My Journey to Cabo Polonio: A Magical Place Off the Grid

Voted as one of the best beach towns in the World for 2012, Cabo Polonio might not be here in 2013 if the Uruguayan Government has anything to do with it.

Cabo Polonio was founded by fisherman, hippies and squatters (now locals) and is located about 5 hours by bus outside of Montevideo, Uruguay. Many of the houses were built illegally and expanded illegally, adding a wall over a few months time, then 6 months later adding a roof, then adding another wall. Park Rangers actively tear down new improvements as they see them come up.

Now is the time to visit since the government is trying to demolish many of the houses and let big business come in and put up a resort.

A friend and co-worker sent me an article from a magazine that talked about Cabo Polonio being the best beach town in the World. Without that article, I’m not sure I would have visited Cabo or even know about it. Thanks, Doug!

I started asking friends in Montevideo how to get to Cabo Polonio and here are the two sets of directions that I received:

The first set of directions are:

  • Jump on a bus going out there
  • Get off at the stop near Cabo Polonio (Cabo for short)
  • Find a truck that will take you to Cabo
  • Pay them 100 pesos (about 5 US dollars) to take me to Cabo
  • Ask locals for the place I’m staying at and they will know since it’s small.

I had a friend who knows someone who owns a house in Cabo and helped me get in touch with her to stay at her place.

The second set of directions are:

  • Go to Punta del Diablo.
  • Walk four hours through the dunes to Cabo Polonio.
  • Ask for a hostel there.

Yeah, I wasn’t about to do that my first time there.

I decided to go with the first set of directions.

My worries about going to Cabo:

  • I was going by myself and didn’t speak much Spanish. I wasn’t confident I could communicate with people if I needed to.
  • I didn’t know where to get off the bus
  • I didn’t know how to find a truck to take me to cabo
  • Once in Cabo, I didn’t know how to get to the place I was staying
  • I had no clue how to deal with eating food or what to do

Other than those things, I was looking forward to having a great adventure.

Getting to Cabo Polonio

Cabo Polonio is past Punta del Este which is like the Hamptons of South America, past the small surfing villages of La Paloma and La Pedrera, and past the cement, cobblestone and dirt roads.  The journey starts by taking a bus from Montevideo or a car to where the dirt road ends. If you take a car, you have to leave it about 30 minutes away from Cabo Polonio.

Waiting out the rain under the bus stop looking at the trucks.

You have to jump in a giant truck for the 30 minute journey through a national park, over and around sand dunes, along large stretches of beach with waves crashing on the large tires of the truck.

Say goodbye to the city, electricity, running water, and hello to nature and a village off the grid with less than 100 inhabitants.

The trucks are almost monster trucks built to transport army personnel. I jumped on a truck with a large tarp over the back to keep dry from the rain. There were holes in the tarp and the back of it didn’t cover the whole seating area so me and the 5 other people that arrived when I did got wet. The ride took about 30 minutes.

Much nicer than the truck I rode in. It has a sponsor.

Tourists…

I made it to the place I was staying. All my clothes were soaked, especially my shoes and socks from stepping in big puddles of water and getting rained on.

It was one of the largest houses in the village. It was built and recycled glass bottles randomly placed throughout the wall as a way for light to shine through.

We had fun conversations mixing the little spanish I could talk and the little english they could talk. The lady I was staying with had a boyfriend who was the local surf instructor. He had surfed all over the world including California, Alaska, Hawaii, and Australia. We listened to Sublime and Jack Johnson while we played scrabble in spanish. I lost. I got lucky with a few words, but it was pretty difficult for me to play in a new language.

As I looked out the window the next morning, I noticed a completely different day. There was a bright blue sky, a couple white clouds creating a picture-perfect background for the light blue water crashing on the long stretch of beach.

Here’s the view from the side of the house. You can see the well for water.

View from the side of the house

Many of the little restaurants in the town were closed. The village seemed deserted at times.Because of the time of year, not many people were living there and there weren’t many visitors. I felt like I had the whole beach to myself.

I was able to get away from it all and enjoy nature. No cell phone, no computer, no electronics. There were 2 LEDs in the room I was staying in that were powered by solar power if I needed them at night.

The house had a large tank of water above it so we could shower. There was a propane tank with a burner to heat the water as it goes through a pipe to have warm water. To get warm water, we had to turn the water on, open the gas line, light it, then shower with a little warmer water than normal.

Besides the room I stayed in, most everything seemed to be lit by candle light at night. There were large plastic water jugs recycled with sand in them where you would place a candle and light it.

I met an awesome couple from the Netherlands and enjoying talking with them one night at the hostel they stayed at.

Candle light reading

Great conversation, drinks, and candle light

The nights in Cabo Polonio were amazing. After talking with a couple people who had hiked Patagonia and have been traveling for 1-year in South America. They said the night in Cabo Polonio was the best night they had seen anywhere.
I’ve never seen so many stars in the sky along with a gray-ish band of stars that was the Milky Way. It was incredible.

