I am writing this post from a beautiful Airbnb apartment in Montevideo, Uruguay. My host has been one of the loveliest people I’ve met so far – but I’ll talk more about her later. The point is, if I hadn’t made my inevitable first oops a week ago today, I wouldn’t have ended up in this wonderful home and I wouldn’t have met many of the people I’ve spent time with in the last week. Something about blessings in disguise, blah blah blah. Now onto the story!
I left Buenos Aires a week ago to ditch the 100+ degree weather for the exact same weather but with a beach. It’s much easier to cope with satanic levels of heat when you’re on the water, so despite a brief but wonderful few days in BA, I was happy to hop on a ferry for Montevideo, Uruguay. I booked a one-way ticket with Colonia Express, which cost me about $54 USD and involved a two-hour ferry to Colonia, followed by a bus transfer for the duration of the journey. When I first arrived at the ferry port in Buenos Aires, I happened to stand in line behind Eduardo and Adry, both Ecuadorians living and studying in Buenos Aires and also heading out of the city for some beach time. They, like many Latin Americans, speak English but were willing to help me stumble through some Spanglish as we talked for a few hours between the ferry and bus. Between our conversation, the beautiful scenery and (let’s face it) our lack of attention to detail, we somehow managed to miss our bus stop at Montevideo, only realizing we had passed it when we opened up Google maps and saw the red dot slowly moving closer to Punta del Este and further from Montevideo. It was about 5pm at that point, and of course we had all booked hostels in Montevideo (intended destination) and not Punta del Este (not intended destination at that time) so it was a hasty hustle with the bus wifi to book some last minute beds for the night. The good news is, we all ended up finding places to stay. My last-minute hostel, Hostel 32, was next door to theirs, only a block from the beach. Famished, we found a place to eat and shoved milanesa con fritas down our throats as fast as humanly possible, and finished the night with a nice walk, absolutely exhausted from a day of travel.
And that’s how I came to accidentally spend a week in Punta del Este – not necessarily a destination that requires that amount of time, but I have no complaints. It’s a beach town described as the St. Tropez of Uruguay on Tripadvisor (can we stop altogether calling destinations the X place of X?) and while there aren’t many sites to see besides the hand on the beach (besides a Trump Tower in construction, which is tremendous, everyone is saying it’s the best, believe me), it’s not a bad place to spend a lazy week on the beach, hanging out with new friends, and in my case, getting some work done. I have a great freelance researching gig for the next few weeks that’s helping financially with my technical funemployment, but it does require a certain hourly commitment of genuine work. Plus this blog and some hopeful articles, I’m trying to balance living my traveling dream while also keeping an eye on my bank account and career… still TBD how that’ll all pan out. Anyways!
Luckily, my BA bestie Rebecca also decided to trade the Argentine heat for Uruguayan beaches and came to meet me on Wednesday, after Adry and Eduardo had left to go back to their jobs in BA. We also met Lily, a Finnish girl working in IT, who was staying in our hostel and rounded out our duet to make us a trio for a few days of fun.
We mostly wandered from beach to beach during the day, periodically breaking up the time with snacks and naps, and for three nights in a row we dined at our favorite spot across the street from our hostel, Mucho Gusto. Punta del Este isn’t a cheap town by South American standards, likely due to it being all St. Tropez-y and all, but Mucho Gusto has some enormous servings, really decent prices and amazing food (I may have ordered Pechugas con guarnición three times, so what), plus we made a great friend with one of the chefs, Jessica, who absolutely hooked it up with the plate size. Please go there and ask for Jessica! Tell her Erica sent you! She will probably have no idea who you are talking about but maybe show her this picture for reference!
On Friday, Rebecca’s last full day before heading back to BA, the sky was overcast for the first time all week but we still went to the beach after breakfast, just for a nice walk. It was nice to have an empty beach, because no one else seemed to be out, and we stumbled upon a random, rusty trampoline that we’re still not sure how it came to be there but obviously took the liberty to make sure was still in working condition. It was.
After that we continued walking and found a group of lifeguards, bored on the job with no swimmers, playing soccer in the sand (and also smoking weed (legal in Uruguay) and drinking beer, at 10am, good on ya boys). I love fútbol because you don’t need real teams, equipment, common language, nada. I’ll admit playing in the sand is a killer workout so after nearly 20 minutes I was dripping in sweat and we bid them adios.
Later that afternoon, we took the recommendation from our new friends from our hostel, Anthony and Christina (the first Americans I’ve met on this trip) and signed up with them for a city tour which included four hours of site seeing for $25 USD in a nice, air-conditioned van with a local guide, who told us the city’s population is only 9,000 after you subtract all the tourists. He only spoke Spanish, so that meant I relied solely on Rebecca’s random translations, but there are some seriously fascinating facts about Punta del Este and Uruguay in general. For example, houses here don’t have numbers, but names. So you can buy a house and name it whatever you want. People just put these name signs in front, as shown in the exquisite photograph below that I took from the car. Not sure if you live on a long street how efficient it would be to find someone’s house, but I think it’s incredibly cool anyways.
Both are situated near the tip of the peninsula in a quiet residential neighborhood. Next stop was of course the La Mano (the Hand), which I learned was created by a Chilean artist in 1982 and has received such international recognition that he has made replicas in Madrid, the Atacama desert in Chile (which I will definitely be visiting), and Venice. I had already been to see the Hand plenty of times, but I did snap this truly phenomenal photo of Christina jumping in front of it during a brief period where it wasn’t crawling with other tourists.
Like all good paid tours, there was an intermission at a local restaurant/souvenir shop overflowing with trinkets and tchotchkes (commissions to our bus driver likely part of the deal with the owner, I imagine). None of us bought anything but we did take advantage of the free photo opp cutout. Classic tourist stuff, ya know.
The last stop was Casapueblo, a funky-looking white building located a good distance from the town, on a beautiful coastline with jagged rock cliffs. It’s part-museum, art gallery, hotel and restaurant, AKA all things tourism, and while I don’t think it’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen, it was pretty cool. Entry was $10 USD, which Christina went ahead with and none of the rest of us did, but she did let me borrow her ticket to use the restroom and snap a few quick pics.
We spent the majority of the hour there sitting on the coastline watching the sunset, which was initially cloudy but turned into a bleeding-pink blur that was pretty spectacular.
The tour took us back to our hostel around 8pm, and of course we had to take Anthony and Christina to our favorite spot and introduce them to the legend, Jessica herself.
And of course, the only proper way to end a day is with ice cream.
I forgot to mention that after my last-minute reservation at Hostel 32, my actual intentional reservation was with El Viajero Bravo Beach, a hostel I chose because I had stayed in the El Viajero location in Cartagena, Colombia, and absolutely loved it. Highly recommend staying at any of their hostels scattered around the continent!