Monday, February 10, 2014

Day 200: The Value of Time

Today we celebrated our 200th day travelling outside of Canada. We're still here, in Colonia del Sacramento, a place you can see easily in an afternoon. We'd booked our four nights here as a way to keep our pace manageable and enjoy a town that sounded so beautiful in the guidebook. But it's hard not to get caught up in the comparable mindset of our fellow backpackers, "Is there really enough to see here to stay for four days?!" we were asked. "Well, no." Is the real answer. But because we stayed for four nights, we had the opportunity to scope out all of the restaurants around town. We knew we wanted a special place to celebrate our big 200th day, (and that we could only afford to eat one meal out in expensive Uruguay), so we took our time looking for that special spot. If we'd been here only a day or two, we would've chosen a place that was flashy, with its outdoor patio seating, and views of the water, harbour, lighthouse, or church. But it was on our third night, as we took in a most spectacular sunset, that we discovered "our" restaurant. Called "The Art Gallery," it had two little tables set up on the cobblestoned street, and a handful of tables indoors, set atmospherically in an exposed stone hut, ready to offer protection from the frequent downpours.

The patio we shared a bottle of wine at our first day.
Our 200th day was enjoyable on its own. We walked along a bluff overlooking Colonia's 6km of beach, then strolled along its sandy shore. We had great conversations with fellow travellers from our hostel, and shared a beer and many stories with them. We even relaxed for a couple of hours watching the Olympics, joking about our lack of understanding of moguel judging. Then to end our celebratory day, we left our new friends and settled down at a table for two in "our" restaurant. The winds had kicked up around us, raindrops splattering the windows, and their two little outside tables were tucked inside for safety. It was the perfect choice.

The quaint restaurant was filled with semi-abstract paintings depicting an era of tango bars and Colonial street scenes. We passed the time by discussing each painting at length, explaining to each other what we liked and disliked about the scene and style. The game was that we got to take turns "eliminating" a painting to eventually get down to the one we would want to have in our home. Through all this we sampled the provided appetizer: bread with oily,melted Provincial cheese, cashews and maraschino cherries, sipped our Uruguyan tannat, and dove into our shared main dishes of chicken risotto and pineapple pork.

Near the end of our meal, as our wine bottle was lightening and our plates showcased the tiny scraps of an elite offering, the owner came by to greet us. He said that he'd noticed how interested we were in the paintings, and told us proudly that they were his late father's. He described the era that his father lived, and how it had been difficult growing up in the shadow of his success. He shared the different path his life took, to a world of advertising, where creativity is gobbled down faster than it can be produced, to the point that he was forced to quit and live a healthier, slower-paced life in Colonia. He opened the gallery, and then the restaurant, as a way to honour his father's work. Lastly, he shared with us his desire to provide food worthy of a returned customer, in a town where the typical client never comes back. We were enthralled with this intimate encounter and touched by his story. One we never would have heard if we'd flown through this "one night" town in the hopes of gaining a day to "see more."

The spectacular sunset of Day 199, where we could see the
skyline of Buenos Aires across the river.

In 200 days we've been to an incredibly diverse selection of 14 countries. Since our last hundredth celebration we've experienced a mix of nature, culture, animals, and people, that is unprecedented in our travel histories. We're looking forward to our last hundred days, sometimes eager to get back to a routine life, sometimes with sadness that our freedom will end. But the lesson here today is that every place has a story, and it takes time to unfold those layers to get down to the essence of the places we visit. With this, we toasted our 200th day!

(It is prohibited to take photos from inside the restaurant, so we filled this post with our sunset pictures from the day before). Visit La Casa de Jorge Paez Vilaro's website to view the paintings and gorgeous restaurant interior: and certainly make it a part of your travel plans if you head to Colonia, Uruguay.

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