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Published: January 26th 2009
We thought we'd take a few days out of Buenos Aires to go and see neighbouring Uruguay just across the river. We booked the slow boat to cross from B.A. to Colonia del Sacramento. Normally taking a slow boat means cheaper, older and generally a bit shoddy. This slow boat, however, was what appeared to be a brand new ferry complete with shops, a cafe, an outside cocktail bar and plenty of space to sunbathe. I dozed in the comfortable reclining chairs and was awoken by the sound of a deep voice engaging in some fairly fancy singing. I went to investigate and found a man dressed in shiny clothes with shiny, gelled black hair belting out classical songs in the centre of the boat. To say he was popular would be an understatement; the passengers were rapturous and started to applaud and 'bravo' whilst he held the last powerful note of each song. There was none of that half-hearted cricket clapping. I think he was so adored partly due to his amazing 'boat presence’ - he was loving every second and determined to make sure we crossed the river in style.
We arrived into Colonia - the oldest town
in Uruguay, settled by the Portuguese and then squabbled over by Portugal and Spain for hundreds of years, changing hands eight times with Brazil even having a turn. Today it’s a beautifully peaceful place. The old quarter (built in 1680 by the Portuguese) is a tangle of narrow streets and flower-filled plazas.
It's the kind of place where you feel like you should be walking around wearing a floaty dress with a flower in your hair (which I didn't, incidentally, because I had packed light and left the monstrous, Bolivian-dust-filled backpack in B.A... we are not on the best of terms).
The old quarter is on a peninsula fringed with small beaches of suspiciously nice sand (since when do river beaches have nice sand?!). The streets are cobbled and there are plenty of outdoor cafes in which to drink an afternoon glass of wine before a siesta. The Plaza Mayor has a drawbridge and a stone gate leading into it, a small lighthouse and the ruins of an old convent. As if that wasn't enough of an 'ahhh' factor, it's filled with flowers, and lime, orange and palm trees. It's undoubtedly one of my favourite cities of the
We went on to visit Montevideo thinking we might as well see the capital, as it's only two and a half hours away. It didn't hold up too well compared to Colonia but it was nice enough, quite compact for a capital with some colonial buildings, but nothing on the scale of Buenos Aires. I was surprised to see that horses and carts were in working use in the city, mainly for the collection of rubbish, with their owners loading up the carts with the black collection bags. This was surprising after arriving into the sparklingly modern bus terminal with an electronic departures board and a shopping plaza (that is not normal for S.A!) We soon saw other historic touches amongst the modernity: the market place was filled with old-fashioned wooden crates being loaded into classic trucks, and the streets were full of classic cars, most of which had been stripped of their parts and left as pretty shells on the city’s side streets.
We headed back to Colonia for another couple of nights before catching the boat back to Buenos Aires, spending more time walking around, sitting on the benches in the parks and
walking down to the docks to do some yacht 'window shopping'. Then the fiesta happened. The funny thing about fiestas in South America is that despite being numerous it's actually quite difficult to find one. This is because no one ever seems to know about it. If they do know about it they don't know where it will be or what time. 'Just listen for the drums'
seems to be the preferred method of fiesta finding. This time I was in luck and the drumming was within earshot of the hostel, I rushed out, not wanting to miss whatever was happening and found an exuberant parade and street party that went on until the early morning. The street parade was fantastic: men marched to the beat of the drums, acrobatically swirling oversized flags, sweeping them over the heads of the whistling, dancing crowds. Hundreds of girls in beautiful costumes salsa-danced, their bodies moving fluidly along the street. More often than not, they wore little more than a thong-bikini dripping with jewels, a pair of high heels and a feather headdress. The music consisted almost solely of drums with the drummers working up to a frenzied pace at which point the
crowd would go wild and the bikini-clad girls would manage to shake their hips even faster, practically causing some guys to pass out.
There were also a considerable number of men dressed like Willy Wonka (!) with strange suits and tall hats, carrying canes and small suitcases. They bent over their canes and appeared to be pretending to be blind whilst walking with an awkward straight-legged gait but managing to pull off some pretty amazing dance moves at the same time. As if that wasn't weird enough, they were accompanied by ruffled-dress-wearing women whose purpose appeared to be to fan them and to try to trip them up by dancing around them in increasingly tight circles. It was mesmerisingly weird and wonderful, and fantastic to finally track down an illusive fiesta right at the end of trip.
The next night was spent in the courtyard of our hostel, drinking wine with a couple of Argentinian girls sharing our four-bed dorm. It was a fantastic night in two languages, with lots of language switching and the learning of regional Argentinian words (of which there are many... at times I feel like I'm relearning Spanish in Argentina). One
of the girls, Luciana, was determined that I would be going home sounding like an Argentinian ’mina'
(Argentinian for 'girl'), a task that seemed entirely possible after a few bottles of wine.
Just a matter of days before the end of the trip, but don't worry they'll be one more blog... yes, I still have more to say😉
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