Let me say, I love geography. I have more atlases than most libraries or book stores have. All of them put together in a box would easily outweigh an obese middle school child. So it's a little out of character for me that if you gave me a text-less map and told me to write "Paraguay" and "Uruguay" in the proper spaces, I'd have to think long and hard about it. At least "Guyana" and "Ghana" are on different continents!
So who knew I would learn the difference the best way possible - by actually visiting one of them? My detour from Patagonia today led me to Colonia, Uruguay, which was suggested to me by the Lolettes.
Colonia is an hour long boat trip from BA, in Uruguay. It's, like you might gather from the name, a colonial-looking town. One cool thing is that it means crossing another international border, so I can officially say I stayed a day (but not a night) in yet another country! It counts - it's on my passport.
Speaking of passports, I've been very lucky with customs to have had no big problems. I've certainly been inviting them - bumping around and turning in circles like a lost child. There's been a lot more of :"Bidapadoboonocheepabootanoy?" "mmmmm....huh?" (mild exasperation on their part) "Monafeepaboonagahnomeypaloogaweebalagamoh?" "nnnnooo"? (full on exasperation on their part) "Moy. Ganabadoopa. Moy. MOY?" "AHHH MOY!" "SI!" "moy?" (face palm, point that way) "perdon, perdon, perdon, perdon"....
So I'm lucky that I haven't done something totally illegal or at least fine-inducing so far. This is a big city, and they've been amazingly patient with me. Or else they're used to confused foreigners and step around us like dog crap on the sidewalk. I shudder to think what it's like for people visiting New York.
The boat was fine - although the windows were tinted and you couldn't go "on deck" so you would have been easily able to convince me that we flew or went under water or through a wormhole, and I would have said, "Really? Cool!" Mostly I slept because it was super early.
It sucks that I can't generalize more and say that I got a sense of Uruguay during my day. It would be like visiting Savannah and saying you got a sense of what the USA was. But it was a unique experience anyway. Of course when a bus tour was offered I turned it down and just picked a direction and started walking. And walking. I'm pretty sure of the ten or so hours I was there, I was walking for about eight. I didn't find a whole lot else to do!
My general impression was that I couldn't figure out if Colonia was on the way up or on the way down. A lot of buildings were literally falling down, (one of the actual attractions was to go see this stadium that's collapsing) and yet there was still construction going on. Maybe they've achieved some strange high-speed equilibrium of con- and de- struction. I got the impression that the housing bubble had struck hard here. One very important thing was that this is off season. And by off I mean OFF. That seems to be pretty extreme in seaside summer escape locales. If it's not beach weather, then everything STOPS. Obviously I knew it wasn't going to be Miami Beach, but it was pretty dead. The attraction was supposed to be the typical picturesque cobblestones, olde timey architecture, fountains, etc. But as I said, I marched off into Real Colonia, Uruguay instead.
I've been thinking a lot about standards of living on this trip, trying to figure out the places I've visited by those terms. Mostly this has been selfish - worrying about crime, worrying about politeness about being from the US, dreading the guilt of being around poverty and being approached by beggars, trying to learn how to feel about the social justice within the countries and viz-a-viz the US. All sorts of fuzzy things mostly centered around me. So I'm always wondering exactly how skewed my expectations about standards of living are. Obviously, coming from the USA, at the top of the universe and possibly history of standard of living, my views are by definition out of whack with the rest of humanity. But by how much? And for good or bad? Should I expect that everyone should be able to be able to live like me (grrr - if they just WORKED HARDER - grrr) or am I just living in a freak bubble? (I'm assuming the latter.) These are questions I really care about, so it's great that I'm immersed in them.
So Colonia was quite a bit poorer than BA. Probably for being a small town, of course. It's still nothing like third world at all. In fact not that much different than lots of small American towns in the sticks. The things that struck me were: more graffiti, again lots of roaming dogs, and lots of scooters. The scooters were those that might possibly be called motorcycles but also sounded like lawn mowers, you know? They easily outnumbered cars by ten to one. The whole time it was like being at a motocross race. Because they went as fast as possible. Another odd thing is that in the US motorcycles have that "rebel" or "wild" connotation, but here it was old ladies on motorbikes. It also took me a while to notice that I didn't see one traffic light in the entire 8 hours of walking. One more auto-related observation slash question: At what point do you get to have license plates with smaller segments than just the whole country? Here it's just "Argentina" and "Uruguay" instead of "Florida", "Texas", etc.
I think the roaming dogs thing is what really feels alien to me. If I see a roaming dog in the US I respond with fear - "rabies!", "don't bite me!" and "call the cops!" even though nobody loves dogs more than I do. I also feel outrage toward the owners of the dog and loathe them for their irresponsibility. "He'll get hit by a car! Get in fights! Kill a child!" So from roaming dogs - at least one in sight at every moment - surrounding me is where I think I'm getting the "not first world" vibe from. It represents chaos and lawlessness somehow. I also have the typical American inappropriate anthropomorphizing of dogs in me. So I'm always projecting fear and danger feelings to and from the dogs.
