Day Trip to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

Doorway to the Past by katiealley on Flickr The historic quarter of Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay [map] was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, and it only takes a few minutes of wandering among the well-preserved colonial architecture to understand why. Founded in 1680, both the Spanish and Portuguese left their mark on this small city situated along the northern bank of the Río de la Plata. Today, Colonia is a destination for thousands of tourists looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires for the day (or looking to renew their 90-day tourist visas!).

The Buquebus ferry terminal located in Puerto Madero is a clean, bright and modern facility (in stark contrast to Retiro station where I'd arrived by bus from Necochea just a few hours earlier). After purchasing my ticket, I made my way through security and passport control, and I plopped down on a bench in the waiting area until boarding time. I was thoroughly entertained by the little girl next to me who was playing with various dolls and plastic animals. The minutes passed quickly as I watched the giraffe climb the "tree" (aka telescoping luggage handle), and before I knew it people were lining up to board the ferry.

Buquebus Terminal by katiealley on Flickr[Inside the Buquebus terminal]

I boarded the high-speed ferry Atlantic III and took my seat for the 55-minute crossing. We pulled away from the dock and out onto open water, crossing the muddy, chocolate milk-colored waters of the Río de la Plata, which forms part of the border between Argentina and Uruguay. As we neared Colonia the brilliant white lighthouse came into view, and just a few minutes later we prepared to disembark. 

Upon arrival in Colonia – armed with experience from my prior visit – I set out on foot toward the historic quarter of the city. Since I had arrived just in time for lunch, the first order of business was finding a place to eat. After the so-so meal I'd eaten at El Torreón last October, I was hoping for a more positive experience this time around at a different eatery. 

I turned off the main thoroughfare of Avenida General Flores and began navigating the back streets, where I stumbled upon a small restaurant called La Casa de Jorge Páez Vilaró, hidden along a narrow side street. The ambience of the restaurant was lovely (it's housed within a stone building dating to the 1850s and filled with period furniture and original contemporary art pieces), and I was seated in a small, sunlit interior courtyard. Unfortunately, neither the food nor the service lived up to the beautiful setting. 

I ordered an appetizer of parmesan asparagus, which arrived limp, gray and drowning in a thick cheese sauce. My entrée of gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp), though artfully presented, consisted of tiny, rubbery shrimp that were so salty I only managed to finish the dish by taking large gulps of water between mouthfuls. The service was perfunctory and indifferent, and I left the restaurant with a bad taste in my mouth and significantly less cash in my wallet.  

Though lunch was a complete dud, the sunshine and unseasonably warm winter temperatures soon erased my disappointment. With camera in hand, I set off in search of some interesting shots. Colonia is very photogenic with numerous spots just begging to be photographed. Everywhere you turn there are well-preserved remnants of the past: charming old colonial buildings, bumpy cobblestone streets and even cool vintage cars (they crop up all over the place here!). The historic section is extremely walkable, and you can see most of what the city has to offer in a day.

Iglesia Matriz in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay by katiealley on Flickr [Iglesia Matriz (1680), the oldest church in Uruguay]

Calle de los Suspiros by katiealley on Flickr [Calle de los Suspiros – It's said that centuries ago, sailors wandered this street looking for a good time after a long voyage at sea, if you know what I mean. Wink, wink.]

Ramas | Branches by katiealley on Flickr [Paseo San Gabriel, a promenade along the Río de la Plata]

Paseo San Gabriel by katiealley on Flickr [Taking in the view from the Paseo San Gabriel]

Calle de las Flores by katiealley on Flickr [These old-fashioned streetlamps and handmade tiles indicating the street names add to Colonia's charm.]

Faro de Colonia | Colonia Lighthouse by katiealley on Flickr[Colonia's lighthouse, which was first lit in 1857, lies adjacent to the ruins of the 17th-century Convento de San Francisco.]

One place I had yet to explore on my previous trip was the small port area on the northern side of the city. I thought I might find some good picture-taking opportunities over that way.

