Colonia, Uruguay: Surviving the Cold, the Mad Dogs, and the One-Ways

Jackie Steves is guest-hosting her Dad’s blog with 17 posts in 17 days. Follow the adventures of Andy and Jackie Steves as they — the first Steves to venture into South America — report on their experience.

We woke early, hoping to score tickets for the 9:30 boat with Nicole to Colonia, a three-hour boat ride away over the border in neighboring Uruguay. Our luck pulled through and got us on without reservations.

Colonia was extraordinarily romantic, with colonial architecture, grand old trees, sailboat/lighthouse ambience, classic old cars, and rickety cobblestone roads.

When we read about the option of renting golf carts to tour the town we just couldn’t resist. The contrast between the quiet old-time quaint alleys and our obnoxious, modern, stupid-looking golf carts couldn’t have been more jarring. We felt guilty for our nuisance of a presence, but it was so fun zipping through town in our absurd little ride.

We selected a restaurant for lunch based on popularity. Our restaurant was nearly ocean-view and nearly full. The sea breeze made us freezing so we jockeyed for a table in the sun. Andy was severely bothered by three mangy dogs, who patrolled at knee-level. It made the long hour we waited for our food seem like eternity. We had difficulty deciphering the menu, so what we ordered turned out to be pure protein. We ordered some additional sides but gave up when it seemed to be taking another whole hour. At this rate, we would have to get back on the boat before we even got to see Colonia! Our lunch cost $25 each — by far our priciest meal so far.

We climbed back into our golf cart and drove around the city center. I wondered if they had laws here requiring citizens to maintain the rustic colonial charm because its ambience was truly a blast from the past: rusty old classic cars parked along the sidewalks, cracks on the buildings like wrinkles of old age, elderly trees hunched over, and barely much modern traffic at all.

As we merged onto the main street, a scruffy medium-sized dog began chasing after the front of our golf cart. We tried to lose him to no avail, and pretty soon his persistence made us concerned. He barked and stared at us with wild eyes. We all started freaking out over this dog that may be mad with rabies and might bite us! None of us had bothered with the rabies vaccine. For the next 20 minutes we tried every strategy we could think of: sharp turns, slower, faster, joining other traffic, turning onto quieter side streets. We finally got a bit of a lead on him, hastily parked the cart, and ran into a bookstore. The men inside were alarmed at our running in all of the sudden. We explained to them in a Spanish/Italian/French/English hybrid about our chasing dog. We pointed at the dog, who waited just for us outside the door. They laughed and said it happens to lots of tourists and never the locals. The dogs somehow know how to distinguish the two. They said we shouldn’t worry about it and to pay him no mind. It seemed like these dogs were like the town’s practical joke on visitors. Still pretty riled up I wasn’t having the easiest time at seeing the amusement in keeping these scary, bothersome dogs around.

The dog was now napping just outside. We hatched a plan to walk calmly and quietly out. Thank goodness we escaped the dog while he slumbered.

We visited a nondescript church. We were not very inspired to seek out either of the small historical museums here, so we just ventured around on foot in the cold until we couldn’t feel our fingers and toes. We warmed up over a couple of Irish coffees at a bar.

We thought it silly that this small town with generously wide streets had designated several of them as one way streets. Andy accidentally went down one of them the wrong way and then we heard a little woowoo horn — we were being pulled over. When I saw it was two full-grown men in no uniform except bright orange vests, sharing a single motorcycle, it was hard to take them seriously. We bit our tongues to keep from laughing while playing the dumb tourist card and then profusely apologizing. They could have demanded any fine they wanted from us naive tourists and pocketed it. Instead, they showed mercy and we got off with a warning.

Apparently it was our lucky day, for we escaped from Uruguay back to Buenos Aires without contracting hypothermia (despite the biting cold and lack of warm clothing) or rabies via dog bites, and scot-free from paying for Andy’s driving infraction.