Beaches and Families

Trip Start Aug 19, 2010
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Flag of Uruguay  ,
Sunday, October 17, 2010

Note to HF: you can skip the first part of this entry because this is essentially the email I wrote to you the other day.



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I'm still in Uruguay right now. In a tiny little town called Punta del Diablo.  This town is so crazy - the old part of it (all of probably 8 square blocks) is a super old fishing village and it looks like it's still like that today - complete with beret-wearing, two-too-many-teeth-missing, tanned-to-the-point-of-scary-wrinkly old men in their rickety boats.  The newer part of town, which radiates around the old fishing village is just full of rentals - everything from electricity-less huts to big modern houses.  


I am happy to have internet access because I am staying in a hostel - being able to get online helped me pay a couple of bills and catch up with a few folks.  I was trying so hard not to stay in any hostels during my travels but this little town was so hard to figure out online (before getting here) that I booked a couple of nights at a hostel just to give myself time to get situated.  Hostels were basically the only things I could book in advance since almost all of the rentals are phone-only-reservations-places that you figure out once you get here.  Anyway, I had to rent an entire 4-person room just so that I could have a room to myself - but still, it was something like ~$30 for the whole room.


I originally wanted to rent a small shack by the beach, as I'd indicated in one of the prior posts. When I first arrived at the hostel, I asked the owner dude if he could help me get a rental because my Spanish is kind of bad. He told me (in the nicest way possible) that it wasn't that hard - all I had to do was walk to the town and ask around because, he said, "the whole town is for rent".  And it's true. I think that this town, because of its beautiful beaches, transformed from a sleepy fishing village to a vacation hotspot for Uruguayos, Argentines, Brazilians, and even Chilenos. Also, it's become a stop on the surfer-backpacker circuit because I guess the waves are really good and consistent - now I'd kind of wished that I'd pushed SH and GG harder into teaching me how to surf.  Either way, it seems that very few people actually live here.   


I half-assed tried to get a rental the day after I got here but it's still off season and not many of the rentals were open - duh, the South American summer starts in late December and the town is basically deserted all other times.  Someone told me that during the non-summer months, the town's population is around 1,000 or less.  But during the summertime - between mid-December to Mid-March - as many as 15,000-25,000 people come through here.  Crazy. The town only has one paved road.


Anyway, it just so happened that the weekend I arrived was a long weekend for Uruguay and Argentina so whatever few rentals were open were already booked.  So it was a bit difficult. And it was certainly annoying.


The bright side, I suppose, is that since it is off-season, there were very few people staying at this hostel (which is set up more like a house than an institutional dormitory).  After failing to get a rental, I talked to the hostel owner dude and his girlfriend and they said that I could move to one of the dorm rooms (with 6 beds) and they would arrange it so that I could have the room to myself the whole time I was here - they didn't anticipate too many people coming through. So me, not wanting to try any harder to find a rental, just decided to stay here.  It was actually kind of smart because it ended up being super cheap - it cost me only $12/night(!) for a bed in the dorm room that I didn't even have to share.  Not that paying $35-$60/night for a little house/cabana is that much more expensive, but I really was put off about how difficult it was to find an open rental at this time.


It's also good that I opted for the cheaper option because I was concerned about running out of cashmoney (not exactly in the rap-song sense).  When I got here, I asked if there was an ATM - the hostel guy said that there was one in town but it's only open during high season and the nearest ATM/bank open right now is a 45+ minute bus ride away. Umm… yeah… 99% of the town is cash only - even the supermarket.  Luckily, I sort of had an idea that it would be difficult to find ATMs and to use credit cards in the smaller towns so the last time I went to an ATM in Montevideo, I took out more cash than I usually would.  When I got here I had the equivalent of $550 dollars in Pesos Uruguayos, and I think that 2-3 weeks would be do-able with that relatively small amount of cash.   How crazy is that, right? Back in LA I spent the equivalent of $400 just on rent every week - plus there was all that expense on Curry House/Cafe Brasil/Alcove/Urth and the $10 beers at the El Rey.  


