January 15, 2007

80 in Argentina
Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

I was only 10 short days away from hitting expiration date of my 90-day tourist visa for Argentina when I left this morning—the longest I've spent in any one country since leaving the United States.

The Buenos Aires ferries are currently the only way for travelers to enter into Uruguay from Argentina. All land/bridge crossings between the two countries have been closed from tensions over the construction of a paper plant somewhere along the river/border.

As soon as I walked into the port terminal I instantly wished that I had pre-purchased a ticket for the ferry ride into Uruguay. Lines of people sprawled this way and that, while others with suitcases or backpacks pushed and shoved their way through the living fortifications. I queued for a ticket, I waited in another line to pay for it, a lengthy line to check in and get a boarding pass, another to pass through immigration, and then a beefy one to board the ship.

E.T. could count the number of hours of sleep I had on one hand the night before, and once getting settled into my seat I promptly passed out. Several hours drifted by as the boat crossed the massive chocolate-milk colored river into Uruguay. A new city, country, and timezone awaited.

Ferry schedules, rates, and electronic/telephonic purchase details can be found at http://www.buquebus.com.

Colonia del Sacramento

I walked through the mass of travelers, a customs checkpoint, and waiting buses to find myself on a road outside the ferry terminal looking at the oddest of sights—I had fallen asleep and awoken in Indiana!

I had made a reservation at Hostelling Colonia a day or two prior, and as I walked to my accommodations I reflected on how long it had been since I've lived outside of a modern metropolitan center—not a single 20-story apartment building in sight.

The refreshing weather, tree-lined streets, the subtle rolling elevation of the earth, dark night sky, and small-town atmosphere was a shock to the system after so many months of concrete jungle. Scooters and bicycles seem to outnumber the cars in town, and give off a feeling of a slower pace of life (far from the noise pollution and hustle and bustle of Argentina's largest cities).

I question how long I could actually live in Colonia though. The small-town life, although cute with the cobbled streets towards the waterfront (reminding me of Caribbean fort cities), would eventually bore me to death.

For some reason Uruguay makes me want to rent a car for a few days and explore the coast and countryside. If I wasn't so rushed to go north for Carnival I could see myself spending a month or two puttering around the cities that sporadic dot the relatively small country.

Hostel pillow

What this town really needs a proper hostel. I'm back to the familiar foam pillow, dilapidated bathroom, bunk beds, and lackluster security of a half-assed living environment. Someone really needs to add provides individual lockable storage for backpacks to the list of requirements for a hostel to qualify as a Hostelling International (HI) location—the lack of such things is high on my list of common hostel aggravations.

I'm going to be Colonia for just two nights, as I have a friend who wrote to tell me she's flying out from Peru to travel with me for a little over week, and wants to meet in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo (just three hours to the east). Two or three nights in Montevideo, the weekend plus a few days in the popular beach town of Punta del Este, and a lengthy trip up to visit the big waterfalls should be about all I'll be able to cram in before I have to start scurrying up the coast of Brazil. Lots of smiles and sore bus-butt ahead…

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