Yo me voy a Uruguay

Well, by the time you read this I will be in Uruguay. I write this from my mobile as I wait to depart Argentina. What I expected to be a boat is closer to a ship, with its own gaming area, multiple levels with a lift between them, and a huge duty free shop. Quite spectacular really.

There are not many people on this overcast, cold, wintery day. It just means I didn’t need to buy my tickets until now. I am currently on the open deck, extra jacket in my arm. A largish man reclines in a deck chair near me, Cuban cigar in hand, reading his book. Others are up here with me too, taking photos and chatting in various languages.

I am going for 2 or so weeks. Partly for tourism but mainly to see some new friends. Missionaries who went to Lifeway years before I did. I will keep you informed as best I can by email. Right now it is time to leave my home of Argentina once again.

Until we talk again. Rob.

Uruguay Day Nine

PUNTA DEL ESTE: After a number of very busy tourist days, today became a day of rest and of catching up with my journaling. There was time to go for a wander around the place and see what the point actually looked like, but with storms bringing showers over the place all day it was hard to venture too far from shelter.

Starting The Day
Today I was hoping to rise late and enjoy my bed, but the strong light from the huge curtainless windows ruined that idea. Upon rising, I headed out for my breakfast that was standard fare at all of these places. Surprisingly there was nothing waiting for me. The brochure indicated that breakfast was part of the deal, so I called the lady down and was told that breakfast was only served during the summer months.

I left the hostel and went to find some breakfast, although I still was not hungry after the large meal I had eaten last night. The first thing I noticed was that the road and ground around the hostel was wet. At first I thought it may have been the result of hosing down the pathways as is often done around here, but water was everywhere.

The strong sunlight shining down from the vivid blue sky did not hint at rain, but as I crossed the road some huge storm clouds came into view. The more I looked, the more I saw, and they were moving fast, blown along by the strong wind that had appeared today. It looked like today was going to be a slow day.

Hardly getting one block down the road, I decide to stop into the Internet place and catch up on my journaling until I grew hungry. I was already one day behind and any more could be fatal to the whole process. So after a couple of hours of writing, I emerged feeling decently hungry and ready for lunch.

A Classy Lunch
It was not lunch time just yet, but I thought if I wandered around the ring road leading right around the Point, then I would definitely find somewhere interesting to eat. The freezing temperatures, super strong and bitingly cold wind, and occasional bursts of rain made the whole walk an ordeal rather than a pleasure. I had walked a long way already and still not found anything resembling a place to eat that was open. But when another rainstorm was fast approaching just as I encountered an open restaurant I decided to take shelter inside. Although the prices were discounted 10% during winter, it was an expensive place located directly opposite the port, along the waterside.

My meal of meat and fries (a familiar theme now?) was great and extremely tasty, and the service was highly efficient and friendly. It was definitely the sort of place that I would rarely come to on my own. Wanting to take my time over my meal, and not having anyone to chat with, I dug around in my bag and found my Newsweek magazine. This provided me with some entertaining lunchtime reading as I ate my generous portions very slowly. Since this place was expensive, my idea was to eat as much of this large meal as possible and then skip dinner.

Wandering The Point
After finishing my meal and leaving a generous tip, something that I have learned to enjoy doing during my travels, I headed out toward the lighthouse. It was located in the middle of a plaza on the end of the point, and had its own character and charm. Nearby was an old church that was painted in the interesting colour of baby blue. This area was aptly named the four seas, because from here you could see the sea in all four directions down the roads.

Reaching the water’s edge again, I saw some fishermen braving the elements and the waves as they searched for their next meal. All along the ring road were massive houses and apartment complexes in multi-layered styled construction. Further toward the mainland but still on the point, the high-rise buildings were visible as they rose above everything else.

As I wandered beside the sea, the roar of the waves crashing onto the rocks next to me drowned out the sound of the wind and the cars driving past. For a moment I felt like I was the only person in the place, standing on the side and looking out into the raging sea. It was only in one particular part, but the roar in that part was deafening.

Rain Storm
A small plaza beside the road entertains me as I walk through it and admire the construction until the first signs of rain started appearing. I considered finding shelter, but the raindrops were small and light so I walked on. A few buildings later and the rain had started to grow heavier. I passed some workers who were already taking shelter, and decide that I too need to find some shelter until it passed.

My shelter results in being underneath an edge of one of the many buildings that have been closed up for winter. I did not have time to find anything better. From here I watched the rain grow stronger and heavier until it was pouring down with a drenching force. Then, with the same gradual way that it had increased in strength, the rain started to decrease until it finally stopped and the sun was shining again.

Safe to walk the streets, I left my shelter and continued on my way. Just near where I was sheltering, a set of cascading stairs had become a waterfall. I stopped to watch it for a while, amazed at how much water was pouring down them. As I started looking around the place, I could see water lying deep on the roadways and sidewalks everywhere. It had been wise to seek shelter.

Virgen de la Candelaria
Not too far down the road is the Virgen of the Candles, housed in a brick building on the rocks in the ocean. There had been a number of attempts to get electricity out to this lady so she could literally shine, but nothing looked to be very permanent. As with all Saints and Virgins, she was surrounded by thank you placards and even concrete thank you plaques formed over the rocks around her.

Returning Home
This ended my journey around the Point, as I was now back at the hostel. However, rather than return there just yet, I stopped in once again at the Internet shop to write some more in my journals. Keeping these journals current takes a lot of time.

Returning to the hostel, I caught up with Will, the Englishman that let me in the night before. We chatted together for a couple of hours, discussing the possibility of going out for a drink. By the time we had finished chatting it was already very late, so instead we both headed for bed, deciding that an early start was more productive than a late night at the bar.

Although today had been a very inactive day, I was able to catch up on all of my emails and journaling, which made it a good thing overall. Tomorrow would be my action day.

Uruguay Day Two

COLONIA: By the time I woke up today, half of the day was gone. I had made the mistake of closing the wooden shutters on my doors. They were so effective that I needed to turn on my bedside light to discover it was almost 11am. Not that I really minded. I am on an easy holiday this time, no time constraints and no limits to my stays. Even so, the free bicycle from my hostel seemed like a great idea to get me around the place a little faster. (See photos below…)

Museums and Boats
First stop was the fruit shop for a banana breakfast. Then it was off to look through some of the museums that I missed yesterday. These were great old places that were more like an old house with everything on display than a museum. One place had documents and books dating back as far as the 1700’s simply sitting on open bookshelves. There were plans to record everything on microfiche and in computers in the coming months which will be their first secure records.

From here I stopped by the beach to enjoy my bananas as I sat staring out at the sea. Then it was off to the other side of town. On my way there I saw a couple of guys trying to pull a sailing boat over onto its side. It seemed somewhat strange to me at the time, but I wandered up to them on the jetty and asked if they need help. Before long I was hauling the rope along with them. Our objective was to free the yacht from the bottom of the harbour. It didn’t work while I was there. I moved on once we could not pull the boat over any further.

The Old Bull Ring
Using my trusty bike with no brakes and twisted pedals, I was able to ride the five kilometres to the other side of town and back. On this side there was not very much to see with one notable exception. There was an old Bull Ring where the matadors fought the bulls. The emphasis here is on old, as the whole place was crumbling into pieces.

Large concrete chunks that had formed part of the seating were now lying in piles underneath. The sun streamed in through the newly created gaps and illuminated the massive rusting iron structure that was supporting everything. Great cracks in the masonry were threatening to bring down whole walls, and the whole place felt completely deserted.

A sign by the trampled down fence surrounding the place indicated “no entry”. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to it, but once I had entered I discovered that I was not the only one here. A couple of tourists were just leaving, sporting their cameras on their shoulders. Some locals were also here, on the other side with their young children. Unrestrained, these children were climbing up and down the unstable seating structures and in and out of the crumbling entrances. Their parents were blissfully unaware of the dangers too as they played with a football down on the centre grass area.

The Return Home
Moving on from here, I used my vague tourist map to negotiate my way through the roads to return home. It was actually a long way, but fortunately there were a couple of stops on the way back. My first stop was at a very busy roadside shop selling Tortas Fritas. Having tasted these delights when working in the slums, I was compelled to stop and wait in line for one. It was worth the wait too. The second stop was at an old church where I sat outside and devoured my torta frita.

Almost back to my side of town, I stopped also at a motorbike shop to check the prices of a motor scooter. These useful little bikes totally inundate this place. Friends ride with friends, whole families crowd onto them, and even children are seen to be riding them too. With just enough power to get up a reasonable slope, they are often struggling under the weight as three or more persons journey together. Ranging in age from antique to modern, they also range equally in price, noise, and the smoke they emit. It seems the perfect form of transport for a small town with little traffic.

Dinner at the Drugstore
Once I returned home, it seemed that the day was done, but I still had one more thing to do. In the morning a local restaurant was recommended to me as being the best place in town. Since I had not eaten lunch, I decided to stop there for dinner. I was the only person for the entire time I was there. When I finally left, after really enjoying my dining experience, I met a guy outside who then became the only person dining in the place. Business is slow here during the winter.

The restaurant, El Drugstore, is very arty in its presentation with sections of each wall painted in bright colours of blue, yellow and red. The seats, napkins, tablecloths and decorations all reflect this same emphasis on bright colours with nothing really matching. Surprisingly, it all works very well together. The walls are covered in 70’s art pieces and outside looks the same as inside, except there are cars there with tables inside them. It is all very funky.

The meal I ordered, Tepan-yaki was a very tasty and enjoyable Japanese dish. This, with its foray of vegetables, seemed healthier than most of the local dishes which usually have no more than two vegetables. Some Dulce-De-Leche biscuits rounded off my meal for desert. Dulce De Leche is a local sweet that is something of a cross between carob and soft caramel without the stickiness. It is a national favourite in Uruguay and Argentina and highly prized as being local only to these countries, although I doubt that this is completely true.

