According to Argentinian law, a visitor is allowed to stay in the country for 90 days without a visa. Unfortunately, visas in Argentina are very complex and difficult to attain. For that reason, expats (like me) usually just leave the country every 90 days and re-enter in order to avoid the hassle of a visa. So I decided to go to Uruguay. My friend and house-mate, Dago agreed to accompany me so I wouldn’t have to go by myself.
I was told by my students that Colonia was a nice place to visit and had many “colonial-style” houses. I was curious as to what “colonial-style” was to South Americans. Colonia is in the southern part of Uruguay and just across the river, so that made it an easy choice for my trip.
For people with a sense of adventure and not a big wad of cash in their pockets, there’s a really cool website called Couchsurfing.org. In a nutshell, members can either host a traveler in their home, give a traveler a tour around their city or stay in a host’s home, either on their couch or in an available room in their house. It’s really quite an ingenious idea, and it’s ideal for travelers who like to meet new people, experience true culture and who want to know the “real” parts of the city they’re traveling to.
So I made a request for a “couch” in Colonia, and this sweet guy, Juan Daniel, accepted my request the next day! I was super excited. Dago and I caught the boat which took us across the Rio de la Plata to Uruguay. This is the widest river in the world, and looks just like the ocean, complete with waves and a horizon with nothing but water as far as the eye can see. I would never have guessed it was a river.
When we arrived in Colonia, we explored the town briefly, bought some wine and food to share for dinner, then called Juan. He was at a friend’s house and gave us instructions how to arrive at his house by bus. Briefly, we were to tell the driver to drop us off at “the farm of Juan Daniel.” We were to jump the fence and wait for him at the front door and he would be along shortly. So we did just that.
It was a pretty trip, and the highway was lined on both sides with huge palm trees. When we arrived, we were welcomed by his dog, Bandido (Bandit). Bandido didn’t even bark at us. He just came up to us wagging his tail and keeping us company until Juan arrived. Soon, however, Bandido did begin barking and ran toward the gate that we had jumped. We saw a lone figure walking in the street. This must be Juan, we thought. As it turned out, Juan walks everywhere he goes, and his friend’s house was 1 hour and 20 minutes by foot! The nearest grocery store was 30 minutes’ walk, and the beach was 10 minutes’ walk. I can’t imagine how long the half hour bus ride would be walking, but I imagine pretty lengthy!
Juan Daniel is a scruffy sort of fellow with a full beard and baggy clothes. He’s 32 years old and a total “bohemian”! What do I mean? Juan lives on a farm owned by his parents, and grandparents before that. He works 4 months out of the year with the various crops grown on the farm. The rest of the time he hangs out at the beach, travels nearby or hosts fellow “couchsurfers.” He’s had other jobs, but this is what he prefers at this point in his life. He seemingly has no concept of time, doesn’t own a car, but has a bicycle and a horse. Strangely, he prefers to walk rather than take any other type of transport. He lives in a solid, but antiquated farmhouse with no hot water. He has a fireplace as his only source of heat, and his walls are covered with the musings of his friends and guests. Fortunately, the weather was nice and we were not cold, although we did cook our hamburger patties on a grate in the fireplace. However, needless to say, I refused to take a cold shower! 😮
In Juan’s profile for couchsurfing, he declares that he likes all kinds of food, and doesn’t care what political or religious views his guests have, or if they smoke, drink or do drugs. Though he doesn’t do drugs himself, he promises to take care of you if you do choose to partake while at his house. A total free spirit! Juan also collects pencil sharpeners. Yes, pencil sharpeners! It was posted on his profile, so we brought him a cool one that looked like a saxophone. He loved it and added it to his collection of over 400 sharpeners!
So we sat on Juan’s patio, enjoying the cool breeze and the wine until well after dark. Later, we cooked our meal and sat by the fire talking until past midnight. It was so interesting to swap stories and learn about a new culture. Argentina and Uruguay are like sister countries. They share the same food, the same dialect and the people’s attitudes are very similar. I listened intently while the guys talked politics. Although the two countries share a lot, the lifestyle in Colonia is very different from the fast-paced Buenos Aires! The cars there travel slowly and they stop for pedestrians waiting to cross. You would never see that in Buenos Aires. There you have to dodge the cars or they’ll run right over you! Juan also told us there is no crime in Colonia. We had observed earlier that day that several stores were closed, yet the lightweight tables and chairs remained outside. In Buenos Aires, if it’s not nailed down, it is brought in for the night and placed under lock and key, or it will be gone the next day, without a doubt!
The next morning, I had my coffee and the guys had their “mate,” the traditional South-American herbal tea. We took the short walk to the beach and enjoyed the beautiful view, while chatting more about the world, cultures and life in general. Juan Daniel commented that he remains single because the girls he has dated don’t seem to understand his lifestyle, and often don’t agree with the “couchsurfing” concept. Juan admitted that he hosts surfers weekly, and often several guests in one week. Obviously, some of these guests are female.
Indeed, a pair of French girls had left a few days before we came, and Juan was expecting some German guests that same evening. As well, a couple of Argentinian guys arrived before we left that afternoon. What an interesting lifestyle!
Later that afternoon, we said our goodbyes and caught the bus back to town. We grabbed a wonderful lunch at a little sandwich stand. By far the most interesting hamburger I’ve ever had! You had a choice of about 10 toppings, including homemade salsas and herbed mayonnaises, olives, mushrooms, red peppers, etc. The sandwiches all come standard with cheese, a fried egg and a piece of ham on top of the meat. It made for a huge sandwich, which I couldn’t finish, but I did find room a little later for ice cream!
The scenic district in Colonia has cute houses, an old fort, whimsical shops and a picturesque lighthouse, in which you can climb and take pictures of the beachy scene below. I thoroughly enjoyed strolling through the district, sitting near the water, and just partaking of the relaxing atmosphere, as compared to the hectic city life in Buenos Aires. But soon, it was time to catch the boat back to Argentina, and our short vacation was over. I’m so glad I got to experience a different environment this weekend, and I hope you enjoyed the adventure and the pictures and much as I enjoyed posting them!