Across the Río de la Plata

Thursday, October 27th 2005

Back in Buenos Aires I headed back to Sandanzas. The next major move was to head south to Patagonia, but before that I wanted to go to Uruguay.

So, early the next morning I walked up from San Telmo to the port of Buenos Aires, and tried to work out the incredibly complicated system for buying tickets. After much confusion it turned out I had to ask to buy a ticket at one desk, then go and buy it at another desk, then take my ticket and check in at a third desk, before going on to immigration at a fourth desk. The Argentine official stamped my passport, then passed it over to a Uruguayan official sitting next to him who put a Uruguayan stamp in it - possibly the narrowest border I've crossed. The formalities done with, I boarded the enormous ferry which crosses the Río de la Plata to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay.

It was a beautiful day and the two-and-a-half hour journey was pleasant. I was looking forward to visiting a country about which more or less all I knew was that their football team had been notoriously violent in the 1986 World Cup.

The ferry arrived at about 11am, and after I'd changed some Brazilian reals into Uruguayan pesos I headed to the old town. Colonia was like another world after the hectic noise of Buenos Aires, with quiet cobbled streets and hardly anyone around. I wandered around the old walls of the town, stopping occasionally to take photos of the views out to sea. A storm was brewing over the Río de la Plata and a large bank of thick dark cloud was slowly creeping over the blue skies, but for the moment it was hot in Colonia. A few groups of people strolled by, but for the most part I seemed to be the only person doing anything active in town. After seeing everything I could at ground level I climbed the lighthouse, the highest building in town. While I was up there a cold wind starting blowing in off the sea, and I decided it was time to head indoors.

I went to a restaurant on the square, and got a Uruguayan standard for lunch - the chivito. It literally means little goat, and in terms of size it wasn't that inaccurately named. It was an enormous fat slice of juicy steak, with eggs, salad, cheese and chips, and after I'd eaten it I felt like I was in danger of slipping into a coma as all my bodily resources were taken up by digestion.

Luckily I survived, but as I emerged from the restaurant the heavens were just starting to open. I found a cafe and had a coffee for an hour, after which there was only an hour before the evening ferry back to Argentina. The rain had stopped, and the evening sun was lighting the breaking clouds in amazing shades of red.

The journey back was a great one. It started with the sun slowly setting, with the skyscrapers of Buenos Aires silhouetted on the horizon, as we sailed away from Colonia. As the journey went on, the stars came out, and the Southern Cross shone brightly in front of us. All around us, up and down the shores of the river, I could see lighthouses flickering. I stood on deck in the warm evening air and watched the lights of Buenos Aires slowly get closer. We docked at about 10pm, and I walked back to San Telmo.

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