Hitting the coast of Uruguay

Trip Start Feb 01, 2009
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Saturday, April 4, 2009

There is something rather invigorating about being thrown around by the shear force of water, face and body grinding itself against the sand. The washing machine action of the waves in Punta del Diablo, Uruguay threw us down below the ocean surface and into the sand. Although painful at times, the cleansing action of the waves and sand brought back good memories of growing up by the sea in Cape Town and we thus returned to the waters after each wave until the body could take no more. Punta del Diablo was our last stop in Uruguay and our favourite one by far.

Our first stop was Colonia del Sacramento. We arrived there by ferry from Buenos Aires and spent the day riding around the town and down cobbled roads on a very dangerous four-wheel buggy with no side or review mirrors. Colonia is a beautiful, well-preserved town with colonial architecture and it was interesting to study the buildings
as we passed by on our buggy. After a few hours in the town we made our way to the station to catch our bus to the capital, Montevideo.

We arrived in Montevideo later than expected but managed to find a hostel for the night. We got a shock when we saw the price of the hostel and agreed to move to a cheaper hostel the next day. We had not done enough research prior to arriving in Uruguay and it turned out that the hostel was not so overpriced and that Uruguay was generally expensive and in particular the capital.

In Montevideo we visited museums; watched the Uruguay and Chile world cup soccer qualifier and met an interesting Uruguayan sailor as well as two American guys. After the soccer qualifier we tossed a coin with our two new American friends to see whether we should venture to the only club open on a Wednesday - a salsa club. The coin fell favourably for the salsa club and we spent the next few hours trying to chat with the locals and watching hundreds of locals dance the salsa.

Following Montevideo we travelled by bus to Punta del Este, the famous beach resort for the rich and famous. After walking around and observing the people in the city we felt that the place was a bit too pretentious. We thus only spent two days in Punta del Este. We were lucky enough to camp close to an informal settlement with a great
local vibe and spent some interesting nights practising our Spanish by chatting to the locals. There was one old man in particular, Berto, who was delighted to hear that we were from South Africa and learning Spanish. He gave us some good Spanish tips and wished us well on our adventure. 

Leaving Punta del Este for the much spoken about Punta del Diablo, we arrived once again in the dark with no booked accommodation. Luckily we met an Australian guy on the bus and followed him to the hostel he had
arranged on the internet. On the way to the Australian's hostel we were approached by the owner of a nearby hostel who took great delight in showing us his hostel. Upon stepping onto the large open deck covered by wooden floors, hammocks and friendly looking backpackers we decided without much convincing that this was the place to stay. As it turned out the hostel accommodation and fish barbeque we ate on that first night in Punta del Diablo were way overpriced. We did however meet three Spanish and two British people and all agreed to find a cottage to rent on the beach.

As well as meeting the Spanish and British people at the hostel we also met Fernando, a crazy guy from Montevideo who showed us many sides of the Punta del Diablo lifestyle. He was well connected and seemed to
know everyone in the town and was never short of suggestions, ideas, games and entertainment.

We woke up the next morning to the most amazing views of the sea and surrounding town. The first two hours of the day were spent searching for a suitable cottage. We sifted through a fair few dodgy ones before finding the perfect cottage for seven people which was two-thirds the price of the hostel and came with views of the sea, a
huge garden, a good kitchen, an entertainment area and most importantly a big barbeque which we put to good use by barbequing both fresh fish and meat on separate occassions.

We spent three amazing nights in the cottage and had some great times with the Spanish and British group playing card and drinking games, charades and various other games. The best bar/club was only twenty meters away from the cottage and we ended up there on a few occasions. We saw a lot of our crazy friend Fernando who provided us with much entertainment. One night we were sitting in the cottage and heard a knock on the door. We opened the door to find Fernando being escorted by horse-drawn carriage to the down-town bar. Where Fernando went, good times and many laughs followed.

One of our nights in Punta del Diablo rolled over into the next day and we watched our first sunrise over the Atlantic. Having seen many sunsets over the Atlantic in South Africa, it was a surreal moment to be standing watching a sunrise on an opposite continent.

Daytime in Punta del Diablo involved a lot of beach and swimming time. There were some really big waves on one or two of the days and we had great fun swimming with big waves only to get dumped and thrown around like rag dolls in a washing machine.

We had some monetary issues in Punta del Diablo as there are no cash machines in the town. To draw money, one has to take a two hour bus to the next town. As Punta del Diablo was not cheap we all spent the money we had brought with us in a few days and thus had to send one of our group members to draw money from the closest town. Our cards didn't work in the next town and we had to exchange dollars for Uruguayan pesos which was not an ideal scenario.

Of all the coastal towns and cities we visited in Uruguay, Punta del Diablo was by far our favourite place and we hope to return one day. Due to time restrictions we did not venture inland and thus did not get to see the gauchos, but the time spent at the beach was more than adequate as far as we were concerned.

One of our observations during our time in Uruguay was that the Uruguayans seem to take mate-drinking more seriously than the Argentinians and Chileans. Having lived in England for the past five years, I thought the English took their tea-drinking seriously. But I have never seen anything like the Uruguayan mate-drinking. Walking
through an isle in a supermarket we came across a few strangers who were having an intense conversation while holding their flasks of hot water in one hand and using the other hand to drink the mate or pass it onto the next person. Another guy in a supermarket had his flask under his arm, the mate equipment in one hand and was trying to take out his wallet to pay the cashier with the other arm. It took a little while as he couldn't put down the mate container as the base was rounded. It was rather entertaining. We also saw numerous people driving with a flask under the arm, mate in one hand with the other hand doing the steering, gearing changing, indicating etc. Whether we were at the beach, in a shop, sitting in a park, walking down the road or drinking in a bar or club, locals were sipping their mate.

After a great few days in Punta del Diablo it was time to travel to Porto Alegre in Brazil to visit our friend Bruna, whom we met in Buenos Aires. We took a bus to Chuy, the border town between Brazil and Uruguay. There were some stressful moments an hour before the bus was due to leave from Chuy to Porto Alegre when we realised that we were supposed to have received a Uruguayan exit stamp during our bus ride from Punta del Diablo to Chuy. We found out later that we were supposed to have asked the bus driver to stop at the border exit. We thus had to run 2km in extreme heat with all our bags to the border exit to get an exit stamp. We arrived back at the bus station with only a few minutes to spare. It was almost a very costly mistake but turned out to be a good learning experience.

While our time in Uruguay was short we covered a lot of distance due to the small size of Uruguay. Living the same lifestyle as we had in both Argentina and Chile we agreed that Uruguay was more expensive that both Chile and Argentina.

But on to the next destination, Porto Alegre in Brazil...here we come...
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