Streaks of sun flashed through the pine canopy at El Calabres beach. My Camera screen told me it was Wednesday 8th May 2019. Bright sun in a clear blue sky with a cool sea breeze off the Rio de la Plata. Disappointed to find my GoPro battery dead. I’d bought it with the bike but my single battery held little charge and would die in its sleep. I wanted to video my track back to the road so after packing, I strapped my compact Lumix to the handlebars instead. It was better than nothing.
I guessed my way back through the bushes without any drama. Colonia lay only 5km west and I coasted into the city down to the ferry terminal and bearing right along the coast to the old town. The leafy dappled cobbled avenues led me along the one way street of Manuel Lobo, past the Tourist Information Office and through a gap in the wall next to the old city gate and into a cobbled square and gardens. A glimpse of old Europe through the looking glass.
The red parasols on the patio of Don Pedro fluttered the hems of their skirts to seduce me into forgetting about my budget. A whisper on the breeze. “Hey amigo, rest in the sunshine and enjoy a little bit of paradise while you scan the internet for accommodation. You know you want to…”
The voice of Don Pedro had lied, pimping out the promise of what lay beneath those parasols: there was no WiFi or power sockets, plus my laptop battery was dead. The staff kindly took my laptop to recharge behind the counter while I stepped out into the leafy shade of the patio to absorb the historic vibes of Colonia over a latte. The sun high in the sky told me I had more time left in the day that I had expected and to relax a little. Without internet, my plan would be to retreat to the Tourist Information Office next to the time gate to get here, get some local tourist info and suck on their WiFi for a while. Meanwhile, in that moment, I could have been in 18th Century Spain on the Mediterranean. A million and five kilometers and an age from last night’s camping in the pines for sure.
Trevelling solo, there aren’t that many times I wish for companionship but this was one. Moments like this are meant for sharing. Without the PC or phone as a distraction, I imagined Deb sitting silently beside me – perhaps she was now really there conjured out of the ether just outside the visible electromagnetic frequency.
Don Pedro wasn’t cheap so dining solo means a hefty saving in places like this. Buenos Aires is a 40km ferry ride across the Rio de la Plata so a popular destination for weekenders for fertilising the local coffers. I loved sitting in the dappled shade of Don Pedro and would have stayed longer if I could have browsed the internet a while. As it was, I settled the bill, collected my laptop and departed homeless and without lodgings. It’s a different feeling sightseeing when all my worldly belongings are strapped to my motorcycle instead of tucked away in a hostel. Not worried though, I seemed to have this Jedi like power of invisibility for me and my steed but not quite enough to eliminate all doubt.
Old Colonia is pretty compact… pretty and compact, perched on a hook of a peninsular looking out across the River to Buenos Aires. From the lighthouse, you can just make out its skyline through the haze.
At the Tourist Information Office, a group of 5 tourists filled the whole width of the single bench seat I’d imagined myself commandeering, forcing me to sit, vagabond-like, on the floor. I logged onto ioverlander and booking.com typing in the WiFi code written on one of the attraction’s leaflets I’d collected out of the office.
The nearest camping area was a municipal site next to an old Bull Ring almost as far away as the woods at El Calabres beach where I’d spent last night but was still well within the urban area of Colonia. I wanted to stay close to the centre and not have to worry about leaving everything in my publicly exposed tent during excursions. The golden nugget of Toca Madera surfaced in my panning through local hostels online. About £6 a night and only a block away from where I was sitting. Perfecto!
Toca Madera is wedged almost invisbly between a restaurant and a private house. It doesn’t have a frontage, only a forbidding looking steel side gate about a metre wide, thus no secure parking for my bike. I chained the bike to a post at the motorcycle parking across the road. It was a busy location on the corner of the main drag but the vibe felt good and every other neighbouring bike wasn’t locked. Some with helmets left perched loosely on mirrors.
The boxy 6 bed dorm seemed taller than it was side with glass patio doors opening one end into a square courtyard with no soundproofing. Compact and Bijou would be the ideal marketing blurb: small to you and me. Social Chatter from the cozy courtyard filtering through the glass doors into restless dreamscapes preventing sound sleep.
