“So, we are talking dirt roads, cabañas and bonfires here.”
“Yep. Look. It’s quite a hike from the bus station to the hotel.”
We were still in Montevideo and Feng was looking at the map of Punta del Diablo. I stopped making sandwiches for a second to glance at the computer screen. All I could see on Google Earth view was dirt roads and trees.
“Wow. Yeah, maybe we should skip it then. If it’s hard to get around and… I mean, we aren’t gonna start a new life making friendship bracelets and selling empanadas on the beach.”
“It’s a hippie village. Pot, Bob Marley and surfers.”
“Mind you, I’m pretty sure the dude who spends the night sitting on a chair in the middle of the street downstairs is the block’s dealer.”
“How about that … we go to La Paloma, we see how we feel about it then we decide if we go to Punta del Diablo or not.”
Punta del Diablo is the end of the road in Uruguay. A hundreds of kilometres east and you’re in Brazil—that would be another discussion we would have a few days later. For now, the question was whether we could do the backpacker trail with Mark. Stopping in Punta del Diablo was tempting. It seemed to be one of these bohemian towns, like San Pedro in Guatemala, Caye Caulker in Belize, Byron Bay in Australia and Ko Phi Phi in Thailand—just to name a few of these places where you relax, get high and think you’re cool and that you found your paradise.
We just didn’t know what to expect. Was the town big enough to have the few conveniences we needed, like groceries? I can’t give Mark special brownies. How hard was it to get around without a car? It seemed spread out. Would the roads be pitch dark at night?
The only way to find out was to spend a few days there.
The Ruta del Sol bus from La Paloma stopped at every town along the way, picking up passengers and dropping off a few. Punta del Diablo was the end of the road. We got off and started walking on the paved road with our backpacks, then we turned and followed the dirt road, laughing like two kids sneaking out after the midnight curfew. Mark snapped a picture of us, sweaty and covered with dust. It was a long walk. We call ourselves “backpackers” but in fact, we rarely walk more than a kilometre or so with our gear. I wouldn’t climb the Everest with a backpack.
The cabaña we rented was lost in the wood, at the intersection of several dirt roads. Mark befriended the dog and we were told we were free to use the parrilla in the yard.
It was another twenty-minute walk to the beach, again on a dirt road. We passed many cabañas and a couple of “supermarkets,” family-owned convenience stores. Perfect. At least, there were groceries.
The town itself was busier and nicer than I would have imagined. The main beach, Playa de los Pescadores, was half fishing boats and seafood shacks and half Argentinian and Brazilian families playing on the sand. There were a couple of picturesque streets with the usual bohemian village must have, i.e a mismatched bunch of shacks where booze, food and craft were sold. Fried empanadas, cocktails, churros, stack of wood for the parrilla and bongs—all the basics were covered.
At the end of a pier where waves were crashing on the rock stood a statue of Artigas. “Why on earth did they put me here?” the national hero seemed to wonder. “I’d be just fine on a colonial plaza in Montevideo, I feel out of place with all these people walking around in their swimsuits!”
On a clear day with a perfect blue sky, the beach looked amazing. On our second day, we walked to the bigger and nicer Playa de la Viuda, hidden behind giant sand dunes. I hiked all the way to Playa Grande, a few kilometres further. I was alone on the beach that stretched for miles and miles, metres from a nature reserve—I could have walked all the way to La Paloma. There were ducks, bird, fish… and even big seals carcasses abandoned on the sand.
Don’t get me wrong, Punta del Diablo isn’t a hidden gem. This is the epicentre of the country’s backpacker scene and a popular spot for Argentinian and Brazilian summer tourists. The traffic in town was ridiculous with cars speeding by on dirt roads and desperately trying to park as close as possible to the beach.
We celebrated Chinese New Year on our little dirt road. Feng had bought firecrackers in Buenos Aires (and yes, he flew and crossed borders with them…). I have a set of pictures that are wrong on so many levels: using my cigarette to light up firecrackers with Mark helping, all this taking place after midnight. Ahem.
We had a good time. I had some great seafood and fish. If I lick my lips, I can still taste the salt of the Ocean. I still can feel the sun on my skin. I don’t think I washed off all the sand in the shower—oh well.
Now it’s time to tackle the next stop, the one place Feng and I had sworn we would never go back to—fucking Chuy.