Third World Mechanics
Leaving the Drugstore, I wandered up to two men who were trying to get an old car going. The car seemed to be from the 1920’s and was resisting their attempts. As I reached them, one of the men exclaimed in exasperation, “El tercer mundo!” Meaning, “the third world”. Perhaps he was right. It reminded me of farm mechanics, where you never have what you need but managed to make do with what you have.

A motorbike provided the light for them to work with, its fuel tank sat on the roof of the car and provided the fuel. Fencing wire was the connection between the sparking plugs and the distributor that provided the sparks. Try as they might there was no life in the old beast. Eventually the battery ran out, exhausting the mens’ hope at the same time. I wished them luck and moved on.

It took a while to get home with my limp still in action, but it was a nice feeling to be there at last. This time I will remember to leave at least one of my shutters open.

Continue reading “Uruguay Day Two”

Uruguay Day Five

MONTEVIDEO: Well it turns out that today was just like any other lazy travel day. A little wander here, a little look there, stop for food and it was all over. Another day gone. It is amazing how fast days can disappear when you do not plan them.

So what happened? As I said, not a great deal. It was interesting to see the city come to a little bit of life though since this was now a Monday, the start of a work week. As expected, when I wandered through the Old Town section of the city there was a lot more people, although I could not say it was crowded.

Following The Water
It was around lunch time already, after rising late and taking the morning easy, that I headed toward the Port Market. This was the place to go for a decent meal of meat. To make things interesting, rather than take the same path as yesterday, I found an alternative path via the water, following it around to the port.

The Old Town section of Montevideo is build on a point, surrounded by water on three sides, and I was walking around the end of this point from one side to the other. My wanderings took me past many rough looking people warming themselves in the sun by the water’s edge. They may have been homeless, but it is hard to tell during the day. While walking I was passed a number of times by runners and joggers heading in one direction, and by fishermen on their bicycles heading in the other direction. It was not a busy pathway, but there always seemed to be people around somewhere.

It did not take long before I was near the port where I discovered the local fishing spot. Along the water’s edge were dozens of fishermen trying their luck. Some seemed to be fishing for tiny fish, while others had much bigger fishing rods and naturally appeared to be looking for something much bigger. A few fishermen had large steel nets attached to the end of a wooden stick that they would dip into the water and slowly drag back out again. The nets looked like a Chinaman’s hat turned upside down and each time would catch many tiny little bait fish which were then collected in a bucket.

Having seen enough of the fishing I continued on past the main port of Montevideo. As I passed by, I stopped to watch a giant forklift grasp a container with wide metallic arms reaching out to each end. It looked like someone trying to carry a wide sofa on their own. Within moments the container was settled onto the back of a truck and driven away. Fascinated, as I have always been by large and unusual machinery, I stayed and watched the whole process all over again with another container and truck, marvelling at the minds that had invented something like this.

Mercardo Puerto
Crossing the road, I entered into the Port Market once again. It had the same craziness that I had experienced when I was there yesterday, filled with people and action everywhere. There was one particular place that had caught my attention yesterday though, and it was to here that I wanted to return, although it took me from one end of the market to the other before I found it.

This place that was actually a proper restaurant with tables and waiter service, but where I was was actually around the back of the kitchen. Here there was a row of stools tucked in tightly against a long bench, the length of the restaurant, and most of the stools were already occupied. I made my way down the narrow ailse and sat myself on an empty stool. Looking around I realised that if the main Market area was chaos, then this was where it all started.

My position afforded me a great view of the kitchen, being only two feet away from the action. The whole kitchen was logically divided into various sections. There was one for the meat which sat on a large open fire grill, busily attened to by this chef. Another section catered only for the fish, with the salad, pastas, and fried foods all in a line. The whole area was divided into two very narrow lanes by shelving that housed the places and other items needed to run the kitchen.

There was barely enough room down these lanes for even one person to fit through comfortably, yet many times there would be two or more people that would squeeze themselves past the others, often with their hands full of hot plates and fresh food. In amongst all of this action, the table waiters from the main restaurant section would dash in to grab plates and meals, ducking and weaving as they went.

Each chef was working furiously, constantly adding more to the stove as quickly as they took it off. The dishwasher and general cleanup guy worked methodically at his job, trying to stay out of the way of the others. Only one person looked after the thirty of us sitting at the bench, and he did his job admirably. The action around me kept me entertained as I enjoyed my lunch of asado which is a large portion of cut ribs, and french fries. It occurred to me later that perhaps I should have included vegetables, but it was an effort to finish what I had already ordered.

The Movies
Satiated, I headed toward the other end of Old Town, hoping to make a tourist bus that would take me around the entire city although knowing full well that my chances were almost nill. As I expected, I was too late, and there was not a lot of time left to visit other parts of the city since I was told that many parts of this city became very dangerous at night. Rather than risk a bad move, I decided to head to the cinema instead.

I was almost too late for the film I wanted to see also, so when I discovered the doors to the cinema were locked I became very confused. Fortunately an employee arrived to open the doors, telling me that there is another cinema just around the corner where my film is playing. My ticket costs US$2.50 and includes popcorn and a drink.

The cinema was a huge old style place with a grand total of four of us watching the film. As I sat down, I sank deeply into the vinyl covered fold-up seat bottom, something reminiscent of the 70’s. Fortunately, during this film there was no intermission and for that I was grateful. However, at the end of the film, as the final credits started to roll, the projetor was turned off and the house lights came on. The movie was over, there was no doubt about it.

I stopped in at an Internet cafe for a short time and scribbled some more about my activities then ducked back in for a second film. I figured that it would be good to go out this night for once, and watching a film seemed a good way to get me to the magic hour when people started appearing. It was the same situation once again, with only a few of us watching the film until the final credits were abruptly stopped. End of film.

Night Life
It was now time to see what sort of night life was in this city. I wandered around the place for what seemed like a long time, and all I found was a movie set. Although this provided some brief entertainment watching the set being prepared so it looked like it had been raining, I did not find the night life as I was expecting. Nor did I find any people around either. There was only a couple of people walking down the main party streets. Perhaps this was because it was a Monday night, notorious for having very little action in many countries.

So after my uneventful attempt at going out without any specific directions, I returned to my hostel and watched some television before turning in for a good sleep. Tomorrow I would get up a little earlier and see if I can see the rest of this place before dark.

Uruguay Day Three

COLONIA-MONTEVIDEO: Today was a travel day. As such, a lazy start sees me rise just before lunch and check out of my hostel. The sun has returned today, and since I had a little time before needing to catch a bus I grabbed a bike from the hostel and took off to take some more photos of the place. After all, I really liked this little town of Colonia and since I was moving on soon, I wanted to get another look at this cute place.

Tourist Town
Little did I know that on Saturdays this little enjoyable town is transformed into a genuine tourist place. As I reached the old section of town, before me marched soldiers of old. These soldiers were actually the guys that I played football with the other day, dressed up in old colonial uniforms and marching with surprising precision. Some of these soldiers were also positioned outside all of the museums and points of interest, rifles stationed by their side.

All the reasons for which I liked being in this place, the quiet atmosphere, the friendly people, the lack of tourists during the off-season, and the feeling of not being touristy, had vanished today. I was glad of my plans to move on to Montevideo today.

The Bus Journey
I sat by my window seat on the bus and watched the scenery go by over the next two and a half hours as I headed toward Montevideo. Uruguay is a country that has a very simple and relaxed feel to it. In some places it is like time has stood still. I saw plenty of tractors and other farming equipment working the farms beside the road, but when I saw a farmer with his hand to the plow which was being pulled by a horse, I was amazed. Perhaps this was just a rare occurrence. I sat and marveled that someone would still be using something like that. Then I saw another one, right beside a farm that was using a tractor. What an incredible contrast this was.

As we neared Montevideo, we passed children playing football on the grass between the two national highway lanes. Others were playing on the side of the same highway, where the grass barely covered the ground as it sloped steeply toward the road. I was surprised that they had not lost their worn out football to the passing traffic yet. As we continued I saw official games in progress also. Children as young as five were running around the field covered in their team colours as parents and friends cheered them on from the sides.

The main highway passed right through the middle of the slums where the pain of the people living here was very evident. Houses were pushed right against the highway so all who passed could see the pitiful conditions. Rubbish was strewn everywhere and most people I saw were without shoes and wearing clothes in various states of tattered and torn. When we drove over a bridge I saw clothes filling a clothesline, and near it were makeshift shacks hiding in the shadows. To the side there were children running over rubbish piles, laughing and shouting and having fun.

We continued on, and soon I found myself in the bus station at Montevideo, a place that was also a shopping centre. After locating the information desk, I found out the information I needed and was soon on a local bus heading into town. Once here I found the youth hostel, met the two people that were also here and settled into my room. As luck would have it, an Irish guy, Mike, turned up at the hostel at the same time so we both decided to head out on the town.

Our destination was the Port Markets which is reputed to be the best place to eat meat in this city. We had no idea what it would be like but headed in that direction anyway. This part of the city, known as the Old City, is filled with banks and lawyers offices so on the weekend the streets are deserted. We found out later that they are also very dangerous at night, something that was very easy to believe.

After finding our way to the port, we decided to ask for directions as there was nothing resembling a market place near us. One of the people pouring out of an old nearby bar told us that we had just walked past it, but it was closed now. We were too late. There would be no meat from this place.

Another conversation with a taxi driver revealed that there was nothing nearby that offered good meat at this time of day. Perhaps at 9pm or 10pm at night, but at 6pm when we asked it was hard to find somewhere open. The drivers offered to take us to the “Shopping” (a word that has become a noun in Spanish) where in the mall there was plenty of shops offering meals of meat.

