I refuse to leave South America without adding one more country to my collection. Uruguay beckons. We have only two days left and plan to pack in as much as we can in spite of my stumbling encounter with a cobblestone street.
Just across the Rio de la Plata from Buenos Aires lies a jewel of a UNESCO World Heritage site, the historical center of Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. A couple of ways to get there are the Buquebus three-hour ferry or their fast hydrofoil. Because time is of the essence, we opt for the 50-minute hydrofoil, trip. Round-trip tickets cost $57 each.
The first available boat on this bone-chilling, rainy Sunday morning departs at 11:30. The only available seats for the return trip are on the 5:00 pm ferry so we’ll have to figuratively hit the ground running. Because I fell on a cobblestone street two days ago, hurting my ankle, I won’t be running anywhere, for a while.
The trip across the water in the Atlantic III is a bit choppy but we don’t really feel it in this wide hydrofoil. As soon as we’re a few miles offshore, there’s a stampede to the opening duty-free shop. The frenzy continues for about a half hour when the goodies are locked behind closed doors as we near the Colonia Terminal.
We disembark and to my horror, the road to the historical center is paved with cobblestones. It’s about 10 treacherous blocks from the ferry terminal to the main plaza in the old quarter. I have an umbrella that is doubling as a cane to take the weight off my injured ankle but it’s not as tall as a cane or crutch so it’s not a great help. We’re forced to take it slow.
A cold dampness starts to penetrate our bones so we are tempted to go fast. I’m not really dressed for this weather. Looking like the Michelin man, I thought a short sleeve shirt with a fleece shirt and a heavy sweater would do the trick. What I really need is a waterproof windbreaker as another layer of protection from the breezy cold.
Just outside the town center gate is a tourist information office where we pick up a map. I hobble across the Plaza Mayor and find an open restaurant on the corner. This seems like the perfect place to come in from the cold and warm up with food and hot drinks.
Restaurante Pulperia de Los Faroles is housed in a few lovely stone walled rooms with thick arches dividing them. It sounds cold but it is a warm and inviting place to hang our hats for a while.
A solo guitarist, who is quite good, performs Beatles, Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin tunes. The atmosphere and entertainment are better than the food but for under $50 including wine and a shared dessert called Copa Apple Crunch, it is a happy break from the winter rain.
We can’t linger for too long if we want to explore the area so we bundle up and set out into the cold. Being Sunday, the streets are pretty empty and only a few stores are open.
Mike discovers a stairway that leads to a rooftop view. My ankle says no. I will just have to enjoy it through the pictures he takes.
We grab a few souvenir bookmarks and a Uruguay baseball cap and moan that we should have planned more time here. But, the ferry is ready for boarding.
If I had it to do over again, I would have shaved a night off our Buenos Aires itinerary and spent a night in this quaint town. Mike suggests taking it a step further with a rental car and a scenic drive to Montevideo and the chic beaches beyond. Instead we zip across the water and return to Buenos Aires. Happily, the rain has cleared the air back in the city so I’m breathing easier.
For our last dinner in Buenos Aires, we return to Puerto Madera and have dinner at Cabana Las Lilas. We are ushered through the bar, past massive wine racks and a window into the kitchen to our waterside table. Big heaters keep us warm and toasty.
As soon as we sit down a barrage of delicious food starts arriving. The table, made of a thick wheel of wood, is quickly covered and we haven’t even cracked open the wine list, let alone the menu.
The wine list looks like a leather-bound novel. The wine racks we saw on the way to our table should have been a clue that they are serious about their wine. It’s so overwhelming that we need help from the sommelier to navigate it.
We settle on a $25 bottle of very nice Merlot. We decide to give Argentinean beef a second chance (see my previous post Turn My World Upside Down (Part 2 – Buenos Aires Stopover) and order a couple of steaks with potatoes and sautéed veggies. At last, we can dig into the goodies on the table.
Besides a multitude of breads and crackers with several bowls of dipping sauces, there is an assortment of cured meats, roasted red peppers, hummus, an eggplant concoction, and tomatoes with fresh mozzarella.
