A Tale of Two Towns

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The train to Tigre takes about an hour, meaning I arrived at 1:30 with about three hours to wander around this popular weekend suburb before hopping on the ferry to cross to Uruguay. That, on a weekday, is more than I needed it turned out. Most of the things were closed including the fabled Mate (pronounced Mah-teh) museum. Have we discussed mate yet? I can’t remember, but it is a very Argentinian (and, I would discover, Uruguayan) tradition that on the surface sounds very much English. Mate is a special tea from a ‘mate’ plant that is quite potent in both taste and caffeination. The leaves are sprinkled into a small round cup and then hot water and – if you’re a novice – sugar are added. There are traditions in how it is drank, who pours it, and that it is always shared (though I have not been offered any in my whole stay in Argentina). There is a special straw even, that is generally stainless steel and has small pores to suck up the water but not the leaves. Anyway, the museum where I was hoping to have all sorts of history to mix into this explanation was closed, so you’ll have to make due with that. I just ambled around the river town and sat on an outdoor patio enjoying a pretty nice day until the time came to get on the boat and take a few days out of Argentina.

The ferry ride across from Tigre to Carmelo is said to be the cheapest way to cross from Buenos Aires and also the most interesting. Given that the other passages are just open water I’m not inclined to disagree; you wind through islands of the river delta on your way across. I arrived in Carmelo, which is supposed to be a nice town on the Uruguay side after the briefest of formalities and was lucky to find a bus leaving in 30 minutes for Colonia. A friendly woman sat next to me and we talked pretty much the whole 1.5 hours until we arrived at 9:00. Sometimes my Spanish seems good and other times I can’t make people understand me. I walked to the Hostel Espanol which is only a few blocks from the bus terminal and there were Janet, Leanne, and Dan waiting for me with two empty bottles of wine. They’d been for my arrival at 7 but of course, that never happened. There was just enough for one toast and then we hit the mean streets of Colonia. It just so happened that it was the 29th of June and here the 29th of any month is the day of gnocchi where restaurants all have it on special and everybody goes out to eat it. Why? Well, in the past, before it was fashionable, it was one of the cheapest things you could eat and so at the end of the month when nobody had any money left, they’d head out for good, cheap gnocchi. It’s not so cheap anymore, but then again a plate with a bottle of really nice Pueblo del Sol Tannat (from Uruguay) was $7 so I can’t complain.

It was a nice dinner and great to hang out with the old group again. We bought some cheap boxed wine and retired to our hostel where we talked until the last person with their eyes opened realized the rest of us were all talking with our eyes shut. The next morning, Dan had to leave pretty early so we said goodbye to him, all checked out, and then me and the girls went and walked around the town. It’s really quaint with cobblestoned streets and stone buildings with coloured plaster. The sun was shining, the breeze was warm, humid, and refreshing and I didn’t realize how happy I was to have a break from the cities until we sat on the coast taking it all in. You could just see the tallest skyscrapers of Buenos Aires across the water in sight but a world away. One highlight was actually a local artist that had a great eye for painting women, he gave me his card for his website. The girls had to leave at 3 so I decided to take the 2:00 bus rather than waiting alone until 4:30 and said my goodbyes, but we’d had a fun day of taking “family portraits”, ambling, and sitting around visiting. The bus to Montevideo was 2.5 hours and the city was a lot more modern and landscaped than I expected. The older buildings, however, were very ominous looking concrete structures that would have been equally at home in the former USSR. I wandered around and opted to stay at the cheaper Che Legarto right in Plaza Independencia rather than El Viajero a few blocks away. The former was $9 and the latter $13 so over two nights that was almost a free third night. That said, I suspect I would have liked the El Viajero better just from the vibe I got.

Tigre and Colonia Photos

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