The Shopping
We declined their offer at first, but after looking around a little more we decided that this seemed to be the best idea. The taxi had a fiberglass screen between us and the driver, with thick glass that we could peer through to see where we were going. It looked more like an anti-riot taxi than what I had grown accustomed to in Buenos Aires. Perhaps this city is less safe than I had first thought.

The shopping mall looked like any other mall around the world, with its multi-level floors and a food court at the top. It was here that we found a meat restaurant from where we ordered our steaks. The meal was usual fair for Argentina and Uruguay, steak, fries, and salad which consists only of lettuce and tomato. As with every meal in these countries, we also enjoyed the bread rolls and bread-sticks too, although we discovered later that this came at an extra price. An ice-cream from the shop downstairs finished off our meal very nicely which came to a total price of US$6 each. This was actually one of my more expensive meals.

Both Mike and I were feeling very tired by now, so after a quick wander around the shopping centre we headed back to our hostel in another taxi. I must have been tired because I had to repeat the name of our street many times before the taxi driver understood. I was glad when we finally got moving though, and a quick look at our map indicated that we were heading in the right direction too which is always a good thing.

Returning Home
On the way back via the waterfront, I saw a great photo opportunity and asked the taxi driver to stop. Running across the road dodging cars and buses while trying to assemble my camera to its tripod, I was very aware that I was paying for the time I took. A couple of quick snaps and I realised that this photo opportunity was actually nowhere near as good as it first looked. Disappointed, I dodged the vehicles once more to reach my taxi, breaking the leg of my tripod on the way. Now I had ugly photos and a broken tripod and I had paid for the privilege of it all. Doh!

At the hostel, already totally worn out, I climbed the spiral staircase to my room on the top floor and happily sank into bed. It seemed to me that I had been busy all day today but done very little. Traveling days are often like that though. But at least I was now in Montevideo.

Tomorrow would reveal what this city is really like.

Uruguay Day Thirteen (Morning)

PUNTA DEL DIABLO: My last morning in Punta del Diablo. Today I was about to head on to Chuy, once I actually managed to catch a bus. Before I did though, there were a number of things that I was yet to do while still in Punta del Diablo, including find all of the friends that I had made to say farewell. It did not work out quite as I would have liked.

Early Rise
Today I rose in time to see the sunrise. It was a beautiful sight to watch as the sun crept above the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean, its rays pouring warm orange light on everything in its path. With only minutes before the event, there were very few places that I could go to watch it rise. My final choice of going out to the actual Point proved a perfect place to see the houses of Punta del Diablo immersed in the ever changing light of the rising sun.

It was a perfect day yet again today, with less cloud than yesterday. In the soft light of the morning sun I took a whole lot of extra photos of the fishing boats and houses around the village. The colours of everything seems so vivid during this time of day.

After racing over to the nearby beach, I found there were more incredible sights to see. There was a row of houses built hard against the beachfront that were mirrored in the perfectly still waters coating the wide sandy beach. I spent a lot of time just watching the sun climb, its light constantly changing around me, and enjoying the peaceful sounds of the ocean waves. It was already a perfect day indeed.

On returning to my flat I find Gringo outside enjoying his morning yerba mate. I stop and chat with him for a while before getting up to buy breakfast from the local shop.

Although there was only one restaurant, there were many local stores. Each had a different range of goods for sale and a very different type of person selling them. Since I had now bought something from almost every shop in town now, I found yet another one and bought my yogurt and banana from there.

On returning to my seat next to Gringo, we chatted only a little and then rested in the morning calm, enjoying the quiet and peace of the whole place. Every now and then a car or bike would pass by, breaking the almost perfect silence. A salute to each of those passing, for everyone knows everyone here, was virtually mandatory.

Missing The Bus
During one of these passings, I thought I heard a large truck or bus. When a truck passed by I presumed it was this. It was not until a bus poked its nose around the corner as it was turning around that I saw the sign in the window reading “Chuy”.

A bus for Chuy. Now. I was thrown. My understanding was that the only bus for Chuy came at 3.30pm. It was only 8am. At this Gringo just nodded and said that a bus for Chuy came through every day at 8am. I was astonished that he had not told me otherwise.

There was no way I could take this bus anyway however, because all of my things were still scattered around the room and I was in no way packed. So I settled back into the rhythm of expecting my bus to arrive at 3.30pm.

Water Water Everywhere
Returning to my seat, Gringo and I chatted for a little while further until the time came that breakfast was over. It was no specific time but we both seemed to recognise it. At this we rose and bid our farewells, then went on our way. Gringo to his shop, and I to my room. To get to my room however I needed to step through some very wet ground, something that had just appeared since last night.

The source of this water was actually the water pipe leading into Gringo’s house. A steady but stream of water was dribbling out of the connection between the water pipe and the tap. Apparently this has leaked often, according to Gringo, whenever it has been hit or pushed around a little.

He had little idea what to do about fixing it, and had simply turned a ring that covered two sets of threads. All this did was tighten one side and loosen the other, effectively transferring the leak but not stopping it at all. I picked up the wrench he was using and offered to help.

By turning the final joint, which only had one thread and joined with the pipe on the other side, I was able to start tightening all of the threads at once. This immediately had the effect of slowly the leak, something that Gringo was very happy about.

We could not stop it completely but with some silicone around the threads and by tightening the plastic joints more than it seemed safe to do, we managed to reduce it to a tiny drip every thirty seconds or so. Gringo was very impressed and thanked me greatly for the help.

About Gringo
As we chatted after this, I discovered that Gringo does not actually work during winter, although he does sell firewood to keep a flow of cash coming in. During summer he works extremely hard in his bakery everyday and also works in other tourist based areas.

The book that Gringo had loaned me about Punta del Diablo, also had Gringo’s story in there which I finally managed to read today. Apparently Gringo was a fisherman, like most of the people that live here permanently. One day while he was out fishing, a gun that they used to scare off the seals who would eat their fish in the nets unexpectedly discharged. Fastened on the roof of the cabin, it shot him through the right side just above the hip and lodged into the inside of the left hip bone.

Gringo was lucky to actually live through the damage and trauma. After returning to shore, some hours away, he was transferred to the hospital immediately. There was severe damage to the intestines and other internal organs, and this damage eventually forced Gringo to retire from fishing. The sea was his life however, and he did not leave it easily, fighting through each day for a further five years of fishing before admitting defeat.

Once fishing was no longer an option, he needed another way to earn money. Starting a bread shop has given him another outlet of livelihood and at the same time allows him to meet and chat with many people as they arrive in the village. It is only viable to run the shop during summer when the population of the village swells with a large influx of tourists.

It was while he was running this shop that he met his wife to be. They are now happily married with two lovely children, living in a house joined onto their bakery shop. Gringo never expects that he will leave his village of Punta del Diablo, home since he was a child.

Passing the Day
I had just spent the morning in my room reading the Punta del Diablo book and the testimonies in the back of it, one of which was Gringo’s. It was now 12pm and I was out chatting with Gringo yet again. We spent a lot of time in conversation. Mostly it was Gringo who would talk and I would listen, although when I understood what he was saying I would always take the opportunity to add my thoughts to the conversation. This was becoming more frequently now.

At this point another bus arrived. When it turned around I could see the sign indicating that it was bound for Montevideo. My bus was not due for a few hours yet, but within a minute another bus was turning around with the sign “Chuy” in the window. Not again. I asked Gringo about it and he just nodded and then told me that my bus would be the next one that arrived.

Although I was happy enough to still be here in Punta del Diablo, I was prepared mentally to move on. If I had known about those earlier buses then I would have most certainly taken one of them in preference to the afternoon bus. I felt like I was now just passing time waiting for my ride to Chuy.

Wandering The Rocks
Not wanting to simply wait for a bus while in such a wonderful place, I wandered down by the rocks and watch the waves roll in. This has been one of my favourite pastimes since arriving here. The waves crashing against the rocks create such noise and action that they can keep me entertained for hours.

The sound of children playing on the rocks grows closer as I wander, and soon I can see two youngsters running around over the rocks, playing games with each other. They are climbing rocks and defeating gravity with their leaps of faith from one rock to the next. I wander on past them, enjoying the sound of delight in their shouts and cries.

A little further on I stop to watch and enjoy the sights of the ocean. My position is right next to the sea and the water from the crashing waves reaches ever so close to me, but always seems to miss. I sit and enjoy the rolling waves as they crash over rocks and squeeze through gaps, sending up big rushes of water on the way.

Taking Risks
The children that were playing amongst the main rocks have now discovered the greater challenge of the rocks in the water. Leaping from the safety of the main cluster of rocks, they hop out over as many rocks as they can, daring the incoming waves to engulf them. When it is almost too late, they turn and race back to safety ahead of the wave.

With each attempt there was always an element of risk. One time the smaller of the two saw a wave coming and tried to jump back up to the rock nearest him. It was too high and his jump was too small. He ended up clinging to the side of it, scrambling desperately to get up as the wave crashed toward him.

The wave was almost upon him when he leapt back out to the rock he had come from in the water. From here he leapt across the tops of the other rocks with the wave crashing at his heals. Leaping up to the main rocks, he found shelter eventually, but it was a very close call.

This seemed really funny to me. On seeing it, I laughed hard. The look on his face was just like the scared cat that I saw yesterday up the pole, and the fact that he escaped without a drop of water on him was just amazing. Seeing that they were still trying to chance fate, I decided to try and capture a movie of their risky actions.

Lots of Questions
After I had taken various movies, it became obvious that there were no great waves rolling in to shore any more. One of the children ran over to me and asked if I was taking photos. I replied that it was actually movies that I was taking.

Interested, he asked to see them, calling his friend over in the process. We watched the movies, with the kids laughing and joking about each other through each one. Afterward there was a flurry of questions about the camera and photos, and they looked over the whole thing, obviously impressed with a device that they had only ever heard about.

