Monday, April 11, 2005

Day trip to Colonia

I began the day at 6am by catching up on my journal writing. I’ve been running a day behind, though I almost got up to the /blog/ the game by the start of breakfast at 8:30. We were on our way at 9am to the port for a day trip to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay. Based on our info from last night, there is a fast ferry at 11am, but we have to be there an hour early for processing.

We found the terminal at 9:45, at which point we started the ticket process. The first stop was what looked like an information booth. He directed us to a desk labeled “Venda” where we told them that we wanted to go out on the fast boat and come back on the slow one later in the day. He told us to go back to the info booth to pay. Info guy asked if it was only one-way. Apparently we weren’t clear, so we went back to Venda-man, who got replaced by Venda-woman, who sent us back to Info guy, where we paid for the tickets. Then we had to stand in line to check in, because buying the tickets in person an hour before the trip doesn’t imply that you’re present for the trip. After check-in, we breezed through the metal detector. I had my camera, watch, and change on me but it didn’t go off. Great security. Next stop, customs/immigration. Breezed through there too. We were in the waiting area at 10am.

In the waiting area, somehow a brown bird got inside the glass. It’s hopping around under the gray seats pecking at golden crumbs on the blue carpet. There are some seriously old folks on our boat. I overheard one lady with a slight lisp on her “r’s” talking about photoshop and Hi-8 video. Kinda high tech for an abuela. As the ferry approached for us to board, the whole building filled with a low hum. Imagine the engine room of the Death Star and you’re got it.

Our Sea Cat took us smoothly across a dull brown waterway that seemed to be supporting a dull silver and gray sky. Only the land in the distance had any color, and that was a dark grayish purple. The ferry is 28 seats wide, but we got a window seat. On two different occasions, a young woman sat next to me for nearly 30 seconds before getting up and moving somewhere else. The guy who occupied that seat for most of the trip had a little too much cologne on, but it dissipated by the time we disembarked.

Once on land, we headed up to the info booth for a map, but we had to wait in line for one. In front of us is a woman who should make all American travelers cringe. She’s the “YOU DON’T SPEAK MY LANGUAGE, SO I WILL TALK LOUDLY. AND. SLOWLY” lady. And she’s doing this to a woman who spoke English remarkably well.

Colonia map

We walked down Gral Flores to a place on the water called /yelp?/ La Luna. I got the address from the info lady. Our meal was steak, fries, bacon, and fried egg…which is apparently a local specialty. We also had some sort of white wine sangria. This place is like an anti-Buenos Aires. There’s maybe one vehicle on the road, no crowds, and very little noticeable garbage. In fact, it took a concerted effort to even find a garbage can because they aren’t standardized. The best one is the 50-gallon drum on its side and cut in half, then mounted on legs. I got a mint helado as we walked around the old district.

Pic of old district.

Cobblestone roads gave way to roads cobbled together from stone. It was like a riverbed in some areas. The sun came out just as we started walkig around. We followed the shoreline boardwalk around to Rivadaria and decided a shady, green walk down a pretty street would be nice.

Pic?

The homes here have Spanish and Portuguese influence, for the obvious reasons. We came to a small park and craft fair where they were selling the same stuff as on Flores. At one of the last stalls we looked at, we caught a whiff of something so bad we were compelled to check the bottoms of our shoes. The salesperson laughed and said in Spanish that we were okay and that the smell was the cheese in the next stall. But there’s still plenty of poop on the ground here. A little more walking and we rounded a park.

Then we heard something like a stampede on the hill above and behind us. Turning around, we saw dozens of young teenagers running towards us. We wisely stepped off the sidewalk and let them pass before continuing on. But then they turned around and came straight at us again! We were barely able to escape being trampled a second time and consulted the map to find another route that had some of the shade and scenery that this route lacked.

We walked over to an alternative info booth attendant that didn’t speak any English to find out where the buses stopped. I got the location, but when I tried asking if this bus served the place we wanted to go, all I heard was ‘San Martin.’ We were’t sure, so we went back to the port to ask the info lady about the buses. She told us just how they work, how to catch them, and how much they cost. We went to the stop and caught the first one. For 8 URG dollars per person, or $0.25 USD…that’s a 24:1 exchange rate. The bus seems very social, with people waving to friends along the route. There were cloth curtains hanging over the open windows that kept the air cool yet draft free.

We road the bus to near the end of the line, where it turned down the coast. We walked on the beach where a small stream had cut a four foot bank in the dunes and groves. A wooden bridge with gaps large enough to fall through crossed the trench and we had to cross it, for no other reason that because it was there. There was a small arts and craft store on the way, hawking the same stuff. I bought a very bitter grapefruit soda. We walked on to the horse track, and probably saw a half-dozen people riding within a 5-minute period outside the track. Maybe it’s cheaper than a car and gas. We stopped at the bullfighting arena that repetitively warned us not to enter. There is a technical institute at the same corner, but we didn’t go in. The bull ring is in the middle of a large roundabout, kind of cool placement.

