Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay.

Thanks Google for making my pictures look so good.
This is the lighthouse in Colonia Del Sacramento. It affords the opportunity to survey the old town and experience the lighthouse itself, which is tidy and pequeno. The railings are low.

Colonia is an old Portugese slave port, and much smuggling went on there, until the Spanish took control some centuries ago. The remaining old town is quintessentially colonial portugese, and the old buildings are now rehabilitated with choice restaurants and cafés and bars.

That doesn't stop the locals however from sticking with the traditional maté tea drinking, in a public display of dedication. This guy even has the emblem of his favourite rock band emblazoned on the side of the hot water flask used to brew the tea. People characteristically, stereotypically, in Uruguay spend their day with a flask tucked under one arm, and the maté cup and metal straw in the other hand, sipping and refilling, sipping and refilling, sharing with friends. I would say that there are maté addicts, and after three cupfuls of the caffiene laden gear, my stomach is doping uneasy sumersaults, such is it's potency. It is quite amusing to see people carryingh the entire maté preparation kit around with them, in customised leather gaucho bags, like they might run out of maté soon.....

My hostel is Che Lagarto, well worth a mention, again 'muy tranquilo' very laid back and quiet. My couchsurfing host of the second night in Colonia, Marcela, tells me of a germam friend of hers, who has, having done some travelling in her life, decided to settle in Colonia Del Sacramento, has bought a small property, and is now in the process of refirbishing, due for opening this coming summer season in December. The very best of luck to her. In the meantime, Che Lagarto (Hey Lizard) is good for the lone and weary traveller.

This chap was up early entertaining the kids, and as he amused me highly with his facial expressions, i threw him the few remaining coppers i had. This was his thank you.

Later that day, I would see him come against me in the street, and say 'Hola', at the same time that he said 'Gracias', presumably for the few coppers. I thought to myself as he went by my shoulder, 'hang on a minute, this hard working artist, should not in any way feel obligated to thank me for my small contribution to his quest to keep people laughing, and to keep the kids and young at heart happy'. In fact if anything it is I who should feel that gratitude, as that morning, he made me laugh out loud in spite of myself, and made a difference in my otherwise banal and melancholy touristic wanderings and adventures. I thought to myself as he was 10 metres gone in the other direction, that if I see him again, I will go straight up to him and thank him for his amusing and valuable work in the world.

As it happened, he was only on his lunch break, and 20 minutes later I elected to duck behind the corner I had just rounded, to stay out of his way, so as not to embarrass myself and him any further, I'm sure there are enough little old ladies in the world to do that kind of work, and I don't want to gove any other lads the wrong impression. (I had some other lad make a fairly lude gesture to me involving a broomstick handle, earlier that day, it bears not recounting here, but i'll be glad to recount the tale to you, if you call me on 1550 69 69 69). Ladies, I empathise very strongly with your plight. These latin fellas are fairly forward. Mom, Dad, please, you have no more surprises coming, Scout's honour.

As much as I might try and resist, and as much as my host Marcela ridicules my fascination with such things, I cannot help but admire this old Peugeot 307. It's just on the verge of antique, but so modern in the aspirations lf it's designers. Isn't she a beauty. Marcela is embarrassed by her neighbours wanton abandonment and fox den untidyness, but she knows not of the covetousness of some for such classics back my way in old Irlanda.

The old town offers much in terms of colonial atmosphere, and most examples are well preserved, and there are also exceptions. One imagines though the richness that once was, as some of it still remains...

Don't let that fool you though, the city is modern sophisticated and advanced in the new architecture, and in the creation of smart understated places to live, which are successfully integrated, as is the norm in the South America, that I have seen. Where the role of the architect is championed as an essential part of making a creating successful, well functioning places, neighbourhoods and cities, and where people's needs and the needs of communities are put first before the acquisition of wealth, in general for the minority, who wish solely to profit. Such is the primary driving force, of the more avaricious ventures spurned by the celtic tiger, for example, lest we forget our recent history.

That the colonial empires of Spain and Portugal have laid the foundations, so to speak, in the set out of these cities and towns however is the prerequisite that has the multiracial citizenry inhabiting places where there is no requirement for massive commuting times, domestic isolation, and an over-abundance of private transport clogging up streets and boulevards at peak times.

The end of my first day in Colonia and the winter sun sets over the lighthouse, and Buenos Aires beyond to the west and south. A time of reflection in the cold evening air as I make my decisions and resolutions about life after my return to Ireland in 48 hours. This has been a most amazing journey, and I am happy to say that I feel privileged to have been afforded the opportunity to visit this great continent, and all the lovely generous people whom I have met, who have given me much to think about and be grateful for.

My second day in Colonia begins with a trip to the old Spanish bullring by bicycle. Marcela has lent me her high nellie, and I probably cut an unlikely sight, as I do my thing up the coastal motorway. All I'm missing is a basket on the front, and a big pink bell, but the exercise is great, and it must be oh, around 15 degrees in the sun, in "winter". I could get used to this....

Marcela says I could get into the arena by hopping the fence, as she and others have done numerous times in the past. However I get there, and there's a gang of workers putting up a new fence, today of all days, and scanning for chancers like me. The external walls are thin and badly cracked though, and the signs are up to deter entry alas, so I elect to avoid the wrath of local policy this time around.

Just down the street this fine edifice however is just as interesting, and is the Spanish built "Fronton Euskaro" erected for the esoteric game of Basque Ball (Pelota Vasca), which I believe resembles a mix of hurling and squash. I do remember seeing an art-house flick by complete accident as a child, where there were around 8 chaps flaking a ball against a common wall before them. It looked primitive and challenging, and compelling, gusto and fast. The mind conjures up fantastic images of champions and challengers, celebration and trepidation in and around this intriguing structure, a few hundred years ago. This is the view from the front entrance, and toward the spectator seats above. Again, this was monitored by a guard in a dedicated security hut, so alas, no entry.

One cannot help but think that the Spanish colonials designed and built the place to only last so long, both this and the bull-ring consist of walls that are only paper thin comparatively, which is a shame for this tourist.

Returning to the centre of the town, the tummy rumbles and I park up and check the bill of fare in "The Drugstore" restaurant. Still not having shaken the end of the flu, (Marcela shakes her head in disbelief at my self neglect, she is a chemist, and so puts more faith than I exhibit in the power of pharmaceuticals), and so with the advice of the first doctor Hippocrates who said "Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food" I ask if there's soup on the menu. The young waiter assures me that there is both cream of vegetable, and chicken broth. Inside I am punching the air in victory, and I sit awaiting service.

A grand bowl of sopa, good and salty with carrots and chicken galore. YUM! And with the eyes bigger than the belly, I order a plate of gnocci and vegetable sauce. YUM! And wash the lot down with a young cheeky white. Outstanding, on this sunny afternoon in the village square.

This I thought was an interesting experimental project by Marcela. She has created a microclimate in a bell jar (if that's what it is, Walter White had something like it.... I can understand the fascination, it is a thing of beauty). But the plants inside the jar, the topsoil, the earth, the sand the pebbles, have all been dropped through the spout of the jar, and there is a little mini-jungle effect happening inside. The greenery is thriving, and the water carbon dioxide and oxygen are being recycled through what I can vaguely remember as respiration through photosynthesis. She says that the only thing they need is light, direct or indirect sunlight, and the rest takes care of itself. A garden for the working person! Now to get me hands on one of theose jars.

Thanks Marcela for your couch and your hospitality, may those who come through your door all be as nice as I.