From Sao Paulo, we flew to Buenos Aires (I’ll be telling you all about that next time!); after two days there we decided to take the ferry to Uruguay and then return to explore Argentina.
The hour-long ferry from Buenos Aires arrives in Colonia del Sacramento, another UNESCO World Heritage site on the coast of Uruguay. Its historic centre is quaint, with cobbled streets (now home to a number of overpriced and fairly average restaurants), a lighthouse and the remains of an old city gate and walls…and that’s about it.
Not long after we arrived, the skies opened up and unleashed a ferocious storm that lasted for a good couple of hours, so we hunkered down in our B&B. Later, once the weather had cleared, we watched the sun set over the ocean, and ate a late dinner in a very cool little garden parrilla restaurant (Tall stared at the bbq all night, memorising the design so he can construct his own one day!). We had read that Uruguaian beef was even better than Argentinian beef, and that night marked the beginning of Tall’s quest to discover the truth*.
From Colonia, we took a bus to Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay. It has been compared to a small-scale Buenos Aires, and I think that’s a fair comparison. It’s a nice city to walk around, and like Buenos Aires, has lots of squares and statues and fountains. On our first visit, we stayed out of the city centre, in Puerto Carretas, about a five-minute walk to the beach. It was too windy for soaking up the sun, but the area was gorgeous. During the day, it was pretty quiet, but at night, people flocked to the local fun fair to ride the ferris wheel, the Rock ‘n Samba (you sit around the edge of what looks like a big soup bowl which spins and shakes and does the samba…Tall wanted to have a go after dinner but I wasn’t so sure that his stomach could handle it!), and the Tren Fantasma (a horrifying ghost train). On our second, just-passing-through-for-one-night visit (on the way back from Punta Del Este), we stayed in the centre of town, which was convenient, but the outer neighbourhoods always have much more character.
The port of Montevideo is mostly seedy and industrial, but there’s a market area with restaurants, and areas that are a little less run down. Apparently Uruguay is a very poor country, and Uruguaians consider themselves to live in the cleanest, least polluted, crime-free third world country. From what we read and gathered from the people there, political instability has meant that there is a huge gap between rich and poor, and the majority of the population falls into the latter category. Geographically, however, it is very similar to New Zealand – rolling green fields, sleepy coastal holiday towns, the slower pace of life….only the beef is a thousand times better!
From Montevideo, we arrived in Punta del Este, which, during the high season – which lasts for about 15 days after Christmas – is usually crammed full of backpackers and South America’s rich-and-famous. During low season – pretty much any other time of the year – it resembles a ghost town.
It’s an eclectic mix of old cottages (some with thatched roofs, a la the New Forest), new mansions, and monstrous high-rise hotels – a whole lot of money has been thrown at the place, and it seems far removed from the “real” Uruguay. There are some awesome sculptures in random places, and it’s obvious that the city is trying to appear arty and cultural, not just a playground for the elite. Unfortunately, given that we were among the very few pasty white tourists around, it doesn’t quite manage to be anything other than a beach resort. And given that it was grey and a bit chilly on our second day there….there wasn’t a whole lot to do. We did see a couple of massive sea lions hanging out at the fish market by the port – very clever, they were definitely onto a good thing there!
The afternoon we arrived, though, was hot and sunny, so it was straight to the beach. There were only about 10 people on a huge stretch of sand, which was fantastic, and Tall was the only one braving the fresh waters. It was a pity about the weather, as it would have been a great place to spend a few days relaxing on the sand – there’s something nice about visiting somewhere outside of peak time, almost like you get to see it as it really is, rather than seeing it for the people only.
Uruguay was a lovely little country to visit, and it was refreshing to find ourselves somewhere slightly quieter and less populated for a few days. We also enjoyed stuffing ourselves with Los Chivitos at every opportunity – essentially a steak sandwich with a plethora of fillings, but the best steak sandwich you could possibly imagine!
* It was a closely fought competition, and in the end, Tall refused to call a winner.