So it was a huge relief when I got to pet a couple of dogs for at least a half hour straight. I had to get up too early that morning for my daily "Breakfast... Thanksgiving-Style" and didn't get my morning coffee. I felt the dreaded migraine starting to come on and needed emergency caffeine. I had walked way out of the tourist area and didn't see anything open for miles. Lots of shuttered up beach restaurants, etc. So I came upon a remote tourist outpost with nobody around. Just the tourist shop owner, who then pointed me over to (I suppose) her husband talking with a friend in an otherwise abandoned patio bar. He was able to get me some coffee. And I petted the fur off of his two dogs. In my American view of the dog lifestyle around here, I went under the assumption that nobody ever pet their dogs and I was the Dog Petting Messiah come to bestow my boons upon the downtrodden canines. They sure did seem to like it! I'm pretty sure it was a full hour of sipping coffee, cooing to and petting dogs. Just me and them and the happy old guy. It made my day, at least.
I was kind of hoping that the dogs would want to leave with me and the old guy would have to get on his knees and plead with them to return, but they were loyal as dogs can be. Anyway, they wouldn't have gotten along with the four - count 'em - four guard dogs at my next visit. This was the museum which had a name that did not suggest pirates at all but was in fact a pirate museum. (Not all 4 guard dogs were for the museum - at least two were for these really old cars rusting away behind the place.)
I consider it a crime against human culture that I was not allowed to take pictures at this place. I got some of the outside, but that was only a hint of what booty lay within. I would say that this was basically like a haunted house put together by a boy scout troop, except that it was too elaborate and huge to be funded by a bake sale. First of all, all of the life-size figures, regardless of who they were supposed to be, looked kind of like if you took the Muppet drummer Animal, yanked out almost all of his hair, and then cooked and dried him like head hunter's shrunken head collection. One of them had a toucan (not a parrot) sewn to the shoulder which had fallen over. But it was one of those stuffed animals which is really just a pillow vaguely shaped like a toucan with a toucan picture printed on it.
Most of the exhibits were a weird mix - there would be this really professionally done model ship but with blown up photo copies out of books taped up on the wall. Over the loudspeakers they were playing Pirates of the Carribean. Not the soundtrack, just a battle scene from the movie but with the picture off. And in Spanish. So Johnny Depp would yell "FFUUUEEGGOOOO!!!!" There were a bunch of the movie posters around, too. For some odd reason there was a section devoted to the Graf Spee, a German warship which sunk nearby in WW2, but I don't believe anyone in that crew said "arrr" a lot.
One thing that occurred to me about halfway through, though, is that the former Spanish empire was actually the VICTIM of most of the guys "portrayed" in the museum. Especially Sir Francis Drake, who handed the Spanish their Armada back to them in a match box. But that didn't seem to bother the proprietors or their clientele. Maybe the pirates didn't get this far south to matter much. Or else time heals all peg legs.
So it was a crazy-in-a-hokey-but-fun-way type of a place, and I enjoyed it. Particularly because it seemed so out of place and so unvisited. My traveling way off the beaten path was duly rewarded with a singular and mysterious event. I only saw one other couple of guys coming to visit, but they didn't even choose to go in. Just me. I wanted to get a souvenir, but again - nothing. They need souvenir development down here.
The day was dimming, so I felt the need to see the touristy stuff before too late. I still had quite a bit of walking to do to get back. I came across another grocery store - which again I felt put me more in touch with local life. No escaping Coke, though. Even though it's the exotic "Coke Light" instead of "Diet Coke" again. Two kids on horses rode by me in a this-is-not-recreational type way. I can't be sure if a horse is more or less of a status symbol than a scooter here.
I got to the cobblestones, and they were nice. It's not fair, though, because I currently live in one of the biggest "check out our cobblestones" cities in the whole US and A. Savannah poops cobblestones bigger than all of metro Colonia. Some of the architecture was more Spanish colonial than Savannah's Victorian. But - get this - Savannah has Spanish MOSS. Which Colonia does NOT have. USA! USA! USA!
The point is that I'd kinda seen it, it was way off season, and I did not have a hand-holding partner like everyone else around. But it was actually a good thing that it was gray, windy, and chilly - because that made it more appropriate as opposed to the day weakly attempting to be nice-ish. Go big or go home. It also gave me an excuse to order some really good hot chocolate.
I also drank too much Uruguayan beer by my standards - which are different than those found here - so by the time I got back to the boat I was tired and into Cranky Pants Land. I really really wanted to sleep, but I had two big problems. Couple in front, and couple in back.
Couple in front. Young couple. Googly noises. I could only see the tops of their heads and the guy's not-quite moustache in the crack between the seats, but all I could think of was that they were LICKING each other. AGGRESSIVELY. I'm glad I had taken Dramamine, because barf. It was like: "IIIII'mmmm gonnnna LICK U!" "EWW!" "III'mmm gonna lick U!!" "EEEUUWWW!!!"" "Let me lick U!" "OK! tee hee" (lick) "EEEWWW!!!" "Now I lick U." "EEWW tee hee NOO!!" "Yes?" "No!" "Yes?" "OK" (lick) "EEEWWW" (lick) (lick) (lick) (lick) (lick) (lick) (lick) (lick) (lick) (lick) (lick) (lick) (lick)....
Couple in back. It was just their voices. The guy was way louder and sounded macho in a forced "I'm the man" kind of way. Something about their conversational rhythm drove me up the bulkhead.
"BAH-bum-bum" "be be be" "bum bum BAH?" "be be be" "BAH-bum-bum" "be be be" "bum-BAH-bum!" "be be". That would have been bad enough - if not for the OPEN -EN -en...... MOUTH -OUTH -outh....... CHEWING -ING -ing.......
OH, MIGHTY GRAF SPEE.....Will you not rise from your watery crypt and fire one final torpedo at this ship of fools?