It was time to leave the Tree House. We were sorry to leave its bucolic tranquillity but the excitement of Buenos Aires beckoned. We made our farewells to Martin and Carolina with fulsome thanks for their hospitality.
One of the characteristics that had contributed to our choice of accommodation was its proximity to the river. We had planned to walk to the water during our stay but had missed that opportunity. We had plenty of time before our ferry departure but we were reluctant to leave our possessions unattended in the car. We decided to drive along the walking route. We understood this route to be along the first dirt road to the right as we drove towards town. We passed several beautiful ranch style houses in rolling fields before coming to a point where the only routes were into private drives. Thankful that we had not walked this mistaken route, we turned around and took the next turning off the larger road. This led to a rude low building with a large canopied area on the river bank. Lightly clad men stood at a rudimentary bar drinking beer from cans while a couple of others lounged under the canopy in white plastic chairs listening to quiet music on a radio. An erratic hand-painted sign advised that this was a fishing club although no angling activity was apparent. A few more people lolled under the riverside trees with the mild proprietary air of locals. Nearby, a small tent was pitched beside a well-used pickup truck. No-one acknowledged us but there was no indication of any hostility. We looked around, climbed back in our car, and drove back to the larger road and town.
We went via the bull ring to maximise our time beside the river. The Ramblas de las Americas is the dual carriageway that runs alongside the river from the bullring junction to the traffic lights. Along its full length trees and scrubby grass stand between the road and the river with frequent drop kerbs to facilitate beach parking and no parking restrictions on the road. On previous evenings we had seen people sitting near the kerb by their parked cars or dining al fresco by their vehicles under the trees. It was quieter during the day. We pulled off the road and sat on some large rocks to watch the brown silty river drift past.
Having determined that Mi Carrito was again closed, we returned to the bullring and parked our car on the verge by Parillada Lo de Pedro. This is no tourist establishment. There were no menus and the only spoken language was Spanish. A cheerful waitress told us that there was no paella (it is an occasional special). We were very happy to have grilled short ribs and a mixed salad with water. On Sunday afternoons a three-piece band entertains the diners with popular Latin American songs and idiosyncratic cover versions of English pop. This included a Spanish rendition of Happy Birthday to you dedicated to Juanita, whose birthday was being celebrated at a large table between us and the band.
The simple food was a delight and we were left to revel in the upbeat music while we sat in the warm sunlight after our meal. This happy experience cost us about 60% of an equivalent lunch in Barrio Historico. Rather than spend too long in the sun we returned to the riverside to sit on a tree-shaded bench on Playa El Alamo near the traffic lights. As we looked over the promontory we reminisced happily about our visits to the places that we could see. Atop the ridge two white towers marked the location of Iglesia Matriz, the oldest surviving church in Uruguay. It was on my short list of essential sights in Colonia but we had not yet been there so we climbed back into our car and went to Calle Vasconcellos just one block away from Plaza Mayor and the rough cobbled streets we had so admired on Saturday.
Inside the church it was surprisingly quiet on the afternoon of Easter Sunday. The plain white walls stretched unbroken up to a clerestory of Romanesque semicircular windows that bathed the single space with light. It was much more like an Iberian protestant church than the richly decorated Catholic churches prevalent elsewhere.
We were only six blocks from Sebastian’s car hire office but we had to travel twice that distance to navigate the one-way system. The return formalities were brief. Sebastian was soon driving us across the road to the ferry terminal chatting happily about himself, Colonia, and England. He had provided us with a good service and an entirely adequate car despite its careworn appearance.
Leaving Uruguay was a very different experience from our arrival. The departure hall was bright and fresh. W had no trouble getting past Uruguayan emigration and Argentinian immigration but I had an extensive but unthreatening transaction at the next desk where the Uruguayan official paged carefully through my passport three times before giving me an exit stamp. I suspect that she was looking for the non-existent entry stamp. The Argentinian officer sitting next to her, in the remarkably efficient arrangement that streamlines transit across this border, asked me many more questions than I usually get at immigration desks: Where was I staying? For how long? Why? Where would I be going when I left? It was all very courteous and I was completely comfortable when I rejoined W in the stateless zone. We followed a quiet broad covered walkway to the gangplank to the ferry rolling very gently on the windy waves of international waters. This description is not strictly true; we were still in Uruguayan waters until the centre of the river.
This time we knew the ropes and were soon settled in our big business class seats. Once again, there was little to see for the first hour. I took the opportunity to eat a beef milanesa that we had bought in Colonia. It is a breaded slice of meat with lettuce, tomato, and mayo in a soft white bun; another fine example of South American street food.
As the ferry approached Argentina the tall buildings of central Buenos Aires filled the cabin windows. This time we knew enough to sit in the comfort of our seats until foot passengers started to disembark but not enough to avoid trying to exit through the car deck. We did not have to wait long to collect our bags from the carousel and were soon dragging them for two blocks up the gentle slope of Avenida Cordoba to our new apartment. Just before we reached our destination a woman called to me that I had been hit by bird droppings. I knew that this was a trick perpetuated by pickpockets so I kept walking even as I looked round and identified her and her accomplice. The ‘bird droppings’ are a spattering of brown mustard spat onto the victim by the criminal, who hopes to take advantage of the confusion while ‘helping’ to clean up the mess.
The women did not stick around when I kept walking and almost immediately found Susanna waiting for us outside the iron and brass double doors of the old apartment block. She showed us how to operate the doors and the lift before giving us the keys and leaving us to look around the smart compact two-bedroom apartment with its wall of book shelves, huge leather sofas, and comprehensive domestic equipment. My looking around was rather delayed by rinsing mustard out of my shirt, my hair, and both my bags. W had also been hit and it was only later that I noticed mustard on my trousers and the back of my calf. I was not alarmed by the attack but I was pretty angry about the interruption to my holiday enjoyment.
We had intended to go out and explore the San Nicolas barrio in which we were now living but by the time that we had cleaned up the mess, explored the apartment, unpacked, and got the WiFi router working we were too weary to do more than make cheese sandwiches and take advantage of our first internet access for days. In what was becoming a holiday commonplace, we were soon in the big comfortable bed and fast asleep.