IN THE UNESCO HERITAGE OLD TOWN OF COLONIA, URUGUAY ON A SUNDAY AFTERNOON – Five Spanish guitars serenade We of the Yellow Umbrellas; me, of the tall, yellow orange juice. This outdoor café with tables and shade-makers filling the cobblestones sits between two red ‘brella restaurants; our live musicians competing softly. Color, sound, breeze, hot sun, bluest sky and greenest trees. Not a cloud above. My pink building restaurant is named “impeccable.” River-stone buildings, slightly jail-like, with romantic black window grillwork as benevolent barred protection for geranium sill plants.
I can see the river, and ghostly on the horizon, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Maybe the Buquebus Ferry will pass on its hour-ride between countries. It’s the River de la Plata, but it looks like a brownish ocean from here. Just now, the guitarists have made drums of their instruments while one of them sells CDs and mingles with dinner fans.
I can see why South Americans are such dancers. How can anyone stay still? Except that these cobblestones are no little uniform, egg-shaped things, but weird and wide, black granite slabs, with space between and slanty, up and down. Walking safely is a skill. I doubt if there’s any dancing in the streets here in this Historical Old Town of Colonia, Uruguay. Surely, indoors, and late at night! Even meals don’t get rolling till 10:00 p.m.; well after the sun goes down and the land cools off. That’s a little late for me.
I’m in Colonia for a week doing research on the luxury hotels and pousadas that I plan to use for the tours I’m designing: “Luxury Expat Due Diligence Tours of Uruguay,” which will be 7-day or 14-days long, beginning in late March. There are more than enough 4 and 5 star lodgings of all designs….. from Radisson and Sheraton-types to lush, plant and color-filled pousadas with tinkling fountains and lovely center garden patios. I’m opting for the smaller ones, even if our group fills several. Wandering around this historical, colonial town has convinced me that this is where I want to live for awhile when my lease is up in Montevideo. It’s a much more manageable but sophisticated small town. And yet, I still must explore the rest of the country, visualizing and planning the rest of the tour. Perhaps, I’ll feel that way about all of them?
In Colonia, there’s an endless, upon endless, happy and true discovery of good stuff! Food under all these umbrella enclaves…. and of course, within the air-conditioned restaurant interiors along every tree-lined sidewalk. Shops, with artisan crafts, semi-precious stones, woolen colorful weavings, high fashions, knitted-by-hand clothing.
I could have spent so much money in Roxanna’s sweater shop….. and indeed, I plan to, this winter. Glad it was hot today. I’m a turtleneck freak, always on the lookout. I tried a T-neck, crew sweater on. Two, actually, a beige and a navy one. The wool is from local sheep, snugly soft. I could feel the abundance of lanolin but not the smell or slipperiness. Have I completely lost my sense of proportion, when I believe that $70 is a steal? Roxanna has knit them all. A whole shop full and you just know that she would do a special order on the spot. Capes, too. And every sort of shapely sweater in every sort of color.
Her shop is the coral-colored one, down the way from The Drugstore, a restaurant so famous and so busy that it takes two hours to work your way through a meal. There are polka-dot tablecloths on riot inside, but I sat outdoors, cuddled up to the antique green jalopy with a big fern growing out of its rumble seat. This was directly across from the old Spanish Basilica, which I’d just visited. Cool and white inside, steeped in prayers.
I’ve fallen in love with Colonia’s Sycamore-Tree-lined streets. It’s shady, shady underneath. The trade-off is that their roots have absolutely tumbled the sidewalks here. However, people who live with granite slab streets have learned to balance and keep a good eye out. We can all co-exist with nature when it’s so very good to us, as it is in Colonia. Plants riot to be beautiful, healthy and green. An ongoing beauty contest!
Except…… you can’t tell where you are because every intersection looks the same. Not complaining! These are tall, tall, light green, leafy trees cloistering low, faded-crimson, or brilliant yellow, stone buildings, which themselves, hide secret flower-strewn patios. I get lost so often but don’t mind at all. It might be called discovery if I could replicate it. But the next time, I can’t find the new places I’d gleefully stumbled across. This wraps all in a constant sense of mystery. Shangri-La, I think.
