Yet another 12-hour overnight bus, and I’m back in Buenos Aires a month and a day after I first blew through it. I’m not really sure what my plan is, but as the bus has dropped me off right near the waterfront, a course of action quickly suggests itself.
I’m low on Argentine Pesos, and I’m also low on U.S. dollars. If I want to avoid getting hosed on the exchange rate, I’ll have to acquire some greenbacks to trade on the semi-legal “blue market,” and the only practical way to get U.S. money in my current situation is by hopping over to Uruguay.
Fortunately, the bus has dropped me off across the street from the ferry terminals. The easiest way to Uruguay from Buenos Aires is by ferry to the imaginatively named colonial town of Colonia. There’s a ferry to Montevideo as well, but it doesn’t have competition and the price is much higher. Colonia seems like it is worth checking out anyway, and it’s only two hours away from Montevideo by bus.
Three hours later, I’m in Colonia, where it’s raining lightly.
Colonia is not as well-preserved a colonial town as many that I saw in Central America, and in fact it never had the grandeur that Antigua and Granada once had. Colonia was more of a military outpost, constantly changing hands between the Spanish and the Portuguese in the early days of South American colonization. Still, it has its own charm, and it’s nice to once again wander the streets of a town where history outweighs geography.
I get lunch at a quiet pizza place in Colonia. I use my credit card to pay and am surprised when the waiter comes back and my bill is mysteriously about 20% less than it had previously been. I think about it a little and it occurs to me that the very long sign at Uruguayan customs, which I couldn’t quite read but that seemed to have something to do with taxes, might have something to do with it. As it turns out, if you use a foreign credit card in Uruguay for food, hotels, and some other items, you get the 18% tax refunded automatically, which is handy because Uruguay is not the bargain that Argentina is. After lunch I head to Montevideo by bus. The bus claims to have wifi, which is a claim I’ve seen before in South America. The difference in this case is…it actually works.
As I disembark at Montevideo’s main bus terminal, I am curious how long I will walk before I smell somebody smoking weed in public. The answer is three blocks. Uruguay has decided it has better things to worry about, although I’m not really sure what they are. Everything in Uruguay seems good. Of all the countries on the trip, it’s the only one where every place that claimed to have wifi did indeed have functional wifi – even the buses, as I’ve mentioned which you can’t even reliably say in the US. Argentinian and Chilean cities have endless memorials to generals – Uruguay does too, but it also has squares with names like Plaza de la Diversidad Sexual, or Pasaje de los Derechos Humanos. I guess what I’m saying is, I like Uruguay.
If you’ve been to Buenos Aires and find yourself thinking, I wish there was a replica of this city but at one-tenth the size, Montevideo is for you. Everywhere, well dressed locals hustle to and from their offices, clutching thermoses and mate cups.
For lunch I pop down to the harborside market, which is really not a market at all so much as a ludicrous collection of grilled meat places. I order a squid appetizer and, since it seems cost effective, a sampler of several meats that is meant for 2 people. Despite the squid being a full dinner plate of complete squid heads, I house it and the barbeque platter pretty handily.
I fend off a meat coma in favor of checking out more of Montevideo’s sites. My favorite is the stark modern mausoleum of General Artigas, one of Uruguay’s founding fathers. Hidden underneath the Plaza Independencia, he tomb was designed during Uruguay’s military dictatorship in the 70s, and it shows.
Montevideo nightlife is exactly my speed, especially on a weekday. I find my way to an Irish bar named the Shannon, which seems like a sign given that I’m supposed to meet up with my friend Shannon in a few weeks. I find the best beer of my whole time in South America there – Cerveza Davok’s IPA.
My laptop charger has been fraying, and two hours before I need to catch my bus back towards Buenos Aires, it breaks for good. If I don’t find one in Uruguay, I’ll either have to blow half the cash I just acquired on getting one in BA, or using my credit card for crap rates. I manage to find an Apple supplier and pay a ludicrous amount for the replacement but make my bus back in time to catch the ferry, and start my second stint in Buenos Aires.