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The last few days in South America: Uruguay and Buenos Aires

URUGUAY | Friday, 10 December 2010 | Views [381]

Our first visit to Buenos Aires was brief. In and out of the city in about 10 hours. Flew in at midnight, got to our dodgy narrow staircased hostel, tried to get a bit of sleep in banana shaped beds, got up early, walked a few blocks down the street and caught the ferry to Uruguay. Really didn’t see anything but knew we would be back in a week or two.

In typical South American fashion we had to visit 3 different desks to buy tickets and check in for the ferry but at least the immigration was super efficient. I didn’t even realise we had gone through Uruguay immigration till I looked at my passport on the ferry. While buying coffees on the ferry I tried to translate a breakfast order for a German lady using what German I hadn’t forgotten and the little Spanish I’d learnt. It went pretty well till it was time to pay and I got completely muddled up with numbers and which belonged to which language, some Maori even came out at one point which really confused everyone.

The ferry docked at Colonia on the Uruguay side of the Rio de la Plata. Even before getting off the ferry you could tell that things moved at a slower pace here than the other side of the river. We disembarked, stored our bags for the day, changed into jandals and wandered into the old town. Colonia is Uruguays oldest town and has a very well preserved historic quarter. The town spent its first 200 years being swapped periodically between Portuguese and Spanish rule and was also a smugglers port at one stage so has a lot of history and character. We spent a nice day just wandering the streets, going into the museums and craft shops and also having one of the best meals we had in South America. In hindsight it would have been nice to stay the night in Colonia and have less time in Montevideo but we had already bought bus tickets and booked our hostel in Montevideo so left that evening.

The next morning in Montevideo we quickly realised that there must be a cruise ship in town by the number of middle aged Americans walking about. While wandering through the antique stalls I overheard an American lady buying some junky souvenir. She asked how much and the Uruguayan stall holder said fifty meaning 50 pesos (approx US$2.50) but the lady misunderstood and happily handed over US$50. Amazingly the Uruguayan didn’t pull a fast one and set her right.

We took a bike ride around the water front in the afternoon. The bikes were hired from a friend of the women working at the backpackers and were really dodgy. Mine was only suitable for the flat as going uphill the chain slipped off the gears and going downhill the brakes didn’t work well enough to stop me and I had to use my feet. It was Saturday afternoon so lots of people were out strolling the promenade and it was here we discovered that Uruguayans have a massive obsession with mate. Mate is kind of like sweet strong tea. People fill their special mugs with mate leaves and sugar, add hot water from a flask and sip it through a metal straw. It is popular through the southern half of South America but in Uruguay people take it everywhere. Just about everyone on the promenade had a mug and flask and there were even venders going round topping up hot water flasks.

We decided that after 3 months of travelling and being on the move it would be nice just to relax for the last bit of our trip. We caught a bus out to Punta del Diablo on the north east coast of Uruguay. While the bus wasn’t quite as nice as some in Argentina and Chile it did have free on board wifi! While most people have probably heard of Punta del Este, the famous and flashy beach resort of South Americas rich and famous, Punta del Diablo is kind of the opposite with dirt streets, small cabins and little shacks lining the waterfront. We spent five days there doing not much. Time was spent walking along the beaches, going to the shacks for fresh fish empanadas, lazing in the hammocks, being followed by stray dogs, waiting for the weather to warm up to go swimming and playing frisbee (when the dogs didn’t steal it). My attempts to learn to surf were thwarted by the surfing coach being more interested in surfing than teaching surfing. The one time we did go out my hired wetsuit was too small, had no arms and a huge hole in the backside so I was cold and tired very quickly and didn’t get close to catching a wave. Finally with our flight out of Buenos Aires approaching it was time to leave and do the long bus-bus-ferry trip back to BA.  I’d been a bit sick the last day or two and basically slept the whole way while Dusk got very bored.

We had about 3 days in BA before our flight and we had planned to do a few things like bike tours and going to a soccer match but as I got sicker these didn’t seem like such a great idea. Instead we got to have a fun trip to the Buenos Aires British Hospital. However, with a few drugs I was soon fine again. We did see some of the main sights but with me being sick and on medication meant we missed out on the night life.  This didn’t seem like such a bad thing after hearing all the stories from the people on our shuttle bus to the airport. About half the people on the bus had been robbed or mugged in BA.

Anyway that was it for South America, now we are sitting in Canada watching the snow fall outside it is already starting to feel like a long time ago.


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