Hurry up and slow down!

7 Aug

Uruguay, located just an hour from Buenos Aires, Argentina across the widest river in the world, el Rio de la Plata. It’s not a country you hear too much about and it’s usually overlooked by travellers as they head to Uruguay’s famous neighbours, Brazil and Argentina. The only thing I heard about Uruguay was that the people are some of the most chilled out and friendly in South America (now that’s saying something, as this is one chilled out continent) and they love to drink Mate (a dry herb, that is poured into a special cup –called a mate- and then boiling water from a flask is poured onto it and is drunk through a metal straw).

So with high expectations of the relaxed people I arrived off the ferry from Buenos Aires to the mate drinking customs officials. My expectations were quickly met as the custom official asks Mandy “do you have any honey or fruit etc?”, “yes I have an orange” Mandy reply’s showing him the orange in her bag, the custom official sees it and says “ok, just hide it and I’ll pretend I didn’t see it”, classic! Can you imagine the TV series “boarder control Uruguay”!

After clearing the ferry terminal we passed the mate drinking construction workers, who may have been being polite and letting us pass before getting back to work, but I suspect they were just not working – how can you hold a mate and a shovel?

At the gate of the ferry there were a few laughing mate sipping taxi drivers standing around talking, not really too concerned that a boat load of potential customers had just arrived. And in place of crazed tourists touts trying to get you to go to their “best” hotel, like in Thailand, the hotels had just erected signs on the corner pointing in the direction of the hotel.

Walking up the street, we saw a private house with a sign out front saying room for rent so we enquired. The friendly old man kindly leaves his shop, goes and gets the key for the house and tells us to leave our bags on the street bench outside, I’m thinking “that’s my life in there, that’s my house, all my assets – smelly clothes count as assets“, so I ask him “is it ok to leave our bags here”, “no drama, its fine”, and with his reassurance for the other 4 million of his countrymen we walked inside to look at the room and only to return to our bags untouched.

Colonia was the name of the town we had arrived in, a tourist destination for the nearby people of Buenos Aires. It has a romantic feel to it, it made me want to pull out a velvet red g-string and sing Barry White – not too sure if that’s romantic or just plain scary. Anyway, cobblestoned streets, quaint harbours, cozy wood fired restaurants serving a vegetarians’ nightmare selection of meat, beaches by the river in the summer and sunsets to die for – well maybe not to die for, maybe inflict a paper cut for.

Whilst there Mandy and I hired bikes and rode along the beach front pathway to an abandoned bullfighting ring that was built in the early 1900’s, a few years before bullfighting was banned in Uruguay. It had a 6 foot high mesh wire fence around the perimeter of it with signs prohibiting you to enter due to the unstable nature of the crumbling structure. But the grassy interior of the bullring in the afternoon sun was too inviting, and there just happen to be a hole in the fence. But just as we parked up our bikes trying to be inconspicuous and walking across the road a taxi pulled up. But thoughts of a failed mission were short-lived as the taxi driver hops out and opens the door for his tourists, takes them to the hole in the fence and helps them through. He also gladly helps us through reciting facts about the bull ring, seemingly oblivious that there’s a sign saying not to enter due to the unsafe nature of the structure.

After the bull ring we biked the gravel roads, passing locals on horses and little brick houses with horses grazing on unfenced grassy front yards. Then we ended up at the beach for a little picnic on the shores of the world’s widest river, which basically just felt like an ocean, but it sounds way cooler if you say “the worlds widest river”, and I realise that I stated that it was “the worlds widest river” in the first paragraph.

We had slipped into the Uruguayan way of life after only a couple of days so much so that when we were at the Colonia bus station waiting for our bus to Salto in the North of Uruguay we missed our bus! It was quite funny, well at least I found it quite funny. Mandy and I were good little tourists, had our freshly purchased bus tickets, sitting in the small bus terminal sipping mate waiting for our bus. We see our bus arrive, passing one of the windows. We just sit there continuing to sip mate, not really too worried as all the other people sitting around were not moving. Then 10 minutes goes by and we see our bus pass the window exiting the terminal. Mandy says “I think we just missed our bus”, I just say “haha, sweet”. It appears the other people were waiting for another bus, and we learned the hard way that the bus boarding is not announced in Uruguay.

But the beauty of it was that no more buses left that day to our destination, so turning a problem into an opportunity, we decided to head in the opposite direction, to Uruguay’s biggest city Montevideo for a weekend. The best part of it is that the bus company gave us our money back for missing the bus! What good barstards, if I was working there and we had asked me, I would of said “you were here 20 minutes early and watched your bus arrive, and you still missed it, you’re lucky that we even waste oxygen on you”.

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