I've had a great time so far in Punta del Diablo.  On the Friday I arrived at the hostel, there were a few typical hostelers, which through no fault of their own, immediately annoyed me.  They were the early-20s-loud-rowdy-looking types - the kids that made me want to avoid hostels altogether.  Luckily they were on the way out so it was a bit of a relief when I saw them drag their giant backpacks out of the hostel and head towards the bus stop.  I headed up to my room and took it easy for a little while.  A couple of hours later, after I'd settled in and was ready to see the town, a bunch of older folks (maybe 8 to 10 of them) came into the hostel.  Weird, I thought, that older folks would be totally cool staying in a hostel.  They were super loud and it looked like they were making serious fun of each other. It turned out that the large group of older folks were relatives of the hostel owner.  They were all here for the long weekend and since I and two others were the only other people staying at the hostel, the family just decided to stay here.  It was a little weird at first because I felt like I was crashing a family reunion.  But a couple of days later (and after every other non-family member left) they made me feel like part of it all.  


The next Monday morning, Tio Mingo (short for Domingo), the uncle that liked to travel all over the world, started asking very curious questions about where I was going and for how long I was traveling for.  He spoke very little English and I very little Spanish.  We understood each other, though - but all of the other tios and tias found it hilarious (one of the tias called it an ensalada conversation - I really liked this imagery and I may steal it for future use).  I told Tio Mingo that I would be headed to Brazil next and he was very excited to hear it - apparently, he regularly goes to Brazil on vacations because it's so close to Uruguay. Over the next couple of hours, Tio Mingo and I planned my detailed route through Brazil.  Then, Tio Mingo took me on a tour of the areas immediately surrounding the town.  Punta del Diablo is fairly remote so unless you have a car, you can't really see anything other than the town itself.  It was very kind of him to offer, so I couldn't really say no; we drove around town and to the nearby Santa Teresa National Park, which, I don't know why it was surprising to me, looked very much like the National Parks back home.  There were camp sites, hiking trails, etc. - this sort of made me miss camping a little.  Then later in the evening, the family invited me to the asado that they were having that night.  As strange as it sounds, it felt so nice to be around family, even if it wasn't mine.  The family reunion finally broke on midday Tuesday, when everyone went home.


The rest of the week, I was essentially the only person staying here at the hostel. But it didn't matter because I spent most of the days sitting at the beach.  All of the color I'd lost (hard to imagine considering how dark-brown I am naturally) while I was in more-cloudy-than-not BsAs was regained after a straight week of beach time.  There's more story in the pictures section.


Tomorrow, I am heading to Cabo Polonio and Valizas (which are similar towns just south of Punta del Diablo) for my last few days in Uruguay.  I'm excited about Cabo Polonio because it's a town that's even more remote than Punta del Diablo.  Apparently, you have to ask the bus to drop you off at some juncture on the highway, where you will find a stand. At this stand are 4x4 jeeps, and in order to get to Cabo Polonio, you somehow have to get into one of those jeeps because there are no paved roads to the town, just a bunch of sand dunes.  Oh yeah, and apparently, there is no electricity at all anywhere in this town.  Sounds cool, yeah?


OK. Well, that's the post for now.  As you might imagine, after a week of solitude, there are quite a few things swirling around in my head, but since this post is already quite long, I'll save it for next time. Just to give you an idea, though, this post started out with the title: On being American, On the Sublime (unrelated).  Sounds more serious than it really is, but I need to work on making it a bit more funny before it's ready for internet consumption.




****


Reading material: I sort of put down Then We Came to the End for just a bit - I'll get back to it later.  Just before I left Montevideo, I picked up a small anthology of Eduardo Galeano's works (thanks again for the recommendation - you know who you are).  I couldn't find an English translation, so it's in Spanish. This book should give me many weeks of enjoyment.  I've been trying to read The Open Veins of Latin America (which is something like 10 pages).  I first read it with no dictionary help, and I thought I got the basic gist of it.  Then I picked up a Spanish-English dictionary and boy, I realized that truly understanding Galeano will be a fun challenge.  But hey, it can only improve my Spanish, yeah? 


Playlist: Ely Guerra (click here for sample).  Sweet & Sour, Hot y Spicy was a great album - but I do have to say that I prefer Lotofire so much more - it's the kind of album that works just as well when you are lounging at home on a cold, rainy day as it does when you are sitting at the beach on a supersunnysuperhot day.

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Until next time.


 
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