When the moon hits your eye like a big Uruguay
Officially left Argentina for the first time since being down here, which was a bit of an accomplishment, even if it was just for a day-trip. I went with some pro paz and other friends on the Buque Bus ferry out of Puerto Madero, which shoots straight across the Río de la Plata to Colonia in Uruguay, about a three-hour cruise.
After leaving behind the skyline of the microcentro, the crossing is fairly uneventful, as there is only the murky, silty water of the Río de la Plata to look down upon, and there is only a very small cafeteria and smattering of shops on board. However, sharing some mate and conversation is always an option, just like any other time in Argentina, so that’s what we did.
Pulling into the Uruguayan side, there are a few small islands, one with a small lighthouse, and then the port. The town of Colonia del Sacramento is not terribly large – around 20 or 30,000, according to Lonely Planet, though it seemed even smaller – and sits on a small peninsula jutting out into the river. So, pulling into the port, it is a treat to see all the surrounding greenery for a change.
The main attraction of the small port town is its casco antiguo – old quarter – which actually began as a Portuguese, not Spanish colony along the river, where pirates set up shop to plunder the Spanish galleons making their way back out to the southern Atlantic. Thus there is a small grid of cobblestone streets lined with old colonial architecture that is very pleasant to walk around. In the centre, atop a smallish knoll, sits the old Plaza de Armas, with the Portuguese mission-style church standing to one side, and small restaurants lining the pavement. In the plaza, as well as other places around the town, there is a small collection of antique cars.
The side streets leading down to the water from the plaza host a hodgepodge of crafts, arts and curio shops, and some more small restaurants. And there is another small faro (lighthouse) close to the water’s edge.
Down by the water, we descended a jetty onto a promontory of rocks that was filled with small rockpools, some with small marine animals like barnacles and snails, and freshwater mussels strewn all about. Walking a little farther inland, there was a small harbour and boardwalk on the shores of a smaller inlet or river, where small fishing boats bob tranquilly. We simply sat here for a good hour or two and let the afternoon pass by in quite a relaxed manner. Several locals had also come down to lie in the sun and read or nap, and we got talking to two young boys who we later treated to ice creams at a parlour up on the main drag. It was amazing ice cream, the best I’ve had in the Southern Cone (every pun intended), although a little sweet, on the whole.
Back at the harbour, as we walked uphill, there had been a man setting up shop to sell rabbits. At first glance they seemed like lively little pets; however, these bunnies were built for stew and that’s what his intention was in selling them.
As the sun began to set on the main strip, the locals whizzed by gaily on mopeds dressed in their boinas and congregated to sit in long lines and share mate. Apparently Uruguayans drink on average 10 kilos of yerba per person per year – twice the average intake of Argentines. From what I saw in Colonia, I would believe it.
After dusk, we hopped back on the ship, going once again through immigration (hopefully one day Mercosur will become more like the European Union in terms of freeing up borders), and arrived back home in Buenos Aires at around 10 p.m. A great, relaxing day-trip and definitely to be repeated.