Suddenly they stood up to go. Explaining that they had only come down to the rocks during lunch time, they now had to return to school. As I sat in the ensuing silence, I pondered on the fun the children had enjoyed together, and it seemed to me that they had chosen a great way to spend their lunch hour.

Saying Farewell
Eventually moving on, I wander down to the fishermen’s boats to see if I can find the people that I had talked with so much over the last two days. The two who were folding the nets are not there, but I find the other fisherman down by his house, replacing a fishing net.

With a knife, he carefully cuts a fine rope from a much larger one. This fine rope fastens a nylon fishing net to the large rope. He tells me that the nylon net is now too damaged to use so they are replacing it with a new one. It takes about one day to replace the net but can take up to two days for a larger net.

I tell him that I am moving on today and thank him for the chats and opportunity to see his fossils. He returns the gesture, resuming his work on the net as soon as I leave.

Last Meal
Yet again I wander into the only restaurant in the place, surprised today to discover that the pizzaria next door has also opened its doors. Inside the restaurant I find it completely empty of people. Eventually the daughter appears and takes my order, and later her dad returns to work on the fireplace.

I ask for ravioli but am told that there is nothing left in the place except spaghetti. My reply is that as long as I can get that with a white sauce I am happy. I also order a soda water. With this she disappears.

When she reappears with my soda water, I realise that she has run across the road to buy it from one of the local shops so she can now resell it to me. The pasta appears quickly and by the time I am finished my meal, the whole family is here again, ready once more to eat their lunch at the tables beside me. It seems that I have picked the same time as them every day.

I speak with the owner, telling him that I am moving on. Probably one of many strangers they meet throughout the year, we still exchange the customary wishes of luck and good happenings. This is the end of my time in Punta del Diablo, and I walk straight up to my flat from here.

Waiting For Buses
After missing the first two buses, I did not want to miss this next one. I finished packing my backpack, cleaned out the flat and headed over to the bus stop early. Before I left though, I wanted to say goodbye to my new friend Gringo and his lovely wife, but I could find them nowhere. Disappointed, I continued to the stop and waited.

There was about twenty minutes to go before the bus was due to arrive. While I waited, I started chatting with a French girl who had just arrived. Spanish was our common language. She had lived in Uruguay for two years at one point and was now back here to visit friends. Her bus, to Rocha, arrived first.

Saying Goodbye
My bus arrived on time. I quickly found myself a seat on the bus and as soon as I was onboard we started turning around. As I looked out of the window, Gringo was standing by the corner of his house watching the bus. I waved madly, hoping he would see me. He did.

How I wished, as the bus pulled out of that place, that I had had enough time to race over and say goodbye. Gringo and his wife made everything they had available to me. They were generous with their time and their possessions. All I had paid for was the room, but I received a lot more. Now I was leaving without actually saying goodbye. I was very sad.

As I left Punta del Diablo, I knew that I had found a place that was worth returning to. People who were genuine, beaches abounding in natural beauty, and a town of character. There was something about this place that I had really enjoyed, and something about the people that I had connected with. It felt like my sort of village.

I started thinking about when I would return…

Uruguay Day Ten

PUNTA DEL ESTE: Rising late can do a lot to minimise how much you can do in a day. It did today. Perhaps it was the fact that I got caught in the local handicraft markets for so long, or that I stopped to chat with and feed some of the poorer locals, but in the end my main activity was the bus tour. This took me all over Punta del Este and the neighbouring areas for some very interesting sights.

The Morning Start
I did not expect to sleep in today. The light from the windows had drawn me out of bed early yesterday so I was actually expecting the same again today. However, when I rose late today, there was not too much left of the morning. Not to be daunted, I was quickly organised and out of the door, ready to enjoy the sunniest day here yet.

The wind was blowing strong at some sub 10 degree C temperature making even my two coats falter in keeping me warm. This was the new turtle neck jumper I had recently bought and my feather down jacket that had kept me warm in sub-zero temperatures in Finland, yet they were faltering now. All around me people were dressed more for arctic conditions than for a seaside resort. In many instances, only their eyes were visible from amongst the multiple layers of clothing and wraps.

Plaza de los Artesanos
Across the road from the Hostel is the main plaza on Punta del Este, called Plaza Artigas, after the nation’s hero who secured their liberty. His presence is felt in every town and city, with statues, busts, buildings, plazas and streets named after him. Every person in Uruguay understands who this man is and what he did for the country, and the naming conventions ensures that no-one will ever forget.

In this plaza a Feria de los Artesanos was established and waiting for people to come. I was one of the first people there, with some stalls setting out their wares indicating that it was still early hours. Most stalls had already finished their setup however, and there was much to see.

Most of these places, where people sell their handicrafts and art, normally do not have anything that really interests me. I often wander through the place and see some interesting things but nothing that compels me to part with my money. This place was not like most of them however.

As I wandered through, it became obvious to me that the art and craft on display here was of a very high standard. The price of everything too was quite high, but compared with most ferias, each item was worth every bit of what they were charging.

Money, Money, Money
The places that interested me most were surprisingly all associated with money, but not in the normal sense. One place had coins that had been turned into keychains, bells, horse carriages, and more. Each coin was highly polished and well presented. The artist was very eager to show me each of the different items and explain to me which coin it was and from what country. There were coins that are currently in circulation through to ancient coins that dated back to the early 1800’s.

The other place that really caught my attention also had coins on view, although it was not immediately apparent that this was what they were. After some discussion with the artisan, I realised that each of the intricate pieces of art that I saw laid out on his table was actually a coin, with the extraneous metal removed from the main pattern.

There were coins from all over the world here, and they ranged in price from very cheap to well over USD$100 according to the amount of work that went into it and the value of the coin. I found coins from Sweden, Spain, Italy, Belgium, all of South America, Mexico, United States and even Australia. Of course there were many coins from Uruguay too, some of which were made of pure silver.

The work in cutting out each of these coins was so fine and so accurate it looked as though each coin was laser cut. Yet each of these coins had been cut with a coping saw using a super-fine blade. Even with a magnifying glass there was very little places that the artist’s work could be faulted.

Spending Everything
Magnificent patterns resulted from his work, with each coin now looking like a fine piece of jewelry. I felt compelled to buy some of these, and if I had sufficient money, I would have bought the most expensive ones because they were the most beautiful. This time though I overrode my champagne tastes, and kept within my beer budget.

Other stalls offered a similar quality of work. Clothes made of leather, wool, and animal skins were all very well presented, as were some of the more common items found at these ferias such as yerba mate (ma-tay) cups and trinkets useful for gifts.

By the time I left these markets I had all but emptied my wallet of money. Certainly I had spent a lot, especially by Uruguayan standards, but I was thrilled with every one of my purchases. This was actually the first time that I had bought anything non-essential since I started my journey to Argentina over six months ago. It was nice to splash out just a little bit.

Looking at my watch, it was already time to wander down for my bus tour which started shortly only five blocks from where I was. First though, I stopped in at the bank and retrieved some more money to fill up my empty wallet.

Feeding The Hungry
As I wandered down the road, a lady approached me, dressed in very basic clothes, and asked if I would help her out with food. Another lady that looked related was near her and so I motioned to the two to come with me and we would eat. As we started walking, there were more people that joined with us. They were all of one party. It looked as though there were three, and then four.

We entered the nearest restaurant, for there were no places selling cheap food around Punta del Este during winter. Even McDonald’s had closed up for the winter. Sitting down at a table, I discovered yet another person wandering in hoping to get some food. There were now six of us including me. What I thought was going to be two people had turned into a family.

At this point I considered declining to buy food for them all, and only buying it for the lady and her friend that I had initially expected to be supporting. But when I looked at each one of these people I could see that they were all hungry, and could not justify being selective in who I fed. So I called the waiter over and ordered enough pizza for everyone.

One of the ladies asked me if I would also buy them Coke as well. I looked at her and smiled. She was pressing her luck. I told her that Coke, being a chemical is bad for her and I did not want to be responsible for killing them with a chemical, so they could drink water instead. They all laughed and nodded in agreement.

When You Have To Go
Just after we had ordered the food I thought I should check on the time. There was only fifteen minutes left before my bus tour started and I had not yet booked myself on it. I quickly explained my situation to the ladies and told them I had to leave right now, but would pay for the meal. We found the waiter and told him of my urgent need and he eventually returned with the bill.

I paid enough for the food with a little as a tip for the waiter and ran out the door. It was not my usual practice to buy someone’s meal and leave, but this time I had little choice if I wanted to catch my bus. Normally I like to sit and eat with the person for whom I am buying a meal. To pay and go is like flicking an annoyance out of your way, while staying and eating with them demonstrates that you value them as a person. Some of my most interesting conversations have come from situations such as these.

The Race And The Rest
Running as fast as I could down the street, I made it to the tourist office with only ten minutes to spare. I breathlessly tell the man there that I want to book on the tour for today. He says there is no problem with that, the tour starts in another half an hour, at 2.30pm. Then he laughs as he realises and asks me if I thought it started at 2pm. I just nodded, then asked him if there was a cheap place to eat lunch around here. He directs me to the local cafeteria and tells me to relax and enjoy my lunch, for there is still another thirty minutes to go. I smile and head off toward the cafeteria.

After enjoying a wonderfully cheap and hearty meal, I still have time before the tour, so I wander over to the nearby beach. Out of the sand protrude massive fingers of concrete. The whole structure is actually in the shape of a hand, although only the ends of the fingers can be seen to protrude above the sand, and the longest of these is almost three people high.

A Tourist Tour
Returning to the tourist office I am directed onto our minibus that will become home for the afternoon. I am directed to the front seat, a perfect position from which to take many photos as we pass things on the way. We journey around the hotels picking up another three couples and then begin our tour.