We kept walking until we found a bus stop after the bull ring. We were just a little bit out of position and the bus drove by before we got to the stop. So we walked some more and saw at least three dogs limping or having other problems walking. I think they might have stepped in one of the giant ant hills that are all over the place. Not big anthills, just big ants. I’m looking down every time we stop to make sure that I haven’t landed in one. Which is hard to do because there are no sidewalks in this area, and that’s bad for two reasons:  1) ants on the grass and 2) everyone here rides a moped if they aren’t on a horse. So the city’s motto could be “Lame dogs, big ants, and mopeds.”

Pic of church?

We came to a church that was built in the 1700s, kind of dark inside. After that, we caught the bus back into town. This is a different company than the other one we rode, as one company runs on the half and whole hours, the other at a quarter past and a quarter to. The driver didn’t collect our money, but waved us to the back instead. We sat down and another guy came up to collect the fare. A bus conductor? Really? We hopped off the bus nearby where we had lunch in the historic area. We did a little more shopping before heading back to the port.  While in Colonia, I paid for things with Uruguayan Pesos, Argentine Pesos, and US dollars…one time even using two currencies for one transaction. And they took US change, which was kind of weird. We also bought the worst empanadas we’ve had on this trip: they weren’t even warm. I still ate two of them because I was hungry, but threw one to a dog that had followed us from the empanada stand. We were finally able to ditch the dog when it stopped to wash the bad taste out of its mouth with water from the gutter.

We weren’t in a gutter-drinking mood, so we bought churros, which are fried dough pastries. I had nearly finished mine when I noticed that it had a line of dulce de leche on it, like how hot dogs in ads have that curvy line of mustard on them. I told Kacey, who laughed at me because my dark blue t-shirt was covered in white powdered sugar. I brushed it off and then pointed out that she’d spilled the caramel colored topping on her blue jeans. These are seriously messy treats.

We made it back to the port where we used the restrooms and sat down for a few minutes before noticing that the facility was awfully empty for having a ferry leave in an hour. I asked about it at the desk and was told the boat was two blocks down. Just out of view from where we were, cars had assembled to board a ferry many times more massive than the one we’d arrived on. It’s going to take a while to get back to BA. We checked in and each had to pay a departure tax of $5 ARG each. Went into immigration where they asked for a form we didn’t think we had. It turned out to be part of our boarding pass.

Boarding pass pic?

We walked up the ramp into the terminal only to turn around at the top and walk down again. We stood there for 15 minutes or so before boarding the ferry. The sun was just setting and the sunset was a golden brown that I’ve only seen once or twice in French Impressionist paintings. The water was a glistening black and reflected the fading light while the disappearing land turned black and separated reality from reflection. The whole scene was framed in the wide open white window openings of the ferry’s loading bay and surrounding dock area.

Pic of monet with white border?

Our seats are in the back of the boat, because we got there early enough to pick them. They recline and look like first class airline seats. As we pulled away from the dock, Colonia’s lights shone brightly between the black sky and black water, like a star that fell to Earth and scattered on impact rather than splash into the sea.

Back inside the ferry, I fell asleep at one point and when I woke up, two guys were standing in the aisle looking out the back window and Kacey was elsewhere. I checked my bag, it was still tied around my foot. But talk about disorienting. The three-hour ferry ride had that same white noise engine hum as the Starship Enterprise. Well, it did up until there was an announcement that probably said something like “Do not be alarmed, the ship is tearing itself into smaller, less buoyant pieces.” As soon as the announcement ended, the thrust reversers or something kicked in and the boat shuddered and shook. If people were sleeping, they probably woke up really quickly.

We pulled into the harbor and disembarked with the crowds. Just before we got to immigration control, a uniformed old man signaled to us to step out of line. I thought that he just wanted to check my bag, but he just waved us around the inspector’s area. We weren’t sure if our passports showed that we were here legally, but they had been stamped in Uruguay.  We walked up to Calle Florida and back to the hotel. All of the stores were closed as it was after 10pm.

Before we got back to the hotel, we stopped at a McDonald’s and I totally forgot how to order in Spanish. It seems my Spanish skills have been decreasing since arriving in BA, since so many people speak English to us. Back at the hotel, however, this was not the case. They speak very little English. To end the day, I tried to get some more toilet paper since our roll ran out early this morning and the maid didn’t replace it. The maid service shut down at 10pm, the front desk didn’t have any, but did “make a note to call first thing in the morning.” Great. Fortunately, we had some tissues in our bags in the meantime, since it’s clear that nothing else is going to happen on that front until daybreak.

To read all posts from this trip in chronological order, click here.

Tree-lined, cobblestone streets.

Horses on the beach

Enjoying the relaxed Old-World vibe

That style of lantern is very popular here
Related Links:
Share:

0 comments:

Post a Comment

Featured Post

End Of Tour Summary: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

We spent two and a half years in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on our second tour in the Foreign Service with the US Department of State. As you migh...

Honest Post Reports