Monday, January 22, 2007

Day 6: Uruguay

January 18

Today is forecast to be the hottest of the days. We’re determined to enjoy it because tomorrow’s forecast keeps varying between 0% chance of precipitation and 20%. To me, 20% is the same as 0% but I was really bad at math. I don’t think Topher sees the distinction. He’s in that “quietly seething” mode I see him in every once in awhile. But he’ll be fine because today we’re off to Uruguay!

No sign of the crazy American tourist lady. Has she left?

It’s odd to me to just hop over to another country but then again, I haven’t really traveled through Europe where it’s easy to drive or rail it to another place. We take a high-speed ferry across the very brown Rio de la Plata. It’s basically the equivalent of driving to the Jersey Shore. I wonder if people come to the US to shoot and go to Delaware on their down days. It’s also odd that Uruguay is an hour ahead of Buenos Aires and they have a completely different exchange rate. This oughta be good.

We get a ride to the dock and it’s actually a crowded departure terminal with lots of lines and windows for ticket purchasing and stuff. It’s kind of like a small airline terminal. Topher and Julietta go off to check in while the rest of us stand around looking clueless. After waiting around, we go tickets in hand to another line. There’s more confusion as the guy behind the counter keeps looking at my ticket and then shakes his head and hands the ticket back. Apparently, the ticket says Mike but my passport says Michael. In fact, all of our tickets have nicknames instead of official names. So Topher and Julietta go off to clear this up and Liz, Susannah, Wanda and I try to amuse ourselves.

I forgot to mention that Wanda speaks Spanish so things are clearer to her than to everyone else. She doesn’t always share her information with us but in fairness, we don’t always ask. This dynamic hasn’t been explored yet. But it’s nice to see Wanda and Julietta hitting it off. I think she was tired of translating menus for us.

Liz spots a pregnant woman on line. She asks if we think the woman speaks any English. It’s kind of an odd question except for the bag she’s carrying, which comes from a store called “Sex Devil.” So let’s reset: a pregnant woman with a bag that reads “Sex Devil.” What, the Whoremporium was closed?

Okay, the ticket thing has been cleared up and now we’re trying to get to the boat. But this is a lot like trying to get on a plane. There’s security and metal detectors and passport checks. At least we’re getting some cool stamps on the passports. After awhile, we walk outside and board a bus, which will take us to the boat. The bus ride is about as long as the amount of time it will take you to read this paragraph. It’s really kind of strange but maybe they just don’t want slow walkers holding up the boarding process.

On board, it’s a lot like a plane. A plane on the water. Usually this means you’ve crashed, but this isn’t the case. Yet. There’s even a first class cabin up the stairs. The seats are pretty comfortable and have tray tables and everything. Who knows, maybe this boat was built using parts from some defunct airline like Pan Am or TWA. Or Allegheny. We just started moving and we’ve already received snacks and a beverage. I asked for orange juice and was handed an apple juice. Man, my Spanish sucks. I need to stop mumbling.

Just over an hour later, we dock in Colonia. Its full name is Colonia del Sacramento but its friends call just call it Colonia. We walk a few blocks through a city which seems deserted and head for the Old City. It’s hard to imagine sometimes being older than where we’re walking right now but I guess there’s a difference between “old” and “dilapidated”. But before going through the opening of the wall which separates the old city from this dump we find ourselves in now, we have to lotion ourselves up with some suntan lotion and spray ourselves down with bug spray. Liz’s problems with mosquitoes have already been documented but Susannah is in a battle for Mosquito Bite Queen. She’s catching up but this may be because Liz has very little unattacked skin surface remaining. The five of us lathering and spraying look like some kind of medical triage.

So we wander through and see some old stuff that dates back to the mid 17th century. This is a far cry from something I saw with Julietta on Florida Street. She told me it dates back to the beginning of the century. So it’s 7 years old? I laugh at this and so does she but I really think it’s just a pity laugh. Anyway, there is a store here in the old city called Christ. It’s a shop specializing in German leather fashions since 1954. I can’t begin to list the number of things that are creepy about this.

Lunchtime. Up until now we’ve had a relatively easy time finding vegetarian options for Liz. But this is proving to be a challenge. Wanda goes into a clothing store and uses her Spanish speaking talents to get some dining advice. I wasn’t present for this exchange of information but from what I understand, we can go to a good place or a really really good place. We end up at El Porton, the really really good place. It’s probably owned by some relative of the woman who sent us here.

