The windswept coastline

Palm tree lined road in Parque Santa Teresa

The fort in Parque Santa Teresa

The fort in Parque Santa Teresa

A fortified tower

The wall of the fort

Canons inside the fort

Inside the fort

Inside the fort

The fort at Parque Santa Teresa

Coastline north of Punta del Diablo

The beach at Punta del Diablo

A few boats on the beach

The moon above the sand dunes

Punta del Diablo, Uruguay

The Uruguayan Coast

May 14, 2008

I listen to the wind

To the wind of my soul

Where I'll end up well I think

Only God really knows

- Cat Stevens

The bus left Montevideo behind and with it most of the signs of civilization as buildings gave way to empty fields and cattle. Except for a few small cities up the coast there wasn´t much to see in the flat countryside. I decided to skip the famous resort town of Punta del Este because it was off-season and it would have been a ghost town, and with nicer beaches up the coastline I didn´t see much reason to stop. I had decided to stop in Punta del Diablo, only 40km from the Brazilian border, so that I could experience some of the Uruguay coast and attempt to get a visa for Brazil, which had proved not so simple in Buenos Aires and Montevideo. In Buenos Aires the Brazilian consulate wanted copies of bank statements, credit cards, proof of onward travel (which I don´t have), and perhaps a processing time of up to 10 business days. I decided that it wasn´t worth the trouble and that I would try again in Montevideo. Well in Montevideo the processing time was only 48 business hours but in addition to all the other documents they wanted proof of how you plan to enter the country. Since I was planning on walking across the border I didn´t see how I could provide any proof of this. I also had arrived on a Friday so I would have had to wait until Monday to even file all the paperwork so with this in mind I decided to put it off again until the border.

Despite the intimidating name Punta del Diablo is really a tranquil place, especially in the off-season when the population drops from a summer high of around 20,000 to about 800. Lots of things close and there was only one place to stay that was actually open. The beaches were utterly deserted up and down the coast and quite picturesque. During the day the weather was perfectly warm enough to lay out in the sun although the water was a little bit cold. The town is close to an Uruguayan national park, Parque Santa Teresa, which is within a few hours walking distance up the beach. The park has the remnants of an old Spanish and Portuguese fort that is located on a small hill and has commanding views over the surrounding plains. The rest of the park has palm-tree lined roads and without hordes of people was peaceful and pleasant. There wasn´t much to do in the evenings as there were only a few other people in town but the nights were clear and because of the town´s remoteness it was dark enough to see an amazing panorama of stars. Sitting on the empty beach amidst total quiet, save for the rolling of the waves, and looking up and watching shooting stars was very fitting.

There are several other coastal towns south of Punta del Diablo such as Cabo de Polonia and La Paloma that are also popular summer destinations. I had wanted to visit these towns but the problem was that my ATM card wouldn´t work at the one ATM in Chuy, the town on the Uruguay side of border with Brazil, because it was a Visa card and a Mastercard ATM. It didn´t work in Chui, the town on the Brazilian side, either because it didn´t have an electronic chip for the one ATM, another ATM was not functioning, and the third bank didn’t accept foreign cards. The banks wouldn´t give me money either and told me to go to the next town in, about 20km, which I couldn´t do because I didn´t have a visa, yet.

I discovered all of this I went to the Brazilian consulate in Chuy to try a visa to enter Brazil. Chuy itself is a typical border town with loads of duty free shops and a street that runs right along the border, with one side being Uruguay and called Avenida Brasil and the other side in Brazil called Avenida Uruguay. Of course all the streets running perpendicular to this road have different names in each country, making things very confusing. Portuguese was another thing that I had almost forgotten about; suddenly, even one block into Brazil, I could hardly understand anything the people were saying, and I knew almost no Portuguese except for the words that were similar to the Spanish ones. On paper it may look very similar to Spanish but when spoken the pronunciation is totally different and similarly spelled words sound substantially different. I was able to get by speaking Spanish and in return I was answered in Portuguese; sometimes we spoke a little English and somehow this mix of Portuspanglish worked out.

For the visa, I was worried about all the documentation that they might ask me to provide for the visa but compared to Buenos Aires and Montevideo, getting the visa was amazingly simple. All I needed to do was to fill out the form (many of the questions I even left blank such as intended address in Brazil), give them one passport photo, pay about 3,000 Uruguayan pesos, and then wait about an hour to get the visa; nothing more. Due to ATM difficulties I had to change almost all the US dollars that I had to get those pesos, leaving me only $40, or about 1,500 Uruguayan pesos, and 250 Argentine pesos.

I inquired about other banks and found out that there wasn´t another bank with a Visa ATM within several hours, and maybe not even until Montevideo. As I was planning on traveling through the back roads of Brazil to get to Iguazu Falls there was no guarantee of finding a functional ATM for some time so I was forced to change most of the money that I had, save for some Argentine pesos that I´d need later, into Brazilian reals and hope that I could either find a functional ATM or make it to Argentina before I ran out of money. Not being able to spare any more money to see more of the Uruguay coast I packed my bags and caught a bus to the Brazilian border the next morning.