Twenty miles across the river from Buenos Aires is Uruguay. We were told it makes a perfect day trip from Argentina, so we got to the port at silly o’clock in the morning and bought a ferry ticket.
We boarded the 8am ferry and set out across Río de la Plata, one of the widest estuaries in the world. After finding the only two egg chairs on the boat, we curled up and snoozed for the trip, surrounded by locals chowing down on all sorts of cling filmed breakfasts. When we arrived at Colonia del Sacramento, the nearest town across the estuary to Buenos Aires, it was very quiet. Many of our fellow passengers were climbing aboard coaches to take them to Montevideo, the Uruguayan capital. But we had chosen to remain in Colonia, a little UNESCO world heritage site, and the perfect place to while away a day of our honeymoon.
Colonia del Sacramento is a tiny town of barely 25,000 people, with a centre made up of cobbled streets, tumbledown houses and frequent glimpses of the estuary, which laps at the southern edge of the town. Old American cars sit rusting at every corner, patched up with layer after layer of dark red paint. Apparently, the country’s economy boomed the 1930s before collapsing in the 1960s. As a result, there’s not a lot of money to buy new cars, so they drive whatever they had when the economy collapsed. Even if that’s happened to be a 1958 Chevrolet pickup.
There’s not a whole lot to do in Colonia Del Sacramento, but it was a lovely break from the bustle of Buenos Aires. We pottered around the cobbled streets as the town woke up. A few tourist shops were already open, selling traditional Uruguayan merch. Nicola obviously wanted to look in every one, and as her new-but-already-long-suffering husband, I traipsed behind her, unhelpfully suggesting she buy trinkets that were far too large to fit in our bags.
One of the main attractions in Colonia is the Museo del Azulejo, the tile museum. We were a little early; the chap came to the door and explained that they’re not open yet, as they don’t open until 10.30. We apologised, and checked to see what the actual time was. It was 10.27. He locked the glass door, and went back to his desk just the other side, where he sat for a full three minutes doing absolutely nothing before returning to the door and opening it. We entered the museum, which was no larger than an average garage. A few tiles sat along a wall in glass cases, with barely any signs, and certainly none in English. Some special tiles had spotlights shining on them, so we made sure paid particular attention to these before slowly browsing our way in the direction of the exit over to the door. With a curt nod and a ‘gracias’, we exited, trying to work out how it had even qualified as a museum.
Next, we headed to the Colonia del Sacramento lighthouse, which we climbed after paying the chap who was wedged into a nook at the bottom of the spiral staircase. We emerged at the top, dizzy and blustered in the wind. Nicola quite sensibly refused to go out onto the balcony in case she toppled over the edge. I did a short lap of the lamp, and strained to see if I could see across the river to Buenos Aires. I couldn’t. While I was up there, I thought I might as well have a good look at the lamp itself, a vast brass bulb, surrounded by jewelled prisms of glass. Upon closer inspection, the lamp appeared to have been manufactured in Birmingham, UK. You come halfway around the world, and end up paying to see a light from Birmingham. I was mulling this over when I heard Nicola hissing at me to come back inside before I got blown over the edge.
On more solid ground, we had time for a nice leisurely late lunch alongside the water before returning to Argentina, so we searched for an authentic taste of Uruguayan food. We went to La Bodeguita, where we sat, looking out across the estuary, drinking local beers and trying to work out whether Uruguay felt different to Argentina. According to our guidebook, La Bodeguita is ‘famous’ for its mini pizzas, which were delicious but felt distinctly un-Uruguayan. Never mind. Full of Italian cuisine, we headed back towards the ferry to return to Buenos Aires.