Monthly Archives: October 2012

Punta’s Butts and Balls

The two biggest takeaways from spending time on the beach in Punta del Este.

There were a lot of bronzed butts.

On the beaches in the States where I spend my time, women have full sized bikini bottoms, skirts, skorts and cover ups. You don’t see many bottoms, much less a beach full of women flaunting their bottoms, and since it was the middle of summertime, they all had gorgeous tans. Sorry guys, no photos!

There are a lot of soccer balls!

Forget frisbee. On the beaches of Uruguay you might not want to doze off. Every few feet was a different game of football (soccer) and fancy footwork. You definitely have to pay attention when you are on the beach because there are soccer balls flying overhead everywhere you looked!


Hand in the Sand

Mario Irarrázabal was inspired to make a sculpture of a hand “drowning” as a warning to swimmers.

I learned it had many names – the Monumento al Ahogadoto (Monument to the Drowned), Monumento los Dedos (Monument of the Fingers) or La Mano (The Hand).

The warning was because the waters at La Barra had rougher waves which were better for surfing only, while the other way, waters at Solanas were much more suited for swimming practice and windsurfing activities.

While I had seen pictures before I arrived, they were nothing like the day I was there.  was lucky to get a photo with only four people in the background. The place was teeming with people!

Leaving Town and Looking Like a Madman

In the morning, I talked with the hostel owner. I told him what kind of beach town I was looking for and it wasn’t Punta. Not for this trip anyway.

He suggested La Pedrera and Cabo Polonia. Each were a few hours to the east and the buses would take me along the southern coast of Uruguay, which I had originally planned on seeing anyway.

The owner gave me some bus schedules for the afternoon, and as I wasn’t going to waste the afternoon on a bus, I would head into town, and to the beach on a Saturday in January! He called me a cab and I went to the bus station. I found the bus company he had found the schedule for, bought my ticket to La Pedrera later that day and I checked my rucksack at left luggage.

So it was me and my daypack off to explore, lay on the beach and dip my toes in the Atlantic!

I hadn’t even made it out of the bus terminal and the man behind the counter who had just given me my left luggage ticket was running after me.

He was speaking very quickly and gestured for me to come back to the counter with him. As I had just dropped my bag and not knowing exactly what he was saying, I followed. As we returned to the counter, I understood why.

But I didn’t know what I had packed that would be making such a noise. My mind racing, I was scrambling to figure it out.

Oh. The battery-operated doorstop with an alarm.

Yeppers. I had packed an electronic doorstop. With a battery.

I can tell you, it worked. Clearly his concern was why my bag was armed with an alarm. He granted me permission behind the counter to find out what was happening.

As it would, the doorstop was buried somewhere near the bottom of my bag. The noise seemed to be getting louder and louder the longer it took me to dig for it.

After what felt like an eternity, I found the culprit, simply removed the batteries, thanked the man behind the counter, and, finally, headed towards the beach.

Third Night in Uruguay, First Night in a Hostel

After making my way into the hostel, I went into the dorm and got ready for bed. It was nearly 11pm and this “adventure” to get back to the hostel took nearly six hours.

Three nights into my trip and, thanks to Fred and Laura, this was my first hostel stay.

As soon as I put my stuff into my backpack, my roommates for the night started to trickle in.

Everyone but me was a South American on holiday. Two Brazilian sisters, an Argentine girl traveling alone, two Chilean guys and me. Six of us were a veritable UN as we chatted in Spanish, Portuguese and very little English for a few hours more.

Ok, well I spoke in Spanish. I don’t know a lick of Portuguese. And I felt that if I could speak in Spanish, I should.

Everyone asked everyone questions about themselves and their cultures.

What I wanted to ask, but didn’t, was if they were all on holiday, it was a Friday night, they all come from countries that eat dinner late, why were they all getting ready for bed before midnight?

Six of us did say buenos noches before our seventh roommate made it home.

However, four of us were wide awake to welcome her back since the two Chilean guys were the loudest snorers ever. And  thought my boyfriend is a loud snorer. He doesn’t even compare to these two.

Since I had only ‘been on the road’ for all of three days, I wasn’t in tune with hostel life yet. I laid in bed wondering where I packed my earplugs and/or iPod. I couldn’t think if they were easily accessible in my backpack that was sitting on the floor next to my bed.

Not wanting to wake anyone, I suffered in silence while the two guys in the room snored loudly.

Time was ticking away and I realized that all the girls were still up. I saw lights from phones and I heard Ay Dios Mio more than once. One by one the girls in the room all made some sort of noise, or signal, to indicate that we, too, were still awake.

Language barriers aside, once realizing we were all awake, we erupted in laughter for a few minutes. And the snoring continued without missing a beat.