It put me at home when I used to go up to our cabin in the Mountains away from everything. If I were to have one place in the world that I absolutely loved, it would be at our land in the mountains under the stars next to a friends and family and a warm fire with S’mores in hand. Cabo Polonio reminded me of that place and gave me chill bumps when looking up and admiring the sky.

One night, I laid down for around an hour outside looking up at the stars letting thoughts pass through my mind and feeling completely relaxed.

I’ve tried describing the stars in the sky and how it looked in Cabo Polonio to people, but then everyone says, “Ohh, come out to the mountains,” or “Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of stars in the sky outside of the city.”

I’ve seen those skies though. They aren’t the same. The closest picture I could find online was from a picture on earthsky.org here

Image that best resembled what I saw at night. This image is not from Cabo. http://en.es-static.us/upl/2012/01/milky_way.jpeg

There were no clouds in the sky and there was a light from a lighthouse passing by every 12 seconds in the distance. When walking around at night, I would walk a few steps, then wait for the lighthouse to shine around so I could see where to walk, then walk further and wait. It definitely kept me from falling down a 10ft sand dune into a large puddle.

At night, sea lions often join together in groups on the rocks around the lighthouse and you can hear them in the distance. I’d like to think they are telling knock-knock jokes all night to each other.

Where the sea lions hang out at night and tell knock-knock jokes

The weekend-long trip was just long enough to enjoy getting away from it all. Here are some more pictures from the village.

Sunset 1

Sunset 2

A lively house

Beautiful night. Cool Graffiti

Local lawnmower

It’s easier than I thought to find a hostel

An old fishing boat enjoying the sun

Path to get to Cabo Polonio

A small windmill providing power for a house next to the power for the lighthouse

Flat dirt road just before I arrive to the bus stop to leave Cabo Polonio

Fun Fact about Cabo Polonio:

In 2011, there were 95 inhabitants but over 1,000 visitors in the summer months alone. There were so many people illegally camping in the National Forest area around Cabo Polonio this past summer, government officials would go around and kick people out an take tents. This led local hostel owners and house owners in Cabo to be able to charge up to $500 US Dollars per night to rent out a room/house (most houses are 1-2 rooms and a kitchen) because of the demand.

Journey Along the Ramblas

On Friday’s long run I decided to take photos to document my adventure and show you guys where I run every day. It was a bit chilly with a temp of about 48 to start with and the wind was blowing about 15-20 mph.

The “Before” Picture

I decided to head towards the airport and away from the city on my long run. At the point is the end of Pocitos and there is a little park there.

Park at the point.

On the other side of the point is a bus depot. This is where buses go to rest and get cleaned. (mile 1)

I’m not quite sure what this is, but my guess is some kind of waterway 🙂

This is the Buceo yacht club and marina.

There is a nice grassy area to run on instead of the pavement. In the distance you can almost see one of the only “hills” on the route.

Yet another deserted little beach (gotta remember that it’s probably about 50 degrees and a little cold for beach going).

View of the Buceo marina from the top of the “hill”.

Looking the other way down the “hill”. I can’t decide whether these paths are made solely by people or also by mowers.

This is an oceanographic museum that I haven’t been to yet. (mile 2)

Around the corner from the museum is yet another beach (Buceo Beach) and more paths to run on.

Looking back at the museum.

Top of the second “hill” on the route and there’s a little playground.

This is the “Nautical Club”, another small yacht club.

This is the view coming up on Malvin beach. Tons of high-rises lining the road. (mile 3)

Malvin beach. We played ultimate out at that point once. Yep, still windy!

This is the view from Malvin Beach looking back at Pocitos. Just to the left of the museum is a wide building. To the left of that is Pocitos, or I should say, home.

The point at Malvin beach. There is some exercise equipment here that anyone strolling along the Ramblas can use.

Yet another beach awaited me as I rounded the corner. Honda Beach.

Turnaround point at Honda Beach. (mile 4)

This is zoomed in a little so that you can see the buildings in the background. That’s home. So far from home. I passed all the same landmarks on the way home. The only difference, I had the wind in my face. Yuck!

Yep, I made it back home and really the only evidence I have are the sweat stains on my very pink hat!

Here’s the google maps version of my run if you’re interested!

Ultimate Tournament Espíritu Sudaka

We were in Buenos Aires a week and a half ago for the biggest ultimate frisbee tournament of the year in this part of the country. Asa and I met the rest of the team at a hostel in the center of the city shortly after they arrived on wednesday afternoon. It was an awesome hostel; close to all the major tourist attractions in the downtown area, they served breakfast, and always had hot water for the showers. They were also able to fit all of us into two rooms!

The tournament itself was held at Parque Sarmiento on the west side of the city and about an hour travel from our hostel via either a subway and bus ride or a train and walking.

The tournament schedule was as follows:

The tournament schedule had clinics on thursday designed to help players with their throwing and defensive skills. It was run by some of the organizers of the tournament. There was also a clinic designed to discuss spirit of the game. They discussed things like interpretation of the rules and how to deal with disagreements on the field in a sportsman-like manner. A much greater focus is placed on spirit of the game and camaraderie here than in the United States, although it still forms the foundation for the sport in the states.

