board and made our way through a set of convoluted corridors on the second level of the under-rennovation Buquebus building.
Not only did it have an upstairs VIP lounge, but there was a (large) duty-free shop, and many, many rows and columns of seats, which were spacious and comfortable, at least by US airline standards.
Once underway we didn’t really get much of a sense of speed until I stood up, at which time became pretty obvious that we were traveling across the Rio de la Plata at a very brisk clip (about 40mph!). I still have a hard time getting my head around just how big the Plata estuary is (40+ miles wide at its narrowest). We sat next to a friendly New Yorker and shared our experiences to pass the time until we arrived in port at Colonia del Sacramento, one of the older towns in Uruguay, with some buildings dating to around 1680.
Advertised as a sleepy weekend getaway from Buenos Aires, we nonetheless were surprised at just how sleepy Colonia was. Old town was just 6’ish blocks away, so we set out on foot, strolling the shady and utterly silent streets toward the historical quarter.
Through a lovely gate, much-marred by the presence of a mime smack in the middle of the path (I’m beginning to understand the homicidal reaction some folks have to mimes!), we soon found the Calle de los Suspiros (“Street of Sighs”).
Street of Sighs
This pedestrian-only cobbled street had old and beautifully-weathered buildings, but at the time of our arrival, next to nothing was open. I didn’t find out exactly why this street was given such a melancholy name, but it was pretty and wore its age with grace.
Street of Sighs
The Street of Sighs is only a block long, and we soon found the main square, which featured the foundation ruins of some of the city’s original buildings. Colonia del Sacramento was originally built as an outpost to try to counter the might of the huge ports of Buenos Aires, and illegal goods made their way, duty-free, from here to other nearby regions.
El Drugstore, contrary to its name, was a restaurant recommended by our Lonely Planet guide, so we popped in for an early lunch.
An old car next to the outdoor seating had a table for two, which looked setup for photo ops more than it was for actual dining, and just beyond it another classic had a vigorous shrub growing out of its roof.
Guitarist at El Drugstore
Unsurprisingly given the unhurried air of the whole town, lunch was a leisurely affair, and we didn’t mind one bit as we sipped cold sangria and listened to a talented acoustic guitarist next to us. I took a short video of his performance, but it’s rotated 90 degrees and I can’t figure out how to rotate it the right way – if/when I do, I’ll share it here, of course!
Classic cars abounded
Since Colonia is so heavily visited by Porteños and tourists alike, everywhere we went accepted Uruguayan pesos, Argentine pesos, and US dollars. I requested change in Uruguayan pesos whenever possible, as I like to collect at least the small coins and bills from every country that I visit.
In keeping with its status as a getaway, the vast majority of the goods on offer were of a cheap and touristy nature. Jim had expressed a desire for a pen from Uruguay, so when he wasn’t looking we found one, complete with a crudely-made well-endowed naked lady hugging the tail end of the pen, and snuck it onto his pillow that evening 🙂
Uruguay’s oldest church
We briefly checked out the local church, the oldest in Uruguay (if you don’t count several rebuilds over the centuries), then sat and rested in the shady central plaza.
Butterflies and Monk Parakeets kept us entertained as we rested, and I was soon itching to explore some more. My enthusiasm wasn’t shared, however, so I went around the corner to check out the lighthouse, another old structure originally dating from the 1600s.
Colonia’s lighthouse, originally from ca. 1640
A woman had fallen 15+ feet from an old ledge and was bleeding fairly heavily from her head, so I asked the attendant at the entrance to the lighthouse if they needed a medic, as Sarah’s father Jim is a retired doctor, but before I could fetch him, an ambulance arrived. Hopefully the woman wound up OK!
After that little bit of unexpected drama, I paid my US$1 entrance fee and started up the 117 stairs to the top of the lighthouse.
Colonia skyline, from the lighthouse
On the way and at the top I was treated to lovely views of Colonia and the brown, brown waters of the Rio de la Plata. After I’d had my fill I walked back down and rejoined Sarah, Jim & Diane and we meandered our way back towards the boat to return to Buenos Aires.
Wood and stone
Layers of time (and paint)
We were a little early for the ferry, so we had a beer and snacks at the station, then breezed through customs control and boarded the ferry.
The heavily-sedimented Rio de la Plata, the world’s largest estuary
Although it was very pleasant in Colonia, back in Buenos Aires it was raining pretty hard, and being rush hour, we, for once, could not for the life of ourselves hail a cab. After quite a bit of moving around and trying in vain to flag one down, we finally gave up and took the bus to Recoleta, where we were finally able to get a cab.
With the weather and our uncharacteristic taxi troubles, we decided the evening would be best spent sipping wine and snacking on a cheese plate, so we did just that, retiring soon thereafter.
Part 1: Getting to Patagonia
Part 2: El Calafate & Laguna Nimez
Part 3: Glaciar Perito Moreno
Part 4: El Calafate backcountry excursion
Part 5: Goodbye Argentina, hello Chile
Part 6: To Torres del Paine!
Part 7: Lago Pehoe and Paine Grande
Part 8: Mirador los Cuernos
Part 9: To Rio Verde and Punta Arenas
Part 10: Pelagic, Penguins, and farewell to Patagonia
Part 11: To Buenos Aires
Part 12: BsAs’ Sunday markets and other diversions
Part 13: Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay <– You are here!
Part 14: Buenos Aires’ Jardin Botanico and Costanera Sur
Part 15: There’s no place like home