All that political stuff blew over. No big deal. Who would have thought?
Meanwhile, here's the (way too long) summary of our recent trip to Uruguay:
We got off to a rough start - we went to the airport here in Asuncion only to find out that our flight was canceled! The guy working the counter didn't exactly know what was happening since HQ wasn't answering his calls, but he was sure that Pluna Air wasn't going to be flying again. Ever. I thought that only happened to other people. However, we did get passage on another airline to Buenos Aires. That's in a whole different country... but is close enough.
We actually got to BA at about the same time we planned to get to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. At the airport, we concocted a plan to spend the night in a hostel and take a fast ferry to Uruguay the next morning. The boat would actually deposit us at the last city on of intended itinerary... a rather convenient coincidence. Anyhow, we spent a vast number of hours at the airport trying to: find accommodation in BA, communicate with the airline regarding our flight home, figure out the schedule of the boat and call hotels to change our reservations. We actually visited BOTH Buenos Aires airports to do all of that. Needless to say, we were pretty tired out by the end of the night (but we did accomplish all of that stuff... bully to us for being experienced travelers... and for being together, as I think it all might have been too overwhelming had one of us been trying to do all of it alone).
That accommodation in BA was excellent... a charming hostel with very welcoming staff. And the next morning a most wonderful, wonderful free breakfast. It was so nice that we stayed in until it was time to leave for the port. We got a ticket at the counter on a fast boat to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay and away we went. We were in Colonia del Sacramento by noon.
We were able to adjust our reservations for Colonia from the BA airport, but only for the second night. For the first night we had to hunt around for a cheapish hostel, which we eventually found. It was unremarkable. We spent the afternoon walking about Colonia's UNESCO-cited old city. Lots of circa 1700s and 1800s buildings. Sort of touristy, but pleasant enough in this, the low-season. There are a few quirky little museums on hand. I got a kick out the "tile museum." It's just... a bunch of tiles. And there's one in Montevideo, too. Odd.
On the second day we moved into a room at an excellent bed and breakfast/hostel. That one proved to be the best accommodations of our whole trip. It has really charming, attractively made-up rooms. We used the well-equipped kitchen to cook up a couple of meals... pasta for dinner and one large omelet for breakfast (to go with the cereal and home-made bread made on-site by the owners). This would be a bit of a theme this time 'round. Uruguay is an expensive place, so we got back to our roots somewhat: cheap dorm room sleeping and big meals self made in the early mornings and late evenings. The meals, in particular, made a lot of sense... tastier and more affordable than restaurant fare. Not that restaurants are terribly expensive in Uruguay; I think that pasta for me, fish for xxxx and a half-litre of wine cost about 25 bucks.
Towards the end of the day, at the advice of a lady at the tourism information office, we took a walk of about 5 km along the beach leading out of town to an abandoned resort from the 1920s. Barely used, now there remains the shell of a swanky old hotel, a bull fighting ring (!!) and (still in operation) a horse racing track. All quite striking at sunset. We did the walk back through an urban area than runs parallel to the beach.
Next to Montevideo by bus. Montevideo's main draw is its own old town. But while Colonia's is made of of quaint, small homes, the capital's is made up of large European-style buildings. Big big big. It has a great number of quirky little museums. We particularly enjoyed the Museo del Carnaval. It collects a bunch of neat costumes and masks worn over the years. Apparently Montevideo has a Carnaval almost as cool as the big one in Brazil.
On day two in Montevideo we figured out the local bus system and were able to take a long bus (about one hour) to a park/zoo in a rural part of the city. The zoo wasn't really the point of the trip... the point was just to get into the rural parts of the city. The ride out was illuminating. While Montevideo is very shiny and prosperous, the ride took us through some of the slummier parts of the city. The unequal distribution of wealth is quite striking.
The zoo was more of a farm sort of thing.... lots of llamas and mountain goats and emu and horses and sheep and that sort of thing. Again, the low-season made it rather empty (and also free), so we were able to enjoy some quiet strolling. Nearby was some pretty wetland areas, something Uruguay is noted for.