Now and then, in the big city of Montevideo, where I currently live, I’ll come across one of those streets with Sycamores and I stop and admire and promise myself that, one day, I’ll live on one. Well, it’s in my power now and it will happen. Just can’t tell when.
The tour-planning idea is coming to maturity very rapidly. Within a week, it’s grown from infancy to teenager. I’m having fun raising it and dreaming. This first, special town I’ve come to, is so full of sweet pousadas, luxurious and precious; so many it’s hard to choose. So many, we can vary them from tour to tour.
Google this one where I now sit: The Pousada del Governador, www.delgobernador.com I’m hiding from the heat in the colorful Great Room. Bright lime and yellow-clothed breakfast tables; a sunshine-colored wall and a glass façade and a fountain garden; plants, inside and out; an emerald swimming pool with a jewel, hedge-hemmed lawn. This best hotel, smack next to the ancient basilica, actively worshiping still, within the heart of town. Here. in this lovely place, we will headquarter our groups when we’re in Colonia.
With so much going on, every single day is full of meaning and there’s so much to do. Tomorrow, I travel a few miles back towards Montevideo for another stopover in a Horse Ranch Hostel to check that out and maybe ride a horse. It’s been a long, long time! Such a variety of options in such a small area!
My four months in South America will end tomorrow night when I take off from Buenos Aires for Houston, Texas; change planes early in the morning, and fly on to Tampa, Florida. Dear friends will meet me for the ride across the bay and I´ll be home by mid-day on Tuesday. I´ll soon be surrounded by my familiar life, my son, my neighbors and friends whom I have genuinely missed during this third of a year on the road.
After returning from my quick trip down to Tierra del Fuego at the tail end of the South American continent, I realized that Uruguay is just across the river from Buenos Aires and can be accessed by various ferries that run about four times a day. So, Friday morning, I zipped over on the fast boat to my last new country. The Buquebus ferry only takes one hour to make the gentle crossing of the River Plata. This is a big, fancy, car-carrying ship with airline-type seats and a cafeteria and duty-free shop aboard. A delightful ride.
I stayed in the small town of Colonia because that´s where the ferry lands and Montevideo was an extra few hours on the bus and I could only sample the new land over the weekend. It´s a delightful place and feels nothing like the rest of South America. It was almost as if I had stepped back in time to small town America…though that´s not to say that Colonia isn´t modern.
Actually, the town encouraged that impression by planting old 1920´s and 1930´s antique cars all about. Many of them obviously don´t run and have become decorative foliage planters or even a special seating area for a restaurant. Some simply seem to be parked outside of a residence or business as if the driver will be back in a minute. I did see a 1929 taxi tooling down the road though with passengers.
So, this is a cute little one-story town with a tree-lined main street and a yacht harbor and a lighthouse. They encourage tourism but don´t go crazy pandering to it. We are welcome to wander about and be absorbed into local life. There´s no big souvenir emphasis, but there are good restaurants with good food.
People live in beautiful houses with lovely, grassy yards. It´s clean. They live a good life in their small town and they absorb us without any fuss, muss, or bother. Naturally, there´s a tiny downside.
It feels expensive. One dollar buys twenty-five Uruguayan pesos, but things are priced in the hundreds and thousands and nothing is cheap. For instance, I blew through $250 in a flash. My lovely hotel room cost $50 per night (2 nights = $100) and one fabulous grilled salmon meal cost $38, and another meal $10, plus fruit for supper in my room. My round-trip ferry was $80. Maybe that doesn´t sound like much to other travelers, but my money usually goes much further down here.
But, I´m glad I went because I really like the country and would like to get to know it better. I can recommend it as a tourist destination and I believe it´s usually overlooked on the travel rosters. So, go to laid-back Uruguay for comfort and a familiar setting. Just take a little money.