Saturday, January 01, 2011

Travelogue, Day 5

December 6, 2010, 11:00 p.m.

Really tired this evening. We spent a long but very enjoyable day on a day trip to Buenos Aires. We took an 11:15 ferry on the Buquebus, an Argentina travel company (that has buses, planes and, of course, the ferries). The trip took approximately one hour across the river, but Buenos Aires is one our behind Uruguay time, so we'll arrive at 11:15 local. We spent a leisurely breakfast, and walked down to the ferry terminal about an hour earlier.

The ferry was an enjoyable way to travel across the water. It was a two lever ferry, capable of holding, perhaps, a couple hundred people. There was a lower economy level, and the higher first class level (which we didn't visit). Inside, the seats were airplane style (though wider than normal economy), with drop-down televisions, a small restaurant where you could order snacks and food, and finally a duty free shop (mainly, I suspect, for the benefit of the Argentinians).

I hadn't really spent time planning this day trip, so I picked a starting point (Plaza de Congresso) to have the tax take us there. Unlike Montevideo, a small city, my first impressions of B.A. were that it was huge. . It was a weird mix of New York (skyscrapers, banks, modern buildings) and Paris (French-style architecture).

We started at Plaza De Congresso, and from there began making wider and wider circles from that beginning point, going down side streets. There were lots of tourists, lots of locals--and a few obligatory protests. On one of the squares, veterans of the Falkland Islands War had up signs and were encamped in tents, protesting something. Later, city workers were staging protests at city hall.

There was lots of Belle Epoque style architecture. We ate lunch in one such building, off the square. There was only one other table occupied when we entered (at 1:30), but all of the red-checkered tablecloths were set, each with a basket of bread and a plate of olives. We both ordered Bife de Chorizo, which I thought was going to be some sort of beef-based sausage. Instead, we were served huge, thick, approximately 16 ounce steaks, dripping with juice, needing no sauce, spice, ketchup or anything. That has to be one of the bigger lunches I've ever eaten, though, as it turns out, it was probably good for both of us to eat such a fortifying lunch.

Afterward, we decided to try a different location. We went to one of the subway stations and, helpfully, it had a map showing the entire subway line, with tourist attractions marked. Using this, we picked out another site, and went down into the subway station.

This is probably one of the funnier moments of our trip, because I found out that Don had never ridden a subway in his entire life. To him, this in itself was going to be an experience and he was visibly excited. Looking at the map, Plaza de Mayo seemed like a good area to visit, so we paid our ticket price ($1.10 pesos or approximately 28 cens), and were off.

The subway we entered was a slightly worn relic from a different time: wooden interiors, muted lighting coming from what appeared to be a centuries old lighting fixtures, and wrought iron trim. For all my kidding with Don, this subway experience was something new for me too.

We visited a couple of churches, and then found tourist-trafficked pedestrian side-roads with lots of stores, vendors, hippies with laid-out blankets full of crafts.

We walked forever--according to our calculations later that night, including our walk from the hotel to the ferry and then back that night, we walked about ten miles. By 5:00 local time, we were both tired, but still had a few hours to kill. We decided to go inside a large shopping mall, down to the food court, and just rest, perhaps get a little snack. Tennis is on, and we're both enthusiasts, so we just watched a bit, though I eventually got up and tried to do a little Christmas shopping for my wife.

At a little after 6, we left, got a taxi, and got back to the ferry. It left at 8:00 Buenos Aires time, arriving at 11:00 Uruguay time, and we walked the way home.

I've got a favorite pair of mocassins that I wear in mild weather, flat, black leather, nothing fancy. They make good travel shoes, with or without socks, and I've had them for a few years. When I got back to my hotel and took them off, I found that I'd literally worn holes in the soles of my shoes that day.

This was our last full day in Uruguay. The next day was busy, but relatively uneventful. Although our plane didn't fly out until 11:00 p.m. local time, our car rental was up at noon, meaning we had to leave Colonia fairly early in the morning. Don drove for the first time, and had an easy first couple of hours, until we hit Montevideo. Unlike the previous Sunday, there was no way to avoid the city in returning to the airport rental agency. It was the most stressful drive time of the trip. Cars cut in front of us, motorcycles would weave in and out of traffic, and by the time we got to the airport, we were both irritable and a bit stressed. As early as we got there, we had a half day to kill that we could've (and should've) spent by going somewhere else. If I had to do it over, I'd probably have rented a cheap hotel room back in the city, and had a taxi take me there. I could've rested, swam, relaxed, and then walked around town a bit more. Or perhaps we could've hired a taxi to take us to some more of the local beaches. As it was, though, we were both just so tired from the trip, and so sick of the road, that we just stayed in the airport all day. Don hooked onto wireless with his phone and surfed the net, while I read a couple of books.

This trip, as almost all we have taken together, was a real success. Uruguay, quite simply, is not an easy destination to reach. Unlike, say, Belize, we can't get up in the morning at home, and be at our destination in time for lunch. This lack of easy access has kept Uruguay from some of the North American tourist hordes, and that, in some ways, is a good thing.

The people of Uruguay were relaxed, modest and unassuming. Unlike the Brazilians I saw, who were loud, flamboyant and boisterous, or some of the Argentinians who were fashionistas, the Uruguayans were just, well, fairly normal.

I felt safe throughout the country, and loved the feeling that--unlike the U.S.--I wasn't in a police state. Police were rarely seen, nor, it seems, did they need to be seen.

Would I go back? Most definitely, but even though I blocked off almost a week for this trip, I probably would want an even longer time next. The overnight long flights eat into a day on arriving and departing. Even though we left on a Wednesday afternoon, and returned the following Wednesday morning, we actually only had FOUR full days on the ground. That might sound strange, but here's how it worked:

Leave Wednesday p.m.
Arrive Thursday noon.
Full Friday
Full Saturday
Full Sunday
Full Monday
Leave Tuesday p.m.
Arrive Wednesday a.m.

Now that I've visited the countryside, I have no great desire to stay in an estancia, though I would like to visit some of the areas I didn't get to see (some of the cities farther up the river, for example, as well as the more easterly beach locations). I'd also want to spend more time in Montevideo and Punta del Este.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Some more pictures

A few random trip pictures