Friday, December 18, 2009

Colonia to Cascadas

Colonia del Sacramento lies about an hour by boat adjacent to Buenos Aires on the Rio de la Plata. Founded by the Portuguese over three hundred odd years as an annoyance and vanguard against the Spanish empire across the water. It grew rich on contraband trade by-passing the tariffs of Buenos Aires and this wealth can bee seen in its ensemble of beautiful colonial buildings.
Christina and I arrived late at night on election night. The streets were vibrant with celebration. Mujica had won. The youth were out on the street with flags and banners. Bangers burst and chants echoed round. Once seen by many as a terrorist and considerably on the left of the political scale (hence Che Guevara et al were hogging the celebratory flags), Mujica is a candidate who invokes passion and hope in his supporters as much as he provokes concern in others. From what I have been lead to believe, a supporter of and supported by the Chavez/Morales side of South American politics. I just hope he does not fall into the same traps as, in particular, the former of those two men. Dealing with social concerns is of paramount importance in this part of the world where there is such heightened inequality, but to follow a popularlist line to the blight of the economy is a too often seen occurrence here. Either way, for now, the people seemed happy.
Back to Colonia... The celebrations died away with the night and we awoke to a delightful morning wandering the little streets of this historical relic. Like many a preserved gem (another example being Bruges), a fall in its star has been its main keeper. Once the Portuguese and the Spanish had come to an agreement over the trade in the region, its raison d'etre – contraband trade – largely fell away leaving it as it was. Leading away from the dirt red Rio de la Plata and a picturesque little port are some of the oldest streets in Uruguay. These cobble their way up to two plazas, each surrounded by beautiful old buildings and with more quiet streets snaking off at each corner.
Pictorial highlights include whitewashed centuries old churches and the lighthouse rising out of the ruins of a ruined castle. A sleepy sort of place with the odd non-moving dog. Enchanting, especially in the mesmerising heat of the day.

To the Capital

A few hours across more flat grazing country took us to the the big town of Uruguay, Montevideo. This country is dwarfed by its neighbours in size and population. What are their three or so million against the masses of Argentina and, especially, Brazil. Well the answer seems to be they do pretty well (their proudest moment being recalled by Rodney at La Sirena – they beet Brazil in the 1950 world cup final in Rio). Montevideo has something like half the population of Uruguay and has a proud character for the little boy in town.
The old city lies on a ridge that juts out into the Southern Atlantic. This contains the old port and a rather crumbling colonial city that reminded me somewhat of Havana. This is where we stayed in a fantastic little poussada, complete with panoramic views of the city and ocean. While you can see the old town is slowly being done up and has an energetic artsy scene, it is rising from a low base. A man in a horse-cart still passed every day to pick up any rubbish of value and shady characters abound.On one particular walk on my own, an unexplainable sense of danger raised my heckles and reminded me of past jaunts in various cities of Andean South America – think Bogata, La Paz and Quito. One of those times when you know some of the dodgy folk around you need little excuse to fuck you up. A time to put on the “nothing fazes me” look (even though it does) and get out of there.
For the Greeks....I chose not to enter Casa Malaka...
As you go inland, the city quickly smartens up and the centre is full of hustle and bustle. Grand plazas are lined with restaurants and fashionable shops. Wide streets full of slightly tatty shopping centres and men in suits. From there the city spreads out for miles along some quite funky looking inner city beaches. I am afraid to say a lack of time and an interceding bug of Christina's hindered our further sightseeing of the city, but we left it thinking it did not necessitate too much more time. Some interesting parts, but as a mate of mine would say – another city.

After much deliberation we jumped on a plane for a place with every charm that cities don't have – Iguasu – the world's most majestic waterfalls. Our excursion into Uruguay had been quite unexpectedly brilliant, but I for one was itching to get to BRAZIL!
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