We get to sit out on what appears to be Main Street. It doesn’t have the same charm as the part of the city closer to the water and I’m not even sure we’re still in the old city. Julietta is not with us today so we rely on Wanda to get us through the menu but she doesn’t know a lot of food words. After about 10 minutes of struggling and guessing and skimming dictionaries, the waiter brings us some menus in English.

Talking to Susannah is getting more and more difficult because she is forgetting English words like “moat” and “gate”. This would be fine if she spoke Spanish but she doesn’t. The part of her brain that processes language is momentarily failing. It’s actually quite amusing, mostly because it’s not happening to me.

And I’ve also realized that Topher refuses to speak the language. We’re all trying and going as far as ordering in Spanish. Topher speaks English and is damn proud of it. At some other place, Julietta translated something as mashed potatoes. So even when the waiter asked for our orders, Topher kept asking the guy, “is that the mashed potatoes”?

And speaking of potatoes, whatever Topher ordered for lunch came with something that could best be described as tater tots (pretty funny considering the tater tot incident in Romania) but they are round. Wanda wanted to try some of Topher’s potato balls and asked him. So we all laughed even though we’re adults. But come on, she asked to try his potato balls. That’s funny!

Being the big spender I am, I offer to pay for lunch. Usually there’s some kind of debate over who pays and Topher is much faster with the credit card than anyone else. But no one argues this time. It turns out that no one wants to deal with a third currency (the Uruguayan peso) on their expense report.

Walking back to the water towards the lighthouse, I realize that I haven’t seen one traffic light since I’ve been here. No wonder it’s so quiet. Just the occasional car and some scooters. It’s actually pretty charming. So is the lighthouse, which costs us 2 pesos to enter. Now that I’m writing this, I realize that I paid for the five of us in Argentinean pesos. Did I get ripped off? Whatever. We climb the steep steps after the ticket taker warns us of something in Spanish. We have no idea what he’s saying but Susannah figures out that it has something to do with watching your head. She figures this out after she bangs her head on a doorway. The sound of skull on metal echoes through the stairway. Again, I find this amusing because it didn’t happen to me.

We’re starting to run low on time and decide to head to a hotel which was recommended to us because of the bar. We follow Topher’s map but after walking for a while, something seems wrong. So he asks a local and we are fortunate to find a woman who knows where it is and speaks English! The bad news is that we’re still 3 km away. None of us know the exact conversion for that but we all agree that it’s more than a mile. So Topher’s map sucks.

We eventually find a cab and the five of us cram into a hatchback. Liz is less than thrilled because none of us are at our freshest. The cab driver recommends going to a Sheraton instead of the hotel we wanted. We agree mostly because we’re thirsty. But we figure that it’s probably farther away so he gets a bigger fare. Also, I notice the bellboy give the driver a thumbs up when we’re dropped off so I guess the guy works on commission or something.

The hotel is nice but decidedly far away from anything at all. We find the pool bar and order some frozen daiquiris. But even after the bartender (a woman. A bartendress?) used a blender, all we were served were daiquiris over ice. Okay, no big deal. Liz, Topher and I order mojitos for the second round. These drinks are unbelievably strong. This is a good thing because the same cab driver picks us up to bring us back to the boat. And we’re all packed in again. But I’m in the front seat so I don’t care as much as last time.

Back in town, we have dinner in a different section of Buenos Aires called Recoleta. Rubbing my eyes in the van on the way has brought back what may be becoming a horrible tradition for me: the missing contact lens. It was there before I started rubbing my eyes. Now the right one is gone. I’m not really stressed as I actually brought a spare pair with me this time. But jeez, what the hell? I look around the van, I quadruple check my clothes. Nothing.

The restaurant is called Milion. It’s loud. It’s crowded. There were street urchins following us around. The food is mediocre. Later on, the waitress won’t let us leave until our car has arrived. Ironically, this is the most attention she has paid to us all night. At least this is how I remember it. I’ve hit another wall or someone slipped a Mickey into my Malbec but I am wiped. I’ve reverted back into college form where I not only doze off in front of people, but I make it worse by trying to fight it. I actually think I’m pretty successful. Later on, I’m told I’m not. Liz can’t believe I could fall asleep so many times. People who now me from college probably can.

Back at the hotel, Topher tells us that he was speaking French to the driver. So he’s embracing the fact that people don’t speak English. He’s just embracing the wrong language. And I go to my room and collapse face first on the bed, which leads to another disturbing tradition…

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