Realizing that I wouldn’t wake the girls and it wouldn’t be so terrible to wake the boys, I got out of bed to find my iPod.

I jacked the volume up so  may have lost a little bit of hearing that night, and I still don’t know how I fell asleep, but I did my best to drown out those two snorers.

Getting Lost is USUALLY Part of the Fun – part two

I was following what seemed like a main street. There were very few street lights, but street lights, nonetheless and it had actual lanes painted on the street and it didn’t seem as much like a residential side street. On this street there were very few streetlights but still more than where I had been walking a few minutes prior.

I realized while it was so suburban there would be no pedestrians. It seemed that everyone opted for four wheels rather than two legs as their primary mode of transportation. There weren’t even any taxis around.

I must have made a wrong turn, or maybe it was my incorrect translation, but I was seriously lost. Damn. There was a bit of an intersection and I couldn’t remember which way I had come from to go back to the restaurant.

Desperate to find my hostel, I walked down the street against traffic shouting ‘Hola!’

I thought for sure the headlamp would allow for a car to see me.


I was on the side of the road basically in the grass and nearly dove into the bushes when a car came right at me. The shock of nearly getting hit caused a weird and loud scream to come out of my mouth.

Was it fate? Because THAT scream caused me to be noticed by an elderly couple who were walking to their home.

I could hear them asking if I was okay. (I was.) I ran over to them as they headed towards me. I told them my situation in insanely bad Spanish and I shined my headlamp (I hadn’t yet been traveling one week yet it already proved it’s worth twice in one night) on the business card to show them the address of the hostel and they gave me directions in rapido Spanish.

Frustrated, tired and slightly nervous that my (usually) excellent sense of direction also took a sabbatical, I asked if they would mind walking me there.

They kindly agreed. It was less than a ten minute walk and wouldn’t you know I passed the street I was supposed to turn on oh, like three times.

I thanked them profusely. A hug may have been inappropriate but I hugged them anyway as they waited for me to walk up the driveway of the house/hostel.

Getting Lost is USUALLY Part of the Fun – part one

Once I left the supermarket the sun started to make its way down and I knew I wanted to head back to the hostel pretty quickly. Not having spent any time in town I didn’t have any markers of where things were, other than the ones I used to get to the supermarket.

And so, not surprisingly, I got lost on the way back to the hostel. Not like “Oops I am lost” but “Panicked, Holy Shit, Where Am I?” Kind of Lost.

The hostel I was staying at was a house in a quiet neighborhood, a ways off the main Punta strip. It was dark, it had a very suburban feel and no one was outside. A car would speed by every few minutes or so.

There are no street lights, there are no sidewalks and it’s now officially dark. Not sundown. Dark.

There are loads of trees – old, big, leafy trees – and my imagination has gone wild. I am imagining someone jumping out. Or worse, a stray dog.

I may have grown up on a quiet tree-lined suburban street, but I am a city girl. I like noise. I like knowing there are people around. This was not the Punta I had heard and read about.

I pull a Mary Poppins with my day pack and out comes my headlamp. And my whistle. Just in case.

There are no street signs so I can’t even begin to figure out where I am on the map.

I see cars pulling up to a place so I walk towards it. It’s a small restaurant in the middle of this residential neighborhood. There is a valet service and I ask one of the valets for directions.

I have to step back from my situation and realize the absurdity. I am in suburban Punta del Este, which in itself seems like a juxtaposition. The restaurant is tiny, men are in jackets and ladies are in long dresses. There are maybe three lights on.

And there’s a sign for valet parking? What? Where am I?

Thankfully I had the business card of the hostel with the information. What I didn’t have, and usually do, was a sense of direction.

With my headlamp illuminating us, the valet very slowly gave me directions in Spanish emphasizing exactly where I needed to go with his hand gestures.

I translated the directions, thanked him and hoped that my translation was right and crossed my fingers that I would remember what the heck he had just told me.

Before I walked away he offered me a ride, but I declined.

Getting into a car with a man who knew I was lost, with a language barrier, just did not seem like the best idea of the night.

I was wrong. It would have been better than the events that followed.

Pasar un Viernes por la Noche en el Verano en un Supermercado!

Title translation: Spending a Friday night in the Summer in the Supermarket.

The bus pulled into the terminal at Punta del Este late afternoon. I had booked a hostel before I left Colonia and took a taxi from the terminal to the hostel.

I checked into a room with three bunks and a single bed. I looked around and saw bags everywhere. I took the last bed, which basically meant, I dropped my bag next to said bed.

No one was at the hostel aside from the owners and I had a few hours left of daylight and headed out. The supermarket was on my list and I figured I’d make my way there.

Supermarkets always provide me with entertainment. I actually underestimated how much entertainment.