That evening we visited a spot called Baar Fun Fun. That peculiarly named place is a venue for live Tango music (and sometimes performances of dance) that has been in operation since 1896. The staff there are often described as the "caretakers of Uruguayan culture." I think that our visit was the highlight of our trip. The music performed was remarkable, and the venue itself exudes history. Despite its fame, it is rather small and intimate place with seating for no more than 50 or 60 visitors. We had to get someone local to call ahead and reserve us a table. We visited on a Wednesday night when the crowds are smallest. The performers seemed to know quite a few of the people in attendance, which gave the night a friendly, casual, local feel. The place acts as a museum of sorts just by existing... and was worth visiting just for that... but the music was very very good. Powerful stuff. But fun and happy. We had the best seats in the house. How about that?
The bus info came from a tourism information office. And so did our knowledge of the park. And while I knew about Baar Fun Fun, it was the lady there who made our table reservation. That's something that comes from xxxxx... the idea of just going to the information office and asking a ton of questions. That's not something I ever really did on my own. Which is silly, because that's what they are there for.
And then to Punta del Este. Just a 90 minute bus ride away. The bus and boat rides on this trip were no sweat at all, considering what we've done in the past. Did feel a tad sea sick on that first boat ride, though.
Punta del Este is a busy resort town. Lots of beaches and night clubs and that sort of thing. But again, because of the low season it was dead during our visit. We arrived rather late in the day so spent just a bit of time our first night walking through the unattractive urban part of the town. Lots of closed up shops, restaurants and bars. It was very cold that night so while we stayed out as late as we could, we were back at the hostel around nine thirty or so.
The hostel in Punta was part of a chain, so a bit clinical and lacking in character but the corporate-ness did make for very clean facilities and well-bleached linens (that's a good thing). I think you might have actually liked the place. In addition to the dorms they also have private en suite rooms. Very bright and colorful, all. Combined with a generous breakfast spread (with coffee of course) and relaxed commons areas.
Anyways... day two in Punta was another busy one. Our main destination was a place called Casa Pueblo. That's a sprawling estate about 20 km outside of town. Designed by Carlos Paez Vilario, Urugauy's most famous artist, it's an odd but attractive gallery/home/living sculpture. It's a place that keeps getting bigger and bigger. The first room was built out of tin cans. The second was built using wood that washed up on the beach. Rooms were built whenever visitors popped by (including Pablo Picasso). At some point, it was all sort of covered with... I dunno... lime or concrete or something. Tough to describe, but here's an image search that might illuminate: https://www.google.ca/search?q=casa+pue ... s&tbm=isch
It's up on a cliff along the beach (everything is along the beach... it goes on and on and on). After our visit we found a curious little flight of stone steps that lead down to the beach and headed down. The intention was to walk the 20 k back to town, catching the sunset along the way. We met an older guy (60ish) at the bottom of the steps who said "Aha! You found the steps! Are you here the see the secret cave?" He told us of (and showed us) a cave under the cliff used for dancing back in the old days. It contained a little "swimming pool" which was always perfectly clean since it was emptied and refilled each day as the tide ebbed in and out. He used to catch fish with his friends back then and spend a few days camping out on the beach. His visit that night was with one of his grandchildren. Very cool.
He told us to stay in the light and be careful ("Uruguay is changing!") and we headed back to the centre of town. The walk was pleasant, though that many hours on sand can be tough on the ankles. The sunset was very pretty. Interestingly, we stumbled upon a few dead penguins washed up on shore. We're in THAT part of the world!
And then we began the long trip back to Buenos Aires and home.
One more night in Montevideo. One perk of staying at a chain hostel is that there are little package deals with the other branches. We managed to snag a free night in the capital as as reward for pre-booking the two nights in Punta del Este. Did a bit of strolling around the near empty historic centre of Montevideo (Montevideo, like Asuncion, is dead dead dead on early weekend evenings) and headed over to Baar Fun Fun for a show. Not as nice the second time 'round, but I'm glad we went. The Saturday night show was crowded. The music was just as good, but the atmosphere was less inviting. It did serve to highlight the specialness of the show we saw earlier in the trip.
Next morning on the bus to Colonia. Then on the boat to Buenos Aires. And after a couple of hours of checking out the nighttime sites, we took a cab to the airport. Our flight to Asuncion left at around 2:30 AM.