Throughout the tour we are given interesting facts and information by our driver, who at times forgets to watch the road while he is chatting with us. Everything is in Spanish, the common language between this Australian and the rest who are all Brazilians or Argentines. Surprisingly I was able to understand virtually all that was said, and even ventured to asking questions. This was evidence of exciting progress in my language skills.

Punta del Este
The first part of our tour passes through Punta del Este. Here we learn that there are only two main beaches to the Point, although both are over 10kms long. We stop by to see the port, which is closed for winter, and have a number of restaurants and houses pointed out to us which are owned by the ex-president of Argentina, Carlos Menem.

We learn that the divide between the Atlantic Ocean and the outflowing river is purely cartographic, meaning that it is only a line on the map. The water on both sides of the Point are the same. The place that the real confluence occurs is at Montevideo where the water at the beaches is sometimes clear and sometimes brown from the river water according to how the winds blow.

We also discover that the Ilha de Lobos, or Seal Island, is a reserve and no person is allowed to disembark onto the island itself, so all tours out there simply circumnavigate the island and then return to shore. But one of the most interesting pieces of information for me was that there are no tides at Punta del Este at all. The water remains at the same level all year around regardless of the phase of the moon. It does rise and fall a little though, according to the action of the wind.

The Rich Neighbourhood
Moving on to our next part, we see some of the richer houses near the Point in a suburb called Parque de Golf. The prices of these houses rise and fall rapidly according to the season they are sold in. The cheapest price of a house in this section starts at over USD$100,000 and skyrockets from there. Many of the houses we passed were wintered, with everything closed up, and a gardener paid to maintain the appearance of the place.

Every house in this area was built by designers and architects, with the materials and shapes changing on every house. There were square and round houses, tall and underground houses, and houses made of everything from brick, to concrete, to wood, to straw. Three little pigs, eat your heart out.

One of the houses has a fully equipped huge underground bunker ready for survival in the case of nuclear war. This is the house that any official that comes to Punta del Este stays at. People like Presidents, Prime Ministers, Premieres, Singers, and Movie Stars have all had their turn in staying here according to their connections with the Uruguayan Government.

La Barra
The next place we visit is even more expensive than this, and is covered in houses owned by famous people from all over the world. To get there we need to drive over a bridge that was designed by an architect rather than an engineer. As a result the bridge has two pronounced humps in it in the shape of a camel’s back. This produces a very aesthetically pleasing bridge to look at, and one that is a lot of fun to drive over fast.

The whole area of La Barra, although housing some of the most well known people in the world and large organisations such as Fashion TV and CBN (or NBC or something like that), seemed just like a cosy little seaside town in New Zealand. With the exception of just a few places, every business in this area was either a restaurant or night club, and of course was closed for winter.

The big difference that separated here from any other place was the prices. There was no mention of purchase prices, but to rent a very ordinary looking house during the month of January would cost over USD$12,000, and one of the more expensive rentals was USD$41,000 for 12 days. Obviously it was marketed at the people with money.

Beverly Hills
From here we headed toward toward the city of Maldonaldo, stopping to look around the area known as Beverly Hills. This area is filled with Brazilians. Rich Brazilians actually. It is very likely that you will see Ferraris and Lamborghini’s and any other of the ludicrously priced vehicles in this place during the summer. Many times these cars are only shipped in while the people are here over the summer period, and then the massive houses are closed up and left throughout winter.

Although we did not see any of these cars this time, every house in this area was the size of a large hotel and had great areas of ground surrounding them. Each house is identified only by the name of the house, there are no street numbers here. As exclusive as it is, Beverly Hills is not an estate, as Uruguay does not allow there to be private sections of land divided into housing. As a result the whole area is open to the public.

Once we arrive in Maldonaldo, the capital of the province of the same name, our destination is the old church in the centre. Inside are a lot of people listening to a priest and I assume that it is a church service, although it does not sound like one. Outside is the town square, or plaza, around which is situated the church, police, government office, and the jail in a format that is common to all towns in Uruguay.

We stop here for a while, long enough to take some photos and look around the church a little, before continuing on our tour. The best thing about driving through Maldonaldo was that I saw people again. After being in Punta del Este with absolutely no one around and little traffic, seeing cars and people everywhere was a great sight.

Punta Ballena (Whale Point)
It was a long drive from here to Punta Ballena, from where we could see Punta del Este in the distance glowing in the golden rays of the quickly setting sun. The view was amazing from this high, rocky point, and we could see over all the beaches that lay between us and Punta del Este.

On this point is a artistically styled house, called Casapueblo, that is also a restaurant and an art museum, gallery and workshop for Carlos Paéz Vilaró. Carlos is a well known Uruguayan artist, although certain parts of his story led me to believe that he may have had African roots. His son was one of the survivors from the plane that crashed into the Andes during the 1970’s.

As with many places like this, it was all oriented toward getting people to buy the works of art or books that were there for sale. Some of the art was quite interesting, although very distinctive in its style, while other pieces of art looked to be created by children.

After looking around the place at the art and seeing the video about the life of Carlos Paéz Vilaró, I found my way to the outside balconies where I was whipped by the chilling wind as I enjoyed the view of the setting sun. The view from the balcony over the unusually shaped building and its many sections allowed me to watch the waves breaking on the rocks below. The whole scene was very relaxing if it were not so incredibly cold.

By the time we all climbed back into our minibus it was dark and we were all ready to return home. On our way back we listened to some great jazz songs in English, detoured around some major roadworks and other cars heading in the same direction, and passed by the major casinos on the Point. Virtually all of us got out at the same place, along the main street of Punta del Este itself.

Meeting The Relatives
Having returned home to the Point, I head off for a quick meal and then grab my sugar sources and head to the locutorio to write up my story. When I get back to the hostel there are two new people there talking with the lady that runs the place. It turns out that they are her sister and brother-in-law who come down almost every weekend to visit her. Today they also brought a new little car that she had purchased from Montevideo through them. This was the first time she had seen it.

After introducing myself and chatting with them all for a while, Nelson, the brother-in-law, and his wife and I all left to go to one of the famous bars called Moby Dick. I expected we would be walking, but instead we had the luxury of the new car to take us there and back.

Moby Dicks
Moby Dicks was reasonably quiet, with about 30 people in an area large enough for hundreds. As the night continued, a group of guys and girls started climbing onto the bar stools and dancing away, glorying in the attention they were receiving from everyone else. They certainly were providing entertainment for many people.

We each ordered a meal and drink from the bar and sat talking about everything and anything, straining at times to be heard above the volume of the music. This was probably the first time that I have had a prolonged conversation in Spanish, and I learned much about Uruguay in the process.

About Uruguay
Uruguay has a strong middle class population, and because there is only a few private schools in Montevideo, almost all of the children grow up together in the public schools. This results in very little class discrimination, especially when everyone knows each other.

The universities are the same, in that there are only a few private universities for courses with expensive infrastructure such as Information Technology. The public universities are very well received throughout the country and at times have a better reputation than the few private ones.

The health system here is divided into the private and public sectors, although the private sector is extremely expensive. As a result, most people use the public system, which was described to me as being adequate in the service it provided. The best thing about this service is that the wait for a normal patient is only measured in days and not weeks or months.

Finally, the political scene here is very active. Many people get involved at a political level and as a result there are often hundreds of people running for a position in the coming elections. Each candidate has a number to identify them, and this is often displayed more prominently than their name. Although there is some corruption in the system, because of the small size of the country with only 3 million people, this is limited in its scope.

Many Girls And A Car
So, having talked with Nelson and his wife about this and many other things including computing, the area which he works, we climbed back into the tiny car and returned home to the hostel. It was after 1am when we arrived, and about five girls poured out of the hostel and greeted us all with the familiar kiss on the cheek. They then proceeded to climb into the car that we had just climbed out of.

At first I thought they were new people that had just arrived to stay at the hostel, but then realised that they were friends of the girl that worked the hostel. We watched from the window as they tried to take off up the gently sloping hill. This was her first time ever in her new car, and she was still getting used to it.

As we watched, the car engine revved, and then it moved backward before stopping. Then it moved backward again and stopped. By the fourth time that it was rolling backward with the engine revving hard, we were all pulling faces of fear and terror in the window, much to the delight of all of the girls in the car.

The car eventually rolled backward until it was side on to the hill. From here all could see our grimaces of fright and there was a great roar of laughter from the car. Then something went right and they took off. We of course cheered and clapped our approval as they made up the ground they had lost and continued on their way around the block.

Late Night Activities
It was not long before they all arrived back in the living room of the hostel, laughing and chatting about the experience. The talk between everyone was constant and often flowing in several streams, with each person talking to whoever was listening at the time. I struggled to keep up at times, but was able to interject in places and participate too at times, although there were many times when the conversation was just not a guy thing.

It was after 2am by the time the girls had organised themselves. They were all going out to a club. This was about the right time to arrive as there would be a lot more people there now. Nelson and his wife retired to bed, and I followed shortly afterward, layering my bed with even more blankets and bringing the total now to somewhere around ten. At this hour of the morning sleep came quickly.

It was a great day today, having seen much of the Punta del Este region and enjoyed the company of new friends. Now I know I will have to return in Summer to experience the other character of this place when it is filled with people everywhere.

Uruguay Day Eight

PIRIAPOLIS-PUNTA DEL ESTE: Today I was heading on to Punta del Este, and after climbing Cerro Pan de Azúcar yesterday it seemed to me that I had seen most of what Piriápolis had to offer. It was for this reason that I rose late and raced downstairs for breakfast at the last minute. Today was a travel day and like most travel days I did not expect to get much done, however this was all about to change.

Getting breakfast was an exercise in patience as I waited around in the lounge room for someone to appear. I had called out and rung the bell but could rouse no one, so I turned the television on and waited. Finally an older lady turns up and asks me if I want any breakfast. It was now half an hour after breakfast officially had closed, but perhaps the fact that I was the only guest here allowed for some special dispensations. When it arrived, breakfast was tea and toast with homemade jams that tasted very lovely.

