Last night we prepped ourselves for an early morning so we could be up and on the road early for the 4 hour drive to Colonia del Sacramento, west of Montevideo. We checked out about 8 am and stopped in McDonalds for a coffee and Tostada Criolla...basically ham, egg and cheese on a specialty roll. Honestly, the food and coffee there was pretty good. We had heard in our research that Uruguay doesn't allow the use of all the chemicals and preservatives that we do in the U.S. In fact, in your coffee it's real cream with the foam on it...no fake coffee creamer here or artificial sweeteners. If you want sweetness, you add real sugar. We also learned that Uruguay has more cows than people! We knew it was a country of huge beef eaters but had no idea that there are approximately 4 cows per person here. They are free range, grass fed cattle. Good stuff!
It just started to rain as we made our way out of Punta Del Este and continued pretty much the whole way until just outside Colonia. It took almost exactly 2 hrs to reach Montevideo then another 2 hours to reach Colonia. We had the road mostly to ourselves except the small stretch through north Montevideo. On that note, people here drive crazy! Bryan loves it and fits right in. They like to straddle the line, not really committing to one specific lane, like keeping their options open. For the most part they do honor the "slower cars stay to the right", it's very similar to driving in Europe. No one seems to go by the speed limit. Bryan was going over the speed limit and huge trucks were barreling by. Somewhat embarrassing. If its one lane they will still act like its two if its convenient for them. Crazy. Payton napped during the trip while Bryan and I just chatted, listened to the radio and enjoyed the scenery. The music played in restaurants, stores and on the radio is quite a mix. We've been able to find stations playing U.S. music from the 70's, 80's, 90's and now along with their own music. I had many flashbacks.."she blinded me with science", the Bee Gees, Britany Spears, etc. It was great.
We were happy the skies cleared as we approached Colonia, a UNESCO world heritage city along the Rio De La Plata, across from Buenos Aires. We arrived a few hours early to check in so we drove to the historic center off town for lunch at Charasco. It came highly recommended and was worth it! The restaurant (also has a hotel) is situated on the river so we enjoyed beautiful sunshine views from their terrace. I ordered a chicken dish with orange and mirin sauce with mashed sweet potatoes and arugula with toasted almonds. OMG. Delicious. Payton ordered homemade spinach and ricotta ravioli with fresh tomato sauce. Yum! Bryan's dish was, by far, the best dish we've had on our trip. It was a wrap with beef filet and cheese with guacamole, a lemony cream sauce, and a spicy/sweet tomato based sauce on the side. It wasn't and ordinary wrap and was somehow toasted. It was amazing! Between the view, the food, the wine (a local Tannat), and the company it couldn't have been better.
After lunch we walked around the charming, cobblestone streets and took in the sights. We went into the basicila and touched a pillar from 1740! The remains of a convent from the 1700's are attached to the original lighthouse which we climbed up. We were rewarded with spectacular views of the town and the coastline. Remnants of the original city fortification walls are still visible today, we even walked through the original city doors. In the center of the center is a green area lined with beautiful trees, including sycamore moss trees which surprised me. People were enjoying lunch outside several small restaurants and cafes around the small town.
The port became our next stop to purchase our SeaCat ferry tickets to Buenos Aires tomorrow. It was quite a lengthy process since their system was having problems. The agent also informed us that we needed to go online and pay a $160 per person Reciprocity Tax to enter Argentina as tourists before being allowed to pass through immigration in Buenos Aires! Ouch. After paying for our tickets and getting instructions to arrive an hour early tomorrow morning at the port we drove to our hotel, La Reserve Spa Hotel, and checked in.
In the room I attempted to go online and pay the reciprocity tax to no avail. We had the added challenge of having no printer to print the receipt. We tried to get the assistance of the desk clerk but no luck. In this, more remote side of the country, there are few english speakers. Thankfully Payton has been excellent at translating. We really would have been challenged without here on this trip, she's our right hand and doing an awesome job. She said it's getting easier and we can tell.
After finally getting frustrated enough trying to figure out the tax online we drove back to the ferry ticket office to inquire about what to do. Bryan mentioned just not going to Buenos Aires and I wasn't good with that plan! The clerk immediately recognized us and was able to print out tickets for the next morning since the system was back up. Payton explained out situation and she pulled the website up on her computer to see if she could help. When she pulled it up there was a notice at the top. In English as well, which we hadn't read in our attempts to pay which said that as of March 24th of this year, just 5 days ago, the enhance relations between Argentina and the U.S. there was a hold on the collection of any reciprocity taxes from U.S. tourists to Argentina. The clerk was shocked, never having been notified about the change. She was nice enough to print the page for us to take just in case we encountered any issues. We wasted over an hour trying to resolve the tax payments but got our tickets printed and saved about $500!
Everything settled for the next days trip Payton relaxed in the room while Bryan and I took a long walk down the Rambla along the coast. We both really like Colonia, it reminds us of a northern MI town along one of the great lakes. It exudes charm. We love that it's not crowed and overly built up.
The sun was beginning to set as we approached the hotel so we grabbed Payton, an unopened bottle of wine, and walked back to a bench on the Ramble to watch the sun go down behind a small island in the river. The sky filled with so many shades of purple, pink, and orange and seemed to go for miles.
Next we drove back to the historic center for ice cream/gelato at Freddo. It wasn't as good as La Cigale, in Montevideo but it was good. It was fairly dark and quiet around the square and some of the side streets. Some of the restaurants were just opening for dinner at 8 pm. It surprised us that it was so quiet, we had to remind ourselves that this is their down season. Back in the room we ordered two hamburgers and fries to split before catching up on our iPads and going to bed.