Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Catamaran to Carmelo: Whys and Wines of Uruguay

Over the weekend somebody asserted, in my presence, that there were some 40,000 Americans living in Buenos Aires. How exact that figure might be, neither he nor I really knew, but the fact is that many thousands of foreigners, Americans and many other nationalities, have chosen to live in this city as Argentina has rebounded from its political and economic implosion of 2001-2.

Many of those are, if not technically illegal immigrants, at least somewhat irregular. For most nationalities, Argentina does not require an advance visa, though it does limit stays to 90 consecutive days, renewable for another 90 days at immigration offices or the Policía Federal in the provinces (at a cost of about US$80 and the patience to spend a day standing in line). After that, visitors still need only cross the border to a neighboring country - Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay or Uruguay - and return for another 90 days. Some don’t even bother with that, overstaying and paying a fine on departure.

For those based in Buenos Aires, as I am, the easiest escape is Uruguay, as the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Colonia del Sacramento is only an hour across the River Plate by catamaran, making it easy to depart and return in the same day. A day in Colonia is far pleasanter than a day battling the bureaucracy in Buenos Aires, but it can also be cheaper.

Last week, as my visa was expiring, I spent the day in Uruguay but, instead of Colonia, I chose to visit the town of Carmelo, reached by Cacciola catamaran from the northerly Buenos Aires suburb of Tigre. Tigre’s almost 30 km north of Buenos Aires, but Cacciola provides free bus transfers that get you there in time for the 8:30 a.m. departure that gets you to Carmelo (about 75 km west of Colonia) by noon (Uruguayan time, which is an hour later than Argentina). Some years ago, Cacciola operated small launches that navigated the Paraná delta’s scenic channels, but today’s high-speed catamaran gets you there about an hour faster, over open water.

While in Carmelo, I revisited places that appear in the current edition of Moon Buenos Aires, but also visited some new sites, most notably Bodega Irurtia, the area’s most noteworthy winery, for a tour and tasting. Uruguay’s underrated wines, especially its rich red Tannat, are well worth a try; Irurtia’s handsome brick cellars, where local cheeses and snacks accompany a generous tasting, are well worth a stop. By the time my tour was over, around 7 p.m., it was almost time to return to the docks for the catamaran back to Tigre, where Argentine immigration duly stamped my passport for another 90 days.

This post, by the way, does not intend to imply that Uruguay is only worthwhile as a place to renew your visa. After the first of the month, I'll be crossing the river again to spend a couple weeks or so in Colonia, Montevideo, and Punta del Este.

1 comment:

  1. While Irurtia is the biggest, and arguably more important winery in the Carmelo area, next time you go see if you can pop into Los Cerros de San Juan - amazingly beautiful vineyard and winery, and delicious wines to boot. Plus they have an onsite restaurant that often has some great things to eat!

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