[The river sparkling under the mid-day sun]

Buoys | Boyas by katiealley on [I couldn't resist these rusty yet colorful buoys stacked in a corner.]

El Muelle | The Pier by katiealley on Flickr [Relax and enjoy the sunshine on the pier. There's a seat waiting for you.]

The Glimmering River of Silver by katiealley on Flickr [El Puerto Viejo | The Old Port]

From the port I hoofed it back to the ferry terminal at the other end of town, stopping briefly along the way to chat with an elderly woman about her two cats lounging in a picture window and the black mop of a dog at her side. I arrived about 45 minutes prior to the ferry's departure, and by the time I checked in and cleared passport control, it was practically time to head back. Once on board I settled into my seat and took a bit of a snooze, awakening at just the right moment to appreciate the twilight sky over the river as we pulled into port in Buenos Aires.

And so, after a relaxing afternoon on the other side of the river, I have just one thing to say: Colonia, I love you but next time I'm packing my lunch.

View my complete set of photos from Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay on Flickr.

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On the Road Again

I'm heading out late tonight on the overnight bus to Buenos Aires.  I'll make a quick pit stop at Daniel's cousin's apartment when I arrive tomorrow morning, and then I'm off to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay for the day.  If you'd like a sneak peek at the colonial architecture and cobbled streets of Colonia, take a look at these photos from my trip there last October.

Let's see if I have any memorable encounters with characters like the capitán or the Colombian convict.  Who's placing bets?

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Music for Your Soul

The very first time I heard Gracias a la vida performed by Mercedes Sosa, I was captivated by the lyrics and the dark, soulful voice of La Negra. Both the words and the music resonate deeply within me, and I hope this song touches your soul as it does mine.

I've included an English translation of the original Spanish-language lyrics so you can appreciate the beauty that lies within the poetry of this song. 

the moment of release by harold.lloyd on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license]

Thanks to Life
Composed by
Violeta Parra [original Spanish lyrics]

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me two beams of light, that when opened,
Can perfectly distinguish black from white.
And in the sky above, her starry backdrop,
And from within the multitude
The one that I love.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me sound and the alphabet.
With them the words that I think and declare:
"Mother," "Friend," "Brother" and the light shining.
The route of the soul from which comes love.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me the ability to walk with my tired feet.
With them I have traversed cities and puddles,
Valleys and deserts, mountains and plains.
And your house, your street and your patio.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me a heart, that causes my frame to shudder,
When I see the fruit of the human brain,
When I see good so far from bad,
When I see within the clarity of your eyes...

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me laughter and it gave me longing.
With them I distinguish happiness and pain—
The two materials from which my songs are formed,
And your song, as well, which is the same song.
And everyone's song, which is my very song.

Thanks to life
Thanks to life
Thanks to life
Thanks to life

[Please click here if you can't view the embedded video.]

[Photo credit: harold.lloyd]

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Gaucho Rappers: The Payadores of Argentina

Malambo man by His Noodly Appendage, on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license]One day while channel surfing, I happened to flip past some cultural programming where I heard the announcer mention the word "payada." Not one to neglect my education in all things Argentine, I turned to Daniel for a definition. 

He explained that a payada is essentially a contest between two gauchos – an improvised battle of wits featuring poetry and song. These cowboy minstrels, he noted, are known as payadores. The payadores duel musically back and forth, attempting to one-up each other, and things finally come to an end when one of the payadores fails to immediately respond to his rival. 

I considered Daniel's explanation for a moment and then broke into a grin as I declared, "So, basically they're gaucho rappers."

Though the payada may be the "perfect cultural analogue to rap music, which began similarly as a sort of street competition, requiring quick thinking and clever rhyming," [1] the payadores of yore tended to be a bit more philosophical in their musings and they refrained from using foul language. They weren't, however, shy about drawing knives if the payada concluded on a sour note. [2]

In the past, apart from providing entertainment, the payadores served an important role in terms of spreading news. As the payadores traveled from town to town, they collected stories, gossip and news along the way, which they recounted to the paisanos (rural residents) who were rather isolated from the rest of the world. 

