Sunday, January 15, 2012

Day trip to Colonia, Uruguay

This week marks our halfway point in our 6-month time here! It also means that, according to Argentine laws, that we must renew our 3-month visa. And to do that, we must leave the country for any period of time and have our passports stamped somewhere else before returning! In order not to incur too much expense (some countries have entry and/or exit fees), we decided to take a day trip to Uruguay on the Buquebus, a large and luxurious ferry. Dan made the arrangements online and bought our tickets, which included a tour of Colonia, Uruguay, where we’d spend the day.

On Thursday, we got up early and were ready when Ricardo (the Regional Office driver) picked us up promptly at 6:15 to drive us to downtown Buenos Aires to the Buquebus station. We got there early (because, going any later, we might have been at the mercy of morning traffic) so we asked about the boarding procedures before heading to the coffee shop for cafĂ© con leche and medialunas (“half-moon” croissants). We watched lines of people who were there to catch the earlier, faster ferry that would cross the Rio Plata (River Plate) in about an hour. (We went through Customs, getting our passport stamped by Uruguayan officials even before we went!) We boarded the ship Eladia Isabel a little later, along with several hundred others (and quite a few cars on the lowest level) and found seats in the large room for “First Class” passengers for our 3-hour trip. After numerous announcements in Spanish and English, we “set sail” at about 9:30. Our area was on the second passenger level (with reclining, comfortable seats and lots of leg room) and there were 2 more levels above that – the more expensive seats, and the upper deck which was open and included a snack bar and lots of benches for enjoying the windy trip!
Through lots of large windows too, we watched Buenos Aires get smaller across the brown water (the “muddy Mississippi” pales in comparison)! This boat included a large duty-free gift shop, snack bars on every level, TV monitors with music shows and advertisements, video game rooms with PlayStation and other entertainment, and a salsa dance show with a contest for passengers. The contest was very funny (no, we didn’t participate)! Our tickets also included lunch so we turned in our lunch coupons for ham and cheese sandwiches, a water bottle, and a cookie. The trip was really fairly smooth; we only needed “sea legs” for a short while as the boat rolled a little before we arrived at the port of Colonia, Uruguay.  We actually walked several blocks thru covered walkways from the boat to the station, where we all went through Customs, having our backpacks and purses x-rayed. Next stop was the desk for bus tours. It turned out that we were the only ones who needed a city tour in English, so we were taken by bus to the downtown area and given a quick description of the town and instructions on when to be back at that corner. We were then left to enjoy the town by ourselves for a couple of hours. 
Colonia is a quaint tourist town influenced heavily by Spanish and Portuguese control in the past. We walked to the marina and window-shopped in the cute shops on the main street and side streets. When our guide returned, she walked us through the historic district where we learned about the different architectures (Spanish roofs are flat, while Portuguese roofs were slanted) and how the fort was damaged and when Uruguay earned their independence (August 25, 1825). Our guide is a native of Colonia and it was evident in her descriptions. We toured another hour or so on the bus as well, seeing the unused bull-fighting arena and more tourist areas with beaches. She was careful to explain that the water here is brown because of high iron content, not because of the pollution like the Argentine side of the river!
You can see many more photos of this neat little town in the slideshow we have place on the right sidebar.
Dinner was a single order of a native dish to share called chivitos. We had asked our guide what was something typical of the area and she suggested this huge plate of (from the bottom, up) green salad with tomatoes and palmitos, potato/carrot/pea salad, French fries, ham, steak, cheese sauce, and a fried egg! And the two of us couldn’t finish it! Fortunately, this little restaurant was right across the street from our bus corner so, when we finally paid la cuenta (the bill), we almost had to roll ourselves over to the bus to return to the Buquebus station and get in line to go through Customs to return to Argentina!

The ride back to Buenos Aires was smooth; I slept for a while. Dan had gone up to the top deck to take photos, so we went back up together to watch the lights of Buenos Aires get closer and closer. How beautiful, but difficult to capture with a camera! We called Ricardo, who was parked near the Buquebus station, and figured out how to meet up with him for our ride back to Pilar. It had been a long day for him also, as we got back home before midnight!

Still praying for our missionary friends who are on deputation tours in the States! The rest of our week was pretty routine as we take the various tasks as they come, try to concentrate on our language studies in the evenings and watch the progress on the campo pool.

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