On the Calle de Suspiros is the tiny Galería de Suspiros which, like all the other buildings on this Portuguese-style cobble-stone ‘street of sighs’, used to be a brothel. The paint has faded since last year when I first was in Colonia but the interior, which I had never seen, comes alive with floor to ceiling paintings of horses and beautiful women. The tiny kitchen appears less functional and more like a work of art itself. Along with the perfectly manicured interior courtyard and garden, this galería looks like something out of an issue of Home and Garden. The artist/proprietor himself is also beautifully manicured and I allow myself the momentary fantasy of settling down in Colonia del Sacramento. After all, it’s only 40 km from Buenos Aires, one hour by ferry, across the Rio de la Plata (the widest river in the world they say).
Every 90 days North American travelers to Argentina are required to renew their visitor’s visa. If one refuses to do this they must pay a fine upon departure and risk future consequences upon re-entry. Last year I chose to overstay my welcome and pay the $50 peso (< $17 CAD) fine at the airport. No big deal. I suggested (to no one in particular) that if they wanted us to abide by their rules they should make the fine more formidable – make a whole lot more money off our bad behavior. So they did. They increased it to $300 pesos! For those who wish to comply with the visa regulations, visiting Uruguay is the closest, least expensive and least time-consuming journey to make.
I booked the Colonia Express day trip on-line for only $129 pesos ($38 CAD). This included a one hour guided walking tour and lunch which I thought I would just ignore and hunker down somewhere alone for the duration with my own book and writing materials. I didn’t relish the thought of making the trip and I certainly didn’t relish the thought of rising so early as to be at the Ferry Terminal before 7 a.m. But it was surprisingly easy to get there earlier than was necessary. And, a good thing, since, after I waited 15 minutes for the Buquebus information desk to open I found out that the Colonia Express is not operated by Buquebus so I had to take another taxi to the opposite end of Puerto Madero – not an easy feat at 6:45 a.m. Luckily I had the help of a couple of nice police officers who flagged down a cab for me and even then, I still arrived earlier than was necessary to the terminal and was quickly processed.
I arrived in Colonia on a holiday – the anniversary of the Independence of Uruguay in 1828 – three years after it was declared to Argentina, Spain and Portugal. Founded in 1680 by Portugal, it’s the oldest town in Uruguay with a current population of about 22,000. Being passed back and forth between Portugal and Spain several times before its independence shows in the original architecture and street design of the Barrio Histórico – now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Portuguese cobblestone streets allow for water drainage down the middle and Spanish cobblestone streets allow for drainage down either side. Portuguese homes have sloped, clay-tiled roofs and Spanish roofs are flat. These buildings are protected and exist today side by side.
There’s virtually nothing to do in this sleepy little town – which can make it a welcome change from living in Buenos Aires. With the holiday, many businesses were closed and there were not a lot of choices of restaurants for lunch. The prices are like they are in most tourist towns – expensive. So, I decided it best to use the voucher included with my ticket. Sometimes being sola allows one to be seated quickly in a jam-packed restaurant. I had a perfect spot on the covered sidewalk patio. It was a glorious, sunny, early spring day, and I had a corner from which to watch the families strolling the streets and enjoying a leisurely meal on this mid-week holiday.
I was allowed three choices and elected chavito – a dish common to Uruguay. Except for the fact that the bread was the side, it was the best example of bad food combining I have ever seen in my life all heaped up on one plate. Although I asked them to leave the ham and bacon off my steak – I had to remove it myself. It was a good thing I didn’t require it Kosher. I dug into the cheese covered piece of thinly sliced lomo and ate the fried egg separately with the french fries. There was a peculiar mix of diced and boiled potatoes, carrots and some kind of pickle, shredded
lettuce, and tomato. It was definitely an interesting full meal deal.
Last year, I took the bus tour up the highway toward Montevideo with friends to visit the world’s largest pencil collection. There were many things on the site that held my attention longer than the pencil display. We also saw Colonia’s bullring, which hosted only eight fights before bullfighting was abolished, and we had the opportunity to feel the sand of the beach between our toes. This year, I am satisfied with finding a place on the grass to lean against the seawall and take in the first warm sun of spring.