South America Day 14 – Colonia del Sacramento
22nd January 2019
Today we are going to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. It’s not far; on the opposite side of the River Plate. But the river is so wide at this point, that it’s a 75 minute ferry journey, with Buquebus – that’s almost as long as sailing from England to France!
We check in, pass through Argentinian immigration, then have to do a 180 degree turn to pass through Uruguayan immigration (which is basically an official in the same booth with her back to the Argentinian official). This means that we finish facing in the opposite direction to the original direction we were facing. The old man sets off back the way we came clutching his stamped passport, i.e. in the opposite direction to the huge pictures of boats and arrows, and walks back through passport control, which annoys the official a lot.
Once we manage to locate the huge boat and board, we try to locate an outside deck, but there isn’t one. I’ve never been on an enclosed ship before. The layout is more like a plane with hundreds of rows of front facing seats. All there is to do is stare at the back of the seat in front, which contains the emergency evacuation instructions. By the time we reach Uruguay, I have added several words (all safety related) to my Spanish vocabulary and am wondering how to get ‘deslizarse’ (to slip or slide) into a sentence.
Colonia feels like it’s stuck in a time warp. Little has changed here since colonial times. We enter the town through the 18th Century Portón de Campo and wander up and down cobbled streets past old Portuguese and Spanish buildings.
We visit the Faro, where you can climb the 118 steps (and one wobbly ladder) to the top of this 19th century lighthouse for spectacular views across the town and beyond.
Next stop is Plaza de Armas, on which is situated the Iglesia Matriz, billed as Uruguay’s oldest church. Built by the Portuguese in 1680, it was subsequently rebuilt by the Spanish (twice). It reminds me a little of my grandfather’s axe…
We walk along the river to the Centro Cultural Bastión del Carmen, which has a small art exhibition inside and sculptures in a pretty garden overlooking the river outside.
Colonia is heaving with day trippers from Argentina. The boats back are at 9 pm. Our cunning plan is to spend the day sightseeing, have dinner and return to Argentina. Strangely, most of the restaurants shut from 4-8 pm, so this simple plan seems to have failed. I’m thirsty, hungry and grumpy.
Finally, we find an open restaurant; Mercosur. It sells Patricia beer, which is very welcome. I wonder what my strictly teetotal mother-in-law would think about having a beer named after her? We order a Caesar salad for two. It’s the biggest, saltiest salad I’ve ever see. Just what we needed after such a sweaty day of sightseeing – replenishing all those lost salts with cheese…
We return to the port early, along the Puerto Viejo harbourside. The terminal is already full of people not sure what else to to with themselves in a town which is having a siesta until all the tourists have left.
I’m disappointed that I don’t have many souvenirs for my scrapbook. At the port, we finally spot a tourist information booth. Not surprisingly, it’s shut. So I decide to stage a break-in. The old man stands guard while I climb into the booth, crawl under a shelf and liberate a map of Colonia. Having drunk two pints of Patricia make this seem all the funnier…