To Ride Or To Walk – That Is The Question
There were a couple of things that I wanted to do here before leaving, things that I had seen in some of the tourist brochures. At first I was going to walk around the place to see it all, but as I passed by a motorbike workshop, I noticed a sign offering them for rent too.

Out of interest, I wandered down the long narrow lane way through myriads of bikes in various states of repair until I reached the workshop. I then asked about prices. It was U$150 Uruguayan pesos per hour, but if I paid for two hours I could have the bike for three. At first I baulked at the price of U$300 but after working out that this was actually only USD$10 for three hours, it seemed like a great deal.

There were two bikes I could choose from, one being slightly more
expensive than the other. I chose the cheaper one, partly because both do the same job so why pay more, but mainly because this was the sort of bike that everyone around here rides and I wanted to see what it was like.

Sorting Out The Bike
After wheeling the bike I had chosen from the back to the front workshop, we conducted the transaction and I left a piece of identification with the guy, which just happened to be my driving licence. The bike had to be fueled, which was done by his side-kick who had just appeared, and the tires were checked over and pumped up. That was all the preparation it needed.

There was no key to this bike, nor was there any gears. Simply kick-start it and off you go, with the more you rev the engine, the faster you go. There was also a convenient stop button to turn the engine off again. Because of the lack of key, I asked the guy about security in this place. He looked at me and pondered for a moment and then went fishing for something among the busy shelves full of miscellaneous items behind him.

It did not take too long before he emerged again with an old rusty chain that looked like it had not been touched in years. Having satisfied himself that it was long enough to reach around the wheel, he then set about searching for a padlock. There were actually many locks around the place, but none of them had a key. Why he still kept them I had no idea.

Finally we are ready, with the chain wrapped around the handlebars and the key to a working padlock in my pocket. Surprisingly, considering that no-one actually uses them at all around here, I am given the choice of two types of helmets. Apparently they are mandatory for rented bikes. There was a very small full faced motorbike helmet which did not fit me, and a construction workers hard hat that looked just a little bigger.

On The Bike
The truth is that none of them fit me, and after trying to wear the hard hat in the British soldier style, with the strap tucked under my nose because this was the only place that it reached, the futility of the exercise became apparent. For the rest of my ride the helmet took its proud place on the handlebars of my bike, right next to the lock and chain that I never ended up using.

Now with a tiny engine powering my bike, there were severe limits to how fast I could actually go, with my estimates sitting on about 50kms per hour. There was no speedometer on this thing either, so I never really knew how fast I did go, but it quickly became apparent that if I was going flat-out through the central business district areas, then this was a little too fast. I think the fact that I was passing all the cars driving along the road helped me work that one out.

Heading East
With a full tank of fuel and three hours to try and consume it, there was a lot of riding that I could do. So first I rode East, past Punta Frio (Cold Point) and toward Punta Colorado, stopping on the way to take some photos of jetties reaching out into the water and the sand dunes that had started to take over the roadway. I also stopped at a mini fishing village where a few fish were on display for sale and all the fishing boats were in a cluster by the shacks that housed the fishermen.

At The Port
Coming back to Piriápolis, I stopped by the main port where fishermen were cleaning their morning catch on the boats, while others stood on the sides trying to catch their own. As I sat and watched their activities, I suddenly noticed a big black shape emerge out of the water below me and run down to see what it was. It had disappeared again, but I was sure it was a seal.

Since I was now at the waters edge, I used the opportunity to take some photos of the boats and fishermen, waiting at times for the sun to appear from behind the clouds. Suddenly there was a noise just near me, and when I looked, sure enough there was a seal swimming in the waters below. I followed him along as he swam next to the edge. Somewhere along the way he noticed me, and started swimming sideways so one eye could see what I was doing. Then he stopped, and with what seemed like a twinkle in his eye, turned and swam out about a boat’s length from the edge.

Here he surfaced and with only his head poking out of the water, started watching me. After a little while of watching and playing around in the deeper waters, he gave up interest and returned to his fish finding exercises along the edges of the port. I was really surprised to have seen a seal in a port, and it was only much later that I remembered that there was a seal colony on an island not too far from here where he may have come from.

Cerro San Antonio
After my entertainment with the seal, I pointed my trusty little motorbike at Cerro San Antonio, riding the ring road around and around until I reached the top. Up here, beside the radio and transmission equipment, were two shops filled to overflowing with nick knacks and memorabilia. The most odd thing I saw here though, was a restaurant with a swimming pool.

There was also an odd little building here too, which looked like a lighthouse. But when I looked it over, it turned out to be the protective house for faithful San Antonio. Inside were flowers and plaques and notes from all of the people who were so thankful that San Antonio had answered their prayers or been there for them at the time they needed it. I actually found the shape of the building itself much more interesting.

Once I had bought and consumed my essential supply of chocolate, I turned the bike to head back down the hill again, passing the top point for the chairlift that rises from the waters edge near the port. Heading downhill with this little bike required careful use of the brakes to avoid over-revving the poor little engine and breaking it. On the way down, some sand and dirt over the road showed me how poorly this thing handles away from the road surface and reminded me of my vulnerability as I rode without a helmet.

Heading West
Having descended from the hill, it seemed a good idea to head West toward Montevideo along the coastline, where I had seen a great view from the bus. Not sure how far it was, I kept going for what seemed like ages, but still could not find the exact point I was looking for. I did find an off-road trail to the beach though. It took me past a field of straw rushes that were each bound together at the waist. Looking at them I felt that I was back in the old time movies in the fields.

There were also a couple of detours off the main road in search of each beach along the way, and I was not disappointed either as there were many beautiful beaches along this stretch of road.

Heading North
Returning to Piriápolis I stopped at a plaza by the beach, riding my bike around the walking paths since there was nobody about, and then continued on, turning past an old garage to head North. This old garage was cluttered with an assortment of cars from an old Dodge to cars that resembled a slightly modern version of a Model-T Ford with many things in between. There was even old tractors and mini-sized earthmoving equipment sitting around, covered completely in rust.

My destination in heading North, was Castillo Piria, although I stopped at the Piria Church on the way. This was an old and very pretty looking church that was in the later stages of collapse, although the walls still stood and gave an indication of what the place would have looked like in its days of glory. A quick walk around it revealed that the best view was from the front. The back rooms were now home to the homeless, while inside the huge main sanctuary area dozens of pigeons and a scared cat were the only inhabitants.

Castillo Piria was once a private home, although it looked more like a castle as it rested in the middle of a huge farm. Today it is a museum, displaying the former glory of the place on the first floor, with photos and the history shown throughout the ground floor section. As with virtually everything in Uruguay to do with history, entry was free.

Running On Borrowed Time
By the time I left Castillo Piria and the very friendly and chatty couple that showed me around the place, my rental period for the bike was over. Knowing that this was the off-season and that the people here are reasonably lenient, I thought I would push my luck and head out to see the last two items on my list of things to do. So I headed back toward town again at the fastest speed the bike could do.

Heading through town once again, I kept going through to the other side until I found the Fountain of Venus. This was a lovely pond with several little water-boys scattered throughout pouring water back into it. In the middle was a circular platform on which the lovely Venus stood, and over which a large domed roof provided shelter, supported by six columns.

Not knowing where my last destination was, I asked some locals nearby and raced off in accordance with their instructions. The road I followed led to the steepest hill that I had ridden on. My poor little bike laboured under the weight to carry us both up the hill, highlighting the fact that it is really only good for flat areas.

At the end of this road I parked my bike and look up to see the Fuente del Torro (Fountain of the Bull), a fountain created with a bull statue at the top dribbling water from his mouth down onto the cascading rocks below. Stairs on either side led up to the platform that the bull stands on, and some further steps directly behind the bull led to nowhere in particular, but the visual effect looked good.

Time To Go
After taking my photos of the famous Bull, I turn and raced back down to the township, weaving my way through the roads until I reached the hire shop. I was now about 20 minutes late, but the guy came out and happily accepted the bike without question. I passed him my camera and got a photo of me with my trusty iron steed and then walk back to my hotel.

Check out at the hotel was at 11am, but again perhaps because I was the only guest, I was allowed to leave my bags in the room for as long as I wanted while I toured around the area. Once I was back there I loaded up with my backpack and headed down the stairs to say goodbye to the lady and ask directions to the bus station from here.

She tells me that it is only two blocks away, just across the park. I ask her which way I should go down the street, left or right, but she ignores my question and tells me to follow her. We walked through the hotel to the back section, and then on through the garden. Leaving through the back gate, the instructions of “turn left and go through the park” were perfect, and I reached the bus station with only minutes to spare to buy a ticket for the next bus to Punta del Este.

Punta del Este
The journey to Punta del Este was short although the bus stopped many times on the way to let people off. By the time we arrived at the actual Punta del Este bus station I was the only one left on the bus. Grabbing my bag, I headed into the terminal and inquired about tickets and prices for my next journey in a few days, then searched out a tourist information centre.

In the centre I was loaded up with almost one dozen maps and information brochures, the most important being the details for the local youth hostel. With this information in my hand I thanked the helpful people and then headed down the street, following the directions to the youth hostel only five blocks away.

The Open Youth Hostel That Was Closed
The sign said that it was open 24hrs a day for every day of the year, but the iron gate on the front door was very clearly locked. I knocked on the door for a long time but nobody appeared, so in the end I sat down and waited, expecting someone to turn up soon.

Someone actually did turn up, but it was a Brazilian girl who was staying there. She was locked inside and could not exit, and I was locked outside and could not enter. We looked at each other and laughed. She had already searched the place and could not find anyone around. I thanked her and then left, deciding to wander through the city for a while.

