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…