Punto del Diablo: Who the Devil Just Turned 40? Feb. 14-18.

Wine tasting in Carmelo was easily the highlight of our ten days in Uruguay, but the beaches were also a big draw when we planned our time there. Apparently, they are absolutely packed in December and January, so we hoped to hit the sweet spot with great weather but fewer crowds in mid-February. Our past six weeks had been awesome, but we’d also kept a hectic pace, and two bouts of the flu had left us in need of recharging. Punta del Diablo has a reputation as being very beautiful but also really low-key, and we were looking forward to a few days of chilling out on golden sand.

The only problem with our planning was that Carmelo and Punta del Diablo are nine hours apart by bus, so we renamed Valentine’s Day as “The Raffs Sit Our Asses All Day on a Bus Day” (I think it has a nice ring to it, and so did my butt at the end of our sweaty rides). The first bus between Carmelo and Montevideo was a cruiser 3 hours. However, I think we purchased the last seats on the bus to Punta del Diablo because we sat only a few feet in front of the stinky toilet in the back. We did have it better than some riders, though, because they continued to pick up passengers along the route, and some folks must have stood in the aisle for over two hours to reach their destination. I know that I had at least three different bodies pressed up against me who were definitely not my valentine that day.

The Lonely Planet called Punta del Diablo a Top 10 Destination in 2008, so it has grown significantly in the past decade but still has only one paved main road. Every other road is red dirt and gravel; some people described it as a rustic beach town, while others referred to its hippy vibe. Both descriptions ring somewhat true, but there were also a couple of good restaurants and some fancy vacation houses. We stayed at a small, quiet B&B/hostel (a posado) about 10 minutes from the beach and 20 minutes from town, so we really got to enjoy our own little pocket of serenity. We did have a little adventure that first night, however, because the town’s electricity was out during dinner time. Sarah and I found ourselves joining about half the town rummaging through a grocery store by flashlight in search of cookies, crackers, and water…our own version of a romantic candle-lit Valentine’s dinner.

Our next three days were similar versions of the same chilled out day: a tasty breakfast around the crack of 8:30, a few hours of way low-key beach time of laying out, reading, and wave hopping in the refreshing but rough surf as the tide came in. The sun was blazing hot in the afternoon, so we relaxed in our air-conditioned room and dialed in our plans for Costa Rica, our final stop before flying back to the States in March. A tube of sunscreen costs about $17 in Uruguay, so that may have been another motivation to get indoors for a siesta each afternoon! I think the most exciting thing we saw was some dude catch a stingray near where we usually swam; he was showing it off to his kids before releasing it, so we could see it trying to defend itself with its whip-like stinger. Other than that, the only thing diverting us from total beach isolation was having to just say no to special brownies once or twice a day. Weed is legal at government-run dispensaries in Uruguay, but it was illegal for hippy entrepreneurs to sell and for foreigners to buy (even if that were our thing).

All of this might sound mundane, but it (the beach, not the brownies) was exactly what we wanted at the time…slow, beautiful, and carefree. We both read two books in three days, took daily naps, and recharged. I’m pretty sure Punta del Diable has a low-key party vibe for backpackers and surfers who seek it, but the cool thing about the place is that it can really be whatever you want from it. Top ten? I don’t think so, but it was still a great place to unwind.

Before moving on, I need to give a shoutout to Sebastian, Posada de la Viuda’s owner. Not only did he run a nice place to stay, but he went above and beyond normal hospitality. Our bus left town before breakfast was supposed to start, and he not only got to the guesthouse a half hour early to feed us, but he also gave us a ride to the bus station during the busiest part of his day. Just one more example of why we love travelling in South America.

After a much easier Wednesday morning bus ride back to Montevideo, we enjoyed a leisurely transitional afternoon as we prepared to move on to Costa Rica the next day. Plus, we had some celebrating to do that night…it was Sarah’s 40th birthday! It’s a little difficult to do a partner’s birthday justice on a trip like this; you have minimal time alone to plan and a limited budget to spend, and I honestly didn’t do as much as Sarah deserved. At least Montevideo has some very good restaurants, though, and the one we picked—Baco’s—stocked 150 South American wines to pair with its steak-centered menu. She was able to celebrate with something sparkly and something red during dinner, and we shared something chocolate for dessert. Not the most exciting celebration for a big birthday, but maybe Sarah would be okay turning 40 again next year (with more fanfare) instead of turning 41…

I think I mentioned in my last blog that Uruguay is being touted as a must-see travel destination this year—largely for the three attractions that drew us to visit. I’m not convinced that the country is ready to be a world tourist stop; it’s a country that is currently better built for living than for visiting. It’s certainly not cheap, either. Having written all that, we had a good time—Montevideo is pleasant, Carmelo’s wineries were a blast, and Punta del Diablo was relaxing. Uruguay was an excellent Plan-B. It is very doubtful we’d ever go back, but we were both glad we revisited the country for more than one day.

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