Seasonal siesta.

Trip Start Oct 06, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Uruguay  ,
Friday, June 17, 2005

So I am here in Uruguay now, my 12th country so far on this trip. Uruguay, supposedly one of the safest and most laid-back countries in Latin America. For some reason they call it the Switzerland of South America, although I am not sure exactly why. It's pretty cheap here (at least at the moment), and I don't really believe they have the mountains and lakes of their so-called European twin. Maybe it's because it used to be quite expensive, or possibly because it has a very European feel to it, with an 88% white population. Very different from most other Latin American countries, where they typically have a much higher percentage of mestizo (mixed Spanish and indigenous blood) and indigenous people.

I have landed myself in Colonia del Sacramento, after an one hour catamaran (or flying boat) ride across from Buenos Aires. Colonia is a pleasant and photogenic old Portugese smuggler port, along Rio de la Plata, with cobblestoned streets as well as historical buildings and churches. Hence it is also one of Uruguay's star attractions (the country doesn't really have many natural attractions, and are more famous for their friendly people, beaches and cities, like fashion and party capital Punta del Este). The old city attracts quite a few tourists, typically coming on short visits from Buenos Aires or Montevideo. While Western tourists are usually backpackers (although the country is not really on the backpacker radar, least not yet) or people on "big city vacations" who wants to escape Buenos Aires for a day or two.

While walking around the old historical part of town, I decide I quite like it. It's really quiet, but I can see that the place got "Kodak moment" potential. I am clearly here in the low season, and although I am only one hour away from the bustling metropolis of Buenos Aires, it feels more like I'm on a different planet. There's hardly a soul around, and I wonder if the whole city is on a daily, if not a seasonal siesta. I am sure you could walk around blindfolded for hours, up and down cobblestoned streets, crossing leafy avenues, without once having to worry about bumping into another person or being run over by a vehicle. It's a reverse culture shock from Buenos Aires, and although I could really do with a rest after all the partying lately, I almost immediately decide to just stay one night. I said I quite liked the place, but I am travelling here on my own, and don't want to get bored beyond recognition. Although it's tempting to stay until Sunday or Monday to see if it could possibly get even quieter.

So my only worry for now, is to try and change a 1000 Pesos bill (about US 42$) so I'm able to buy something to drink. If you have been travelling around Latin America, you know what a challenge it usually is to break a big bill into smaller notes. You have to use every opportunity you got, so you later on are able to pay for a taxi, bus or shop from a street vendor or corner store. Because those guys will typically always not have any change, or at least claim they don't have any. So it's a custom of mine now, to always use a big bill when I'm paying for a hotel, a trip or for example an expensive meal.

Well, I have one more tiny worry, and that is to find some people (to check out if they are as friendly as my guide book claims). I often find that the smaller the city or the fewer tourists the city/country got, the friendlier the people. I guess this is true for many places around the world. Like in Argentina for example, where I spoke to someone from Tucumán who claimed that people from Salta are unfriendly and arrogant. While people from Salta claimed that people from Mendoza are unfriendly and arrogant. And finally of course, people from Mendoza claimed that people from Buenos Aires are unfriendly and arrogant. I didn't really experience any of this in Argentina, as I met many friendly people in most of the cities I visited. But I found it funny when my Spanish teacher in Mendoza, told me that if you see someone lying in one of Mendoza's many deep street ditches, be sure that the person is a porteño (from Buenos Aires), because they all got tunnel vision and always walk around with the nose high in the air. Oblivious to anyone around them or the outside world for that matter.

I have ventured outside the historical part of town and into the small business district. And they actually got people here, even friendly ones. When I tried to buy a bus ticket to Montevideo for tomorrow around 11AM, the happy guy behind the counter sent me to one of the other bus companies, as his company only had a bus at 13:30PM. Have you ever had a similar experience in a country down here? Where every bus station usually got about a zillion bus companies, all going to the same destination. And they will all claim that the next scheduled bus to your destination is with exactly their company, and not the company next door. It's all business I guess, but for once it felt good not having to wait around for hours while watching about 50 buses from different other companies leaving for your planned destination.

I go to bed that night on a full stomach (I managed to break that 1000 Pesos bill), and find it quite ironic that I have to use my earplugs for the first time on the entire trip. I have hardly ever seen a more quiet and dead city on a Thursday night, the place is so soundless you can almost hear the buzz from Buenos Aires. But then all hell break loose. I am staying at a hostel who happen to lodge about 25 middle aged people from Montevideo on a company kick-off. They are only staying one night, like me, and wants to make the most of it. So just when I am about to fall asleep in my room, located next to the bar, they all arrive back drunk. They end up singing and playing bongo drums until 4:30AM, before they all wake up again around 7:00AM, in order to return to Montevideo. Unfortunately I wasn't in a party mood to join them...
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