Toward the mid to late 19th century, payadores like Gabino Ezeiza – a master of improvisation and one of the most celebrated payadores – influenced Southern Cone writers as they began to explore a new genre known as gauchesque literature. These stories, inspired by the lives and deeds of gauchos, were often penned in a style that mimicked that of the payada. The epic poem Martín Fierro by José Hernández, written in the gauchesque style, is considered an essential piece of Argentine literature.

The payada is an art form that's still practiced today at cultural events, jineteadas (Argentine rodeos), and the like, though I'm fairly certain the knife fighting element has been largely eliminated. All joking aside, the payada constitutes an important part of Argentina's cultural heritage, and it's gratifying to see that the tradition continues.

For the record, I wasn't the first person to note the similarities between the payada and rap. The following segment from a TV show called "Argentinos Por Su Nombre" features two young payadores who square off against a posse of rappers, with rather humorous results. The video is definitely worth a look if you speak Spanish, but even if you don't understand a lick of castellano, you'll at least get a feel for the rhythm and sound of the payada. If you'd rather see payadores minus the rappers, take a look at this video instead.

[Photo credit: His Noodly Appendage]

[1] Tango-L
[2] Cowboy Poets and Cowboy Poetry

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The Face on Your T-Shirt (aka Che Guevara)

Without a doubt one of the most controversial leaders to have emerged during the 20th century, Argentine-born Ernesto "Che" Guevara and his famed image are difficult to avoid here in Latin America (and on liberal college campuses throughout the U.S.). More than 40 years after his death, Che Guevara remains a deeply polarizing figure whose revolutionary ideals and actions inspire either admiration or hatred. Then, of course, there's the guy in Venice Beach, California who thinks Che was the inventor of the mojito.

Che is quite popular among college students who sport t-shirts with his image, more as a fashion statement than a political one. Others prefer spray painting Che's face to wearing it. And look, here's Che's ubiquitous mug reminding us to practice safe sex:

El Che por Buenos Aires, Argentina by Carlos Adampol, on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license]

Che's bearded, beret-wearing visage is plastered or graffitied everywhere—and I do mean everywhere. But who the #@%^ is Che?

The quick and dirty answer according to Wikipedia is as follows:

"Ernesto 'Che' Guevara (June 14, 1928 – October 9, 1967) commonly known as Che Guevara, El Che, or simply Che, was an Argentine Marxist revolutionary, physician, author, guerrilla leader, military theorist, international statesman and major figure of the Cuban Revolution. Since his death, his stylized visage has become a ubiquitous countercultural symbol and global insignia within popular culture."

If you'd like to know more about Che Guevara, here are some interesting articles that I came across. The first selection presents a fairly unbiased overview of Che's life, while the other articles take a more definitive stance (either positive or negative) about his life and accomplishments.

American Experience>People & Events>Che Guevara (1928-1967) –
"CIA Man Recounts Che Guevara's Death" – BBC News
"Che Guevara's Daughter Recalls Her Revolutionary Father"The Guardian
"Time 100: Che Guevara"Time Magazine
"This Endless Myth-Making About the Blood-Soaked Che Guevara Must Stop"The Huffington Post

On a final note, yesterday morning I couldn't help but let out a chuckle when I opened my email and found this t-shirt featured in the weekly dispatch from my favorite tongue-in-cheek news source, The Onion.

Che Wearing Che T-shirt T-shirt

I give you the description of the Che Wearing Che T-shirt T-shirt: "This scarcely seen iconic image dates back to 1958, shortly after revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara freed thousands from the restrictive yoke of T-shirt selection."

