Across the River

Trip Start Jan 15, 2006
Trip End Sep 05, 2006

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Flag of Uruguay  ,
Friday, March 3, 2006

Yesterday, we took a ferry across the mouth of the Rio Plate to Uruguay. We spent the night in the colonial Portuguese port of Colonia de Sacramento. The old part of town was truly charming. I generally find that historic towns are usually either obviously renovated (and probably somewhat kitschy) or they are a bit dirty and dingy. Europe frequently comes closer to getting it right, but the town centers are often full of whizzing scooters, diesel trucks and lots of advertising. Colonia, on the other hand, was clean, old, historic and had lots of charm without any trucks or scooters. I recommend a visit.

After dinner we wandered into a newer part of town and found a large outdoor party that turned out to be part of the local Carnaval celebration. We asked if they used a different calendar as we understood that Lent had begun the day before. Evidently, in Uruguay, Carnaval continues for about a week into Lent or until everyone runs out of steam. This is my kind of Catholicism, lots of Carnaval without any of those annoying guilt-based rituals like Lent.

In our last 24 hours in BA, I was forced to run a number of errands in the Jeep. Driving in BA appears to be a test of one's masculinity. Lane changes are a game of chicken with the loser suffering a major loss of face.

Evidently, there is a motorcycle helmet law in BA. The law, however, does not stipulate where one must wear the helmet. Of those that choose to comply with the law, most put their arm through the facemask and, therefore gain protection primarily for their elbows. We saw one motorcyclist weaving through traffic, holding his helmet on one arm, making a call on his cellphone and checking a map on his tankbag. His hair was neat and I had to admit that he looked pretty cool. I am just not confident that his life expectancy exceeded another 45 minutes.

Traffic regulations, evidently, are not intended to be taken literally. Most drivers choose to interpret them artistically. 'Is that light really red through my mod sunglasses? Or is it a shade of magenta? How should one interpret a magenta light? Is this just another tool of the capitalist oppressor? I'll show them by ignoring their attempts to shackle my freedom. Power to the people!'

At one point, I was caught in some rush hour traffic where our lanes were moving slowly, but there was not much traffic headed in the opposite direction. Several drivers decided that there should not be so many empty unused lanes. They simply crossed the median and started down the opposite side of the street. Others saw that this might speed their progress and pretty soon all of the lanes were taken. I saw one hapless fellow on a motorcycle trying to swim upstream with limited success. Despite all this, there appear to be few accidents.

Don't worry, most of this happens at low speed and we are very careful. It comes in handy to have 5 years experience driving a motorcycle in Manhattan.

We are headed up the coast of Uruguay. Montevideo, the capital, tonight will be followed by two days in Punta del Este, the major beach town.
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