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Falling in love with Uruguay part 2…….La Paloma to Cabo Polonio

So here is when my love affair with Uruguay got hot and heavy.  It began in Montevideo, not because Montevideo is the most exciting or the most beautiful city but because of the vibe there.  Muy tranquilo, they say.  Argentinians might make fun of Uruguay and Montevideo.  They say of course it’s muy tranquilo, laid back and friendly.  It can be all of these things because Uruguay is so small.  Like a man with a bigger penis, they smugly write everything about Uruguay off because they are so small.  And it’s true.  It’s the second smallest country in South America.  It’s not a question of size though.  It could be small and terrible.  But it’s not.

We took a bus to La Paloma from Montevideo, about a four hour bus ride.  La Paloma sits on the south eastern coast of Uruguay.  It’s one of Uruguay’s most popular beach areas.  Surely not as popular as the celebrity-infested Punta del Este.  La Paloma is a home for surfers who flock there because of it’s laid back vibe and truly impressive waves.

And we saw one of the prettiest sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life:

And we made great friends with the hostel’s dog.

Sure, it was great having breakfast brought upstairs to us and it’s not too shabby having a view of the ocean while we ate:

But the town was completely deserted and it gave it us an odd feel.  Like a ghost town complete with the creepiness.  We probably stayed one night too many in La Paloma.  Or maybe two nights too many, in retrospect.  We were only there two nights though, if that gives you an indication.

So two days later, we packed up our stuff and then we were on our way about another 2 hours east where a four wheel drive truck would meet us to take us to Cabo Palonio.  I didn’t really know much about Cabo Polonio, so I didn’t know what to expect.  I knew it was also a town on the ocean.  I certainly wasn’t expecting this to come pick us up:

These creaky old 4WD vehicles are the only way inside Cabo.  They restrict cars because it’s a protected area.  We drove along some sand dunes and then finally all the way to the ocean.  We bumped along and splashed through puddles until we saw a few shacks in the distance,with hammocks for porches, swaying in the breeze.

It turns out, Cabo Palonio is somewhat of a hippie town located in a national park. The small population that lives there full time (80), lives very lightly on the earth, without electricity.  I’m talking solar showers here and catching rain water.  That’s right people.  No cell phones, i-phones or internet!  Nada.  Just the breeze and the ever present sound of the ocean.  We had been recommended to go to the Cabo Polonio hostel, where a man named Alfredo runs it. He is also a chef.  The town is super small so even though we had no idea where we were going, we just walked along the sand ‘roads’  (they are just paths through the beach dunes) until we found it.

It was just like all the other places in town.  A shack barely held together with a corruguated tin roof.  But it was infinitely cozy.  We met a Uruguayan couple from Montevideo that were running the hostel.  One of them had dreadlocks down to his knees and the girl was running around barefoot.  Bob Marley played in the distance.  We were home. I grabbed a book and headed for the hammocks.

We shared a room with a French & Swiss guy. We all cooked dinner together and played Yahtzee by candle light while drinking beers deep into the night.  We fell asleep to the lull of the waves and woke up with sand in our toes.  The hostel was about 10 steps away from the beach.

The next day we walked to the right of the town and discovered a huge sea lion colony lazing on the rocks.  The cries of the sea lions and the waves crashing on the rocks were the only sounds we heard.  January and February are the only busy months for Cabo Polonio, so now in October, it was just a handful of tourists and the sea lions.

On the other side of the town lie great sand dunes.  The roar of the ocean grew dimmer and we climbed to the top of the highest dune.  Swoon.  I was in love.  Cows munched on dune grass as we climbed down.  Wait!  Cows on the beach!?  Yes, it was true.

That night, I cooked a big dinner for everyone.  And we got a chance to talk with the hostel’s owner who was a character and a half, Alfredo.  This guy was hysterical and he spoke perfect French, English and of course Spanish.  We played more Yahtzee as a storm came through.  Music played, many beers were drunk, I was drunk! and we all listened to Alfredo tell funny stories.  That night I listened to the rain beat on the tin roof  while I lie in my bunk bed with Laurent above me.  I could feel the wind blowing the tiny hostel and it made me think of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.  An appropriate comparison on many levels.   The next morning, it was time to leave and because of the bad weather we cancelled our plan to continue on to Punta del Diablo (another small beach town to the north).  To say I was disappointed was an understatement.  But the disappointment I felt turned into a drive to figure out a way to return.  So we figured it all out and ended up nixing Paraguay so we could return to Uruguay in August!  Uruguay, I love you!

If you want to see more of Laurent’s beautiful pictures from La Paloma, click here

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