After spending three months in Buenos Aires, it has begun to feel familiar, comfortable--like home. That is, of course, a blessing, as we learn the street names, and walk them easily without always having to glance at our maps, or ask kiosk merchants for the nearest subway station (although we still have to ask them for the nearest bus station, but the buses are a wholeeeee different animal...). But of course, often with familiarity comes the forgetfullness of daily wonder, and I think I had begun walking the streets with my head down rather than remembering to look all around me, remembering to remember that I am in SOUTH AMERICA. And Saturday was an exhilarating wake-up call.
Upon entry, our passports had been stamped with the date August 26, 2008, with a warning in all caps stating, ¨TOURIST VISA, GOOD FOR 90 DAYS.¨ Seeing as it was November 22, 2008, our grace period was almost up. So, we hopped on a ferry to Uruguay so that we could re-enter the country and get a refreshed stamp for a refreshed 90 days. The ferry left from Tigre, a small coastal resort town an hour train ride from the city. It was called the DELTA CAT, and she took us clear across the Rio de la Plata. The Rio is so wide--it took us three hours to cross over to Uruguay--that you forget you are sailing across a river and not an ocean. It left the Tigre station at 11 am, and as mid-day approached, the heat escalated, and Nick and I and the friends we were travelling with began to burn as we sat on the boat deck and watched the passing shoreline. As we crept closer and closer to Uruguay, we passed abandoned and rusting ships anchored next to the shore; giant sailboats and pontoons with Spanish flags, Italian flags, and Argentine flags; little motor boats cruising in our wake; and kayakers swiftly paddling away. The closer we got to Uruguay, the greener the shore seemed to become, and as we sailed into the Carmelo harbor, we were greated by the site of smooth beaches stretching before us.
Enter Carmelo, Uruguay. As we disembarked the boat, we were immediately confronted with the smell of pine trees. No buses, no traffic, no smog, just the smell of pine. There were trees with purple blossoms--jacarandas, I think--that gave off a soft and flowery scent, and left the street stained purple from fallen petals.
One kiosk had its doors open, and the rest of the shops, restaurants, and bars had signs that warned us not to disturb during siesta.
The streets were so quiet, and the five of us--Nick, Brenna, Nick, Lisa, and I--were the only people walking down the road. As we walked, Lisa commented on how everything was flooded with color, and it was true--a pink house, a purple restaurant, an orange house, a yellow house, a white house with a rainbow of a garden, a red bridge. We crossed the red bridge, and passed a simple green sign that advertised ¨COLONIA¨ in the direction we were walking. As we looked at the highway it pointed towards, we saw a two-lane country road, flanked by fields without people, without houses, without farms. Not to sound too cliche, but it looked like a scene from Motorcycle Diaries, and I felt a rush of reminder, We are in Latin America!!
After the bridge, we turned right, following the sign to the Playa Sere, the BEACH! The road to the beach passed houses and one restaurant-bar, with an old black lab sitting in-between the plastic patio-tables. The ground was grassy and covered with pine needles, and in-between houses were dirt paths leading to the residential side of the beach. As we approached the shore, we entered a wooded campground, with horses tethered to trees and grazing on the grass.
The beach sand was so smooth and light, and there were plenty of trees for shade. We unfurled a blanket and sat down to picnic on the rice salad and ham sandwhiches we brought in our backpacks. The shade was so cool and refreshing, but the water was so, so clean, and even though none of us had brought our swimming suits, we could not resist wading in.
The bottom of the river was so smooth, and the water was the perfect temperature. I of course had to take it all a step further and totally submerge myself, soaking myself and my dress, the only clothes I had for our day-trip to Uruguay. But it felt amazing. I swam about a hundred meters out, and there were groups of kids playing in the water, which was so shallow you could still stand even that far out. The kids were so cute, all there camping with their families, and Lisa, our Spanish whiz, heard them all talking about where they were from...It was so cute to see these children who had just met playing like they had grown up together. They were just splashing about, doing mini-dives while plugging their noses, chasing each other in the water. When I looked around, it was just beach and sparkling water for as far as I could see. It was beautiful...
We didn't have much time in Uruguay, as the ferry left the port at 6:30 pm. So, after a couple of hours on the beach, we dried off and walked down the road to the purple resto-bar we passed, the one with the sleeping dog. We walked up to the patio, where one table was occupied by customers and another was occupied by the waitress and the cook, chatting and resting in the shade. We sat down around a shaded table and ordered three literes of beer for the table. The waitress brought it out, and the dog took a position right next to our table for a nap. We drank the beer and chatted, taking note that the Quilmes-tasting beer had a Uruguayan label we had never seen before. At 5:45, it was time to head back to the port, and we paid the tab--360 Uruguayan pesos, only about 30 Argentine pesos, but the huge number really throws you off!
We walked back past the houses drenched in color, back across the bridge and past the Motorcyle Diary highway, past a few Uruguayans peddling on bicycles, past the miniature Greek-style plaza, and finally to the awaiting DELTA CAT. We stopped before embarking to buy croissants with ham and cheese, sparkling waters, a box of wine, and some pastries. And we took off, sadly leaving sleepy Carmelo behind us.
The five of us were sun-soaked and exhausted, and we closed our eyes inside the boat for the first hour of the trip. When we opened our eyes, dusk was approaching, and we all headed out to the deck to watch the passing scenery. Nick brought the box of wine and we poured it into our empty water bottles, taking sips as we passed sailboats, houses on the shore with smoking asados, couples cruising on jet-skis, and rickety motor boats trying to catch a wave from the DElTA CAT's ripples. The sky was all different colors, and the waves rocked the reeds on both sides of the shore.
As we pulled into Tigre, the setting sun illuminated the tops of the palm trees and the soft city lights made the town glow gently. We passed through customs and held out our passports to be stamped, thankfully allotting us more time in Argentina.
Being in a new place was such an amazing wake-up call of where we are living. Although we have been having wonderful days here, enjoying our classes, learning about our students, trying new foods, spending time with new friends, I think I had started to put these activities into the cruise control part of my brain, to take them for granted--going to work, meeting with friends, going to a restaurant, etc. I was forgetting to stay alert, to remember each day as something unique, as a day holding experiences I have never had before. Going to Uruguay was a reminder that this is a new land, with constant surprising offerings, lessons, experiences, sights, beauty, people...I remembered how Nick and I dreamt and planned for almost a year before coming here, how we spent every lunch hour looking at pictures on the Internet of sites in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the rest of South America, day-dreaming of the places we would go. Or how we would spend our work-breaks and train rides home practicing Spanish, imagining the situations in which we would use this new language. As I remembered what it took to get here, the planning and the acceptance of the unknown, and also the hope that coming here gave us, the hope of following our dreams, I reminded myself not to go on autopilot...To remember that each day is brand-new and has everything to offer that you can not even imagine, something that life everywhere has the potential to offer, but a lesson that travelling can remind you of. Carmelo was not only a beautiful, peaceful, sandy-pine-tree oasis, but also a beautiful reminder to not take anything for granted...To soak up everything.