Cabo Polinio, Uruguay: Day 1
I headed to Cabo Polinio – the place where time stands still – via Rutas del Sol bus. It’s 4.5 hours and 598 Uruguayan pesos or approximately $20 USD from Montevideo and worth every minute and every penny and believe it or not even the loss of my new Go Pro Hero 5. Yes, after saving it a mere three days ago from a Mack truck on the Paraguayan Bridge and promising we would be so “Happy Together” until we had visited all 196 countries, someone else had a different opinion. I turned my back for literally 60 seconds to meet Ines and Susanna from Spain and someone on the bus stole it. But as I said my heartbreak was short lived. God reminded me that just like everything else, the Go Pro is just a thing. It doesn’t matter. Someone clearly needed the money they would get for selling it more than I needed it and I needed a lesson on what is truly valuable and I got it in Cabo Polonio. In fact, I learned another valuable lesson in Cabo Polinio from an Italian friend, Olivia, which goes hand in hand with the prior lesson and that is that the more things you travel with, the more insecurities you have. As such, I left a handful of really cute clothes behind for my new friends and will look yet again for yet another smaller pack moving forward as I’m clearly insecure!! Didn’t think I was but my suitcase/pack is huge. Not as big as the suitcase I carried for the first 9 months of this journey – which I lovingly call the Hulk as it was green, huge and physically abused my poor tiny frame carrying it up cobblestone steps like those in Granada, over beaches like those in Thailand and those darn train stations in Southern France with only stairs.
So you should know right off the bat that there is no place on earth like this place. You are dropped at the terminal 7km from your actual destination where you purchase a ticket for 300 Uruguayan pesos ($10/USD) to take a huge dual level white and red or yellow 4×4 truck to your final destination as this is all that can drive through the massive sand dunes. Ride on the top deck just because it is a little scary and a bit dangerous which inevitably means could be fun. Ten minutes or so later you enter a different world where there is no running water (only comes from wells), no electricity (the locals obtain from renewable energy sources), about 70 inhabitants, mostly wooden rustic and very colorful shacks (some adobe -the newer, more modern ones – but not to worry as new construction is now completely prohibited under the law which I’m truly grateful for).
Cabo Polinio is on a sliver of sand extending into the ocean and is surrounded by water on three sides. You will find welcoming laid back locals, a handful of horses grazing on the green grass, a beautiful white and red lighthouse which has the only steady supply of electricity and which you can climb for 20 pesos, a rocky seaside home to a colony of hundreds of lobos (sea lions), perhaps an eccentric expat or two and a eclectic few handfuls of tourists in November. Está muy tranquilo. In the dead of summer i.e. December and January there will be many more tourists; however, less than you will find anywhere else is my guess as this place still remains mostly a secret and part of me didn’t want to tell you about it but then what kind of blogger would I be if I didn’t share.
Your first order of business will be to find accommodations. I chose Lobo Hostel because a handful of people who I met on my bus were headed there. The cost for a bed in the 8 person dorm was $18USD, 4 person dorm $21USD and your own room with a double bed in the attic is $41/USD. There are hostels that are newer and bigger for half the price but Marianna and Gaston are iconic fixtures in Cabo Polinio. Plus you will love love love that paint job. And yes Lobo Hostel has a generator if needed but put your damn phones away or you will miss the most authentic and natural experiences of your existence where the stars, moon light and the faro will guide your way in the night. Second only to the Saharan desert (perhaps even better than) is the Cabo Polinio night sky. Wishing on a falling star and constellation naming is found around the cozy campfire over a glass of wine or a beer, some mota (if you are into this), with a guitar or two, an eccentric harmonica player and, of course, your new lifelong friends which you will meet there. It is impossible not to make a connection with people in this environment where there is little, if any, interference with God and nature from the outside world and peace is the name of the game. My new friends are Susanna and Ines from Spain (students of business administration), Simon from Chile (neurosurgeon), Juan and Weather from Spain (global travelers), Olivia from Italy (child psychologist), Claudia and Caroline from Germany (mid-wives), Matio and Maya from France, Anna from Germany, Mauro from Montevideo (accountant), Manuel from Argentina (engineer) and several others from São Paulo and other nearby places. It is hard to remember and spell all of their names correctly but I will never forget them.
For longer-term stays, rent your own house. That’s what I will do when I go back. See if you can get one seaside with a balcony facing the sunset. You won’t regret it. And for groceries or other sundries, head to one of the two mercados where you will find wine, beer, water, fresh eggs and vegetables, etc. so you can make your own meal. If not, then head to Leon’s for an incredible pizza milanese and some of the best tasting papas fritas you can find. Trust me! Keep in mind that pizza in Uruguay and Argentina can be more like carne con queso con carne. In other words, instead of bread, your pizza toppings are on top of fried meat! For activities, in addition to sunbathing, swimming, walking on the beach or hiking through the forest trees, you can ride horses, fish and surf. I just wanted to soak it all in too just be.
While I know God (or whatever you call your omnipotent being) is ubiquitous, his presence during my trek to see the sea lions, my climb to the top of the lighthouse, the sunset on the beach, the swim with the dolphins, the camaraderie over seaside meals and the sunrise strolls on the playa was certainly more palpable here than any place I’ve been since perhaps Bali and India.
Know this – you will emerge with a few mosquito or other insect bites (and in my case all over my face!), a new appreciation for the niceties in the modern world, a fervent desire to return to this special place and perhaps emerge a more enlightened man or woman…changed for the better.
That’s all for now. With love and peace from Cabo Polinio.