12 March 2010

Old Towns Getting Older

Further west along Uruguay's coast we explored the cities/town of Montevideo, Colonia del Sacramento, and Carmelo.

Uruguay has 3 million people and half of them live in the capital of Montevideo. It was worth spending the day here, but certainly not more than that. The old part of town is exactly that: old. It has some colonial remnants that are decaying. It's fashionable buildings from earlier this century are also in a state of certain decay. Apparently the neighborhoods are nice but well outside of the center. The coast lacked any beaches or pedestrian friendly wharf. Our hostel was pretty sweet though - very chill, clean, nice art, a rooftop terrace and organic breakfast with homemade wheat bread. It was nice, but it shouldn't have been the highlight :)

Colonia del Sacramento
Yes, yet another colonial town. This one also came highly recommended. At first glance, it didn't appear drastically different than other colonial towns that we've visited. However, even this town was not a dramatic departure from the usual, it was quite tranquil and still pretty. We toured the many "museums." Five in less than one hour, to be exact. The museums were hilarious. One had rocks and no explanations. Another had only tiles. One had a random selection of everything from supposed indigenous artifacts to modern National Geographic posters. It seemed more like a clearing house from the attics of older citizens from town. As always, we made the best of it and had fun. We also caught a magnificent sunset over the Atlantic. On the way home that night, our ears led us to a drum procession that had over two dozen percussionists. They walked together, slowly forward, in the middle of the street. It was a sort of Critical Mass for drummers.

The usual backpacker route is to take the ferry from Colonia to Buenos Aires. The ferry is expensive and offers limited departure times. We jumped at the opportunity to take a bus ride northwest (yes, check your globe) along the Rio de la Plata to the pueblo of Carmelo. We arrived during siesta time and there was literally only one store open. Someone up there must like us because that one store was a bakery. We spent our last few pesos on a chocolate-filled eclair. We hopped on a ferry that crossed the big river then meandered through a maze of island-towns and secluded houses that have docks instead of driveways. Eventually we arrived Tigre, where we hopped on yet another bus to Buenos Aires. The entire journey took 6 hours instead of the direct 2 hours, but it was well worth it. What a tour!

And now for the photos . . .

The flowers poking through don't hide the decay. Montevideo is like a 70 year-old woman who still puts on red lipstick every morning. You know, and maybe she knows, that it's a ruse - the beauty of yesteryear is no longer there. But somehow she can't let go. And maybe she shouldn't.

The trash collector starting his route. You wouldn't believe how much he can pile on that carriage.

The theater - one of the few new buildings in downtown Montevideo. I don't understand why so many architects love concrete so much more than plants.

Upon Karen's advice, we sneaked into a restaurant on the top floor of a central hotel. The panoramic view was honest.

What's for dinner?

On to Colonia where we toured five museums to find this hidden gem: a gigantic shell of a long-extinct type of armadillo. The tail-bone is as big as Kristin's torso. Can you imagine finding this beast in your backyard? This alone made it worth visiting all five museums.

The rock museum, occupying a building typical of the colonial style.

Stay classy Colonia.

One morning we ran out to San Carlos, a resort development scheme that only existed from 1907-1910. The investment failed, leaving behind this bull ring, numerous buildings, and a horse race track (which is the still used today).

Two hours north of Colonia is the tiny old boating town of Carmelo. From this lovely promenade we made our way to the ferry and said goodbye to Uruguay.

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