Nov 15, 2006
Where I stayed
First observation - Uruguayans are very friendly. Not demonstrably like Porteńos (people from Buenos Aires), but in a laid-back way. They also drink more mate than Argentinians. Every second guy has a thermos flask strung across the left arm and a cup with bombilla (metal straw that strains the leaves from the liquid) in the right. The first café we go into has a large anti-mate sign up - i.e. you can't BYO mate.
Salto on the Rio Uruguay is 8 uncomfortable hours from Colonia on a bus that with each bump, rains a layer of grit from the ancient airconditioner
. We arrive at 10.30pm and stay in Hotel Concordia, a beautiful Portuguese colonial mansion of wood, and yes, Carlos Gardel, the famed tango singer from Argentina has also stayed here (in common with hundreds of other towns throughout South America). We almost knock over the large cardboard effigy of him at the hotel entrance as we squeeze past with our backpacks. Salto is quiet, the weather is fine, and there are several hotsprings nearby which we take advantage of. We also dine on great Uruguayan pasta, and steak - they eat really well here. The young waiter in the café is exceedingly polite and when we thank him for anything he replies with "NO, gracias por Ustedes", in a way that leaves us thinking that he's been insulted by the merest thought of us being appreciative.
The ferry trip between Buenos Aires and Colonia, Uruguay is short, comfortable, almost dull. The boat is one of these grand affairs with restaurants, duty-free shops and games machines for kids. Outside it's bitterly cold, especially with the strong wind that almost blows away a small band of folkloric musicians on deck changing into their "show clothes".