Inside, my sole roommate didn’t speak and kept quiet… and I respected his silence by keeping my movements soft and quiet. It turned out he was deaf…
Thursday 9th I spent the day laid on the bunk catching up on the internet. It’s a nice contrast after a week in the woods. I appreciate the comfort more… everything in moderation as the 2020 plandemic lockdown would teach me later; comfort is overrated.
Nati Jones from New Orleans joined us. She was easy to talk to. Garrulous, is the word. In the morning she told me that I grind my teeth in my sleep. Really? At 57 years old you’d think I would have heard about it before now.
Rain arrived by the evening but I went out anyway to Mercosur the restaurant on the corner. There’s an automatic VAT refund for foreigners paying by card, 18% at the time of writing. Easily missed if you pay with cash. Plus this restaurant had a kind of happy hour rate before a certain time which wasn’t too late for me but perhaps was for locals that customarily have their dinner nudge into the realms of a midnight feast.
The rain kept the streets quiet but it was still warm enough to sit out on the pavement under the awning. It’s common for restaurants to claim part of the thoroughfare and give the impression of walking through the restaurant without leaving the street,
Another restless night and I heard the guy across from me grinding his teeth. I guess Nati mistook me for him.
10th Cosy continental breakfast in a cosy kitchen and patio. Not too compressed together but close enough to maintain a more discrete silence than common at the larger hostels. I strolled down to the ferry terminal and checked the prices for a ticket to Buenos Aires for when my passport was ready. Between £50 and £70 depending on the day and time. Not bad. I wouldn’t have minded a day trip as a pedestrian but alas, I had no passport.
I rode around the city and up the coast to check out the camping spot up near the bullring I’d spotted on the map. There was a tent pitched amongst the trees and parillas (barbque grills). There were no fences and no facilities nearby but lots of houses around the perimeter. It had the worst of all worlds. OK for an over nighter but not as a base.
11th In the morning, My laptop quit charging and eventually died. The staff pointed me down the road to a repair shop about 6 blocks down by 2 across.
“Cerrado” (closed) said the sign but the door opened under pressure of a frustrated shove disturbing a customer already being served “Abierto?” “Si.” I left the laptop receiving the instruction to return at 2 pm and I went to an internet cafe to check messages before lunch at a cafe just up the road. Returning at 2, Dalrus said it wasn’t ready yet and to return at 4 so off I went for a wander.
4pm “Abierto” (open) said the sign but door firmly locked with no-one inside. I waited for an hour and nobody returned. Back at the hostel Anika and Tino, a fraulein from Germany and hombre from Colombia were good company and we shared wine and stories.
The next morning, Dalrus had my laptop fixed and I came away with a new power cable and Euro style adapter. The plug for the laptop socket was a bit mangled but it worked so I didn’t mind and was relieved the worry and expense of purchasing a new computer..
Back at the hostel, a petite Japanese girl sitting on the floor tinkering with a lock. I booted up the PC but was intrigued by what she was doing and conceded to my curiosity after 5 minutes. Haruka was her name, meaning “Spring Song” Her combination lock wouldn’t open, thinking that maybe she had accidentally reset the combination. With a sensitive touch on the poorer locks, you can sometimes feel the resistance change on each tumbler. I gave it a go and after about 20 minutes, the lock popped open on the original number. She was grateful for my help even though it felt like nothing much to me. She made an origami bird and we shared a bottle of wine for the evening and exchanged travel tales..
Toca Madera is the smallest hostel I’ve stayed in. The two bathrooms were immaculately clean but hard to get into in the morning as everyone jostled for a shower.
Monday 13th I decided it was museum day. One ticket covers 7 of the dozen or so around the town. Monday seems like a second Sunday in Colonia and a couple of incliive museums were closed so I skipped them.
Colonia is a beautiful town but there’s not much to do so 5 days is more than plenty for a visit. I wanted to see some more of Uruguay before my passport arrived back from London so decided to take off up along the Uruguay river that marks the the western border with Argentina