We had scheduled a full ten days in Buenos Aires, plenty of time to make a side-trip to Uruguay. There are two ferry options departing Buenos Aires, one straight to Montevideo and one to Colonia del Sacramento (“Colonia”) with a subsequent bus connection to Montevideo. We opted to make a stop over in Colonia on the way there, then take the direct route on the way back.
The ferry was scheduled depart at 8:15 a.m. and, like an international flight, the ferry company recommends arriving two hours prior to the departure. This called for an early morning and the need to hail a taxi since the ferry dock is more than an hour’s walk from the apartment and we’d rather sleep than walk at that time of day. We began the day in the dark and walked a few blocks to the neighborhood’s main drag where we knew there would be plenty of taxis. Alastair stood at the edge of the sidewalk, raised his hand, and in less than a minute we were on our way.
Our taxi driver did not speak any English but “ferry” appeared to translate just fine. Alastair and I both had our phones in-hand with navigation running so we could keep track of which route our driver was taking to get from A to B. There’s a fairly direct path from our pick-up spot to the ferry dock; just a little south then head west. Our driver was staying on track, initially taking the southward road our phones were suggesting. He missed the first opportunity for a left turn toward the ferry dock, but there were plenty of other streets ahead that were viable options.
But he kept going south. And further south. Alastair and I both kept attempting to verbally verify our intended destination with the driver seeming to understand. We even said “Buquebus,” the name of the ferry company specific to our dock, and he repeated it back to us. However, at one point during a long-winded reply from the driver, I made out the word “autopista.” The freeway.
Taking the freeway to get to our ferry dock was way out of the way. Taking the freeway to get to the wrong ferry dock, however, was a very sensible route. The driver seemed somewhat confused when we suddenly started an intense round of questioning with me jumping forward from the backseat, anxiously shoving my phone’s navigation screen in his face. After some of my panicked but apparently affective Spanish, the driver realized where we actually intended to go and got us back on route without too many added miles. Thanks to starting the day on an early and punctual note, we still arrived with plenty of time to get through customs and immigration before boarding the ferry.
After crossing the Rio de la Plata we arrived in Colonia around 10:00 and found the nearby bus terminal to buy tickets for an afternoon bus ride to Montevideo. This gave us several hours to wander around the historic district of this quaint little city which was originally founded by the Portuguese in 1680, making it one of the oldest cities in Uruguay. As with Buenos Aires, it was incredibly hot so our typical strolling speed was significantly reduced as we meandered through the cobblestone streets, taking in the surrounding sights and finding shade when possible. There are many small shops and cafes throughout the city as well as an old lighthouse, a derelict train station and old (duh) ruins in the modest town square.
With an hour or two until our bus was to depart, we altered our outlook from sightseeing to food-finding. We wandered up to a cafe to peruse their menu before committing. Just in the moment of deciding to have lunch there, a waiter handed each of us a glass of champagne. I later observed that no other customers had champagne glasses at their tables but we never did figure out if we were simply random recipients of a nice gesture of gratitude, or if it was a coaxing technique to make sure we stayed. Either way, we enjoyed our food and drinks under the occasionally breezy shade of an umbrella before making our way back to the bus station.
Our bus ride from Colonia to Montevideo was nearly three hours of glorious air conditioning while watching the countryside roll by. Upon arriving in Montevideo we had a several-mile walk to our hotel. We crossed through several different districts of the city and ended in the Cuidad Vieja region where we would spend the next couple days. This is the oldest part of Montevideo and has a plethora of architecturally interesting buildings, although most are quite bland at street level so we had to keep reminding ourselves to look up.
Two highlights of our wanderings were El Museo del Gaucho y la Moneda and Museo Andes 1972. The Museo del Gaucho y la Moneda is a museum dedicated primarily to the history and culture of gauchos with displays of their clothing and accessories including swords, horse riding equipment, and, of course, mate gourds. There was also a display of coins and an interactive (yes!) display room filled with antique banking equipment. This may not sound like the most exciting exhibit, but I loved it! I especially loved the Uruguayan security guard who lead me around the room and showed me how everything worked, enticing me to give them a try, all while never speaking a single word.
The Museo Andes 1972, on the other hand, pays homage to the 29 Uruguayan passengers who ultimately died following a plane crash in the Andes in 1972, and also celebrates the perseverance of the 16 passengers who survived in the mountains for 72 days before being rescued (the same story depicted in the book and movie Alive). Not only were there artifacts from the crash on display, including a hat and mittens the survivors made from the plane’s upholstery, but informational displays and the museum’s founder himself provided a significant amount of detailed information regarding the logistics of the crash and how many things lucky went right during the crash that allowed some to survive. The goal of the museum was to focus on the determination and goal-setting tactics used by the survivors in order to fight for their lives and make it home rather than focus on the tragedy and despair of the event.
After the museums it was lunchtime. From Day 1 of our trip planning we knew where we had to go: Mercado del Puerto. My sister has spent many months in Uruguay and I’m fairly certain she’d be thoroughly disappointed if we skipped the market; it was an experience, for sure. In the 90-degree weather we went into the covered market which was filled with many stalls of vendors selling various types of meat straight from their asado-style grills (it was hot in there). Alastair and I sampled a steak as well as chorizo and sweet blood sausages. All the food was really tasty and it was made more entertaining by sitting right up at the counter where all the action was happening.
We enjoyed our short-lived but entertaining and educational side-trip to Uruguay. It was fun knowing that while I was so far away from home, I was still in a country and city where my sister, brother-in-law, and parents had all been before.