A “Hotel Information Centre” provided me with some hope that I may be able to find another place instead, one that would let me in. We did find one, but it would have cost me over double the price as the youth hostel and was over ten blocks away, a distance I did not want to have to walk with my backpack if I could help it. So instead I returned to check on the state of my youth hostel.

Sure enough, it was still locked up. I called out through the door, hoping that there would be someone else there, but only the Brazilian girl appeared. We discussed the dilemma of both of our situations but neither of us could do anything except wait. I told her I would go to eat and then come back, hoping it would be open then.

On my way to find something to eat I passed a locutorio that offered the best Internet price I had seen in the entire place and decided to dive in here to write up my day’s events. It took hours to catch up on my events so when I finally was ready to return to the hostel, I was sure there would be somebody there.

The Key To The Door
When I returned, the place was still locked up. I knocked and yelled again, and this time a man came to the door. I started to speak to him in Spanish, thinking that he was the one running the place, but he only spoke English. It turned out that he too was a guest in this place. We chatted for a little while and then miraculously, he produced a key and opened the door. I was in. At long last I was in.

There were only four other people in the place. Two Australians, the English man that let me in, and the Brazilian girl. With so many English speakers and most of them could not speak a lot of Spanish if at all, the conversation obviously remained in English. This precluded the Brazilian girl who soon found other things to do.

After an hour or so of conversation, the lady running the hostel finally showed up, so I raced out and booked myself in before she could disappear again. I was now officially here.

Out On The Town
It was time to go to sleep and I was headed in that direction, but then thought I would take a walk around the town and see what was open. There was only one or two shops open in the whole place. One was the restaurant that I had dinner at, with the bonus of being able to watch the Boca Juniors play against River Plate once again in another classic of Argentine football. The other was an internet shop where I stopped to write up more of my events and happenings as I continue my journeys.

When I got back to my room, the other guys who had said they would be going out that night were all sleeping soundly in their beds. I loaded my bed up with blankets, knowing that the temperature was predicted to hit one degree celcius tonight, and climbed into bed. I was asleep in moments and dreaming of cruising down the road on my motorbike with the wind rushing past me and not a care in the world.

What a great place to be.

Uruguay Day Eleven

PUNTA DEL ESTE-PUNTA DEL DIABLO: Waking in time to do what I needed to do before leaving Punta del Este, I quickly organised myself for the unexpected change in day and made the bus to Punta del Diablo. A small fishing village with only a handful of people living here permanently, everything about the place looks like it has fallen straight out of the pages of a story book. What an interesting place to stop.

The Morning
After a very late night last night I did not expect to be awake in time to see the sunrise. For some reason, when I woke I was completely awake, so knowing that sleep was now defeated, I resigned myself to getting up. After the morning routines and packing everything away, I still had time to wander down to the beach and watch the sun rise. How beautiful it is to be soaked in the warming rays of the sun as it rises above the horizon.

Before returning to the hostel, I stop into the locutorio and start writing up the details of the day before. It takes longer than I first expected and before long I am racing against the clock to try and complete my story before the bus leaves. With only twenty minutes before departure, and over six blocks to walk carrying a backpack, I finally admit defeat, minutes before completing the whole thing.

A Driving Experience
I had originally planned to leave today, but after the late night expected to sleep in and miss the bus. When I did not sleep in, it seemed perfect to continue with my original plans. So when I returned to the hostel, I noticed the girl that was running the place sitting in her new car with the engine running. Walking over, I tell her that I am leaving now and thank her for everything, wishing her well as I head into the hostel.

After retrieving my backpack from the hostel and leaving the key at the front desk, I return to the street to see the car still there. The girl is trying to take off forward but seems to have more success in going backward still. I watch for a little while, and consider that perhaps she might want some assistance, so I knock on the window.

She looks over and smiles, and opens the door for me. I am about to ask if she wants any help but before I can, she asks if I would like a lift to the bus station. There was only about fifteen minutes left now, so I jumped at the offer and was quickly sitting in the front passenger seat with my bag in the back. I did not know up until this point, that this was the first car that she had ever driven. I was about to find out quickly.

It did not take long before I worked out that the problem with going backward, was not the gears, but the clutch. She would not release it enough for it to grab. With the pedal only half way out she assumed that the car was not in gear because it was not moving forward. It was very clearly in gear however. Eventually, with me using the handbrake and offering some coaching assistance, we started moving forward.

Once we started on our way, I expected a normal journey. I guess it was in that we made it there. Perhaps it was fortunate that we only reached second gear, and crawled along at 20kms per hour. At several intersections other cars were forced into giving way to us when we showed no signs of changing our crawling but constant pace. At least they had time to consider their options.

Catching the Bus
On reaching the bus station, I thank my hostel girl for the ride and we part in the traditional way of friends, with a kiss on the cheek. She then heads off at the same crawling pace as before, causing me to smile at her willingness to learn on the main roads. I consider that perhaps this is the only way people learn to drive in Uruguay, but do not really know.

At the ticket counter, I am told that I simply buy my ticket once onboard the bus. Every bus has a conductor and it is possible to buy your ticket directly from them. I noted that there was only a few minutes left before the bus was scheduled to arrive. If I had not received the lift I would still have been walking and may have missed the bus.

With a three or four hour bus ride ahead of me, I stop at the cafeteria and buy some breakfast, chatting with the guys there while I wait for my bus to arrive. Hardly finishing what was before me, the guys tell me that the bus has arrived. It was time to go.

Punta del Diablo
A little fishing village with a tiny population of permanent inhabitants, Punta del Diablo (Devil’s Point) has started to develop a name for itself as a place to go to get away from things. This name is highly deserved too, as the beaches are naturally formed with large sand dunes behind them, and away from the village there are no signs of development at all.

As a result of this reputation, the population of the village swells many times over during summer, filling with tourists. The fishermen who work hard on the boats all winter, turn their hands to working in areas related to tourism during the summer months. The money gained during summer allows some people to continue to live through winter without having to work.

It is certainly not a very developed place, with dirt roads forming the main path between all of the houses, some of which are nothing more than a shack. Only a few places, the more recent ones, have started to take on the form of a well built house. All of the others have varying levels of completeness to them, and many home to the locals.

The houses ranged from wooden structures leaning strongly sideways, to brick sheds with a few rooms, and any combination in-between. Roofs of straw, tin and clay keep the rain out, with new straw stacks for the next roof sitting out in the fields drying.

The character of this place is unique, like stepping back in time many years. It now has a water and electricity supply and has even grown to include a local school, all recent additions to this traditional village of fishermen.

Arriving In Town
The bus dropped me off right in the middle of town. A dead end road for all intents and purposes. With my backpack slung on my back, it was obvious I was a tourist here. Looking around I could see very few people, and I had little idea where to head to find somewhere to stay.

There was a lady sitting on a bench just near me with a girl next to her. I thought it would be best to ask her about hotels here. Once she finds out that I do not know the place, she tells me that she has a flat that she rents out if I am interested. When I reply that I am not certain, she says that I can leave my bag there and then look around the place for something else if I like. I agree.

The flat is a great little place, barren and basic, but sufficient, and the price is also very good. It seemed to me that this was a great place to camp out while here, so I tell the landlady that I will take this place. She is surprised and asks if I am sure I do not want to look around the place first. I am sure, so we conduct our transactions and I have a place to stay.

I was about to find out much later that this particular place housed one of the more influential and well known members of the village. By staying here, I was about to be accepted more warmly by everyone than if I had chosen any other place.

The Artists Fair
Locking the door of my flat with a padlock, I pocket the key and with my side-bag over my shoulder head down toward the beach. I pass many restaurants and shops, but they are all closed except one. From what I can work out, this is actually the main business street, but there was not a lot of business happening here.

Reaching the beach, I notice a scattering of stalls open along a building created for that very purpose. The one that caught my eye was actually food related. My favourite food of Tortas Fritas was on sale.

There was nobody in the booth when I approached it, but a loud voice from behind startled me. It was calling the name of the lady who ran that stall. When she arrived, I asked about the Tortas Fritas and she said that it would only take a moment. When she lit the stove and started to warm the pot for cooking it was obvious that I was going to have to wait a long time for my food.

To pass the time, I wandered around the different windows, asking for prices of different items. The prices were quite high, something that surprised me for a place like this, especially during winter. Even so, there were some nice items that I would have liked to have purchased.

It was only later that I discovered in my conversations with the local fishermen, that my side-bag alerted everyone that I was a tourist. As I approached anyone while wearing that bag, it was likely that I would be charged at a higher price. As soon as I learned that, I ensured my bag remained in the house from then on.

The Beach
Having passed the main point with the stalls of local art I then wandered along the beach filled with fishermen and their boats. This was a little beach encased on each end by rocks with firm sand down near the water and very soft and loose sand up around the fishing boats.

There are many orange and white fishing boats and fishermen are in or around some of them engaged in various activities. Some are painting, while others are in the process of repairing parts of their boat. A couple of men are sorting out their fishing nets, folding and stacking them in preparation for the next time they head out.

Over the set of rocks at the end of this beach I find a much larger and longer beach that led ultimately to another headland of rocks. Behind the beach was large hills of sand dunes disappearing into the distance. The village houses reached only a short way along this beach before stopping right up against the dunes.

As I wandered along the edge of the water, I noticed that there was only three other people on the beach. One was fishing while the other two were a couple wandering back from the point. It was a quiet place and very pleasant to be here.

To the side, in amongst the first section of sand dunes, a group of young children were playing on sand boards. Climbing to the top of the peak, one or two of them would sit down, straddling what was essentially a snowboard, and then zoom down the hill as far as they could. It looked like a lot of fun.

The Other Point
By the time I reached the far point there seemed to be nobody around. There was a trail over the point that led from the beach up over the sand dunes to the other side. Wanting to see the other side, I started through the fluffy white sand that made walking very slow and arduous.