It was just before 6 on a Friday night, in a beach town, in the summer.

It was the biggest chain in town and the supermarket was packed with South Americans on vacation. Remember, Punta is only a few hours from Montevideo so plenty of people were down for the weekend. Dinner wouldn’t start for at least five hours, so they could very well be getting the essentials for dinner later that night, as well as stocking up for the weekend.

I did a fair amount of looking in people’s carts. Various meats, snacks and alcohol overflowed the carts. Not so different from supermarkets at the Jersey shore on a summer weekend, right?

As for me, I wasn’t picking up steaks for the night. I knew I was heading to more basic towns after this one, so I wanted to wander to see if I needed anything I hadn’t already thought of. And dinner. I wanted to grab something to bring back to the hostel for dinner.

And this is where I discovered drinkable yogurt. I know they have it in the States but something just tasted different. It was actually good.

Introduction to South American Bus Travel

I traveled on a bus from one company from Colonia to Montevideo and on another bus from a different company to get from Montevideo to Punta del Este.

Thus far in my trip I had only traveled via plane, taxi, ferry, car and moto. As these were the first two of my many South American bus journeys, and quite different from one another, and as I would learn, different from the rest, I wanted to share my observations:

Observations that hold true on both buses — Colonia to Montevideo and Montevideo to Punta del Este:

Riders love having assigned seats. They WILL ask you to move if you are sitting in their assigned seat. Even if the bus is half full.

The buses play music. When the bus driver finds a station, he cranks it up.

People talk on their cell phones (nice to know rudeness is universal). They read, they sleep and they chat to their neighbor.

The buses are freezing cold. I made a mental note to pull my fleece and scarf out in preparation for bus rides. I quickly learned that this is a constant except when you get to Bolivia and Ecuador. Then you can only wish they were freezing cold.

The bus doesn’t wait. When someone wants to get on or off, the bus literally stops for as long as it takes for the person to get on or off.

Observations on the Colonia to Montevideo leg of my trip…

Bus had two employees working. There is a driver and a guard/co-pilot. The bus driver drives and the guard/co-pilot walks up and down the aisle to announce stops, collect tickets and helps load luggage underneath the bus.

There is a door. It acts as a partition between the passengers and the driver and guard/co-pilot. I’m not sure if this is a safety thing or if the guard doesn’t want to deal with passengers. The door was only opened when the co-pilot announces the next stop, comes to collect tickets or lets passengers on and off.

Music. I am sure it’s drivers choice and it sounded like traditional music. It provided nice background music.

New bus. I felt very safe and the bus driver was competent.

Observations on the Montevideo to Punta del Este leg…

One employee. I felt spoiled now. We only had the driver and he had to do the work of two because he did not have the co-pilot. As the bus slowed, the driver would scream the name of the next stop.

No partition. Again, spoiled. Why no partition?

Music. Again, drivers choice. He blasted Lady Gaga.

Old bus. The bus had ripped seats. The driver tailgated and continued to slam on his brakes for the duration of the trip.

Two Lines, No McD’s for Me

I had some time before my bus departed so I thought I’d grab something quick to eat and test out the currency exchange.Of course there was a McDonald’s. With an insanely long line.I had decided McDonald’s was not in my immediate future, but I took a few seconds to observe since it looked like organized chaos. McDonald’s took up a rather large part of the terminal yet have two completely separate operations going on. I’m not even sure if it was totally effective but again, it was very calm. Maybe this is what Laura was referring to about how Uruguayans are never in a rush.

This is what I gathered from the situation in front of me. If you wanted food or soda, you stand in line at one of the five registers. Then just to the side, there’s an offshoot McDonald’s that only serves ice cream, dessert or milkshakes. Because the line at the main McDonald’s was so long, they basically intertwined.Needless to say, I went to a little vendor in the bus terminal and grabbed a bag of chips and an apple juice. Not so healthy but technically I did get a fruit and a vegetable. My version of ‘fast food.’

Tan It, Wax It, Buff It

I was only able to buy a bus ticket from Colonia to Montevideo.

None of the companies in Colonia provided connecting service to Punta del Este. I would have to connect in Montevideo.

The plan: Once I arrived in Montevideo I would need to buy that onward ticket to Punta del Este, where I would spend one night before continuing onward to the smaller, off the beaten track, beach towns I had read about.

Let me rewind a moment. Everything I had heard about ‘Punta’ was enough to tell me to avoid it and I wasn’t planning on making it a destination on this trip. But…

1 – I didn’t want to travel so long that I would arrive somewhere in the dark

2 – A few hours on a bus gets me an extra stop in the country than making the trip in one shot

3 – It was a Friday and I could stop in a lively, touristy town

With that said, I convinced myself that Punta seemed like a good place to stop for the night.