Humble beauty & historic charm in Colonia, Uruguay
May 12, 2016
It was all Natascia's idea.
Weeks before flying to Argentina, my friend had already decided we would visit one of the oldest towns in Uruguay. She needed to leave the country before her 90-day visa expired and heading to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, was a popular way to do so. Natascia asked if I would tag along to see what she described as an historic, charming town. Affascinante, she'd say in Italian.
I agreed to go but didn't think about it much. I figured it would be cool to visit another country while I was in South America. Plus it was a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That had to mean something. I hoped it wouldn't be a waste of time.
The ferry ride from Buenos Aires to Colonia took about an hour. Natascia and I reserved roundtrip tickets on Buquebus, roughly 100 American dollars.
I was way too excited to ride the ferry. Armed with a neon orange backpack, sunglasses, and an aching to leave Buenos Aires, I felt pure energy entering the Puerto Madero station.
It felt like an airport. You had to check in, show your passport, go through customs, and then wait at the terminal before boarding.
The Buquebus terminal at Puerto Madero wasn't some grungy hub. It was bright and energetic. Windows where the roof should be, modern decor and funky lighting, happy backpackers and families busily chatting about their adventures. I felt happy.
The ferry was cool--huge, modern. Plus it had a store and cafe/bar. There were no assigned seats, so me and Natascia snagged a spot near the windows.
The ride was over before I knew it. Suddenly, we were getting off the ferry which had crossed the Rio de la Plata. We were in foreign territory, but I felt the sun embrace me.
Sunny, warm, beautiful, flowers, palm trees, water. Whoa. This is exactly what I wanted.
Just look at that blue sky. Is that a palm tree? Damn, boo.
And those flowers... Wait, they just GROW like that? All pretty and stuff? I can't believe it.
The visitor's center was the site of what appeared to be an old train line... Ahh, history. Breathe it in, people!
Okay, I was clearly feeling it.
Natascia and I walked the quaint, colorful paths of Colonia with a quiet excitement. Trees carved shadows into the streets so as not to overwhelm us with the heat. We walked a few blocks before we got to our hostel.
It was my first time staying in one, and out of pure nerves I insisted we get a private room. I wasn't sure how I'd be able to deal with sleeping so close to strangers, so Natascia obliged.
We stayed at the Hostel & Suites del Rio. Our room was on the top floor, but it was perfect. Double bed, a desk, and a view of the backyard. I was happy. Best of all, it felt clean and extremely safe.
The private room cost a whopping 88 American bucks between us, with free WiFi and breakfast included. I couldn't have been happier.
Plus, the vibe was less "party time" and more relaxed. The hostel was pretty empty throughout the day, though the tables were full come breakfast time. And the people staying there were diverse: younger backpackers, families with children, and even a group of adventurous senior citizen women. It was cool to see so many different types of people in a hostel.
Overall, I would recommend Hostel del Rio to anyone visiting. Since Colonia is so small, it was easily accessible to all points of interest. That, combined with the quality and the price point, made it a solid choice for me and Nata.
We stayed in our room for maybe 20 minutes before we decided to head out again. The hostel was just a block away from the water.
I felt close to Colonia for so many reasons. The tempo was much slower than BA. There was no rush to run across the street, or chase the bus, or move out of anybody's way.
I felt close to the simplicity. Simple streets shared by locals, small cars, and stray dogs. I loved the winding streets flanked by small old buildings. I loved the small glimpses of water I would get while passing alleyways. I loved looking out onto the Rio de la Plata. No bells and whistles, just unassuming beauty to be noticed at every turn.
No trip is truly complete without a meal. And boy, did we eat good.
Nata and I chose a restaurant right on the water. She wasn't super hungry, but I was. I ordered enough for both of us.
On the table: fresh grilled octopus and an orange and prosciutto salad.
I didn't actually order the salad. I ordered salmon, but the waiter got my order wrong. Best mistake ever. Just look at it. The juices from the citrus perfectly complemented the salty prosciutto. Natascia confirmed the high quality of the prosciutto (she's Calabrese, I trust her). Every forkful was a tasty tango of flavor and texture in my mouth. A whimsical dance between happiness and the unknown.
But the grilled octopus (top left plate) stole the show. Its experience was seductive. Tender to the bite, smoky from the grill. Fresh. Incredibly so. I tried my best not to inhale it in one bite. It was a slow torture.
The meal, combined with a view of the cobblestone streets and calm river accompanied me like an old friend. I remember sitting, eating, and smiling. Happiness.