Back on the scooter again

Trip Start Sep 07, 2005
Trip End Aug 18, 2006

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Flag of Uruguay  ,
Tuesday, December 20, 2005

As our whirlwind tour of Latin America drew near, we spent a little time thinking about how we would allocate the remaining time in South America. With onward travel plans that take us from Buenos Aires on the 28th of December, back to Mexico City, Chicago and Denver before eventually depositing us in North Africa, we figured we had a little less than a week left. Given its proximity to Argentina's bustling capital city and its reputation for some of the nicest people on the continent, the nearby country of Uruguay proved too much to pass up. After some discussion about the time versus money trade-offs associated with our various transportation options, we soon found ourselves sitting in steerage class of a large passenger ferry bound for the small Uruguasian village of Colonia.

Our decision to take a brief detour to the east also seemed fitting given the fact that what little Spanish Steve speaks almost always comes out with a slight Uruguasian accent owing largely to his three years of instruction led by Ofi, his good natured Uruguasian highschool Spanish teacher. As it turned out, our decision to visit this small but relatively successful South American nation was a good one, but Colonia itself didn't have too much to offer.

Despite its status as a UN world heritage site as a well-preserved seventeenth century colonial Portuguese outpost, the small hamlet of Colonia held our interest for less than three hours. While its cobble-stone streets and mixture of newly restored and rapidly crumbling facades provided a charming backdrop for boutique hotels, sidewalk cafes and souvenir shops, we soon realized, after a brief investigation, that there just wasn't much there there.

We rented a small motor scooter for three hours to facilitate our exploration of the city and its surroundings. It was fun to be back on a scooter, but we missed our much larger and much less petrol-smelly version. We quickly made our way through the historic center and branched out on the Rambla (pronounced with a fabulous rolling rrrrr), a large thoroughfare that runs next to the beach. The beach, in this case, fronts the Rio de la Plata, or the River Plate, the natural boundary between Uruguay and Argentina, and it has the distinction of being the widest river in the world, measuring 220 km across. Like many rivers, the Plate runs brown and muddy - probably full of sediment and other questionable run-off from several countries combined - so we weren't so inclined to take a dip.

We quickly reached the end of the line save for a small marker pointing toward the Sheraton Resort. What the hell, we thought, let's take a look. So we rolled pass the security gate - why they would let us in is beyond me - and ambled up the gravel driveway to find a magnificent lobby decorated in smooth, sleek wood and stone. Because we had really no business to transact there, we milled about for a little bit, using the facilities and perusing the spa menu - out of our price range but enjoyable to contemplate, nonetheless. We also agreed, while there, that we couldn't fathom what we might possibly do with the scooter for the remaining two hours of our rental and thus resolved to attempt an early return for a cut rate price. So, having loitered for long enough, we bid the Sheraton adieu and took our leave.

On our return journey to the historic center, we noted how lacking Uruguay is in topographical variation; after all, its highest point is only 550 meters. What is more, both the vegetation and architecture seem to echo this theme. Palm trees and shrubbery squatted low to the ground, and houses tend toward 1950's one story ranch style brick affairs. Soaring heights are few and far between.

Once back in town, we found the rental agency and braced ourselves for a flat denial of our request for an early return, perhaps with some snooty reference to the language of the contract. To our surprise and delight, we found quite the opposite. The agent greeted us with a smile and a short explanation that we could return the scooter early, but we would be charged for the time that we had the scooter. No problem! So, a few minutes of paperwork and several smiles later, we were out on the streets on our own two feet and freed from further responsibility for the scooter.

Really, the only hitch in the rental return was the fact that we had to pay the cut-rate price in US dollars, rather than with a credit card. This posed a problem because we recently discovered that we had run our checking account almost completely dry, and the method we had initially established for infusing this account with new funds hadn't worked as well as we had envisioned it. So, until we figured out some way to get the cash into the account, we had liquidity battles to fight - mainly with the power of the credit card. And so, with this in mind, we set out to have a late lunch at a place that would accept plastic. Predictably, we scoured the village, but we suppose it is in the nature of 17th century colonial Portuguese settlements not to be all that credit card friendly, with the notable exception of arts and crafts vendors, who would accept any and all payment forms, including, perhaps, coinage from Turkmenistan, East Timor, or even 17th century Portugal. We did finally stumble upon one cafe that graciously agreed to accept our card without a minimum payment, so we spent the rest of our short time in Colonia having a quick lunch and enjoying the views of the cobblestoned streets, the balconied river walk, the magenta blooms of nearby trees, and an old lighthouse in the distance.
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