Escaping to Uruguayan playgrounds

5 Feb

Uruguay’s best beaches are dotted up the east coast, and bar the ultra-rich, have-you-seen-my-new-Porsche? Punta Del Este, most of the towns remain undeveloped. January is popular holiday season for South Americans though, so the limited accommodation has sky-high prices. Figuring we’d only be at the beach and spending little money on activities, we settle on 3 days each in Punta Del Diablo, La Paloma, and Punta Del Este, to give ourselves a variety of experience from the poor to the posh.

A ghost-town except in the summer, the bus drops us at the Punta Del Diablo bus station (oddly, at least 4 kms from anything, let alone our accommodation). We jump in a collectivo (shared taxi), and for a couple of dollars are promptly dropped at the top of a street; maps are waved, hands are flapped, a barrage of Spanish is flung at us, and we’re left in a cloud of dust. 20 minutes later, after confirming with a kind beach house owner that we’re miles away from our destination, we mooch on her front porch while she calls us a taxi. The “taxi” is an army green Opel Cadet, circa 1985, and rustier than the Tin Man.  View out the back window…

Rolling up at El Diablo Tranquilo, we first note the great communal spaces for guests – sunny couches, breezy balconies, and there is definitely a hammock with my name on it.

As the tiny town nearly completely shuts down outside of summer, many of the tourist souvenir shops, supermarkets and restaurants are housed in shanty shacks.

Being a fishing village, seafood was reasonably cheap and as we’d arrive so late in the day, we decide to have lunch in town and order the day’s special – a seafood platter for 2 – making the rookie error not to look at the plates of everyone else. Crest-fallen we gape at our plate when it arrives – it is covered in the thickest of batters.  This photo is after we picked out the tiny pieces of shrimp, calamari and fish from inside.

On the stroll to the beach MC says to me, “What day is it today?”. And for the first time in the longest of times, I really don’t know. It has simply stopped being relevant. Imagine our delight, when we finally found out it was a Monday!

The afternoon slinks along as we lounge on the beach, then flop ourselves onto the sunny couches of the hostel-guests-only beachside pub.

To get into the pub, located down the road from the actual hostel accommodation, means you need to wear an arm band at all times. Felt like festival days all over again.

Tapas for dinner (excellent chorizo has been sourced), a cheeky red, and it’s off to sleep, but not before I find a little friend in the ladies upstairs showers. Yes, that’s a scorpion.

Day 2. Same again please. Long walk along the beach, a swim, lunch, potter through the tourist shops, more beach, pub, tapas, cheeky vino tinto, bed.

Day 3. Well, why fix something that’s not broken? Same again sounds great to me. Except in the afternoon we also spent much time researching and considering our approach to Brazil. Carnaval is very, very expensive in the major cities (circa AU$100 for a dorm bed, with a minimum of 5 nights). The buses are full, we would have to fly. After already breaking the budget for Antarctica, we conclude that Rio, Salvador and Recife – the 3 most popular destinations for Carnaval are out of our reach and perhaps a little too crazy for us after our experience in Valparaiso. So we book to head up to Fortaleza and Jericoacoara on the northeast coast; beachside towns which apparently still put on a good party. Problems solved, budget saved.

And finally, I make it to my hammock…

An early start for La Paloma means we say goodbye to Punta Del Diablo at a very pretty hour…

La Paloma, while still very quiet, definitely has more facilities (read: an ATM) than Del Diablo. Balconada, our two-story hostel, ideally located across the street from the beach, takes full advantage of the available views with a big open balcony, and only a short walk to the supermarket and amenities. Our days here read like this: tasty breakfast, café cortado, a potter in the shops, light lunch, beach, tapas, bed.

After a couple of alcohol free days, on the last day, we head to the Punta del Sur, a restobar on the beachfront for a beer…

Then later that night, dinner, indulging in vino tinto (actually drunk out of a wine glass rather than the mug or a bottle, fancy that), fresh swordfish for me, and a baby bife for MC that was anything but baby!

It’s remarkable how differently we’re reacting to things now we’re travelling. Eating out is no longer a regular outing but a special treat for us – deciding what to choose from the menu is serious business, the smallest components are oohed and aahed over (is that sesame seeds? oooh, you have eggplant in your salad? ahhh), every morsel is savoured.  It was a great night to round off our stay in this pretty town.

Punta Del Este. Well, I think the Lonely Planet mentions it correctly. Wax it, tan it, buff it, stick it on a sunny beach and it’ll be at home in PDE. Hordes of Uruguayans, Argentines, and Brazilians head to this chic town in January, brightly dotting the sandy beaches with their colourful umbrellas by day, before spending up big in the many expensive restaurants, bars and casino in the evening. Many other blogs have called it the ‘St Tropez of Uruguay’.

Knowing this is not usually our scene, we intelligently booked a little guesthouse about 1.5kms out of the centre. The taxi with it’s slick leather seats was certainly a change from that in Punta del Diablo!

Our hostel is my favourite place we’ve stayed so far. All the pieces have come together. It’s run by a fun, helpful, English-speaking owner who lives there with his family and Hush, the cheeky chocolate Labrador. They provide hands-down the best breakfast ever (cereals, fruit salad & yoghurt, cakes, ham and cheese toasties), bikes for hire, a library of books, spacious rooms with a private outdoor deck, and cosy communal areas.

We spend much time lounging on the local beach, Playa Brava. The sun is hot, the water warm, the beer cold, and we’re much further away from the high rises, a pretty good deal.

Riding into town on day 2 and seeing the many cars, tall high rises and overcrowded beaches, we are further pleased at our hostel choice. Stopping at La Mano en la Arena, or in English as, The Hand in the Sand. Can you guess what it looks like? We take a few cheeky artistic shots…

We then hope to spot the sea lions on the rocks, but alas, I couldn’t sea any. Maybe they were lion down. MC thinks they would be good at consealing themselves.

Our second evening in PDE, Rodrigo, the hostel owner, puts on a bbq. For AU$10 we were fed perfectly cooked tender meats – chicken, beef, and pork (slices of crispy pork fat too! So bad, but so damn good) – roast vegies, salads and crusty bread. Definitely the best asado so far. Perhaps made better by the great company – we met 3 Spanish girls who, out of all places, live in Brighton, UK! So we were fast friends, swapping stories of home and new travels.

Today, our final day, has surprised us with a thunderstorm. So as we longingly think of the beach, kicking stones, but we will rest up as tomorrow we take a long bus trip to the estancia.

Yeehar, saddle up cowboys!

x kel

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2 Responses to “Escaping to Uruguayan playgrounds”

  1. father bear February 8, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

    Still watching with envy–snow last week.
    Keep flying the flag, except in Argentina of course, and don’t mention the— well you know.

  2. Mum February 17, 2012 at 11:28 am #

    Just caught up on the blog and loving it,what an amazing amount of stuff you are doing.Looks like you are both having a fantastic time. Glad the horse,ranch,adventure was injury free. Keep on with the good times.Love Mum xx.

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