¡Ay, Qué Divino!

Everywhere you turn, at some overpriced furniture shop, café, at a crosswalk, walking on the beach, one cannot run from the ubiquitous expression of Punta Del Este (East Point), which is, “Ay, How Divine!”  What packs a little more punch in its pompousness, in my (humble) opinion is the way it’s said:  “Ay, How Di-viiiiiiiiiiiine” (try it perhaps with a British accent—does it sound like something you’d say after taking a sip of some after dinner palate cleanser in a posh beachside bar?)  Bienvenidos a Punta del Este, Uruguay.  From the moment I arrived, I thought I was back in St. Tropez in 2009, visiting Reidar and his family, but instead found myself on the other side of the equator and globe, along the Atlantic Coast with some Europeans, but mostly Argentines who inundate the beaches for their summer vacations.

Here I thought I was the creative one, dubbing Punta Del Este the St. Tropez of South America, until I found a magazine article with the same exact introduction.  It’s an infinite stretch of coastline on a peninsula, so no matter which road you take from the center of town you’ve got gorgeous beaches offering something for every type of beach-goer.  Fishermen? Surfers? Nudists? Minimalists? Ivana Trumps? Kid friendly?  I think that’s what I most enjoyed about experiencing a fabulous 4 day stay in Uruguay with Javier, his brother Eugenio, his girlfriend Bernardita, and their son Felipe, was that there really is something for everyone in Punta del Este. If you want to go to be seen, there’s plenty of that. If you want to be the only one for miles on a beach with sand dunes and no life guard, you’ll find it there too. 

Arriving and heading for the City Center

La Playa Gruta: heaven

 Because I am a foreigner, it is extra expensive for me to take the 2 hour ferry from Buenos Aires to Montevideo and then a quick 2 hr drive to the beach from the Uruguayan capital. We’re talking 300 U.S Dollars, plus the expense to bring Javier’s car on the ferry, so we did the 7.5 hour drive instead.  With me serving up Yerba Mate for the entire car ride, and with Marcos, a friend we were bringing to his family’s house in Punta del Este playing on the guitar in the backseat, we passed the hours and somehow made it through a little glitch we had at border control over proof of car insurance (slipping cash to border patrol) and we pulled into Marco’s incredible, brand new, house in the quiet, undeveloped stretch of Punta Del Este at around 11:30 at night with his dad, Gorge and Gorge’s girlfriend Celia waiting to serve us a phenomenal asado.  Needless to say, Javier and I pulled into the apartment where Eugenio was staying at around 2:30 am.

Our enternainment, Marcos, for the 7 hour car ride

Gorge, Javier's business partner, prepping our midnight asado!

Another memorable Asado paired with some sweet ocean breeze!

 The days passed on the beach, with breaks to sip Yerba Mate, explore old caves that used to be discotecas and bars, eat churros filled with Dulce de Leche, nap, eat dinner and the delicious, refreshing ice cream here, shower, notice new tan lines, and feel sleepy from doing nothing.  On our last night I told Eugenio, Javier, and Bernardita, that I’d like to take them out to dinner, after hosting us for 4 days of their vacation.  It felt so nice to be able to treat them to a dinner, until I went to pay with my credit card and the place didn’t accept credit cards.  Quick flash of red to the cheeks, mixed with a little sweating and a lot of “Perdón”, I had to let Eugenio pay in cash and I instead left a thank you note with some Uruguayan dollars stuffed inside for the rest of their week of vacation, as Javier and I left on Tuesday night at 2 am for a Wednesday morning arrival of 9 am in Buenos Aires, so he could go to work, and I could interview with the Bike tour Company. (Javier let me drive on the high way for an hour so he could rest, after I basically slept the entire night like a very bad co-pilot).

Felipe enjoying his first time in the ocean!

Tia Hanna y Felipe soaking up the sun and surf

Another typical day: the 3 muchachos taking a break from the sun

Sometimes it felt like you could be on the coast of Maine, until you look around and realize everyone is carrying a Mate bag and sipping Yerba

Our 2nd Asado at Gorge and Celia's house on their backyard terrace

A little twist of fate happened on that night we left Punta del Este and arrived in Argentina on Wednesday morning. On Tuesday night I found out I still don’t have work with Backroads in May, and it was another frustrating moment checking our online system to see if a location appeared next to my name as I logged in.  Negative.  Here’s to waiting until April 1st to see where I’ll be in June, with a strong possibility of Maine, which I would be thrilled to return to.  On Wednesday afternoon, groggy from a 8 hour car ride through the night, I showed up to my “interview” with Mirta, the head of the bike tours in Buenos Aires.  I say “interview” because it was more of her telling me about the job and me saying, “Where do I sign?” 

The work is very part time, very flexible, and even something that you can pick back up if I ever came back to Buenos Aires (hmmmm…don’t tempt me!).  What is difficult is the amount of new information I need to study for every stop we make in a 3.5 hr bike tour, for our 3 different tours we offer.  If that isn’t a lot, the routes can be a little dicey, going against traffic half the time, not being on bike lines all the time, fighting against car drivers in a culture that always believes they deserve to go first.  We have people from all over the world giving tours, but we always use Spanish amongst employees, and then usually the tours are in English.  I spent Friday and all of Saturday following two of our routes and tomorrow I will learn the last of our routes.   I’d still like to find something else to supplement this work, as it really might cover the expenses of buying fruit for a week, but I can’t complain with a job that keeps me outside, moving, and being with people.

Tomas, Andres and I, about to embark on the southern route of our bike tour

In front of the Rio Plata, the widest river in the world! Colonia, Uruguay is some 200 kms across the Delta

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