Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Colonia do Sacramento

History, wherever I go, there she is. She sure shaped the present and might even be able to show the future. I bump into her no matter what country I visit; I always find her along the way. I like her but she can be mean. Just talk to her and she will tell you strange and vivid stories.
For Colonia she starts talking around 1680. Her first spokesmen were the Portuguese who came to control the shipping on the mighty Rio de la Plata River; to control the import and export of riches found further upstream and to levy taxes. The idea was good, yet across the river was the Spanish Settlement of Buenos Aires and Spain wanted to control the river and collect taxes too. Conflict, the food of history, was served.

And so it began:
From To Rule Reason for Handover
1680 1680 Portugal conquered by José de Garro
1680 1681 Spain Provisional Treaty of Lisbon
1681 1705 Portugal conquered in the War of Spanish Succession
1705 1713 Spain Treaty of Utrecht
1714 1762 Portugal First Cevallos expedition
1762 1763 Spain Treaty of Paris (1763)
1763 1777 Portugal Second Cevallos expedition
1777 1811 Spain Revolt led by José Gervasio Artigas
1811 1817 Liga Federal Luso-Brazilian invasion
1817 1822 Portugal Brazilian Declaration of Independence
1822 1828 Brazil Argentina-Brazil War
1828 present Uruguay

You must agree, it is too complex to include all the details but you can find it all on Wiki as I did.

We hailed a taxi at 7 AM, which took us to the terminal of Buquebus, probably the best and fastest marine service between Uruguay and BA. We took the Superfast Ferry as suggested by Glenda of Supernova. Every taxi driver knows this terminal since a lot of Argentineans travel to Colonia for a weekend get-a-away to just enjoy the old town and the ambiance of this historic place.

So much so, that the town of Colonia, a proper town of about 25,000 Uruguayans, accepts the Argentinean peso as normal payment. No need to exchange any monies, naturally a bit of cheating happened, but it was harmless. Instead of using the proper rate of 3.5 Uruguay pesos for one Argentinean peso, the rate most often used was 3 pesos. Even US $ could be used at a rate of 18 Uruguay Pesos for one US $. Unless you buy something big or visit a museum (all of which require Uruguayan Pesos) it does not pay to exchange money at a bank or exchange office. Let the little entrepreneur make money, too.
We booked a ‘tour’ for the day, which meant we did not have to walk the 6 blocks to town or the several kilometers to the old bullring and Jesuit Seminary
but were driven about in a large bus. We had a small walking tour too, courtesy of Supernova. Our lunch was included in this package and what a lunch it was. We paid for the whole trip, boat, bus, tour, guide and the bus trip back to the harbor a total of US$ 120.- add to that the taxis to and from the bus terminal of Pesos $ 40.- each trip and the grand total for each person was a cool $ 140. It was certainly a bargain.
The historic part of the city is small; it can be covered in less than a one day walking tour if you so desire, but I took only in what I liked best. Intriguing to me were the differences in style of housing and the differences in street design between the Spanish and the Portuguese.

The Portuguese built roads that had a center gutter, the road lower in the middle of the street which made for a better drainage in rain and better air circulation. The Spanish crowned the streets, with the middle being higher and rounded and the gutter being near the sides of the road. The Spanish included high sidewalks to protect the foot traffic from the run offs and the crowned roads made it easier for cart traffic to travel on.

The Portuguese built houses with raftered roofs topped off with clay knee tiles, so called because they use the thighs of the makers of the tiles (mostly women and children to get smaller tiles) to form the clay into tiles. The Spanish used mostly flat roofs so they could use 2 storied buildings and use the top of the roof for storage.

Colonia is a mix of both since each occupation brought new decrees, new ways of looking at life and new styles of construction and living.
The oldest church in Uruguay is located here. Built, destroyed, rebuilt and again destroyed and blown up etc.; it is still the oldest church and quite Spartan on the inside.
The whole of the town of Colonia do Sacramento is filled with greenery; with shade trees and many flowers,

it is very pleasant. It was a good outing for a day, a good trip across the mighty, 290 KM wide Rio de la Plata.
The river, it’s brown but not polluted water brings dirt from the Andes all the way into the Atlantic Ocean. It looks like the ocean itself, but the waters are not salty. Dotted along the shore of Colonia are dozens of islands, tree covered and not inhabited. The whole of Uruguay, from the little I have seen from my small tour, seems very aware of pollution and trash and the people make it a point to not to litter in the first place. A lesson, I feel, that needs to be learned by most of the rest of the world.

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