Friday, 29 April 2011

´Hehehe... Look at this country: You are gay!´

Unfortunately Homer Simpson was wrong and it is, of course, pronounced 'Uruguay'! After bidding farewell to Buenos Aires on 16th April Ania and I caught the 'Buquebus' (pictured below): a ferry that takes you across the Rio de la Plata (the River of Silver), the huge estuary that runs between Argentina and Uruguay. You can make the crossing in one hour or in three. We opted for the slightly longer one and it was really smooth sailing. The immigration process was excellent too, with the Argentinian and Uruguayan officials checking passports as you checked in for the boat in BA.

On board we were treated to some live music. It was like a ferry crossing meets a cruise ship! A man and a woman were singing, sometimes solo, sometimes a duet. The guy was good with a deep operatic voice. The woman was pretty bad! She fancied herself as a bit of a Mariah Carey and was pretty flat!

In a few hours we arrived at the beautiful Uruguayan town of Colonia del Sacramento. Lots of people come here on a day trip from Buenos Aires, but we spent two nights in Colonia in a very basic hostel. We didn't mind as the bed was comfy and Colonia is so photogenic! I took this photo on our first evening after we'd had a nice meal on the waterfront. Way off towards that beautiful sunset is Buenos Aires! It's still difficult to believe that what you´re looking at is not the sea but a river!

In Colonia we did a lot of hanging out and enjoying the sights. The town has these really pretty lanterns that are switched on at night. Combined with the cobbled streets, it´s a wonderful place to just walk around and take photos!

Colonia´s lighthouse, with the ruins of an old convent and an artesan craft fair on the right:

Me standing by some ruins:

Of course we did the foody thing in Colonia too! The town is known for its cheeses, so one evening we had some very nice local cheese and wine in a restaurant. We also bought some 'helado artesanal' (home-made ice cream) and sat next to the aforementioned ruins, looking across the Rio de la Plata one afternoon.

Next it was on to Montevideo, Uruguay's capital! We caught a two-hour bus from Colonia and arrived in the Pocitos district, where we stayed for three nights at the Pocitos Hostel. This place deserves a special mention, mainly thanks to one of the owners, Nacho, who was so helpful, friendly and thoughtful. We slept our first two nights in a dorm and Nacho very kindly offered to put any new guests to the hostel into the other rooms if possible so that we could have some privacy. He also helped us book a hostel at our next stop in Rosario in Argentina when we couldn't find anything because of the busy Easter weekend (more on that later). Nacho, you're a legend! Thanks for such a nice stay! If anyone reading this is going to Pocitos I recommend the hostel. It is a hostel and is 'no frills' and a little shabby in places (could do with more bathrooms!) but it more than makes up for it with a great atmosphere and helpful staff!

While in Montevideo we tried a Uruguayan 'delicacy': a chivito. The name means 'little goat', although there is no hint of goat in this uniquely Uruguayan sandwich. Basically, it's a sandwich with everything in it! Steak, cheese, ham, bacon (yes, ham and bacon!), olives, eggs, salad, sauce, mushrooms, it's got it all. Yes, the photo below looks disgusting, but actually it tasted pretty good! This chivitoria (place that sells chivitos, of course!) was opposite our hostel in Montevideo and they even had a veggie option for Ania. Mmmmm... fattening...

We really enjoyed Montevideo, but I think that was down to the great people in our hostel, both the staff and the other guests, rather than the place itself. The city was ok, but really didn't blow either of us away, especially as we visited it right after spending time in Buenos Aires and Colonia, two very different places that nonetheless have such a unique charm. We did venture into Montevideo's Old Town one afternoon and it was ok, but more on the shabby side of old rather than having Colonia's character!

The gate from the main city to Montevideo´s Old Town. Security is tight beneath the gate, but the wily traveller can just walk around it...

I admit it: Ania is our official map reader! I almost managed to get a shot of her unawares while she navigated us around the Old Town in Montevideo.

We did really like the Pocitos area of the Uruguayan capital. The city centre looks like it could be anywhere really. Pocitos on the other hand is very suburban, leafy and quiet; and it has a pretty nice beach. Here's Ania having a paddle on our first day in Montevideo:

And that was our five days in Uruguay. Not much, but we were both so glad to experience a new place. Uruguay is a really interesting country! A quick check on Wikipedia tells me the population is 3.5 million and I know that they hosted and won the first ever Football World Cup in 1930 (they've won it once more since then, too)! Eat that, fact fans!

I certainly feel that we can't do our usual 'Things We Liked, Things We Didn't Like' thing about Uruguay (we didn't do this for Chile for the same reason after spending just 11 days there), but I can say that we both really liked it. My main impression of the place is how nice the people are. Oh, and they love their 'mate', perhaps even more than the Argentinians! There weren't many places we went where people weren't carrying the obligatory flask of agua caliente and a cup of yerba 'tea'.

From Montevideo we caught a 10-hour bus to Rosario in Argentina. To cut a long story short, it was a nightmare. Nacho warned us that the hostel he'd booked for us might be a bit of a party zone, but when we walked in it was my own personal hell: like someone had attached some bedrooms to a Wetherspoons pub on a Friday night. A subwoofer speaker had been moved up against the wall of the six-person dorm that we were supposed to be able to sleep in! After saying that we did actually want to be able to sleep (shock, shock horror!), we were moved to a quiter place around the corner, but it was an absolute hole, complete with bathrooms with no locks on the doors and one with a massive hole in the door! And they wanted to charge us twice the normal rate because it was Easter. We spent approximately fifteen hours in Rosario, before getting the hell out of there! After a stressful hour spent booking things in the bus station, we set our sights on our next stop, Puerto Iguazu. Only time would tell if the gamble would be worth it...

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