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Disconnected in Cabo Polonio

URUGUAY | Saturday, 6 December 2008 | Views [2761]

Happily Karina & Monaim decided to come to Cabo Polonio with us and we left Punta del Diablo, overcast as it had been our entire stay, with our surprisingly heavy and awkward watermelon as a new addition to our luggage. The bloody melon became a significant source of amusement as we changed buses in Castillos for la Barra de Valizas, which had only been hoked up to the electricity grid last year and where we would get the all terrain vehicles to the cape itself.

Cabo Polonio is an incredibly beautiful, wild place surrounded by large sand dunes which has neither electricity or running water and a permanent population of just 80. It has a well maintained lighthouse of the type that you would imagine in a cartoon or book which looks over the haphazard collection of cabins and huts that the hamlet consists of. Not a lot happens in Cabo Polonio, however somehow there's never enough time (or perhaps inclination) to do anything constructive or in any way related to a chore.

The bouncy dune jeep (Mode of Transport number 23) took us the 8km across the soft sand and long wild beach, complete with enormous beached whale and deposited us on the “main street”, which is just a patch of grassy sand between a few cabanas like any other. A dreadlocked, bohemian looking local on the jeep said he had a friend who rented a cabin and took us to her. She brought us across a few little dunes to a dilapidated ancient wooden shack and showed us how to use the 2 wells, one fresh water one rain, the bucket-flush toilet and the ample fireplace. It was an incredible place with so much charm and you could almost hear the cabin recounting stories that had been told around the fire.

It was still quite windy and the sea was rough but sunny enough to allow us to go for a long walk up the northern beach, in the direction of the whale. The whale was not the only dead thing on the beach. 4 or 5 Magellanic penguins, a good few scary looking jellyfish, a sealion and curiously a headless cow, a few ripe tomatoes and a giant lightbulb. Later we found out that the 20m long, putrid, vomit inducing whale carcass had been there for 5 and a half months. Originally there were 2 and the smaller one had been hacked up and the bones removed a few weeks earlier. They were waiting for it to rot a little more before doing the same. Wouldn't fancy that job. Along the walk an enormous elegant stray dog, which we name Samson befriended us but we revoked our friendship when he started ripping the rotting skin off the sealion to get at the less decayed meat. As I said it's a pretty wild place but with a rugged, barren beauty. 2 or 3 frogs always scurried out of the toilet on entering.

As we had only one gas ring or the fireplace to cook with I suggested an Irish Stew for dinner which everyone was happy with. Claire and I went to the shop (there were 2 in total) for provisions and prepared the stew while K&M had a wander. They made friends with a few people who dropped in just as we sat down to eat. Oscar, a dreadlocked Columbian “artesania” with feather in his rasta hat who had been thumbing his way around the continent for 16 years and his unlikely travelling companion of 18 months, Vincent a French bloke with a sunburnt nose and a scraggly beard who had recently finished an anthropology degree in Salta university joined us for what I suspect was their first Irish stew.

We bought firewood but had been too tired to light it as we retired in front of the fireplace, giving the double bed to K&M. My “bed” consisted of 3 ancient mattresses piled on top of each other in a manner reminiscent of the princess and the pea. It was bitterly cold that night and I was savaged by either bed bugs or mossies despite my DEET impregnated armour and silk sleeping liner and Claire was frozen by the ample holes in the walls and roof which allowed the stiff sea breeze to blow through the cabin on her side. We would bloody well light the fire the next night! However it wasn't all bad. At least we were starting to make inroads into the melon. Only about 6kg to go.

The day afterwards it was the southern beach's turn to be explored – more breezy wilderness, dotted with the odd dead penguin and a large stinking male sealion. Oscar and Vincent came by with some fish in the evening and cooked a very simple yet tasty soup as they had run out of gas and the shop hadn't received their delivery yet. The 3 way French, Spanish English conversation wandered across topics and Oscar tried to read our horoscope using the 13 month Mayan calendar but he admitted that he was only learning how it worked. It was fun but a little too spiritual for this rational mind. It seems the people have their own ecosystem in cabo aswell as the fauna. The fishermen sell the fillets to the 2 restaurants in the cape, which cook the fillets for the day trippers who come to visit the lighthouse and buy jewelery and trinkets from the artesanias, who get the remainders of the filleted fish from the fishermen. It's a graceful circle, but there is a bit of tension between the artesanias who make their own jewelery and the people who own the little shops who buy in the trinkets made by machine. Not that the tension amounts to much though... Slept a lot better in front of the embers of the fire.

The weather improved a lot thereafter and we spent the morning and early afternoon on the beach and playing in the rollers which we had to ourselves. That is apart from a herd of cattle which were herded along, close to the sea by 2, I guess, beach gauchos and their dogs. After a much needed siesta we visited the point of the cape where a colony of about 300 bickering sea lions bask in the sun and dip in and out of the wash. They smell a bit like dead whale.

The colony, just like everything else was presided over by the lighthouse. We paid our 15 pesos, went up the spiral staircase and enjoyed the fabulous panaroma over the sprawling metropolis that is Cabo Polonio. It was interesting chatting to the lighthouse keeper, of which there are 3. They paint it continuously thoughout the year and are also responsible for dealing with stuff like the whale. Also, unfortunately they seem to be the ony people who live and work in the hamlet but don't own their own houses. Ironically everyone else's cabins are built illegally. The lighthouse and the keepers' houses are the only structures actually allowed on the cape which is part of a nature reserve.

Seeing as the big soups were going down so well we decided to do another that night to which Oscar and Vincent invited themselves plus a girl they had befriended. So we had seven for dinner, actually 8 as the girl invited a friend she had met and he brought along his enormous dog who crunched the leftover bones. Technically 9 then – the cabin was pretty full! We did manage to get rid of almost all the melon though. Good job too as we had decided to leave the next day. If we didnt leave then we would have started growing dreads and learning how to make bracelets from Oscar ourselves! Besides it was getting way too hot.

We bade all the Cabo people farewell farewell and also to K&M who we had now been sharing with for over a week. They were heading straight to Punta del Este, whiile we would make a stop in La Paloma, a little seaside town an hour or so down the coast, primarily to soften the blow of returning to electricity, water and the other trappings of modernity. The whale didn't seem to smell so bad anymore as we passed it for the last time bouncing up and down in the jeep.

Tags: artesania, beach, cabin, jeep, lighthouse


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