Thursday, March 29, 2007

Colonia, Uruguay (Ken)

Today, Helen and I had an expat rite-of-passage. We went to Colonia, Uruguay to renew our tourist visas for another 90 days. When you enter Argentina on a USA passport, you are automatically granted a 90-day tourist visa. Since we are here much longer than that, the most expedient way of extending the stay is to exit and re-enter the country. It is rumored that thousands of expats have lived in Argentina for a decade or more on nothing but a passport and a series of every-three-month visits to Colonia.

Originally named Colonia del Sacramento it is a city in southwestern Uruguay, by the Río de la Plata, facing Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is the oldest town in the country and capital of the departamento of Colonia. It has a population of 21,714 most of whom are involved in, benefit from, or are employed by the tourist trade.

It was founded in 1680 by the Portuguese, Colonia del Sacramento. This is still evident in the architecture of the town and its culture. The Portuguese claim was later disputed by the Spanish who settled on the opposite bank of the river at Buenos Aires. The colony kept changing hands under treaties like the Treaty of Madrid in 1750 and the Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1777, until it settled, for a time, with the Spanish. Then back to Portuguese control again, and later to the Brazilians.

Today the original part of Colonia still keeps the odd, terrain-fitting street plan in the oldest part, built by the Portuguese, contrasting with the wider orthogonal calles in the Spanish area. Between “traveling” streets are “drainage” streets were it is difficult to walk, but the protruding stones slow the drainage water from above as it makes its way to the river below. It is a walled city and the original gate and part of the fortress remain.

We took the Buquebus from Puerto Madero at 9:45 and arrived in Colonia in about an hour. The experience was interesting to say the least. In Buenos Aires, we got our tickets and headed to immigration. There, we waited in line a short time before being summoned to a desk with two people. We gave our tickets and passport to a young woman, whom we later determined was the Argentina immigration official who processed our exit from Argentina. As this was day 90 of our 90 day visa, there were no problems—thankfully. Once she stamped our passports as leaving Argentina, she handed them to the man seated next to her who examined them and stamped them indicating we had entered Uruguay. We them went through the x-ray and metal detector, and boarded the ferry.

It was a rainy, windy day in Southern South America, and the Rio de la Plata was choppy. It was a bumpy ride on this high speed ferry and Helen was all-too-happy to be on (relatively) dry land again.

We rented a golf cart and tooled around in the rain and drizzle for the better part of three hours. We returned to the ferry for our voyage back to Argentina, and the process was reversed. We checked in (and paid our port tax of $10 to leave) and headed back to immigration. The Uruguayan official processed us out of Uruguay and handed our passports over to the Argentine official who granted us an additional 90-day tourist visa.

That’s it. We walked on the ferry.

The ride back, with the wind at our stern, was fine. We exited the ferry expecting to clear customs again, but, because we had no checked baggage, we walked right out on to the street.

At first, I was a bit surprised, and then I was delighted that there are still places in the world where the people don’t see Al Quida lurking around every corner.

So, Helen and I have experienced an expat rite-of-passage: our first (and apparently last) out-and-in visa renewal.


Holly said...

If one does happen to stay over the 90 days, the fine is only 50 pesos. Which is less than the trip over the border.

Caroline G said...

The Kerrs:
Now ya see 'em, now ya don't. . .now ya do again!

Ken and Helen said...

True, but it is "technically" breaking the law. As a law abiding North American, I chose to play by the rules. Also, if I should ever decide to take up permanent residence in Argentina (not that I have plans to do so), a visa violation would not look good.

miss tango in her eyes said...

I just came back from Uruguay for a vacation from my vacation. We took the bus to Montevideo. I was called off the bus to pay the fine, 50 pesos. I asked for the receipt that apparently you are supposed to receive. They said "Oh no, the stamp is good enough." Señor Uruguay border patrol curiously asked, "Why did you stay so long." I replied "I couldn´t leave." this seemed to satisfy him. Upon returning to Argentina, the immigrations officials asked to see the slip of paper, and seemed a little peeved the other officials didn´t give me one, but waived me through with no problem. Do you think the government received the fine payment?;)