Tourist Visa Renewal
Argentina is nice enough to allow anyone from the US to come here for free now. Your passport stamp acts as your tourist visa and it's good for up to 90 days. When an expat like me decides to stay longer than 90 days, one has a few options:
Do nothing and pay a fine once you actually leave (a surprisingly common way to handle it)
Go to the immigration office and pay a fee to get it extended
Visit another country and then get a new stamp (and thus 90 more days) upon return
I elected to go with option 4. I would prefer my status to be legal in this country, even if they don't have an active deportation force. And if I'm going to spend money to renew my visa, I'd much rather see a new place doing so rather than just seeing the inside of a government office. A lot of people who take this route just go to Colonia, Uruguay. It's an hour-long ferry ride from Buenos Aires so it's an easy half-day turnaround. But from all accounts, it's a quaint town with not a ton to see. So I went the extra length to Montevideo and turned it into a mini-vacation (from my vacation).
From Buenos Aires to Montevideo
There are a few ways to get from BA to MVD. It's a real short flight, but it isn't the cheapest option. There is a ferry that goes straight there, offered by Buquebus, but it's 5 straight hours on an old converted cruise ship across choppy waters. Hard pass. So I elected for Colonia Express, which offers a hybrid trip (ferry to Colonia and bus to Montevideo). The boat ride was easy enough, and included a free cup of shitty coffee. At least I think it was free? If not, oops. The bus took us through desolate areas of farmland (much like Argentina, Uruguayan people are outnumbered by cows) and into Montevideo in about 2.5 hours.
I thoroughly enjoyed my 2 days in the city and I hope to spend more time there at some point in the future. I think part of the enjoyment was its sharp contrast to Buenos Aires, so it truly did feel like a vacation for me. It's much less populated, the people seemed to be friendlier, and it sits right on the water, which has a way of calming anyone down.
I checked into my hostel (Buenas Vibras on Maldonado), which was a really pleasant stay. Ordinary rooms with bunk beds as you'd expect, but probably the nicest hostel bathrooms I've come across, and all of the staff were great. There weren't many other guests there (probably as it was Sunday - Tuesday), so I hung out with the staff and watched a few movies after sundown. I would highly recommend staying at Buenas Vibras if you're looking for a budget option with an upscale feel.
Two days gave me enough time to get a feel of the city and a little bit of the culture. For one, I thought the porteños of Buenos Aires liked mate until I arrived into Uruguay. They take it to a completely different level. I'd estimate 95% of the people I saw in public had their mate and thermos with them. And as a Uruguayan explained it to me, it's not just that they're passionate about the drink (or that their coffee is awful across the country). They view it as always having something to offer and share with another, whether it's a friend or a stranger. I tried their famous sandwich, the Chivito. It's more or less a massive steak sandwich topped with ham, egg, cheese, and anything else you can imagine. I also bought a small bottle of the preferred liquor - grappamiel - a spirit made from grapes and grains. Somewhat similar to whiskey, and then infused with honey, served over ice with a lemon. Pretty refreshing and a nice good bedtime kick.
Honestly, my favorite part of the trip may have been the free walking tour. Sometimes these things aren't worth your time, but I would highly recommend this one to anyone stopping in Montevideo for a few days. The guide, Valentino, was very well educated, spoke four languages, and was very interactive with the guests (maybe because he was working off tips). The tour gave some history of the monuments in the Old City, which gives some context instead of you simply taking a picture and moving on. But more importantly, he gave a lot of insight into the culture and how it developed due to their circumstances. For example, Uruguay is entirely a country of immigrants now (all native tribes are either no longer or moved), which explains why the people are more welcoming to tourists and/or outsiders. Also cool to hear how they balance their liberal laws, like legalizing marijuana and gay marriage, with keeping their much more religious and conservative neighbors Brazil and Argentina happy.
All in all, I'm very glad I took the few extra hours to come to Uruguay's capital in lieu of a quick visa run to Colonia. I saw a much more interesting city and learned a bit along the way. Now that I'm back in the big city, I'm prepping for the Halloween Run 5k on Saturday night. It will be my first race that doesn't involve drinking before and during competition, so I'm excited to see how it goes.