Punta Del Este, the Cancun of South America

Trip Start Jan 26, 2007
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Trip End Feb 06, 2008


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Flag of Uruguay  ,
Friday, February 23, 2007

Well, Carlos convinced me to travel to Uruguay for a few days, and it was a great decision. Our expedition began on a sour note as we checked out from the hostel. Carlos and I had laid our bags down on a couch not 10 feet behind us as we sat at the reception desk. After about 10 minutes asking re the cheapest options for traveling to Montevideo (across the sealike Rio de Plata from BsAs), we turned around to grab our bags, and were only able to grab one. Carlos's bag was missing. After about 5 minutes of disorientation, and about 10 minutes of shock, it was concluded that the bag had, indeed, been stolen from right behind us as we sat at the reception desk. The staff at the hostel was apathetic at best and would not help Carlos search within the hostel, nor were they at all helpful or sympathetic. A solid lesson for me at the beginning of my trip - you will get conned when you least expect it, and it can happen very quickly. Luckily for carlos, he only lost clothes, some Chilean wine, and some other things that he liked, but nothing of value beyond $100 US.

I wasn't sure if this setback would nix our entire plans to travel to Uruguay, but sure enough, once Carlos returned from the police station, he was more determined to make it to Punta Del Este.

Let me tell you a little bit about Carlos. Carlos is Chilean, but German Chilean. He speaks a lot of languages very well and looks very European - in fact, he lived in Germany and Sweden for a bit in his childhood. He is extremely proud of Chile, the land with the best wines, women, empanadas (pastries), etc. of the world. He is a patient listener, and a kind conversationalist. He is in love with history and archaeology, and shares all sorts of wonderful facts and anecdotes. He doesn't blink much and has moony eyes. During conversation, he listens intently while he stares at you with a wooden face. Carlos has been dreaming of Punta Del Este during his entire summer trip through Argentina - laying in the pristine sands on the emerald-blue shores surrounded by bikini clad rich Argentinian girls, who Carlos asserts are the most beautiful in the whole world (Argentina I theenk has the maost byeeaouteeful weeahmen in aoll the waorld [edit - after Carlos read this phonetic spelling, he started speaking English with an italian accent - very funny. His English is very good])

Were this 1930 in Oklahoma, Punta Del Este would be Carlos's California. Were this the late 90s in a blockbuster teen movie, Punta Del Este would be Carlos's lost virginity. Punta Del Este is Carlos's white picket fence and 2.2 children and a waggy tailed dog. When he speaks of Punta Del Este, his words glisten with dreams of bottomless golden goblets filled with Pisco (Chilean national drink), mountains of grilled meats served by naked, rich, gorgeous Argentinian women, and generally a lot of making out.

So naturally Carlos was going to Punta Del Este, bag or not. In fact, losing his stuff made him ever more determined to make it, no matter the cost. When traveling to PDE from Buenos Aires, one has a number of options - direct by ferry bus combo, direct 14 hour bus, or traveling out of the city, catching a roundabout ferry-bus combo to montevideo, and finally pushing on the last 3 hours by bus to the land of the beautiful women.

Tigre is an hour north of BsAs and is a weekend destination for Porteņos - it used to be the place where the rich would go during the summer to escape the city, as well as a bustling megaport on the Rio de Plata. A century later, it is a semi touristy little town on a very english looking river lined with grass and picnic basketing Argentinians sitting next to a McDonald's. There is a very famous English Rowing club there, so every once in a while a rowing boat will pass by with a couple in it. I don't say rowboat or shell because these boats are more like the 150 year old transportation rowing shells from England... Long oars, but not designed for racing. Very elegant. As I said, Tigre USED to be the destination of the rich as well as a port. Now, lining the shores of the river inlet are abandoned, rusting ships and docking platforms, askew and half-sunk as if some grand disaster had struck many years ago. It would be quite apocalyptic if not for the amusement parks and bars that are interspersed along the shore.

Fast forward to Uruguay, and a three hour busride through green farmland with dusty red roads and rusty old trucks, crumbling cement block houses and barbed wire fences for the cows, horses, and sheep. Fast forward to Montevideo, a soothing city that seems like a BsAs Junior... The same Euro influence, but smaller, the same cheap good eats, but cheaper, the same streets and graffitis but less cars and quieter, the same weather but cooler and nicer. Montevideo is a river city, so many streets have distant views down gentle slopes to a gorgeous blue ocean, basically. Carlos and I spent two days in MV just ambling about. Our hotel cost $5 each per night, which was wonderful, except for the mosquitos and the bathroom that became a lake after showers. Small prices to pay for a great location and friendly people. But of course, Montevideo may have great characteristics in its own right, but Punta del Este was the destination - Carlos was tense with excitement. I don't think he went 5 minutes without mentioning the beautiful women and the 'Party' that would happen in PDE once we arrived.