Thursday ended with two showcase games; one women’s and the other men’s. The women’s showcase game was played between the first (and only) women’s team from Buenos Aires (formed last August) and the rest of the girls from the tournament. This gave the Buenos Aires team a chance to play together and start figuring out how to work as a team. The men’s showcase game was between the Argentinian men’s team and 2-3 all-stars from each of the other teams. The Argentinian team will be attending World’s this summer in Japan. I played in the women’s game and Asa, Juanma, Cabra, and Juan Diego played in the men’s game.

Friday and Saturday were pool play days. There was one pool of 5 teams and one pool of 4 teams. The team from Colombia had some travel troubles and had to stay home at the last minute, hence 9 teams instead of the planned 10. We drew a spot in the pool of 5 and had to play Brazzinga (the top team from Brazil) in our first game. It took us a bit to figure out what we were doing and managed to keep the score fairly close. It was a hard game to have first and we ended up losing.

Our second game of the day was against the Cadillacs, a team from Beunos Aires. We worked together really well, with everyone getting good play time and we won. This was the first game that Cimarrón has won as a team!!!

Saturday started out with a game again Del Rial, or the mustachios. They all had drawn on mustaches and were giving gifts of stick-on mustaches. This was a hard game to have first in the day. They had picked up a couple of the Columbian players that happened to make it to the tournament. They were young and fast and moved the disc really well. We tightened things up a bit and made some strategy adjustments and won Cimarrón’s second game!!

Our second Saturday game was against a team from Chile. We rotated everyone through the lines and tried a little zone. Cimarrón won it’s third game!!! This was enough to put us second in our pool and in a cross-over quarterfinals game against the Bahía Blanca team. This team consisted of people from Monte Hermoso where Matt went to play the beach tournament in February, so he knew most of them. The game was a bit rough with calls and was more aggressive than any of our previous games. We stuck with it and Cimarrón won it’s fourth game!!

That put us into the semifinals Sunday morning against Big Red, Buenos Aires’ best team and the team that had won the tournament last year. We came out ready to go. We started playing a zone defense with two ladies in the cup and were able to shut down their offense for a bit. We were down for most of the game and brought the score back to 10-10 with us on defense. We threw our zone and got a turn. Asa sent a deep shot to Juanma who was wide open. Juanma ran toward the back of the endzone and tried to “toe” the line, but to no avail. We set our zone again, but Big Red managed to work the disc all the way back up the field and score. Cimarrón lost the semifinals by one point.

We still had the third place game to play against Sol, the other Brazillian team, but we had worn ourselves out playing Big Red. Cimarrón lost the 3/4 game, racking in a fourth place showing at the tournament.

Cimarrón’s end record was 4 wins and 3 losses, a remarkable tournament for the team and all of it’s players! Other players and teams continually commented on the improvement in Cimarrón’s players and team strategy from last year’s tournament. There was also a general excitement that Uruguay was building it’s ultimate program and actively seeking ways to improve and participate in the region.

Cimarrón also managed to get some awards at the end of the day: Asa won male MVP for the tournament and Randi won Defensor Feminino.

Thanks needs to be given to the organizers of the tournament for a great show. Also, thanks to all of you on the blog who have been with us from the beginning, providing financial and emotional support for the team here in Uruguay. The tournament was a great culmination of two months of hard work and there’s no doubt that Cimarrón will continue to improve and participate in future regional events! Thanks again!

La Lavandería

So, it seems most houses around here don’t have a washer and dryer, and The Little House is no exception. There aren’t places to do your own laundry either. You take your clothes to a lavandería and if you’re organized enough to get them there in the morning, they’ll be done in the evening. I think we’ve seen numerous such establishments in our limited time here, but luckily for our decision making process Raul recommended one that he used.

We (or at least I) seem to assume everything here is going to be hard because we are still learning the language, but as it turns out getting clothes washed is pretty easy. This morning Randi and Kress dropped the clothes off and without too much trouble got a number (11) and were told they would be ready this evening at 7pm. Easy as pie.

Randi and Kress headed off to play Ultimate and I stayed behind for a meeting at work and just as I started making dinner about 8pm realized that I had forgotten. Luckily, we’re in Uruguay and the Lavandería is open until all hours of the night. When I got there with our laundry bags and the ticket our clothes were in fact ready and packed into 6 bags about the size of a pillow each, to ensure that the folding they had done wasn’t lost in transport. Incidentally, their ticket book was on 25 and washers and dryers were still running so there was plenty of action after our clothes were dropped off.

Stacks of clothes

After convincing the husband and wife team that the clothes would in fact fit in the bags (I trusted this was the case since Randi and Kress had transported the clothes this morning in the same bags) they relinquished our laundry and accepted my payment.

It seemed that was the test, after which, we were best friends. The guy behind the counter started asking me a few questions. Apparently, I hadn’t mangled the previous conversation enough to convince him that I was, perhaps, not the best target for conversation. He learned a bit about where I was from, or at least I think I communicated it pretty well. Upon learning I was from the US, he complemented my Spanish. I responded that I was just learning and he said, “Obviously, but it’s much better than my English.” I beamed and ducked out on a high note.