Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
Written by Toby Cowling
Flying Ushuaia to Buenos Aires
Time to find the sun, but it would be a marathon day first. Getting to the airport is pretty much only by taxi at 80 pesos ($6) for the relatively short trip. The airline has a policy of 15kg checked baggage and 5kg carry on. I got lucky with 15.2kg for my main pack including a 2.8kg tent and 1.6kg sleeping bag amongst other stuff. They never checked my carry on, which would definitely have been overweight. The bonus is there is free wifi at the airport so if you get there early you have something to do. Security and other formalities take almost no time as there’s only about 5 gates and typically only 1 plane leaving at a time. The plane was big and new with space for about 160 passengers. I estimate there were at least 40 empty seats as my row of 3 only had me in it; not complaining at all. The itinerary had a stopover near Puerto Madryn to drop some off and pick up some new passengers.
Landing into Buenos Aires was bliss with glorious sunshine and heat. I took the Tienda Leon shuttle bus to Retiro station, the main metro and bus station of the city. Inflation has impacted the prices here and current cost was 130 pesos ($10) where it was around half that price a year ago.
My hostel of choice was Km0 Rock Hostel and first impressions were really good. We’ll be meeting there again in a couple of weeks when Rodora returns from Antarctica. The rooms are actually labelled after bands, so I got The Ramones 6 bed dorm for 95 pesos ($7.40) including breakfast.
What’s the plan?
With Rodora not due to arrive in Buenos Aires until the 27th, I had 12 days of free travel. I chose to spend most of it in Uruguay and take the long journey up and back to Iguazu Falls since Rodora had done it before and wasn’t interested in going again.
Ferry to Colonia, Uruguay
The big and slow ferry with Buquebus to Uruguay was the cheapest on the day at 370 pesos ($29). There’s only 3 major companies doing the trip and booking online and days in advance will get you the best price. Though if you pay online you’re not using Blue Dollars so my price would have been $45. If you’re booking in person allow at least 30 minutes and more if you have it because things move slowly in the terminal. You go to a place to book the ticket then another person to pay for the ticket and yet another person to do bag drop. If you get stuck behind slow people, you risk missing your boat. Another stumbling block I came across was that the company wouldn’t let me pay in Argentinian cash. Apparently the government only allows Argentinian citizens to do this. I got very lucky and the young couple behind me were Argentinian and paying by card. They could also pay for mine in some absurd loophole. I gave them the cash and all was well saving me $15.
Taking the slow ferry made for a calm trip and time to catch up on some blog writing. There are no reserved seats and people were claiming all the window seats. Overall, not really much to see for 95% of the crossing and you’re better to go to the top deck for views if you want them not looking through dirty windows.
This town has quite a good reputation on the travel circuit. There are a lot of day cash runners from Argentina because you can withdraw US dollars straight from the ATM. I was travelling on a Saturday and met with many of these people while lining up at ATM’s. The typical deal is foreigners working in Argentina and taking their cards plus those of their friends to hit the ATM’s. Uruguay jacks a huge fee on withdrawals though, upwards of $7 per time and a restriction of US$300 or UR5,000 pesos (US$200). In a country where travel is some of the most expensive in South America, the banks are loving those fees.
The city is steeped in history having changed several times between the Spanish and Portuguese.
I was planning on playing the game of super cheap backpacker as best I could for my 10 days in the country. Even the cheapest of hostels here started at 330 pesos ($15.50) per night at Hostel Che Lagarto. Thankfully the breakfast is big, so I made as much use of that as I could.
The question of what to do in Uruguay is often met with the answer of “go sit on a beach”. Seriously out of all the places in Uruguay this was so often the answer.
Colonia does have a really nice stretch of beaches just out of town. Mid November water temperatures were not my ideal plan though so while I did visit the beach, swimming wasn’t overly appealing.
One thing I’d read about was an area called Real de San Carlos about 4km out of town. This was built in the early 1900’s and included an 8,000 person bull fighting ring, a 3,000 person Jai Alai stadium, a horseracing track amongst other things. The story ends abruptly as bull fighting was outlawed about 3 years after the completion of the stadium and the only thing still in operation is the horseracing track. I had my mind set on seeing the bull fighting ring and it wasn’t hard to find. Not surprisingly either there was a fence around with signs warning that the thing was falling apart and not to enter.
Who really pays attention to these things? I noticed at least one other person inside and took that as my sign to go on an adventure. It had sure seen better days and concrete pieces were all over the ground. Definitely not an available option on any organised tour. It was quite cool to be inside though.
Venturing onwards I found the horseracing track and the Jai Alai stadium. Not so easy to get into that stadium with new padlocks all around the building, so I didn’t attempt it.
With the sun falling in the sky, it was time to find a spot to watch sunset. I ventured back to the old town where hundreds of other people had the same idea as me. I managed a good location with some local yachts racing around the harbour.
The next day in Colonia was more of the same. Exploring more of old town and just generally relaxing and enjoying the sun. It was a Sunday and there seemed like a high volume of tourists were pushing into town, so maybe not as tranquil as I was hoping for. It was easy to walk the old town for a couple of hours and enjoy the tree lined streets and other things to see.
Colonia to Montevideo
The buses to Montevideo run regularly as they often connect people coming on the ferry. Cost was 299 pesos ($14) for the 3 hour ride. Not exactly cheap transport. Most buses here seem to have free wifi, air conditioning and are quite nice. Maybe they should adopt the chicken bus methodology of Central America to bring the price down. Who really needs wifi on a bus?
I pre booked the same hostel to get a 10% discount at Hostel Che Lagarto. It was also only 6 blocks walk from the bus station which is always a bonus. The hostel was ok, but nothing great and at full price of 420 pesos ($20) in a 10 bed dorm you almost felt like it was America. The staff were friendly but not all that great with local knowledge. They were also very strict on check in time. I was there at 12.30pm but not allowed to get a bed until 2pm.
I went for a walk to Estadio Centenario where the first ever World Cup Football final was held in 1930 between Argentina and Uruguay and Uruguay coming out as the winners. The stadium is now used by a local team so it really just looks like any other stadium.
Next on the itinerary was a walk through old town. The Plaza of Independence is definitely worth a 5 minute stop. In the centre is the hero of Uruguay’s independence ‘Artigas’ riding a horse. Be sure to have a quick walk down the stairs next to it as underneath are his ashes in an Urn.
Overall old town has some nice plazas and buildings to look at, but a couple of hours was plenty for me. The Mercado del Puerto (Port Market) comes highly recommended for eating a big steak, but be prepared for a $30+ price tag for a simple meal. I’ll save my money for Argentina.
The next day for Montevideo was spent at the houses of Parliament and generally walking around the city. The tour was really quite good costing 70 pesos ($3.30) for an hour tour of the building. I got really lucky as I was the only one to ask for a tour in English, I then got my own private guide. The main reason to do this tour is to get access to see the inside which was designed by an Italian and has an enormous amount of local marble used. Apparently Uruguay was a very rich country at the time they were building it.
After a long and hot day of walking the city, I was keen for a traditional sunset beer o’clock session. Beer is not cheap in Uruguay with 1 litre average 70 pesos ($3.30). I settled on a can of the locally produced Patricia beer for 35 pesos ($1.65). Finding the right spot on the beach, the rest was just a matter of time.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/