So we arrived. PDE is indeed beautiful - long beaches leading up to the small rocky peninsula look like a calmer, smaller Miami. The point itself is about 1.5K long and very narrow, so that we were able to walk the entire circumference in only 1.5 hours or so. The rocky sandy shores of the point are quiet and the water is warm. We found a hostel and were greeted by what I can only describe as a Californian surf bum who happened to be born in Uruguay. He said 'tranquilo' a lot, which is basically like saying 'chiiiiillll' or some other catchphrase. Often he would end sentences with cackling laughs after making a joke about girls or partying or smoking or surfing. He was hilarious. This is how Carlos checked in (translated) - 'Hello. We would like to stay here. What are the best places for night life here? where do the women go?' to which the tranquilo receptionist replied, 'let's just finish the check in first.' Carlos got his first wish though, as we immediately went to the beach and laid for about a half hour. It really was amazing to just lay on the beach. PDE is gorgeous. We soaked in the paradise sun. However, Carlos's first words after this were, 'I thought there would be more girls.' Alas, we are all doomed to learn the difference between dreams and reality. We chose the wrong beach and the wrong time. PDE's party season is in January and wanes in February. Most of the rich beautiful women had gone to be rich and beautiful somewhere else, I guess.

Our hostel was filled with Americans, Californians to be exact. One was tall and blonde and only wore miniskirts that showed off her faketanned legs. They seemed to be 1) emaciated, 2) plastic, and 3) 15 feet long. After talking with her Californian friends about California, I asked her where she was from, and as it turns out she went to Cal. I said, 'oh, Cool, I went to Stanford!' and she replied, 'Oh.' She didn't speak a word to me after that. I later inferred that she was a cheerleader at Cal, which I suppose explains the plastic appearance and vindictive school spirit. She was just that type of cheerleader pretty, and I hate to say it, that type of cheerleader vapid. Her friends were nice though.

Two nights in Punta Del Este. Carlos stayed out until 7am making out with this pretty Uruguayan girl he met in the bar. I came back 'early' at 530am after chatting it up with two twin guys from Vancouver and an Englishman from our hostel. Everyone in South America thinks I dance funny, and they only listen to techno here with the occasional megarap song such as In The Club. The C Walk went unappreciated. The next day was spent sitting in a hammock mostly while the breeze cooled Carlos and me off from the sun. The next night, we decided not to pay for the hostel and opted to go out until 5am, then to catch the 630 bus to Montevideo so that we could return to BsAs. This time, I had to defend my prime position on the dance floor in front of the TV screen from elbowing, rude Uruguayan teenage couples. Did I mention that everyone in these clubs are 18 or younger, it seems? Completely ridiculous. I have no idea why this lifestyle is attractive, and I think the other 22 year olds don't think so either. Every time Carlos finds a girl attractive and goes to meet her, she turns out to be 18 or 19, which I really think means she is 16. Unfortunate. This is why I haven't found anyone attractive yet in Argentina or BsAs. I feel like I am in a high school dance constantly, and I probably am. While it is fun to joke about pedophilia sometimes in the safety of your own home, it just isn't my thing when the chips are down.

My bicycling friends will be in Santiago in 4-5 days, so I am going to hightail it after one more night hanging out with Carlos and Rob, the Englishman who enrolled in a Spanish immersion program here in BsAs. Tonight in the hostelīs fashionable Basement Bar Area, there was a guy covering the best and biggest rock ballads of the 90's, such as Radiohead's High and Dry and Stone Temple Pilots' Plush, as well as the requisite Red Hot Chili Peppers' under the bridge. he was very good, and it was a great environment in which I wrote this STELLAR blog update. Again, American culture pervades.
 
