Alone in Colonia

Colonia's calmness is the perfect antidote to the hectic nature of Buenos Aires

A couple of weekends ago began with a boat across the Río de La Plata from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay on the Saturday morning. A place of beachside quaintness and tranquillity, there is not a lot to do in Colonia. Perfect for pottering and getting some rest then, both of which I did with aplomb.

In fact, this trip was initially borne of necessity. Before I flew out to Argentina in November, in the absence of the requisite paperwork for my new job, I needed proof of onward travel within 90 days. As is the way, my papers came through just in the nick of time but after I had booked the boat. Nonetheless I stuck to plan and I’m glad I did, for a much-needed recharge of the batteries.

Thirty minutes of walking around this charming little corner of Uruguay and you’ve seen Colonia at least once, probably closer to twice. What you do see in that short timeframe though are cobbled streets lined with quiet yet alluring cafes, against a backdrop of locals sharing maté by the lapping shores. On this front the Uruguayans are in a different league from the Argentinians, to whom maté is an indoor activity confined to the home or workplace. Whether it’s driving or riding a bike in the street, carrying a child in the other hand, or even just popping out to post a letter, the Uruguayans can always engineer an opportunity for maté.

Navigating my way along the outline of an amazing coastal train track soon curtailed by steel buffers, it was apparent that once upon a time Colonia had been the end of the line. Breaking for a leisurely coffee in the main plaza and quick scoot around the beautiful church opposite, I then embarked upon my ascent to the top of the impressive lighthouse.

The prominent feature of Colonia since its erection in 1857, the structure has been the focal point of this rustic town ever since and not much else has changed in its vicinity either, one assumes. It is symbolic that the lighthouse looks across the Río de La Plata to BA’s imposing Puerto Madero business district that continues to shine and dazzle, old money glancing wistfully towards new money.

Enjoying sunset from this vantage point, I could also see the first brewings of a storm on the horizon. An oil rig to the distant west had caught the unwanted attentions of some flickers of lightning, shortly afterwards accompanied by thundering bass. Such was the strength of the wind that the national flag was retreated down its pole for the day too. The perfect cue for me to acquaint the local pizzeria and subsequently crawl into bed for a 12-hour stint whilst the storm played out.

Bearing the reason for this trip in mind, it was fitting that Immigrations almost proved my undoing when returning to Buenos Aires. Having somehow evaded the Uruguayan entry stamp (given in Argentina, before you board the boat), there was no evidence of my having ever entered the country. After some chit-chat at his kiosk, Mr Uruguay was friendly enough to overlook it on this occasion and proceeded with my exit stamp and a smile. I was then beckoned over to Mr Argentina’s kiosk who was less accommodating however.

After telling me off for not getting the Uruguayan entry stamp, he had to check and recheck that I actually lived in Buenos Aires and was not on holiday. A common refrain here, many Argentinians struggle to comprehend why I would choose to trade their capital city for the comparative comfort and functionality of London. Once I had jumped through his hoops though, he waved me through with a shake of the head and some mutterings under his breath. Rudely awoken from my Uruguayan coma, it was time for real life to recommence back in Argentina.

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