“The routines of tourism are even more monotonous than those of daily life.”
– Mason Cooley, American aphorist, Professor of English
Colonia del Sacramento – It was time for that quarterly visa dance that so many of us living here on our tourist visas have to do. We have options – we can travel lots, in and out of the country; once or twice a year we can go stand in lines at the migraciones office and pay a fee for a renewal (100 pesos I believe, or $32), but not every time, and only if we meet certain conditions; or we can “do Colonia“… probably the most common. It’s a quick, hour or so long trip across the river by “high speed” boat (sorry, but 55 kilometers in 70 minutes is only roughly 30 miles per hour… not exactly zooming… and I’m still mystified as to how the early morning ferry takes 3 hours to do the same trip), to the docks (currently 214 pesos, or $70). There’s a daily 11:15 in the morning ferry, and the return is around 5:30. The visa process is simple and painless, right in the Buquebus terminals at each end, there are double-windowed counters – when leaving, you hand your passport to the Argentine official, who checks to make sure you haven’t overstayed your 90-days, then stamps an exit visa, and hands it to the Uruguayan official siitting next to him or her, who barely glances at it, other than perhaps to see if your picture matches you, and then stamps a 90-day entry visa to Uruguay. The process is reversed on the way back.
It’s all pretty routine, no one seems to give much thought to the international border crossing of hundreds of people per day via this route. I got a moment of cultural slice of life on the way back – on the Colonia side, there are two of these double windowed counters… there are three boats that leave Colonia per day. Starting about an hour before each, the lines start forming and being processed. So, these migraciones officials who sit there for the day (probably two shifts actually), really only have processing work for about 3 hours a day. So there we are, half an hour or so before departure, and someone brings the two guys in one lane a couple of espressos. Without a thought or a glance at the couple of hundred folk in line, they both kicked back from their desks and had their little five minute coffee break. The amazing thing is that everyone in line just simply reroutes themselves back towards the open lane, without seeming to think about it. Even the tourists… it’s just life here on the Rio de la Plata.
Arrival is a perfect time to grab a quick lunch, and then, of course, being a pro, grabbing a snack sometime later in the day after a bit of wandering. This was my fourth trip to Colonia, and I’ve hit the museums, and wandered the streets of the historic district, each of the four previous times. I’ve also eaten at the overpriced tourist-oriented restaurants in the zone. I decided to walk into the center of town instead of the historic district – it’s no further, just a slightly different direction. I was in the mood for a good chivito sandwich, and nabbed an outdoor seat at a little chiviteria and pizzeria called La Amistad, at 448 18 de Julio, just a couple of blocks from the ferry terminal. I was relaxing, and I let the waiter talk me into a chivito al plato, which he assured me was a better way to eat a chivito – in hindsight, I disagree, the sandwich is the thing. But I got a reasonably tasty one, made classically – thin slice of steak topped with crispy bacon, a paper thin slice of ham, melted cheese, and a fried egg. The plato version came with fries, ensalada rusa, and a little side salad, the fries were actually pretty good. I sat amongst locals rather than tourists, and I paid half of what I’d have paid for a chivito in a historic zone restaurant, a mere ten blocks away (80 uruguayos, or $3.25 versus 150 uruguayos or $6.35).
The next few hours I spent wandering more towards the center of town, though I did end up in the historic district for a short while. Random snaps from my wanders:
The municipal beach near the downtown area
The park behind Town Hall
The town soccer field
Some beautiful flowering vines climbing a wall
The Uruguayan flag flying near the Yacht Club
Of course, wandering builds up an appetite, and as long as I was there, it seemed worth trying another chivito. This time I grabbed a proper sandwich one from a little stand in the middle of the main street, Los Farolitos, at 270 Av. Gral. Flores, where two women were busily making a variety of grilled sandwiches on a countertop grill. This was the real deal – exactly what I was looking for, and even cheaper (48 uruguayos, or $2) than the sit-down restaurant (though they had a few patio type tables and chairs on the sidewalk out front), sandwich style, and an array of toppings to choose from. Same exact “layout” – steak, bacon, ham, cheese, fried egg – and then various sauces and relishes. While it may not be what the doctor ordered – in fact between chivitos and pamplonas, it’s hard to imagine that Uruguayans don’t have rocketing high cholesterol, it was delicious!
So, the challenge, much like my someday planned survey of the choripan stands along the Costanera Sur, is a field trip with a couple of other folk to try all the chivito stands in the center of Colonia along the streets… signup here!