Perhaps the easiest way to escape the vibrant bustle of Buenos Aires is to take a boat.
Although Angela and I had thoroughly enjoyed winding our way through the Argentinian side streets and markets, Buenos Aires still feels like a giant city. And we were in need of quiet sidewalk cafés and a decided absence of car horns.
So we hiked from our hotel to the ferry port overlooking the Rio de la Plata and booked passage with Buquebus to carry us over to the Uruguayan side of the estuary. There are several destinations to choose from, but we opted for the quiet town of Colonia del Sacramento instead of the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo.
I had been intrigued by several articles describing the quaint, tree-lined streets of Colonia. When I found out that the old center of this little town had been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, I simply couldn’t resist.
The tickets only cost 32 USD apiece, and the immigration procedures were simple and straightforward. Since we were only visiting for the day, we purchase return tickets and didn’t have to worry about luggage. Everything is easier when you’re traveling light!
The crossing was smooth, with clear weather and a relatively clean ship. I was surprised, however, at the color of the water throughout the journey. A rich brown surf extended all the way to the horizon, and I couldn’t help but worry about the fish we had eaten for dinner the night before.
So I asked the young man tending the ship’s refreshment stand about it.
“Oh, don’t worry!” he said with impeccable English. “It’s just the river. The water has always been this color.”
As it turns out, he wasn’t lying. For at least 200 years, the world’s largest estuary has been brown. But, unfortunately, his lack of worry was misplaced. The water has been brown for 200 years because it’s been continuously polluted for 200 years! It started with riverside tanneries, poor city sewage facilities, and runoff from farms in the continent’s interior. Now, with the booming urban development of Buenos Aires, the situation is just getting worse.
I made a mental note to forego the seafood for the rest of our time in Buenos Aires.
With the worst of the brown water behind us, the ferry arrived in Colonia at lunchtime, and we found the place to be largely deserted. It had turned into a breezy Saturday afternoon, with intermittent rainclouds breaking up the late summer heat and the ancient, scarred sycamore trees beginning to drop their leaves.
We ate at a charming sidewalk café called Paraíso. With a gigantic grilled meat platter for two that included bread and salad, we indulged in our one meal for the day. The sausage was exceptional!
Still thirsty from the salt and spice, we next paid a visit to the Barbot brewpub and planted ourselves squarely at the bar. As we were the only patrons in the place, the bartender, Nicolas, gave us his full attention, talking about their process and allowing us to sample everything they had on tap.
One may not necessarily think about Uruguay when considering world-class beer, but we were extremely impressed with their efforts, especially their Mumbai IPA. I had at least two of those.
Angela and I bid Nicolas farewell and made our way to the UNESCO inscribed heart of old Colonia and the iconic lighthouse bearing the city’s name. The streets here grew narrow and uneven, with centuries-old cobblestones and houses that date back to the city’s founding in the late 1600s. Hidden details that told subtle stories. And all the time in the world to find them.
It’s the perfect place to step back in time, to step away from the metropolis of Buenos Aires, and to lose yourself in quiet cafés and candlelight dinners.
And all it takes is a short boat ride.