Colonia del Sacramento

This is a tale of my own ineptitude and lack of preparation for a journey. Consider me the 21st Century Chris McCandless. I was on my own in Buenos Aires, getting along fine with a guide book and place to sleep, and I planned to take a day trip to Colonia del Sacramento. Colonia del Sacramento is a small picturesque Uruguayan town on muddy brown waters on the other side of the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires. Its historic quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the gold medal of tourist locations.

I got up early at my hotel in Palermo and went across the city to the Buquebus ferry terminal. I’m not a great walker, but a stubborn one, and I opted to use my blistered feet for transport. The port station was devoid of customers. The next ferry was to leave in about ten minutes, so I rushed to by my ticket at a substantial price and looked around for where to go. The boat was outside on the water, naturally, but with no clear way for me to board. I looked around helplessly. My functional Spanish consisted of “no entiendo” (“I don’t understand”) and the lyrics to La Bamba. I showed some people my ticket and tried to convey my problem. They either gestured and either gave me helpful advice in Spanish or told me where to stick my ticket. The boat left without me. The next boat was to depart in a couple more hours, so I had no choice but to pay even more money to change my ticket and leave myself with only a very short time in Colonia. I walked around Buenos Aires for a while, bought a bottle of water and a pastry, and returned to the port. This time there were plenty of other travelers that I could follow. I realized that we had to go upstairs and through customs before boarding via a bridge. After some more mutually unintelligible banter between myself and various annoyed agents, I got on the ship and thence to Colonia.

Now that I was successfully disembarked on Uruguayan soil I faced fresh problems. I didn’t have a map. I normally try to keep a compass on me, but after trading one, breaking another, and losing a third, I was momentarily compassless. There were a couple packs of English speaking tourists around. I should have followed one of them. There’s a nifty lighthouse in Colonia that I wanted to see. I’m not a lighthouse nut, but I try to get up one whenever it happens to be around. The other tourists went left. I went straight so as to be ruggedly individualistic, yet not too far afield. I passed a few restaurants that were packed and entered a nearly empty one and bought a mediocre pizza and soupy mashed potatoes. They wouldn’t take my Visa card but would take my Argentinean pesos. I left and walked through some residential areas. Nobody else was in sight. The homes were nice, but in poor repair.

November 2012 038

The words on this garage say “thief of my brain”. Other graffiti labels Colonia as meek and the word “bag” appears many times, once as “fucking bag”. I pushed through some woods and popped out on the coastline.

November 2012 037

You can see a yacht harbor an apparently unnamed island in the distance to the right. The historic district was about four kilometers away at this point. I found this out only later via Google Maps. It was getting close to time for my return trip and I had seen almost nothing. I am bright enough to know that the port must be on the water, so I followed the Rio and made it to the station in plenty of time. The place was eerily quiet. After sitting around for a while, I looked at my return ticket and remembered that Uruguay is in a different time zone than Argentina. My watch was an hour behind. My flight from Buenos Aires was later in the day. Missing that would be a major bummer. I went to the desk and showed the clerk my ticket.

“The boat is leaving now,” he said.

“Can I get on?”

He looked at me askance. “But the boat is leaving now.”

“Can I get on?”

He shrugged and pointed down a corridor. I ran.

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