Dollars, Pesos, Uruguayos, and more!
Hola Chicos! It's a rainy day here in the city so I'm sitting down to write you all about our excursion to Colonia, Uruguay last Sunday.
Buenos Aires is situated on the Rio de la Plata. The delta is extremely wide, and it would seem that it is part of the ocean, but the water of the port and much further beyond the city is fresh water. Colonia, Uruguay is situated almost directly across the river from BA. It's about one hour by ferry.
We traveled with a ferry company called Buquebus. This was a very speedy ship, and it was much like an airplane on the inside. You couldn't go outside on the deck, but it is possible to take a ferry that moves at about one third of the speed if watching the water is your thing. We had to go through customs and get our passports stamped as we came on and off. I am so happy to accumulate some more stamps!
The four of us (Rachel and Alice, the other students, and Luli our contact here) got off the ferry in the blazing hot sun and set off immediately to find the beach. Alice suggested we get a golf cart to drive around the city easier, and we decided that was a great idea when we learned the best beaches were about two miles from the city. We rented our golf cart, got some groceries at the supermercado, and then started driving to have a picnic on the beach. Colonia and the surrounding area is very rural in comparison to the environment we were used to in BA, and the views of the river and the countryside were breathtaking. The water here is not sky blue (like at Punta del Este, or Rio de Janeiro) because of all of the river sediment, but we loved it. It was considerably better than all of the algae-covered lakes I can remember swimming in around Minnesota recently! A storm rolled in later in the afternoon, and so we took shelter and tried some Uruguayan cerveza ("Pilsen", for all you connoisseurs) in the little beach hut/store just off the sand. They call it a 'tormenta'. It was really the perfect ending to our beach time. Everybody loves a little thunder and lightening!
We went back to the historic district of Colonia to walk around the shops and eat dinner before we went back on the ferry which left at 10:30 pm for BA. I took some time to take some photos of the cobble stone streets and ancient colonial architecture, and also bought a mate and bombilla for drinking yerba mate, the celebrated national drink/past time of these people. We had dinner at a great little restaurant recommended by the cart rental people. There was live guitar, and excellent cuisine. I paid about 300 uruguayos for my meal.
And now you are wondering, "Wow, is that expensive? Is that cheap? What is an uruguayo?"....
The answers to these questions made one of the most interesting cultural aspects to our trip. The day was filled with monetary confusion, identification, clarification, and long division. When we arrived we were confronted with the dilemma of what currency to carry. We had Argentine pesos. The currency of Uruguay is pesos uruguayos. However, US currency is also often used in many places of business. I'm not sure why this is, but I have two guesses. One, either there are a large enough number of American tourists here to justify having change for US dollars, or two, that the US dollar is a more stable and predictable currency. You will find here that currency changes as regularly as government, and relative to our own history, that is quite often. Knowing that I would be able to use it in the future anywhere, I decided to get US dollars from the ATM. That presented another problem- I could only get $100 dollar bills. There is always a shortage of small change here, whether in Uruguay or Argentina, for reasons too numerous to list here.
Imagine this: You walk into a tourist shop on a main street in Colonia, Uruguay. The sign on the wall says, "All prices in US dollars", and you decide to by a small magnet and postcard for a friend back home. You go up to pay and the cash register shows you owe $8 US dollars. You pull out your $100 dollar bill and the cashier scowls and tells you she doesn't have that much change. You scowl back and say thanks and put back your purchases...OR...the cashier says, "I have some US change, but the rest will be in uruguayos"...OR...the cashier says, "If you have Argentine pesos, I can make change with that"...OR..."Pay in US dollars, but all the change will be in pesos and uruguayos". Needless to say, the process is fatiguing for the mind, and makes it easy to get ripped off by the cunning business owner (though the latter is usually not a problem).
You walk into a restaurant and see that a bottle of wine is 500 uruguayos. First you think, "How many pesos is that?" Divide by 6.50. The bottle would be priced at about 77 pesos. You look more at the menu and think, "Hmmm, but how many dollars is that?" You have two options: divide by 23, or divide 77 by 3.60. If you're like me you start wondering, "Is this food really worth all this math?" The wine costs 21 US dollars, but in the end it doesn't matter. By the time you realize that it might be more than you normally pay for one bottle of wine, you have drunk the entire thing, and are blindly paying the bill. Suddenly recognizing the importance of tables of multiplication and division, you need a refresher in elementary math.
For the love of money! Until next time, Chau!