Now, I'm glad to see Che's involvement in the t-shirt industry being recognized, but please, whatever you do, don't forget about his crucial role in the birth of the mojito. ;)

[Photo credit: Carlos Adampol]

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El Día del Niño | Children's Day in Argentina

Late for Children's Day! by Seema K K on Flickr

I remember asking my mom once why there was a Mother's Day and a Father's Day but no special day for kids.  Her response: "Because every day is Kid's Day!" Honestly, I really couldn't argue with that one iota as my parents were always very generous with me in every sense of the word (and still are!).  However, had I known that 20-some-odd years into the future I would be living in a country where Children's Day is an honest-to-goodness holiday, I think I would have felt slightly gypped. ;)

In Argentina, El Día del Niño (Children's Day) is celebrated on the second Sunday of August.  Children receive a gift from their parents, and the community puts together events just for the little ones.  For example, here in Necochea one of the local newspapers sponsored a tykes-only breakfast followed by rides on the Tren del Parque, an adorable miniature train that runs through the thickly-wooded Miguel Lillo Park.

So whether you're a kid or just young at heart, I wish you ¡Feliz Día del Niño!

Photo credit: Seema K K

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Recipe File: Homemade Gancia

Advertising Poster for Gancia

I imagine that for many Americans, the phrase "homemade liquor" conjures up images from the bygone era of Prohibition: clandestine stills, bootleggers, and moonshine. Though these days a quick trip to the local liquor store will snag you a fine bottle of wine, spirits or liqueur with little effort, there's still something to be said for a little foray into the world of DIY. In the case of today's recipe, there's even more of an incentive to make it yourself: the product in question is unavailable outside of Argentina.

Americano Gancia is a light and refreshing aperitif produced here in Argentina since 1934. Its enjoyable citrusy flavor makes it an obvious choice in the summertime, but honestly, it hits the spot any time of year. Gancia is often served as an accompaniment to a picada—a selection of meats, cheeses, nuts and other goodies to nibble on—and it would make a fun addition to beer or wine at a barbecue or picnic. This recipe comes from Daniel's stepdad Tomás, who makes an excellent version of Gancia that is virtually indistinguishable from the commercially-made liquor. ¡Le sale rico!

So try your hand at a little homemade hooch—it's easier than you'd think. The only hard put is having enough patience to wait until it's ready.

Homemade Gancia | Gancia Casero by katiemetz, on Flickr

Homemade Gancia | Gancia Casero


1 tangerine
1 orange
1 lemon
1 grapefruit
1 L 190-proof (95%) pure grain alcohol* such as Everclear or Golden Grain
4 L water**
3/4 c. (150 g) sugar
1-2 sprigs rosemary
3-4 whole cloves

*Due to its high alcohol content, pure grain alcohol (PGA) may not be sold in your area. If 190-proof is not available, you can substitute 151-proof PGA (75.5% alcohol) or a 100-proof (50% alcohol) vodka. The 190-proof PGA is the most desirable because it works the best at extracting flavor from the other ingredients. In Argentina, PGA (alcohol puro 96%) is readily available for sale at any pharmacy.

**Adjust the quantity of water according to the type of alcohol you're using, otherwise the final product will be too diluted:
3 L water:1 L 151-proof pure grain alcohol (e.g. Everclear 151)
1.75 L water:1 L 100-proof vodka


Chop the tangerine, orange, lemon and grapefruit (peels and all) into small pieces and place in a large glass jar or jug with a tight-fitting lid. Add the remaining ingredients and seal the jar. Shake until the sugar is completely dissolved. Store the jar in a cool, dark place, and give it a bit of a shake every day or so for 15-20 days. Strain the liquor using a funnel and a coffee filter to remove the pieces of fruit and spices. Bottle your finished liquor and seal tightly. Your homemade Gancia is now ready to enjoy! It tastes best when it's well-chilled.

How to Enjoy Your Homemade Gancia

  • Mix with seltzer and a squeeze of lemon [as shown in the photo above]
  • Add a splash of grapefruit or lemon-lime soda
  • Whip up a Gancia Batido, a popular Argentine cocktail

Gancia Batido
Translated from the recipe at


8 parts Gancia
2 parts lemon juice
1/2 Tbsp. powdered sugar
ice cubes


Combine Gancia, lemon juice, and powdered sugar in a shaker filled with 3 or 4 ice cubes. Shake well and pour into a Collins glass. Garnish with lemon slices.

Are you looking for more Argentine recipes? Click here to browse the entire Recipe File, or try out the visual recipe index. Read More......
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