This guest post takes us to Uruguay to explore the remote Cabo Polonio and beach at Valizas, as writer and film-maker Veronica Pamoukaghlian takes us back to carefree summer days of hanging out on the beach, surfing and drinking caipirinha with friends around a beach fire.
The first time I heard about Cabo Polonio was in the early nineties. Although only four hours away from the capital of Uruguay, which is home to half the population of the country, the place had been seen by few Uruguayans at the time and the scarce articles about it that appeared in the press made it sound as exotic as the far west may have seemed to the first English settlers on the Atlantic coast of the US.
The place was a paradise that could only be reached on horseback or using a jeep service run by a Frenchman who was a sort of local pioneer; he was just called “EL FRANCES” (the Frenchman).
The technical problem was a desert of tall golden dunes that separated the road from the beautiful shore. Ever since I read a particular article on a local magazine that no longer exists I began entertaining ideas of spending part of the summer there.
It is considered a rite of passage to adulthood in Uruguay to spend summers further away from Montevideo and closer to Brazil.
The greenish waters of River Plate start turning into the blue Atlantic ocean there, the beaches become more dangerous and mysterious, the surfing is good and there is always a fire on the sand after dusk, a drum caipirinha and, of course, the quintessential casual love stories and hookups of a careless summer.
My first time in Valizas, the closest beach town (you could hardly call it a “resort”), involved camping which I am generally not very good at. I had seen the Caribbean before, but I was instantly fascinated by the blue ocean and the sort of hippy lifestyle.
I remember very well the first time I did the walk across the desert from Valizas to Cabo Polonio. The solitude, the view from the Buena Vista hill, the little stream in the midst of the desert from which I drank the most delicious water, the cows casually lounging by the deserted shore, and my guide, the perfect place of my imagination, the castle island, in front of my favorite half moon of a deserted beach. I also remember a lonely naked tree and some crows following me at times and how everything spoke of infinite beauty with just the exact dose of danger and fear of getting lost, being taken in by a giant wave of the bluest shade, or falling prey to huge hungry birds.
One hour later, I was in Cabo. The lighthouse and the beach that is now my most beloved beach on the planet, after having seen Waikiki, Maui, Aruba, Mykonos, and the lot, welcomed me as if I had been there many times before, and I fell in love with a distinct quality that I don´t think I can put into words, you would just have to go there.
For better or worse, times have changed. After many visitors and many years, the dunes are now smaller, the simple life of the little huts with no electricity has evolved into more modern lifestyles, and last summer a friend crossed paths with George Michael there, this meaning that people from other countries have found out about the magical place, and it is no longer as quiet as it used to be.
The real hippies and penniless musicians and hippy necklace makers of the past have been joined by hordes of fashionable hippie chic Argentineans, Europeans, and Americans. The prices of rent have gone up so much that it is now more expensive to spend a summer in a good house in Cabo than in South America´s top beach resort, also in Uruguay, namely, Punta del Este, which is located only a couple of hundred kilometers away.
The good news is that repeated plans to build a five star hotel to disrupt the landscape of a little hill in the shape of a cape, with a lighthouse at the tip, and very few scattered houses facing the beaches on both sides, have been abandoned, and the original beauty that I discovered many years ago still remains.
Wherever I may be in the world, if there is a summer air and a quiet beach, I will always long for Cabo and the perfect days, the afternoons of swimming to collect mussels, the wine and cheese and delicious local tomatoes we used to call “the happy hour” at dusk, the neon waves at night with noctilucas, and the silence at times of no cars, no city noises, as if progress had never been and we were still able to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, a mate to drink with friends watching the sun go down, and all those things we used to do, the games we played, stuff you do when there is no TV, no Internet, no telescreens to watch your every move.
A safe haven, if there ever was one on the face of the earth, Cabo Polonio still feels like years ago when you visit off season, from late March to November.
My thanks for these memories of happy, hippy summers at Cabo Polonio to Veronica Pamoukaghlian who lives in Uruguay and writes at The Wander Life – “a blog from the heart, from a restless traveler”