On Friday, I visited Uruguay for three whole hours—to renew my tourist visa.
This exciting and shady process is one that many long-term expats in Buenos Aires are familiar with. Since work visas are difficult for foreigners outside of South America to obtain, most expats live (and work) in Argentina illegally on a standard tourist visa. Tourist visas are only valid for 90 days, so many people try to get around their murky immigration status by leaving and re-entering the country every three months, beginning a “new” 90-day stay in Argentina with each passport stamp.
This not-at-all legal loophole is largely ignored by Argentine officials because the country’s base of expats means an influx of dollars and euros and an increase in spending. Before moving to Argentina, I was well aware I would “need” to leave the country every three months to renew my visa–only learning years later how illegal the whole process/idea was.
But at the time, these visa renewal trips were a great excuse for adventure! Fortunately, Uruguay is only an hour away from Buenos Aires on a comfortable ferry ride. I booked a cheap ticket for 80 pesos (~ 20 bucks) each way and headed to the cute town of Colonia for a few hours.
After checking out the colonial areas, I headed inward to see what the city had to offer.
Next I walked back to the ferry station, following the old train tracks back to town.
After several hours of exploration, I took my time returning to the ferry station, arriving a little less than an hour before my ferry was scheduled to return to Buenos Aires. I walked up to the attendant to check in, and she glanced up at me from her computer:
There was a five second pause as I painfully translated those two words in my head: “Se fue. Se fue is the past tense of go. That means it left. The ferry left. OH MY GOD IT LEFT.”
As it turns out, just a few weeks before, the clocks in South America had changed for Daylight Savings Time. However, Argentina—being the rebel country that it is—chose not to change its clocks this year (it varies every year depending on how the president feels!). So, Uruguay was now one hour ahead of Buenos Aires and I had actually arrived an hour later than I had thought—right as my ferry was departing.
I immediately panicked. Because it was a short trip, I hadn’t thought to bring my credit card or debit card with me, and I had only a small stash of pesos in my wallet. I started running through all the possible scenarios in my mind: calling someone at my house and asking them to bring my debit card, convincing someone at the station to lend me money, spending the night in Uruguay.
I nervously approached the ticket booth of another ferry company, inquiring how much a seat on the next ferry to Buenos Aires would cost me. The attendant typed at the computer for a minute—the longest clickety-clacking of my life—and then told me, “130 pesos.” I peered into the bill fold of my wallet– and found exactly that amount inside.
I spent the next few hours on the ferry, gobbling down the tiny complimentary croissant included with my ticket while gazing at the sunset from the chilly deck. I had managed to grab the last boat back to Buenos Aires that evening—another incredible coincidence. I was (temporarily) penniless, hungry, and cold, but my heart was rich, warm, and full from adventure.
Beautiful sunset on the way back home