I was particularly looking forward to Punta Del Diablo. I’d heard it had more of a small town, rustic hippy vibe, but was not too small and remote. Basically, the antithesis of Punta Del Este.
Diablo didn’t disappoint.
My husband and I stayed in a rustic Cabana we’d found on Airbnb that was built and owned by a rather good looking older Uruguayan fella named Roberto.
Roberto picked us up from the bus station and drove us the 5 minutes’ drive down deserted gravel streets to our new home for four nights.
The cabana was one of eight in a small, intimate complex. It was entirely made of wood and completely self-contained with a back and front gate. At the bottom was a tiny lounge with coffee table, small dining table, a mini kitchen and bathroom. Roberto had decorated most of the walls with long bamboo shaped wood and wicker on the ceilings to add to the rustic feel.
Upstairs was a double bed and a little balcony and at the front we had a little veranda and a traditional parrilla barbecue.
Our cabana was a short ten-minute walk to the beach. Diablo’s beach is made up of wet, solid sand, and has a rather pungent fishy smell which you get used to fairly quickly. It’s full of some of the healthiest stray dogs I’ve ever seen that run around gaily playing with each other, in between taking cooling dips in the sea. [Though they did trample all over my husband’s foot causing a nasty cut.]
In the distance chilled country music, Bob Marley and Amy Winehouse can be heard from one of the few rustic beach bars. The sea has crashing waves that knock you, but don’t quite take you out. And importantly – no jellyfish! By about 3:30 pm in the afternoon there are a few people, but by 6 pm the place is buzzing. We never made it to the beach before 3 pm so I can’t tell you what the mornings are like though I’d probably guess the beach would be empty.
Punta Del Diablo has a nice amount of swanky standalone apartments, rustic eco huts and hostels that look really decent, but is a million miles away from the overly built-up and commercial Punta Del Este. It still retains that hippie beach vibe that you often find on the Thai Islands, but without all the crowds and with no people to hassle you.
There’s also a little town with rustic bars and restaurants and the usual tourist type clothes and nick-knack shops.
One night we thought we’d use the traditional Parilla that was outside our cabana. We purchased sausages and different cuts of beef and enthusiastically asked our host, Roberto, how to get the parilla going.
Roberto doesn’t speak much English so after gathering a wheel barrow full of wood and some paper, he enlisted the help of another guest to translate into English how we should start the fire.
Needless to say a lot got lost in translation.
After about thirty minutes of burning paper, stuffing twigs into the fire only for it to go out, pushing each other out of the way because we both thought we could get the fire going better, attempting to use Gordon’s gin as a flammable substance and using up two packs of matches; what we had was a pile of scorched twigs and paper fashioned into a wigwam shape clearly inspired by every western film or survival programme we’d ever seen. But instead of it burning heartily the ‘fire’ was stone cold, so much so that when Roberto returned to check up on us – mercifully – and finding us deflated and completely disillusioned as to how we could have failed so miserably, he was able to scrape up the wooded mess with his bare hands with no problem whatsoever.
Within two minutes he had a fire literally roaring.
With it all setup and with a better understanding of what we were supposed to do I sat back with a glass of red wine while my husband tentatively stacked logs on top of the fire and ever-so-lovingly blew at it from different angles until, after an hour, there was enough heat to cook with.
It was so worth the sweat, frustration and abundant smoke inhalation. The wood flavoured the meat perfectly and there’s something rewarding about working for your food, or watching your husband working for your food.
In case you ever want to attempt this yourself what you are supposed to is stack wood on the metal slotted shelf (I don’t know the technical name), make a fire underneath with paper and let it engulf the wood above so that it burns and eventually drops embers, which you then push to the side where the grill is and once you have enough embers and heat start cooking. New life skill learned.
The next day we had planned to go to Cabo Polonio – a stripped back beach town with no electricity and a population of about 20. To get there involves is a couple of buses and a 4×4 drive. However, we were quite frankly too lazy and hungover so we chilled on the beach instead.
On coming back to our room at about 7 pm that night the husband took the wheelbarrow of remaining wood back to Roberto while I entered the hut.
I could hear some rustling in the ceiling of the kitchen and figured this must be some kind of animal so I went to look outside on the roof but I couldn’t see anything.
When I came back in the noise had stopped. But two minutes later one of the small decorative bamboo-shaped wood sticks on the wall popped off and fell to the floor. The wood revealed the back end of a dirty great big rat taking a shit before it scuttled off somewhere behind the wall.
Now, I can take all manner of bugs – spiders, cockroaches, beetles, things I don’t know the name of – but cohabiting with rats is a step too far. I went to find Neil and we decided to tell Roberto, though what he could do I was not sure.
At his door we were greeted by an attractive older woman who looked like she might be a yoga instructor. Well, she certainly had the arse of a yoga instructor from what we could both clearly see through her sheer sweat pants that revealed bare cheeks and a white thong. [Side note: in Uruguay a thong appears to be mandatory beach wear. During six days on the beach in Uruguay I’ve seen all manner of bare arses – big, little, pert, droopy, even 12-year-olds in thongs – there’s so much female arse on display in Uruguay I’m all arsed out, quite frankly.]
After agreeing that Roberto had indeed done well for himself, if this was his wife/girlfriend, the husband and I waited in our rat-infested Cabana for Roberto and his lady friend, who could at least speak some English. After quizzing me as to what I had really seen, the yoga-instructor-looking-lady said to me: ‘are you sure what you didn’t really see was a small wild cat?’ A wild CAT?? The husband looked at me even more nervously than when I had told him about the rat discovery.
She informed me that some small cat-like animal, the name of which I suspect may be a made-up Spanish word (unfortunately I’ve forgotten it), lives in the roof of our cabana and comes down to steal food sometimes, but is perfectly harmless. That is what I must have seen. Hmmmmm.
After I assured her I knew what a rat looked like and that it doesn’t look like a cat, wild or otherwise – I had definitely seen a rat, she translated what I said to Roberto who simply raised his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders and said ‘posible‘.
Most of the early hours of that night was spent listening out for movements of our new rat housemate in-between grabbing bits of wine induced sleep.
For the next week of our travels my husband drove me round the bend by singing UB40’s ‘Rat in My Kitchen’ song relentlessly.
Notes for fellow travellers:
The bus from Punta Del Este takes about 3 hours to Punta Del Diablo with COT buses and costs around £7. All busses can be booked at the bus terminal but not online. We had no problem booking a couple of days in advance. When leaving Punt Del Diablo we took a five hour bus to Montevideo for one last night.
There’s only one cash machine in the town but the supermarket takes MasterCard and many of the restaurants take Visa.
We stayed for three nights, but I could easily have stayed for two more.
Despite the rat incident we did really enjoy staying at Roberto’s cabanas and he was a very attentive host.
In the spirit of Roberto and Diablo and our unexpected guest here’s UB40’s ‘Rat in My Kitchen’ song for you.