The sight on the other side was worth the effort. As I looked out from the top of the sand dunes, I could see a beach stretching out for miles and not a person to be seen nor a hint of civilisation. It was one of the most perfect sights I had seen. Below me the water crept quietly up to the rocky sides of the point forming a pool of liquid blue and green, quiet and still enough to be a mirror.

With the sun blazing down from a perfect blue sky, pouring warmth back into my body from where the gentle wind and low temperature had tried to steal it, it was a magic moment. Behind me the waves were crashing over the sand, gently caressing the beach. In front of me was a sight of peace and tranquility. I could have stayed there for the rest of the day.

However, I had not yet explored the whole place and there were things to see and people to meet. So I returned back to the beach of fishermen, enjoying my time alone as I walked back along the beach.

The Fishermen
When I reached the fishing boats again, I stopped to take a photo of the two fishermen who were still sorting out their nets. They both stopped their work and looked at me, then said something like, “Hey look, he is taking a photo of us, should we smile or look mean!”

Not wanting to appear rude, I wandered over to them, and stopped to chat for a while. Their accent was difficult to understand, but I could work out enough of what they were saying to get the meaning. As well as the two working the nets on the boat, there was another standing by the side who was part of the same crew.

We started with the obvious initial topics such as taking photos and using digital cameras and moved on to who I was and where I came from. This led into discussions about Australia and New Zealand and the number of Uruguayans that live in Sydney and Melbourne, something that I hear every time I mention that I come from Australia.

As the conversation continued I found I was rarely a part of it, as I had to work really hard just to understand it. Talk turned to fishing and events happening around the village. The way that they all chatted together revealed a deep level of respect and loyalty for each other.

All three men, in their thirties or early forties, were very friendly and happy to chat with this “gringo”. Their faces, already weathered by their time on the sea, revealed much character of grit and determination. As members of the same boat, spending all day out on the sea, their time together had certainly united them with a bond of unity and friendship.

Eventually, all of the nets were completed and it was time to move on. I took a few more photos of the guys and then wandered back up the main road to my flat.

The Gringo
At my flat, the husband to my landlady was sitting out on his chair, enjoying the peace of a late Sunday afternoon. I stopped to chat with him for a while. A man of many years, his full beard hid a lot of the lines of character covering his face. His voice was strong and husky, and his amply but not over-sized body happily fills the plastic chair that he sits on.

One of the first things that he says to me is that he is a gringo. I am confused and ask him why. He is a second generation Uruguayan, with his parents also Uruguayans, and moved to Punta del Diablo during his teenage years. Somehow though, it was the name of Gringo that was applied to him, and it has stuck to this day.

Gardens and Roofs
He asked me if it was ok to transfer some garden soil over my roof to his back yard. The only other way of getting it there was through the house and that was not a popular idea with his wife. I told him it was no problem to me, and went into my flat to sort out a new battery for my camera.

On emerging from my door, I find Gringo struggling to even lift the soil that he has shoveled into a large garbage bag. Wandering over, I offer to help, and before long we are both carrying the very heavy bag over to his friend standing on the roof.

We raise the bag up to our shoulders and manage to get a rope into his friend’s hand. From here we push up while our man on the roof pulls until the bag is finally up on top. The problems continued though, with the bag tearing into pieces as soon as Gringo’s friend tried to drag it along the roof.

So to continue helping out, I climbed up and joined his friend, working together to carry the bag over the roof and dump it down into the garden below. Our aim was a little crooked though and one of the tomato plants below us was almost completely crushed. A little stalk was all that remained.

After helping Gringo and his friend with their soil, I headed off again. There was still sunlight and I wanted to see the other side of town. So after finding out where I could buy my daily supply of chocolate and Coke, I headed off again to see what else I could find.

The Other Side Of Town
Wandering through the other side of town, the first thing that I notice is that all of the buildings here, or almost all of them are available for rent. It is certainly a more commercial part of town than the area immediately surrounding the fishing boats.

There are a number of bars and restaurants here too but they are all closed. Some are obviously closed, with paper covering the windows, while others are empty and deserted with everything closed up. Ironically, a few of the places still have their “Abierto” (Open) signs showing.

A supermarket store is also closed, only the products that can be stored over winter remain on the shelves. Dozens of empty shelves are scattered around the glass walled shop, pushed against each other or skewed from their normal position. A broom jamming one door, a Closed sign and the mess inside help people to recognise that this place is not currently in business.

The Other Beach
Reaching the edge of the other side of town I find another beach. This beach extends for a long way until the next rocky point, upon which sits a lighthouse. The sun is low in the sky now, and long shadows from the large sand dunes fall across the beach.

Right on the edge of town, next to the beach, are some basic shacks. One is a true shack, slanting and struggling to stay upright, with its scrap timber the only thing stopping the wind from reaching inside. Other shacks have the luxury of real timber construction and verandahs or decks upon which to rest. Many of these decks use a roof of palm leaves, layered to provide some protection from the sun.

The Rocky Point
After enjoying the changing shadows and light of the setting sun, I follow the waterline around the point, over the rocks. As I wander over the rocks, navigating my way over large crevasses and big boulders, the crashing waves below send up large plumes of water, that threaten at times to engulf me. Fortunately I had taken the dryer path.

There were some fishermen down along the rocks too that were taking much greater chances with the waves. The children of one of these fishermen were waiting for their dad at the top of the rocks, straining to see what he was doing at the time.

By the time I reach the actual point, the sun had almost disappeared. There was only one large boulder left bathing in the fading sunlight. I headed directly for it and after climbing on top I was just in time to see the sun as it set over the houses of the village.

From here I wandered out the short distance to the end of Punta del Diablo to see the “little lighthouse”. This is a very low, electronic light, set upon a monument to none other than the famed Artigas. The monument has a lovely statue on the left side of the concrete structure and a plaque citing the important things Artigas had done on the right.

Now that the sun had disappeared, the temperature of the day was dropping rapidly. Now that I had been for my walks around the place I was satisfied that I had seen enough for today. There seemed little left to do than to return back up the small hill to my flat once again.

Getting Friendly With The Locals
Back at the house I find Gringo enjoying a wine with his friend. His friend does not say a lot, as Gringo has control of the conversation, but looks interested in what is being said.

I linger outside long enough to be invited into the conversation. Before long I am sitting down with them, enjoying the local wine and chatting profusely with Gringo.

We chat about the state of politics in Uruguay and the exports of the country, linking the two together and demanding a stronger and more honest government. The state of education in the place we both agree is pretty good, although we both feel that tourism needs to be exploited more, but also controlled more.

Of course we talk about Uruguayans in Australia, and the state of Australia and New Zealand compared with Uruguay also. Population and distribution of people. Crime and the up-coming elections. By the time we had finished we had been experts in almost every field.

Near the end of the conversation, when the wine was almost finished, Gringo’s friend excused himself and left. In the direction he headed, I presumed he had gone home to sleep. Gringo and I remained chatting for a while after this, until I was hungry enough to eat.

Dinner With A Crowd
So after finding out where the only restaurant open was located, I thanked Gringo for our conversation and headed off in search of food.

The restaurant had the most people in it that I would ever see during my stay here in Punta del Diablo. There was an Armenian and Uruguayan couple, and an English man who was traveling around the place in a car he had hired. When I arrived there for dinner we made a crowd. I never saw another tourist in the place after this.

As I entered the place I saw that Gringo’s friend was here. I asked him what he was doing here, and he replied that the owner was his brother, and the guy running it was his good friend. After we were introduced, there was instantly a different level of relationship here. It was like I was suddenly on the inside of what is essentially an exclusive club.

Selecting the house special, of steak and fries, I settled back for an enjoyable night chatting with the locals. At times I also chatted with the Englishman, who could speak virtually no Spanish at all, but the main conversation lay with the locals, who were asking me all sorts of questions.

Conversing With Locals
At first they tested my level of Spanish by twisting my words slightly and presenting them as a question. The normal answer in difficult situations of “yes” would have revealed my ignorance. Fortunately I was improving quickly in my Spanish and was able to pick up on their jokes and tests. Once I was “tested” we settled into more serious conversations.

Our conversation followed the usual path, from where I came from to what was I doing in Uruguay. From here we branched into many different areas, including politics and religion. By the time I left that place, there was only the owner and I left chatting. After our last serious conversation, which centred on God and who he really was, it was already 10pm. Eventually we bid each other farewell and I headed back to my flat.

Ending The Night
Back at my flat I struggled to get the fire burning, but once it was alight, I put virtually all of my wood onto it. It was a freezing cold night and this quickly warmed up the whole place filling it with smoke in the process.

Since the room was warm, and the shower not very warm at all, it occurred to me that this would be the best time of day for a shower. So I stood under what was now becoming a common type of shower, and turned on the water. The lights dimmed as the heating element inside the shower-head started heating the water. The temperature of the freezing water that entered this heating contraption was hardly raised above luke-warm, but then luke-warm was much better than freezing.

The bare electricity connections the lead from the shower-head to the open connection block on the wall with wires pouring out of it in all directions kept me careful about where I let the water splash. It was certainly a dangerous setup but since they were still using these shower-heads around the place, there cannot have been too many people die from them yet. None-the-less, I was cautious anyway.

Lights Out
Afterward, with a book about Punta del Diablo in my hands that Gringo had loaned me, I sat in a chair enjoying the warmth of the fire and read about this place that I was now staying. The book was full of stories about the fishermen and contained testimonies from some of the oldest inhabitants. Although it was in Spanish, it provided some very interesting reading.

With the warmth of the fire and the night growing later and later, eventually I could hardly keep my eyes open. It was now time to head for bed.

Punta del Diablo was a very interesting place indeed. A village of fishermen. Beaches of isolation. A place of tranquility. A great place to rest. Now if only it had internet too…