There are many great things about having friends visit. One of the top on the list is an excuse to check out new places together.
Our good friends Karyn and Dave, who we’ve traveled with plenty of times before, have been visiting us from Halifax. In anticipation of their stay, we scouted out a side trip to Uruguay. Frank and I have been wanting to get to Uruguay on several previous trips here, but for one reason or another, we’d not been able to make it work.
With lots of time to plan, we were able to squeeze in a quick trip by ferry to Montevideo for a day – a bus the the next morning to historic Colonia – followed by a ferry from there back to Buenos Aires.
Truth be told, we were a tad underwhelmed by Uruguay. I think we were expecting something a bit different than Argentina. And to be fair, we were only there for slightly less than two days.
We took the early morning Buquebus ferry to Montevideo from the main terminal in Puerto Madero. Check in and boarding ran like clockwork, which says a lot since we had to first get an exit stamp in our passport from Argentina and clear immigration for Uruguay before boarding.
With passports stamped, the next step was to queue for boarding. In an effort to keep the carpet on the ferry in decent shape, they insist all passengers wear surgical booties over their shoes. This proved a bit cumbersome while boarding, since there wasn’t really a place to sit and put them on as we crossed the threshold to the ferry.
Imagine sandals in booties, or better yet flip-flops, pumps, or ridiculously thick platform shoes. Needless to say, the bootie idea gets a failing grade. About five minutes into the two-and-a-half-hour voyage it was equally common to see passengers strolling around with only one bootie hanging by a thread as it was to see random, crumpled booties littering the passageways. It might have seemed worth it had the carpets been in great shape, but there were stains all over them.
Once on shore we hopped a taxi to the hotel we booked online. The Punta Trouville is a charming little hotel close to one of the beach areas. Nice rooms, quiet floors and great views of the shores from the rooftop. As nice as it was, we weren’t there for the views. We quickly set off to explore what we could of the city in a short amount of time. We set out on foot and navigated our way to a very large weekend market, where local vendors sell a variety of things: clothing, jewellry, handicrafts, lampshades(!?), and anything related to drinking mate (pronounced ma-tay). In Argentina, it’s not uncommon to see someone pouring hot water from a small thermos over a mound of what looks suspiciously like old grass clippings in a hollowed our gourd (you read that correctly), and drinking the scalding concoction from a metal straw.
But Argentina has nothing on Uruguay when it comes to mate. I kid you not – the mate “mug” and thermos are part of the attire in Uruguay, an accessory of sorts. It’s beyond epic! The mate culture in Uruguay is akin to the topknot and beard in North America. It’s like Stepford Wife crazy there (watch this).
Breaking free from the mate mob, we set out in search of the bus station to get our tickets for the following morning bus to Colonia. Success – a comfy, air-conditioned coach, where we were able to select our seats for the two-hour trip, with minimal stops, came to the equivalent of CDN$15.
We had a great parrilla dinner at La Otra in Montevideo before calling it a night.
Overall, our experience of the people in Montevideo was good – they all seemed helpful and pleasant – particularly at the hotel. The weather was much cooler in Montevideo than in Buenos Aires and we weren’t prepared for that, so we avoided areas around the beach because of the cool winds. Although they have beaches there that would offer great things for sun worshippers in warmer weather, from what we could tell from the taxi as we drove along the shore on our arrival, the water is very murky, which might be due to the fact that Montevideo is still along the delta and not directly on the ocean. We’ve heard the best beaches are up the coast at Punta del Este.
The other drawback was the amount of garbage in the streets and along the sidewalks in Montevideo. They have the same large garbage bins along the road that are similar to those found in Buenos Aires, but they seemed to be overflowing. Not sure if there was a strike underway by garbage collectors of if that’s just the state of things there.
The bus was a great way to see some of the rural areas in Uruguay. Once we were out of Montevideo, certain stretches of highway looked similar to what you’d see along secondary highways in the Canadian prairies. Farms, cattle, oh yeah, and the occasional smattering of wind turbines.
We arrived in Colonia at about noon. We wandered from bus terminal into the historical part of the city to find lunch. We scored with a stop at Charco. It’s part of a small hotel and seemed relatively new. From there we strolled along the cobblestoned streets.
Working from the map we received from the tourist kiosk, we conquered the lighthouse – and as you’d expect, we took in some great views. From there we poked in a few shops, more cobblestones, an old church and then, looking at each other, wondered what in the hell we were going to do for the next four to five hours waiting for the ferry back to Buenos Aires.
In my infinite wisdom, when booking our return ferry I thought it would be a great idea to take the last ferry (8:30 p.m.) back to BA so we’d have the day to explore Colonia – considering we would only be arriving at noon. In retrospect, four hours would have been PLENTY of time given that we don’t spend much (not any!) time looking for knickknacks.
Alas, we found a bar with a shaded patio where we plunked ourselves down and ordered some drinks. Because nothing really happens in a hurry down here, we knew we could kill some time (hours) enjoying the views and chewing the fat with Karyn and Dave.
By 6:30 we worked our way to the ferry terminal. By 7:30 we had crept our way to front of the line to check in for our 8:30 ferry. After checking in, we immediately joined the queue for immigration. That line, one of many, was about a kilometre long and snaked its way throughout the entire terminal. From above, the line would have looked like some human domino pattern waiting for one person at the end of the line to fall forward setting off a elaborate chain reaction.
As if that wasn’t complicated enough, there were three ferries leaving within 30 minutes of each other and apparently each had a mysterious queue – no signage.
Well, 8:30 came and left and we hadn’t even arrived at the doors to immigration. There was mass confusion and lots of heated arguing among passengers with officials at the doors to immigration. We finally made it to immigration at 9 p.m. to discover another set of queues (more organized within ropes) where we stood for another half-hour. With passports stamped, we join a new line to board the ferry. After standing in line for a total of three hours, the ferry left the terminal at 9:30 for the hour crossing back to Buenos Aires.
That’s just how things are. It’s one of those “go with the flow” kind of moments – and there are plenty here, particularly as it relates to lining up (grocery stores are the worst). We knew the ferry wouldn’t leave without passengers. Rather than get bent out of shape about the experience, we just laughed to ourselves about how crazy it is/was to spend three hours standing in line for a one-hour ride.
Seems curious, dontyathink?