A two hour boat ride across the Rio De La Plata from Buenos Aires is Uruguay’s quaint and charming Colonia de Sacramento. With its centuries old buildings, cobblestone streets, picturesque lighthouse and sea views, the UNESCO protected old town is a popular day trip from Buenos Aires, but we were here for a couple of nights.
Having blown our budget in BA (although blown it wisely on meat and Malbec), we needed to save money wherever we could. Enter Couchsurfing: staying with a local, for free, in their apartment. This was our first time couch surfing, and although we’d scoped out our host’s profile for any obvious internet weirdo alarm bells, we didn’t really know what to expect.
We were greeted by Javier, the friendliest host we could have hoped for. He welcomed us in from the wind and rain, got us set up with our airbed (already an upgrade from the couch!), and took us out for a highlights tour of Colonia old town before taking us to his favourite cafe to warm up with coffee, cake and hot chocolate. Life in Colonia seemed to be the definition of laid-back nonchalance. Between Javier and his neighbour Pele, they’d met Uruguay’s President three times (usually just on the street or buying ice cream), they knew a Uruguayan film star, and had once run their own club night simply because they asked and the owner said yes. Javier’s commute involved a leisurely stroll round the corner to his bank at noon. We joined Pele for his daily post-work routine: a beer down by the rocks at the water’s edge for sunset. With Montevideo just a couple of hours away, and the lights of BA visible across the water, the appeal of the pace of life in this picturesque town was obvious.
The old town does ‘old town charm’ by the bucketload; rustic, weathered buildings in a rainbow of colours, cafe tables spilling out onto uneven cobblestone lanes, tiny hidden-away galleries, gleaming white lighthouse and colonial church, and a main square lined with orange trees.
After a couple of days in Montevideo, we returned for a final day in Colonia. This time to sun and bright blue skies, so we could wander through the old town one more time, making the most of all the photogenic spots that last time had been drenched and buffeted by the wind and rain. This time we noticed several vintage cars dotted about the streets, but all repurposed for other things: an oversized plant pot, a bed for stray dogs, or a restaurant’s dining table with a difference.
We’d already sampled a Uruguayan parrilla (barbecue) on our first evening, and had some specific culinary ambitions for our last day in Colonia. Our first was a chivito – the sandwich to end all sandwiches. The story goes that a visiting Argentinian once asked for a goat-steak sandwich. Not having goat meat, the restaurant owner decided to mask some beef steak with just about everything else he had lying around. The sandwich was so good that the Argentinean went back to BA boasting about the incredible sandwiches in Uruguay. Between two slices of toasted baguette sit steak, ham, egg, bacon, pickled vegetables, grilled cheese, lettuce, two types of spicy mayonnaise, and chimichanga. It was incredible, but with our second ambition in mind we decided to share.
On the 29th day of every month, Uruguay celebrates Dia de Noquis (Gnocchi Day!) whereby it’s the tradition to eat gnocchi with a coin placed under your bowl for good luck. Our luck was already in, as our last day in Colonia was the 29th of July. Javier took us to his friend’s restaurant, El Porton, where we had delicious bowls of homemade gnocchi – our favourite peso coin featuring an armadillo tucked underneath. After dinner we had some final drinks with Javier in Colonia’s microbrewery, Barbot. Still not a convert to beer, Rebecca had a gin & tonic which turned out to be on the house. Maybe it was our dia de noquis good luck kicking in already. Or maybe it’s because Javier is possibly the most well-connected man in Colonia with a friend in every cafe, restaurant and bar!