What do you get when you cross a national refuge without roads, massive sand dunes, hippies living by the Mayan calendar (only two years left), and sea lions? Cabo Polonio.
A group of us decided to take off for the weekend to see some Uruguayan countryside and take in some sun (some more than others) in this rather remote beach town. We left Montevideo early Saturday morning at 7 from Tres Cruces to begin the 4.5 hour ride to the entrance of the park. Not long after I took my seat a young Uruguayan cradling his mate came and sat down in the row next to me. I’m pretty sure it was immediately obvious to him that we were foreigners—and Americans at that. We had long given up speaking Spanish to each other by that time. A 7 am departure time, excitement, and 7 kids from the States means only one thing—nobody is working on their Spanish skills.
My omnibus neighbor leaned over and asked where we were from. His name was Luis. He is from an interior Uruguayan town whose name escapes me and he plays in a pretty popular reggae band in Uruguay called Marulata. We chatted for about the first hour of the trip, passing the mate back and forth. He coached me a bit on my mate etiquette, directing me to keep going with the mate until the “slurpppp” sound was noticeably audible because “why would you give it back if there’s more in there?” After the mate lesson we exchanged mp3 players for the next hour; I caught some much-needed z’s to the sound of really good Uruguayan reggae, the rough cuts of their new album. Meanwhile, Luis had his official introduction to Ryan Adams (who else would I choose?). Their music was really good with great melodies, catchy lyrics, and trumpets. We exchanged contact information and agreed to meet up sometime soon for one of their shows in Montevideo.
One really awesome thing about Cabo Ponolio—you can’t get there on any road. It’s a very isolated place without electricity or running water. Unless you want to walk six miles along the beach from the nearest town (which one of our compatriots, Ariana had to do because she accidentally got off at the wrong stop) you have to—or get to—take these really awesome 4-wheel drive vehicles over the dunes and into the reserve. This part of the transportation process makes you feel like you are getting to see one of Uruguay’s great secrets, something zealously guarded from the average tourist’s guidebook. The ride is bumpy, with views of pines, sand, and por fin, la playa.
We decided to go backpacker style and save the lodging preparations for when we arrived. So, when the first group of us pulled up to town (the others waited until they knew what Ariana was going to do to get there), the first thing to do was to ask around for a rental house. Por suerte we stumbled across one of the few people who lives there year-round, a middle-aged man whose name also escapes me (sensing a theme?). He showed us to his modest rental home facing the really windy side of the beach.
Double bed—check. Fold out couch—hard as a rock, but check. Set of bunk beds—check. Hammock tied to the rafters in “la living”—double check (extra check for awesomeness). We settled on 1500 pesos for the night and headed to the beach.
One more thing about the house that I think is noteworthy—there’s a well out back. How cool is that. It’s been a long while (and by that I mean never) since I had to dip a bucket of water to flush the toilet. I could really live like this though—candles for lighting, rainwater running through the sink, beach bumming during the day, running a hostel or something for “work.” No, not really. You who know me might guess that I may like it for about a month. Without real work I tend to get restless.
There are two pretty distinct beaches in Cabo. On the SW side of the peninsula sets of 6-foot waves pound the shallow shelf of granulated shells that extends twenty feet out. To enjoy the waves before they break, you’ve gotta take a pounding first. The water is too shallow to simply dive underneath them. But, once you get past the break zone, pah… It’s like nature’s answer to the roller coaster. A deep blue wall of force sweeps me up like a stiff wind takes a kite, letting me off the back end with a spray of salty breath on my face, the wind skimming the cream off the top of each monstrous beauty.
For this reason surfer dudes (and dudets) are abundant in Cabo. They even look the same as they do in the States—Vans carrying a ridiculous palette of colors, unkempt hair, and mahogany epidermis. Not to mention the wind surfers. The wind is FIERCE on this side of the peninsula. We laid down towels on the rock hard sand and within 20 minutes, the scene looked like an archaeological dig site—a thick layer of wind-blown sand covering everything (but hopefully not my camera swaddled in a shirt stuffed in the abyss of the big pocket of my backpack—my luggage). We didn’t much care about the wind though. I commented that maybe the sand hitting our bodies would be good for the skin, exfoliate and all that.
On the other side of the peninsula (which makes it sound big, but really it’s maybe 200 yards away) things are a bit calmer. Rainbow-colored hostels and more single room casitas line the shore. Sand dunes forming the vast majority of the park are visible on the horizon towards Brazil. The ocean gusts tend to sweep from the south, making this area better for beach bumming. The water is about four feet deep and calm. It’s a great place to swim, and, if you’re lucky like we were, witness a pod of dolphins truck on within feet of rubbernecking travelers.
The sunset was spectacular. We enjoyed the view from an empty lifeguard stand, sipping on boxed wine and munching on crackers.
Passed the rest of the evening in the living room enjoying the breeze ebbing through the pores of our little house. Sleep. Doing my best not to move. Glowing pink shoulders, back exudes an unnatural warmth. Sorry skin cells. So worth it.
Love you guys,