As my three month tourist visa in Argentina was set to expire, last weekend was a good time for a border crossing.
I'm legally allowed to work in Argentina, and to pay taxes, but not to stay in the country for more than three months. It's a bit of an odd system.
Luckily, Uruguay is only an hour's ferry ride from Buenos Aires.
Going across was a bit rough, as the waters were wild and the ship small. It wasn't possible to walk around the passenger area, and the crew had to pull themselves along by the hand grips on the seats. They spent most of their time delivering doggie bags to the passengers, as anyone without an iron stomach was feeling queasy.
After arriving, I explored the village where we docked, Colonia. It's a very pretty town, complete with an historic center and several small cobblestone streets leading to the main docking area. The high season is over, and so everything was very quiet. Many restaurants had reduced their hours to just Saturdays, and it being
Friday, finding dinner took a bit of wandering around.
While walking around the next day, I made a friend in a stray dog, who tagged along for a few hours. After about 10 blocks, one of his friends joined in, then a third, and finally a forth. It was interesting to have become the leader of a pack so quickly, but they were all friendly, and I didn't have the heart to try to ditch them. I had planned on feeding them when they were only two, but with four (very big) mouths to feed, I wasn't sure I had enough Uruguayan pesos on me to offer them much in the way of breakfast.
A few general comments about Uruguay...
The population is a bit over 3 million, and about half of the people live in the capital, Montevideo. The rest of the people are mostly huddled along the coast, meaning that there's quite a bit of open space in the north, heading towards Brazil. When I have more time, I'd be curious to have a look around.
The differences in the culture with Argentina are subtle, but definitely noticeable.
Uruguayans are still quite close to Argentines, both geographically and in terms of how they act. Still, Montevideo is much quieter, and the people are friendlier than in Buenos Aires.
Uruguayans are, like Argentines, addicted to Matte. It's a regional tea served in a
wooden cup with a metal straw. The difference is that while Argentines mostly drink it at home or at work, Uruguayans walk around with a Thermos of hot water under their arm, the wooden cup in their hand, sipping away as they wander the streets. I still haven't developed a taste for it, as without sugar it reminds me of raw tobacco on my tongue.
Montevideo is pretty much shut down on weekends, which is a welcome contrast to the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires. I went there straight from Colonia, and was lucky enough to have a few connections in the city. Silvia, who I had met at a party in Buenos Aires a few months before, and Alejandra and Gonzalo, whom I contacted though Couchsurfing, a hospitality network on the internet, walked with me all over the city for the two days that I was there. I wish that I had had more time, but unfortunately I had to get back to Buenos Aires for work on Monday morning.
Argentina is burning. Or smoking, at least. Some interesting farmers had the interesting idea to set much of their land on fire, apparently to prepare it for next year's crops. Now 70000 hectors are burning. Now the smoke from said fire has been blowing down to Buenos Aires, covering the whole city in a thick cloud. Almost all flights are canceled, major highways are closed, and trains are delayed. And it's been going on for a week.
The air is orange, about 300 people have been hospitalized with respiratory problems, and 10 people have died in traffic accidents due to the lack of visibility. Yet the smoke continues. Plus now it's made it's way across the river to Uruguay, whose people now get to suffer as well from the incompetence of the Argentine authorities.
This follows a few weeks of strikes by farmers, who were angry over the raised taxes. There were major food shortages for several weeks. The situation was further exacerbated by the government's policy of calling the farmers evil, and calling in paid thugs to beat up protesters who were on the side of the farmers.
As the negotiations between the government and farmers continue, it hasn't been ruled out that the fires were set as a way to pressure the government.
The best way to sum it all up is with what my students say when this topic comes up. 'Welcome to Argentina.'