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Two rows of aged stucco buildings now serve as art galleries and artisanal cheese stores. The ladies of the night held court on this street and the surrounding alleyways until a mere 40 years ago.
Thus the historic buildings were saved from the demolition and modernization that has condemned many other would-be tourist magnets to the dustbins of history. Although the Portuguese chose the location as a strategic port from which to challenge the Spanish and then spent decades duking it out with their arch-enemy, Colonia is now synonymous with peace and quiet. Tourists, for their part, seldom bother with cars here, preferring to rent glorified golf carts because a car would move them too far too fast.
And this is not a place for moving quickly. Sure, in one day I could scale the tightly wound steps of the lighthouse for a panoramic view, cross over the reconstructed colonial drawbridge to roam along the old city walls, and squeeze in a picnic on the reedy beach.
But by staying the night, I could absorb some of the laid-back vibe before returning to the big city. The evening of my arrival, I decided to follow the ship lights glowing at the end of the pier and stroll along the wooden planks until I found myself amid dozens of sailors tethering their boats to their moorings by moonlight. The next morning was a Sunday, and as I walked past the central church — destroyed and rebuilt in Spanish-Portuguese warring almost too many times to count — I heard a rich, boisterous singing.
I tried to slip in unobtrusively at the back, but I arrived just as the priest gave his blessing to the parishioners, who all turned to each other to offer words of greeting and kisses on the cheek — mine included.