At the next table sits an American couple who hear us talk and they zero in on us. They spend a lot of time in Buenos Aires because of the husband’s work so we get their take on this South American city. Stuffed with all of the freebies, our real dinner arrives as they leave.
Argentineans love their meats and these steaks show us why. The filet and rib eye are cooked to perfection. We are so stuffed and can’t possibly take another bite of food so we skip dessert.
Before the check comes another surprise, a wooden tray carrying two carafes filled with grappa and limoncello! Oh my! Limoncello is an Italian lemon liqueur that I love. I guess we can’t leave yet. The limoncello slides down easily and we quickly polish off the bottle.
Luckily we’re not big on grappa, typically made from the scraps of winemaking including the grape seeds, stalks and stems. We each try a shot but since it’s not to our taste, we easily leave almost a full bottle behind. Had we been given two carafes of limoncello, they would have had to scrape us up from the floor.
Finally the bill comes and I have to recalculate the money conversion because I can’t believe it. A bottle of a very nice Merlot plus another glass, a large bottled water, a filet, a ribeye plus all of the other sides, food platters, attentive waiters, cozy ambience PLUS a $5 cover charge and the tab is a mere $100 plus tip! WOW! Definitely a bargain!
We awake on our last day feeling better than we should considering what “went down” last night. Our flight is 10:30 tonight so we don’t need to be on the road to the airport until 6:00 or 7:00. We have most of the day to play.
First we need to check out of the hotel. Four nights at the Etoile Hotel and some incidentals cost $675. They store our luggage while we kill time. Later we will return and take showers in the spa so we are fresh for the flight home.
One place we must visit before we leave is the El Ateneo Bookstore. It’s housed in an old, elegant theater a short walk from the hotel. Well worth the hobble on my bum ankle.
The original splendor has been retained. The theater’s box seats have been converted to reading areas and the stage is now a coffee shop. Of course most books are in Spanish so we don’t find any must-have reading materials. Mike spends some time on the third level perusing their selection of music. I just soak in the architecture. I love it.
For lunch we end up at Primafila in the Terraces of the Design Mall across the park from our hotel. Even though it’s winter here, we are seated at a sunny, outside table. I order fusilli al curry verde con pollo, a pasta dish with green curry chicken. Mike tries the Scalopin de lomo con hongos de pino marinados (tenderloin slices with sweet potatoes and glazed carrots). Good but nothing memorable. The total bill is around $35.
Now we are just killing time before we need to go to the airport. In the park across from the hotel is a long line of kiosks with arts & crafts for sale. I have been itching to check them out since we arrived and it’s now or never.
I am looking for a gift for a friend who always manages to find the perfect thing for me. Drawn to the kiosks with leather goods, I find a capybara suede purse that matches the boots I bought in Ushuaia. There’s an identical one that’s brown leather. I really want both, one for me and one for my friend but I just buy the capybara.
A little further down the row another oddly shaped one with tooled leather also catches my eye. I must have it. Now I am conflicted as to which one to give my friend. I could really go crazy and buy doubles of both but I rein myself in and walk away. My friend gets the purse that matches my boots and I keep the tooled leather one.
Our overnight LAN flight from Buenos Aires is scheduled to depart at 10:30 pm and arrive in Miami at 6:45 am but is now is three hours late, meaning that we miss our 8:20 am flight to Charlotte. This means another nail-biter in the hell that is Miami International Airport.
Just like the trip down, we have to go through Customs and Immigration and then go out of the secure area and recheck out luggage with US Air to get to our flight at 1:00. We’re in an endless line about to miss the next flight pleading with airline employees to help but no, they make us snake our way through the 45 minute line. Our 2-hour layover turns into a dash for the flight and plopping down in our seats just before the cabin door is closed.
Once we touch down in Charlotte, I get in to see my doctor to x-ray my ailing ankle. The prognosis is good. It’s not broken, just a really bad sprain. Those quaint cobblestones cannot keep me down!
South America calls to me and I am sure that I will be back soon.