This past week was my very last free week before classes begin so, naturally, I decided to take the opportunity to do a bit of traveling. Where to wasn’t all that important, and after brief deliberation two friends, Paul and Mathilde, and I decided to head to Uruguay. Colonia is just an hour ferry ride from Buenos Aires, so that was our first stop. It was dark by the time we arrived, but the city is very small and simple to navigate so we had no problem finding our hostel – El Español. Once we had checked in and put our bags down, we headed out to find a place to eat. We landed at Rico and (on a bit of a budget) all decided on pizza. We would worry about eating culturally relevant food another day. The pizza was delicious and just what we needed as we enjoyed the breeze off the river and bottle of Patricia beer.
The next day we woke up, slightly later than planned, and went out to explore historical Colonia. Paul told me that the city was originally colonized by the Portugese, but was later taken over by the Spanish. With Buenos Aires so close by, however, the Spanish paid little attention to Colonia and as BsAs grew bigger and bigger, Colonia remained practically untouched and undeveloped. The result is utter charm. We were taken aback by how lovely everything was as we strolled lazily down the cobblestone streets and took in all the colourful houses. In the historical area we were in, almost every single house dates back hundreds of years and they have been so well preserved. I was delighted to discover one I could go inside of. It is now an art gallery/studio with wonderful paintings and sculptures by a local artist. The combination of modern art and old house was awesome; I love tasteful combinations of contemporary and antique. I couldn’t figure out which I loved more, the artwork or the house (probably the house). All the original stone was exposed in the walls, and I found it interesting how small the rocks were compared to the huge slabs I’m used to seeing in stone houses. We were even able to go into the back yard complete with a shady bench, old well, and modern sculpture. It felt like a house out of a storybook. In fact, the whole town felt like a fairy tail to me, minus the old European vibe classic fairytales tend to give off – Rapunzel trapped in a palm tree, Little Red bringing empanadas to her abuela.
We were pleasantly surprised to find out that the lighthouse we had been circling all day cost almost nothing to go up in. So, we climbed the 118 steps to the top and took in the beautiful view. From there we could see all the clay rooftops, and into the inclosed patios, full of vegetation. It also gave us a great view of the river, but we weren’t able to see Buenos Aires as we thought we might be able to.
Once we were back on the ground we realized we had worked up quite the appetite, so we circled back to a little restaurant we had seen earlier that day. I have to admit, we were 100% lured in by the aesthetic. The whole dining area was open air, shaded from the sun with big umbrellas and a lime tree and on the wall a chalkboard sign read “Un buen dia para tener un gran dia”. We agreed; it was a good day to have a great day.
After we had finished up our chevitos, we decided to head to the beach. We originally had one in mind which Paul had heard was nice, but the lady at the bike rental shop said something about getting robbed and suggested a different option. We thought it was best to take her advice. As we waited for the bus that would take us to this new beach, an old man who even I could hardly understand (and I’m pretty sure he was having a hard time understand us) told us we should just go to the beach in town. It was getting pretty late in the afternoon, so we shrugged our shoulders and walked the three blocks to where he had suggested. It wasn’t the most beautiful beach I had ever seen and it was on the river, not the ocean, but it was all we needed that afternoon. Groups of locals were cooking up asados and lounging in the shade, and we were happy to lay our towels out in the sun and just chill for the rest of the day. We tanned and swam and played with the stray dogs which are so friendly because of how well the people in town treat them.
Next we said goodbye to beautiful Colonia and took the bus up to Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital. There, we were staying at the Willy Fog Hostel and arriving there made me positively giddy. It was everything, in my opinion, a hostel should be. Posters, tapestries, and maps hung all over the place, but where they weren’t covered up the walls were painted a variety of fun, bright colours. Bob Marley was playing as we walked in (followed by Cat Empire, which made me melt) and the people who greeted us at the front desk were instantly warm and welcoming. The place was big, spacious, and extremely chill. If you ever find yourself in Uruguay, seriously check it out.
Once we tossed our bags on our bunks, we went out to explore Montevideo. After a pitcher of lunchtime Sangria, we made our way to la ciudad vieja to see the street vendors. We browsed for a while through both antique and artisanal stands, and eventually I bought a pair of pretty little earrings and a silhouette of George Harrison carved out of a vinyl record (I couldn’t resist). Once we had had our fill of haggling, we took a walk down La Rambla. It was a fun walk and we particularly enjoyed stopping to watch a group of kids play soccer and mingle among the families enjoying the late afternoon.
We had a great time, but at one point during our walk as we looked out over the ocean, we were confronted with thousands, and I mean thousands, of dead fish washing up along the shore. We overheard a man explaining something about the river and ocean water joining and the transition not being good for the fish… or something like that. But, he also said that this was the first time it had ever happened so I’ll venture to assume there’s more to the story then joining bodies of water. It made all of us so sick and sad to see. The task of cleaning up the oceans is astonishingly large and thinking about it made me feel a little weak. As I looked out over the sheet of dead silver I couldn’t help but wonder how environmental issues are still not being made a top priority in national and international government. The consequences of our behaviour as a species is literally washing up under our noses and still economic gain and corporate development are at the head of how we define “progress”.
Once the sun went down we headed back to the hostel for my absolute favourite broke-traveler dinner – beans, rice, garlic, and fried banana. We even threw a pepper in there because we were feeling fancy. We went up to the rooftop terrace to eat with the others and had a really fun evening just enjoying our food, our Uruguayan wine, and each other’s company as we rocked to and fro in the hammocks and discussed the adventures of the day.
After our day sight seeing in Montevideo, we were in the mood for some beach. So, the next day we went to Atlantida to soak up some sun. This is not the most common Uruguayan beach experience; most people head to the beautiful Punta del Este. But, we were low on money and time so Atlantida was perfect, being just a couple hours outside Montevideo. We couldn’t have been happier. The sun was strong, the water was lovely, and we were literally the only other tourists on the beach. We had all the space we could want to ourselves and left tan and happy.
Now I’m back in Buenos Aires, and after a final hurrah at my new favourite bar, El Emergente, it’s finally time to start classes. Tomorrow I begin with Argentinian History and I am really excited to soak in some knowledge from a new, non North American, perspective.