Uruguay Travelogue, Day 4

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A long day, very tiring, not the best one. We got up, ate breakfast at a restaurant beside our villas and left by 8:30. We were going from La Paloma, in the eastern reaches of the corner near the Brazilian border, to Colonia, a Portugese colonial city on the river across from Buenos Aires.

The drive was long, and on the way almost had an accident that left me shaken. I pulled over in the left hand lane to pass, and a car flew up from behind. Neither Don and I saw it coming, but it slammed on its brakes for at least ten seconds. I thought we were going to crash into one another. The car never honked, but just kept its brakes locked. It pulled off the road and its driver, I could see in my rear view, got out to look at his tires. We kept going. Adrenaline flows and for the next hour I’m shaking, paranoid that at any moment a cop will stop me. After the adrenaline wears off, I realize that (1) there was no accident, no harm; (2) had there been one, the other driver was at fault and (3) the other driver was more scared than I had been. I’d been driving about 100 kph, and we think the other driver was going almost twice that. We can’t figure out why he braked for so long, but think he must’ve come up and was talking on the phone or otherwise distracted.

We make one good decision which is to avoid driving through Montevideo on the way; instead, we take a loop on Highway 11 which will bypass the city. Our GPS says the trip will take approximately five hours at 339 kilometers, but it has us traveling through Montevideo. After our near wreck, my mind is more stressed out, and I don’t enjoy the ride. The countryside is pretty, lots of farms and countryside, but after five hours, we’ve had our fill of it. We had talked about perhaps spending a night in one of the countryside estancias, but decide we’ve seen enough country now.
Our route is more relaxed, but takes close to 400 kilometers. We decided to choose somewhere nicer to stay in Colonia, and I’d already picked out the Radisson Colonia. It was way more than the other places we stayed, but I wanted a sure bet, especially since we were planning on staying in Colonia for two nights. Though we’d initially planned only on staying in town for a night—if at all—Don really wanted to see Buenos Aires which was an easy one-hour ferry ride from the city. The idea, then, was to spend two nights in Colonia, and fit in a day trip to Buenos Aires while there.

We arrived at around 2:00 p.m. very tired and—on my behalf—tense and irritable. At that point, I can’t picture getting up the next day for a busy day in Buenos Aires. Our rooms weren’t ready, so we went to get lunch.

Colonia is a modern city—at approximately 100,000, one of Uruguay’s largest—and has a colonial section founded by the Portugese in the 1600s. Our hotel was on the edge of the old section, down past cobblestone streets. We walked up to a restaurant a couple blocks up street and ate outside. It’s hard to describe why a drive like this is exhausting, except that though the roads are nice, being in a foreign country on unfamiliar highways requires a high level of vigilance. At the restaurant, I was still tired, and the streets were clogged with day-trippers from Argentina in large tour buses. We ate a decent meal at a decent price, but it made me feel claustrophobic with all the tourists. After lunch, we crashed.
I used the hotel computers in the afternoon to search for information for our day trip the next day into Argentina. I’d not really planned on this day trip, so I hadn’t done a lot of research. Buenos Aires, the capital, is separated from Colonia only by the Rio de la Plata, a one-hour ferry ride away. My choices were either a 5:30 a.m. departure or a 11:15 a.m. departure. My laptop power supply had blown out the night before, so I went out to walk a bit to look for a computer cord. In the process, I ran into the “real” colonial section, full of rocky, cobblestone streets, overgrown with weeds. I walked a few miles, came back, and at that time Don was ready to go walking, so I did it all over again. There were lots of empty buildings, what was occupied was often closed, leaving just a few craft stores and lots of restaurants. Don and I talk, and decide on the 11:15 ferry to Buenos Aires, with an 8:00 p.m. return trip. I learn that Buenos Aires time is an hour later than Uruguay time, meaning we will both leave Uruguay and arrive in Buenos Aires at around 11:15 a.m. local time.
As tired as I was, I was glad for the late start, especially since I figured we’d spend a lot of time walking in Buenos Aires. I found an English walking tour of the city that started at Plaza Mayor, so I figure that’s as good a place to start tomorrow as any. Plan: ferry into the city, take a taxi to Plaza Mayor, and see what happens from there.

Final verdict on Colonia: nice city, in itself not worth more than a day trip. It has a nice colonial section, but a lot of it appears still to be empty. Merida (Mexico) and Cartagena (Colombia) are both better choices for colonial cities.

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