Available in Spanish: Paysandú
Three hours later we woke up in Paysandú, Uruguay's second city, department capital, port on the Uruguay River, and border town. It was a sunny, windy, nice morning. It took us almost no effort to locate the address of our lodging place, a big single-story house turned hotel, opposite the main square and not far from the bus terminal. If as the beach rhythm grew farther away and our "big city people" habits returned, this was a step in the right direction — we had a room where five people would've fit, a large bathroom, and even a little patio.
I'd been to Paysandú, briefly, years ago (on an afternoon escapade) but I didn't remember much of it, so we'll have to go over it. In order to do that, however, we were first in need of breakfast, which we'd been unable to have before leaving Tacuarembó. We found a bar (it was called "El Bar") and we asked for white coffee and medialunas. Now I saw that the menu listed both medialunas and croissants, and the latter were much cheaper; the waiter gave us a weird look when we ordered medialunas "with nothing" (he checked), and my suspicions were confirmed when he brought us two huge crescent-shaped pieces of pastry, of the same kind (but double the size) of what's known in Argentina as medialuna — they were the kind we'd seen used for sandwiches in supermarkets throughout Uruguay. Nobody asks for "croissants" in Argentina; we just have medialunas.
After such copious breakfast (which, I'll hasten to add, didn't prompt any protests on our part) we went on a tour of the nearby touristic spots: the basilica church, rather modest from the outside but quite nice inside, and with a large bronze bell dated 1689 exhibited near the front door; the small museum honouring Leandro Gómez, the brave (and suicidal) defender of Paysandú during the siege of eighteen-twentysomething, at the main square; and the municipal history museum, with a diorama showing the area of the ancient battle where Gómez fell before my supposed far-removed relative, General Venancio Flores, with the help of Brazilians, on his way to conquer Montevideo.
We had some light thing for lunch in the hotel, and took a nap. Then we went to the bus terminal to buy our tickets in advance. I had the slightest hope that we might be able to get a direct ticket to Rosario, or an acceptable combination, but there was no such thing. The bus leaving Paysandú for Colón (Entre Ríos) reaches its destination, provided there are no delays, at exactly the same time as another bus leaves Colón for Rosario. And of course, there are always delays.
We still had the afternoon. Since the weather was fine, we decided to walk: map in hand, we went from one square to the next, we passed by the old train station, and we reached the river. We wandered along the coast. The port, which I had known in a state of abandon and open to the curious visitor, had been reactivated and now rejected us with fences and guards. The spot indicated in the map as a prime place to watch the river was also closed. We went on until we found a small beach, and there we sat down to rest, looking at a few children who played in the water, against the light of the sun near the horizon. We felt the weight of accumulated fatigue and didn't want to go back.
Marisa wanted to phone home to let her parents know about our return time, but we couldn't find a single public phone available at that time. The evening had arrived suddenly and Paysandú had shut off. My legs were wobbling from tiredness. At that moment Marisa realized she'd kept a whole lot of Uruguayan pesos... It was pointless, of course, to look for an exchange. So we made an opportunity out of it, and decided to spend that money on dinner as we hadn't had during the whole trip, a copious, hot, well-made restaurant dinner.
And that's how we said goodbye to Paysandú.
To be continued...