Uruguay Travelogue, Day 3

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Saturday, December 4, 2010: 7:30 p.m., La Paloma. A long but enjoyable day. We ate a nice buffet breakfast early in the morning, quite surprised to see so many people up considering how late they were out the night before. The rooms didn’t have air conditioning and, at this early time of the summer, though they didn’t need them, cracking the windows in the room last night let in too much noise. I woke up around 1:00 a.m. to the sound of bands or karaoke in the night club at the bottom of the hotel, had to plug in my Ipod to drown out the noise. Otherwise, though, a decent night’s sleep.

This morning’s breakfast buffet was full of nicely arranged fruits, pastries and meats and, for the most part it appears that everywhere we stayed in Uruguay breakfast was understood to be included. We paid our bill, I took some pictures of the historic insides of the building, and we made our way out of town around 9:00 a.m.

Today’s drive was probably the most enjoyable. Our final destination for the day was La Paloma, but in the meantime, we’d be driving through Punta del Este, Jose Ignacio, and a few other beach villages.

Shortly after town, we passed through a beautifully bucolic scene straight out of a Monet painting, replete with pond, ducks, yellow wildflowers and fresh green grass. I pulled over and took some pictures.

Not far from Piriapolis was the beginning of the Punta del Este area, a world into itself inside Uruguay. “Punta,” is a regional destination not only for Uruguayans, but wealthy Argentinians and Brazilians, meriting its own international airports with constant one-hour flights from Buenos Aires. Cresting a hill we saw the first glimpse of Punta in the distance and, as promised, it was breathtaking. We stopped and took some pictures on cliffs, at Casa del Pueblo, a combination hotel/artwork/sculpture created by an artist in honor of his son.

Although we didn’t intend to spend the night in Punta, we did want to drive through, stop, get out, and see what all the fuss was about. Although we were still in shoulder season, traffic and parking here was already crowded. High rise condos lined the boulevards. Punta is, as its name suggests, a point, with one side being, technically, the quieter river side, and the other side of the peninsula marking where the ocean actually begins. We walked, shopped a bit, but in the end got out of town. Prices were higher, people were prettier, stores were more fashionable. Punta is described as the St. Tropez of South America, but I’d say it’s more accurately described as Myrtle Beach meets French Riviera. There’s a mix of high-end and mass-produced, pretty beaches but so many distractions that–even without the beach–Punta has become a destination unto itself.

Shortly after, we made it to the village of Jose Ignacio, a former fishing village that has now, through restrictive zoning become a sort of bohemian chic village. Don and I drove through, and didn’t see too much to excite us, though who knows, perhaps we missed the best part.

After Jose Ignacio, we moved off the coast onto a dirt road driving past what I’d term “gentleman farm estates” or “chacras” as they are called. Here is a good example of the sprawling destination that Punta has become. You first have Punta proper, nice beaches on a peninsula, catches the attention of wealthy foreigners. Punta builds up, becomes THE place, and then the suburbs (Jose Ignacio) become of interest to those for whom Punta just isn’t chic or exclusive enough. But then, apparently, another phenomenon, because for miles after Jose Ignacio, we found farm after farm, beautiful signage, wonderful names, that appeared to be vacation farms (i.e., more for looks than an actual working farm) that were on beautiful rolling pieces of land. And for probably 20-30 miles past Jose Ignacio (which was, itself, at least 20 km away from Punta del Este), these chacras claimed to be located in the Jose Ignacio area. Get it?

Eventually, we made our way to La Paloma, a small surfing village a few hours away from Piriapolis and Punta del Este. We arrived in town around 2:00 and at first glance, there was nothing too impressive, a quiet little town on the coast, a few tired stores and hotels, young kids in their teens and 20s milling about. We ate a good lunch and, better rested and fed, drove around town. This was our first night without a planned accommodation, and we’d learned that we made better decisions on where to stay when we weren’t overly tired or hungry.

Once we (especially I) felt better, we drove around to see what we could see. Things in the town were pretty laid back, the homes not too fancy, probably not too many full-time residents, but the beach was wide and the surf was good. Mental note to self: I’ve got to learn to surf. It’s a shame to have visited some of the Americas’ top surf spots and not be able to take advantage of them.

We got a villa, two bedrooms, one bath, at Villas Piamonte, basically on the water, with a nice view, basic amenities, for $90. Although on the drive into town things were pretty hot, by the time we walked the beach at 5 or 6, everyone had put on clothes over their bathing suits, and the cool evening wind was whipping around.

We bought some groceries, ate at one of the few open restaurants in town, and retired for the night. The 210 V outlets wouldn’t take our electronics, and the converter Don let me borrow blew out my already touchy laptop power supply.

We went to bed fairly early. However, without air conditioning I had to open the windows, which caused two problems. The first was that my neighbors, college-aged, pulled in to their villa around 1:00 a.m., cranked up their music, and lit up their parilla to begin grilling. The second was that, once awake, I felt a quite constant bite of a nagging mosquito. I sprayed down with spray, plugged in my trusty Ipod, and finally went to sleep around 2:00

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