Which brings me nicely to my next point. There aren't too many Americans in South America, but when there are Americans, they stick out, especially if they are over the age of 35. One table of Americans in PDE complained loudly about the service and couldn't understand why the Spanish speaking waiter didn't comprehend their loud English complaints. One woman had a buttery face under a bright red perm job and tacky purple lipstick which she religiously applied every 5 minutes, and she kept whining to her husband that he needed to check the bill because they probably screwed something up. Timejumping to tonight's dinner back in BsAs, Carlos and I needed some butter. There was an abandoned plate with two butters on a table NEXT to a two person table with an older couple. Carlos grabbed just ONE of the silver buttercubes. The man at the next table turned, glared, wagged his finger, grabbed the butter cube from Carlos, and quite emphatically placed the butter plate on his own table next to his french fries (which he had previously sent back because one of the fries wasn't to his liking - no joke). Then he glared some more and mumbled to his wife. The butter, of course, remained untouched for the rest of the meal. I was about to ask him how he had liked his butter as he walked by the table, but Carlos convinced me that I must be polite. Unbelievable behavior. Please, Americans, if you ever travel, the very least you can do for our national image is to share your unused butter cubes, but apparently sometimes the principle of maintaining property claims during dinner is more important than kindness or courtesy. What's mines is mines, what's yours is mines, the streets is mines, the buttercubes is mines, as 50 Cent would probably say at dinner.

Dinner, by the way, is amazing in Uruguay and Argentina. Tonight I stuffed myself full of mashed potatoes, ravioli bolognese, bread, beef empanadas, and coca cola. I paid under 7 dollars. Carlos's beef was at least 30 ounces and he could only eat 2/3 of it before surrendering.  

Not all Americans are bad, though. Most of the Americans I have met have been great. I ran into a Stanford Law grad woman who will start working at my sister's firm in SF in the Fall. Quite the coincidence. Another girl, 28yrs old from Washington DC, was very kind and intelligent - she spoke fluent Spanish as she was partially raised in Argentina. A great emissary and a positive example of our immigration model. Yay for America, national pride. I take offense to the offensive folks because I have pride in our country and I want both the good and the bad to be conspicuous, not just the bad. Anyway, more on that another time. I guess it is time to 'have party', or as is more likely after a day of travelling, to sleep.
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Comments

mjcmd
mjcmd on

Hey, Eric-
Wow, what a missive! I just love your prose and the things you choose to recount in your travelog, Eric. You are a very gifted writer, and more importantly, a talented observer of humanity and its foibles. Your ability to draw conclusions form your observations is truly gifted.
Keep on exploring, being open to new things, and having a horizon-broadening experience, dude.
Love,
mj

gdadamson
gdadamson on

Getting into it
Well, Eric, that was a wonderful blog. I cannot tell you how much I am enjoying your terrific writing, and as MJ says, your powers of observation.
Just think, it's been just 2 weeks away. Three countries, mulitiple acquaintances, and more experiences than you can count. And it's only just begun.
I am sorry for Carlos' bag, and happy for you that it wasn't yours. Simple rule, if it's not in your hand, on your back, touching your leg in front of you, with a known friend or locked up, it's at (greater) risk.
Have a great trip across Argentina to Chile. I know you cannot spend all your time on blogs, but they are wonderful to read.
Sharks 3-2 W in shootout last night in DC and 2-0 W tonight in Chicago. Mom and I go to see Rebecca tomorrow in LA so we are excited about that. LD

aussiemum
aussiemum on

Rolling on to Chile......
Eric, I love this 'blog' and I am reminded of the carefree wanderings of my own back in the early '70's. It was so wonderful to wake up in the morning and wonder where you would end up in the evening. Enjoy every momentas as it is a precious time in your life when there is only one person to be concerned about- you:)
You were so lucky to have recovered your bag. You will understand now why we cautioned you to not leave the bag for a minute, not even in the rack above you in a bus. Never put it in the trunk of a taxi either.
Happy trails,
M x

nater5blades
nater5blades on

yeeeeeep
I agree with MJ, your writing is awesome, Eric. Really fun to read, and I know you're going to be so glad to have this detailed history of your journeys.

I'm sorry your c walking went unappreciated, you know that was always my favorite party of any dance party. Honestly.

Glad to hear you're having fun and meeting crazy people. Stay safe (don't lose your bags!) and have fun.

leepnet
leepnet on

the message
Awesome descriptions of people and experiences. I wish I could eat dinner with you down there. I've had frozen pizza for 3 nights in a row. I'm looking forward to hearing how your run-in with the cyclers is gonna be. Love the stories, keep it up.

gdadamson
gdadamson on

Terrific photos
Thanks for the terrific photos. I see the beard is coming along! Enjoy Chile. LD

Mikael Schreij on

WONDERFUL AND FUNNY STORYTELLING. !

Marie on

Cancun of the South America???? hahahahahha no is real!, Buzios, Natal and Jurere international are BEAUTIFUL! Punta del Este is so expensive and sea is cold! no recomend

Paris on

no !! i hate Punta del Este. is an unsafe city and sooo expensive! Argentina and Brazil are countries with more services! =)

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