We left the Eco Yoga Park on a Monday afternoon and on the way to Buenos Aires we had our first contact with the real world again: the world in which you can only buy a bus ticket with coins! We needed 32 pesos in coins (USD8) for all of us and because we obviously didn’t have that, we were not allowed to get in. In disbelief we went to some shops and attempted to get some change, but for some twisted reason they were not able to help. So in the end 2 of our friends managed to get the coins in a petrol station, asking the drivers for help with changing the money. After about half an hour, when we finally got on the bus, we had a hand full of coins to be put one by one in a metal box that would spit out a ticket every 8 pesos. Our friend Paula spent a few minutes by the box getting the tickets for all of us, putting in 25 cents at a time, and in the process kept all the people behind her waiting + implicitly stopped the bus from leaving. We thought this was ridiculous, troublesome, non effective, and maybe it was time for them to switch to a new system. But hey, what do we know?
We spent no time in Buenos Aires, but went straight to the ferry terminal to hop on the boat to Colonia del Sacramento, the quaint little town at the ‘entrance’ in Uruguay. We got there around 9pm; it was dark and we had no idea again where we would spend the night. Colonia is such a tiny place that you can probably walk the whole town in an hour, so we started walking from the ferry terminal towards one of the few hostels we had found in our book. The streets were completely deserted, and we could only see lights shining from behind curtains.
We were starving, so the moment we saw a little kiosk selling Uruguayan food we stopped right there, luggage and all, and had a big veggie sandwich with lotsa fries too! We had hoped for some typical Uruguayan food, and even though there was plenty, it all involved meat, meat and at times some extra meat. While eating we were looking at each other in a bit of disbelief, wondering if a few months ago we had been as relaxed about crossing into another country at night, not knowing where we’d stay and actually not much else about the place we were going to either.
With our stomachs full we could think better, so we walked to the hostel and checked in for the night. The hostel had bikes the guests could use for free, so when we asked the next morning how it works the lady replied: ‘Oh, you just take it from back there’. ‘And the lock?’ ‘Oh, no no, no lock, nobody steals around here’. We were flabbergasted! We took her word for it but we still had to test it out, so after going around the city we left it outside a coffee shop for 4 hours and… lo and behold! it was still there at 8pm. We then understood the phenomenons that had shocked us during the day, such as people smiling at us on the streets for no particular reason, some of them even greeting us, others going out of their way to give us proper directions and make sure we knew where we were going, some even walking with us to the place we wanted to go, and people just generally making sure we were all right in every possible way.
We found out the town of Colonia was founded by the Portuguese in late 17th century but was very soon disputed by the Spanish and then spent the next few centuries being ping-ponged between the two crowns. Later in the day we rode our bikes through the historic quarter (which has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO) and could not get enough of the small quiet streets with few and serene people, the brick houses, quaint little cafes, cobblestone streets, antique cars and ancient feel. We were offered wine to taste while passing by a restaurant and we decided that yeah, this is definitely a good place to be in.
We took it easy the first day, rode our bikes on the coast and stopped on some benches to do a bit of reading and writing while watching the ocean, then continued riding until we passed by a small sign saying ‘Wine – 30 pesos. Bread – 37 pesos’. We were obviously intrigued by a place where bread was more expensive than wine, so we walked into the little shop just to be greeted by a man with a most beautiful smile. He recommended us a sweet Rose, homemade, and we took his advice. We also grabbed some bread and some aaaaamazing cheese (he gave us quite a big piece to taste and said he was not worried, he is yet to see a person who has tasted it and did not buy some after that) and we rode back to the beach, where we set on the wooden benches and, in the breeze of the sea, we had an incredible lunch of Uruguayan bread, cheese and wine!
It was not easy to find vegetarian food around, and the prices for food in general were quite high. There was pizza and pasta everywhere and those were the cheapest items on the menu. We were again amazed by the massive Italian influence. At some point we found ourselves in a place that served the vegetarian version of the Uruguayan burger, chivito. They say the chivito is cheaper, bigger and tastier than the regular burger – you’ve got the patty, cheese, ham, veggies and a fried egg, all in between a big yum bun. One mean burger, I say!
As we were waiting for our food I glanced at the TV in the restaurant (the one thing never missing from any food or drinks place) which was, as usual, set on the soccer channel. As I was wondering who was playing, I found myself asking ‘Is that the Romanian flag??’. And indeed it was!! It was a friendly game with Brazil and they had Ronaldo come in as a guest player. The stadium was packed and people were going nuts over him, the cameras were following him more than the ball… it was exciting:). I overheard a couple behind me commenting the game, so I turned to them and asked ‘Which side are you on?’. The guy immediately replied ‘Oh, Brazil of course… Brazil is always the favorite… This one, Romania, hmmm… I don’t really know, the name is familiar but…’. I then smiled, nodded and told him ‘Yeah, I know what you mean. I’m from Romania by the way’. His eyes almost popped out and he looked a bit embarrassed as he asked: ‘You are?? Really??’. He and his girlfriend then started laughing so hard, I was afraid they’d fall of the chair. Little after that they left, but before they walked out they made sure to turn and wish me good luck! Hahaha!
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