It was time to get the next three month visa, so on Saturday I had to leave the country and make the voyage by boat to Uruguay, to Colonia del Sacramento. We left in rain. We returned to rain. But thanks to the luck that I seem to carry in my pocket we managed three, very warm dry days in the country which sits on the other side of the Rio del Plata. On the one hand it was like going back in time: evening silence and star strewn skies, streets cobbled with petrified wood, architecture born out of the homelands of the Portuguese and Spanish who fought for so long over this piece of land. On the other hand the prices were higher than in Buenos Aires, we were joined by hoards of weekend day trippers, and for several hours in the afternoon the town buzzed with the sounds of rented mopeds and golf carts.
I think after my trip to Tigre I had imagined a small boat chugging up a picturesque river (my geographical knowledge is terrible). I was shocked to arrive at the Puerto Madero Buquebus terminal and join what seemed like half of Buenos Aires clutching tickets for their Uruguayan adventures. In fact the boat could cater for 1200 passengers and I reckon on the way out, it did. Of course the Rio de la Plata is as wide as a sea might be and for much of the three hour journey I saw no land. There are faster and smaller boats for day trips but our three day, two night package (priced at around $400 pesos per person including taxes) included the slow boat. We were entertained by a rather good tango singer on the outward trip and anyway, I was excited enough to be able to endure three hours of just about anything. This was my first adventure out of Argentina and with my Argentine, a romantic adventure.
I loved Colonia. It is tiny and of course it can be explored in one day. We had three. So we took our time wandering the cobbled streets, drinking endless ‘cortados’ and eating many ‘chivitos’, the Uruguayan ‘fast food’ consisting of thin beef steaks topped with ham, cheese and fried egg. Our hotel was a ’step back in time’ posada and it was gorgeous. The ‘Posada del Virrey’ was located in the old town, close to the river with breakfasts and a terrace to die for. We lapped up the luxury and, dare I say it, the opportunity to watch England beat Israel in the qualifiers for Euro 2008, on our cable TV. Sadly the next day we also had to endure Boca losing. This did not put my Argentine in the best of moods but I am pleased to say I was able to revive him.
By the end of the second day we had probably seen every cobble in Colonia and were walking in one of the gorgeous squares wondering what to do with our final hours in town. Two ladies were seated outside their house drinking ‘mate’ in the sun (a Uruguayan is never seen without ‘mate’ in hand) . They stopped us as we passed to tell us that they had just been discussing what a ‘beautiful couple’ we were… I know I blushed. We chatted for a while and told them our story: me - ’la inglesa’, him - born in Buenos Aires and waiting nearly fifty years for me to arrive… They made a suggestion for our final day, that we visit the beautiful ’Plaza del Toros’, in Real de San Carlos, a half hour bus ride away. We imagined a bustling plaza of restaurants, shops, Uruguayan life and we hopped on the next ‘colectivo’ heading out of town.
I don’t think we came across another person in two hours after arriving at ‘Plaza de Toros’ but, we did find a peace and tranquility to be treasured. We also found a huge abandoned bull ring (built 1910), derelict and dying – captivating in its silence and form. We walked to the beach and played in the waves, wrote love letters in the sand, captured memories on film and in our hearts. We strolled through woods scattered with ‘parrillas’, ready and waiting for the summer tourists. I noticed that many houses and plots of land were for sale. Truly the place seemed deserted and I found it hard to imagine it would ever be any different. We saw only a handful of people in an entire afternoon and we waited for half an hour on an empty road for the bus home. Thankfully just as the rain clouds moved in, it came, and we left to begin our journey back to ‘nuestro pais’, Argentina.
The boat back was quiet. It was Monday night. The weekend had come and gone and with it the crush. We lay across four reclining chairs and slept. No tango singer this time. I got my new visa as I left Uruguay. My passport was stamped without a second glance. I was delighted to have my next three months in Argentina assured, and I know that I smiled with a new, deeper feeling of connection as we stepped off the boat into the Buenos Aires rain, when Carlos hugged me and said, ‘Vamos en casa’ – ‘We are going home’.
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