(Cheese shop near Colonia)
Neither of us were thrilled with the breakfast at the hotel. Actually, for what we were paying to spend the night in Colonia we were unimpressed. Instead we opted to grab something once we got on the road, so we hopped in the car and just started driving. The area near Colonia is peppered with dairy farms and cheese is king here. We passed by many roadside cheese stands, finally stopping at one to buy some homemade cheese and salami for the road. Soon after we stopped for a late breakfast at the aptly named "American Bar" to try a "famous" chivito. The Uruguayans are proud of their national sandwich, but we were unsure of what we were ordering so we decided to split one. Bad mistake. Seriously, I think I've found my new favorite sandwich. Oh, Chivito, where have you been all my life?
(The Magic Chivito)
The chivito can be prepared in several ways but it's basically a sandwich made with a thinly pounded steak (usually filet mignon) well-seasoned with salt, bacon, ham (not "or" we're talking "and" here), lettuce, tomato, onions, aioli, cheese and an egg served either on a hard roll or french fries. Yes, you heard me correctly, FRENCH FRIES! Optional ingredients include pickles, cabbage, olives and peppers. Holy Shit! (Sorry, Mom) I want to marry this sandwich. Of course, the quality of the steak is key here. And Uruguayans, like their Argentinian neighbors, are proud of their beef.
(Punta del Este)
Back on the road, both of us were struck by the beauty of the Uruguayan landscape. It's simple, yet breathtaking. Even in the rain, like today with the sky spitting dow upon us in random spurts. The Uruguayan countryside is richly green with rolling hills, dotted with small farms that break up the wide-open spaces. It's reminiscent of the Icelandic landscape. Everywhere we turned was another gorgeous vista. And the purple-grey stormy sky only enhanced the beauty.
(The famous hand in Punte del Este)
We bypassed the capitol, Montevideo, and headed straight to Punta del Este (the Riviera of South America), reaching it in time for lunch. I was unimpressed by Punta and the aging high-rises littering the peninsula. I've never been to South Beach, but Marc said it reminded him of that. After an overpriced, but tasty and fresh seafood lunch we continued up the coast, passing through Jose Ignacio, which upon first glance, looked like nothing more than a sleepy little nothing of a town. Just past, the road ended at a lagoon where the bridge was washed out. Thankfully, there was a small car ferry equipped to take four cars at a time across to the other side. The ferry was operated by a small motor boat that runs alongside moving the ferry from shore to shore.
(Laguna Garzon Eco Lodge)
Once on the other side, we spied a small ecolodge on the lagoon, with eight rooms floating on the water. There was a rope guarding the entrance, so we thought it might be closed, but we saw someone sitting in the office on the other side of the dock. Thankfully, a local family stopped at the same time and called for the guy working there. He turned them away but I couldn't grasp the gust of their conversation in my limited Spanish because they were talking so fast, so I asked in my broken Spanish if they were closed. He explained that this was their last week of the season and they would be closing after Sunday and were fully booked for the weekend, but they had space tonight only. We jumped at the chance.
This place was perfect. It actually had only recently opened, so it was brand new, and their restaurant (which was already closed for the season) was headed by a famous Uruguayan chef. He showed us to our room, which was essentially a fancy docked houseboat. The whole room gently swayed with the movement of the water underneath us. I was in heaven. The awesome guy who worked there recommended a restaurant back on the other side of the lagoon in Jose Ignacio. He made us a reservation and gave us a local cell phone, explaining that the ferry stops running at 11 PM and if we miss the last one we should call them with the cell, leave our car on that side of the lagoon and they will pick us up in their boat. How awesome is that?
We settled in and watched the amazing sunset over the lagoon, from our porch, sipping beer. A storm was in the distance creating a gorgeous pink and purple show through the grey storm clouds. This might be my favorite hotel ever.
(Smoked Salmon w/ Poached Egg)
Dinner was another wonderful surprise. Turns out Jose Ignacio is the Malibu of Uruguay. It's where all the super rich and famous go to hide out when they're in Punta del Este. And dinner proved it. By 10 PM the entire place was was packed with young and beautiful people. I started my meal with a play on the traditional Peruvian causa, with a octopus causita that was so tender and delicious. Marc had a smoked salmon with a poached egg that was another surprising treat.
(Fish a la Plancha)
Our entrees consisted of a whole fresh lagoon fish a la plancha and a langostino curry to die for... really. I'm ready to move here.
We made the last ferry back, just barely, and back in the room a fantastic storm rolled in, complete with an amazing lightning show that would put the Midwest to shame. I love this place. It's special. I let the storm rock me to sleep.