By now, you’ve gathered something of what Punta del Diablo meant to us. Words and pictures alone will never be able to recreate what it was like there: the best we can hope to do is to offer is a taste of how it made us feel…
Our first day there, after dropping off our bags at the Hostal del Diablo, we set off in search of something to eat. Most of the village was closed up, the last of the summer tourists having moved on weeks ago. But we did come across a place called “Pizzeria Lou Ber”, and it very quickly established itself as something we would never forget.
The restaurant was about thirty feet from the point where the sandy “road” gave way first to a cliff of massive rocks (the same rocks we’d been sitting on that morning), then to the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. There were white picnic tables outside, in a clearly recently-constructed sort of patio section. Rough wooden planks were nailed together to form the walls, and the trunks of palm trees held up a thatched roof of dried reeds. You’ve never seen anything so picturesque in your life, I promise you.
The proprietor, whom I assume may have been the eponymous “Lou”, served us a spectacular pizza with mushrooms and an ice-cold liter of Uruguayan beer. I so clearly remember sitting there, listening to the roar of the ocean waves beating against the rocks just out of sight, watching an occasional burst of spray soar into view, eating that glorious pizza and drinking that glorious beer.
We went to that restaurant just about every day for lunch, and were usually the only people there. As a result, “Lou” started putting together a mushroom pizza for us as soon as he saw us coming. Most of the time, the place would be absolutely dead. He’d be standing against the doorway in his apron, watching the ocean. I imagine him a city boy from Montevideo, someone who sold everything he had to scrape together enough money to start up this restaurant. I imagine him to be a very happy man.
The temperature hovered around the mid-80s the whole time we were in Punta del Diablo, and except for the morning cloud cover that comes with being on the ocean, the weather was continuously spectacular. While we didn’t make it into the water on our first day, it didn’t take long the next morning to make our way down to the beach.
That first time, the waves were fantastic. It wasn’t a day for lazing about in the warm water, it was a day for jumping and playing among the enormous swells and crashes that swept in on us every twenty seconds or so. We stayed in the water for hours, diving into the waves, trying to bodysurf them back into shore, and occasionally inhaling a snootful of seawater. It was wonderful.
The next day, we were back for more. The ocean changed up its routine this time, and the waves were smaller, more gentle. It was a day for floating on your back, for swimming, for lazing about. It was the kind of ocean that soothes the muscles you strained battling it the day before, the kind of ocean that you never want to get out of.
Our third and final day of swimming was the best of the lot. The waves were amazing, making those on the first day seem tame by comparison. There were a couple of surfers in the water with us, and it is an experience I will always remember to see a wave curling over your head into a pipe of water 6’ wide, and then to see a man just feet to your left go by, riding it on his board. The oceans were fierce that day, just benign enough to keep from being actively dangerous to swim in. It was the most exhilarating swimming I have ever done, and the most beautiful.
The morning of our third day in Punta del Diablo, we awoke at 6:30am. Quickly, we dressed in the dark, and then made our way out to the beach to catch the sunrise.
As always, the morning was overcast, a result of the moisture the air had pulled up off of the ocean. It was cool, too, not even 70 degrees yet, as we made our way down the little path that led to the beach, a path that included a trip over a rickety hand-made bridge and a bit of balancing one’s way down a felled tree.
Then we were on the beach, running from one spot to the next, taking pictures of everything in those crucial last few minutes before sunrise. Naturally, we quickly acquired an accompaniment of stray dogs, three or four of them, eagerly following us from location to location and excited by all the activity.
There’s a long, thin peninsula of rock that extends out from the tip of Punta del Diablo, and it was there that we made our way to see the sunrise. We took picture after picture of it as it made its slow ascent into the sky, burning off the cloud cover to make way for another postcard-perfect day. The air began to warm, and a few small corners of the sleepy village began to wake up: fishermen making their way out to the rocks, shopkeepers unlocking their doors, a tourist here and there trying to find some breakfast.
The two of us stood out on those rocks for a while, watching the sunrise, watching the village, watching the water. Then we made our way back to the Hostal del Diablo to scrounge up some breakfast ourselves.
Please do not mistake anything in this anecdote, or in the accompanying photograph, to mean we are not being careful around stray dogs. We are very aware of the risks posed by stray animals and are very careful hedgehogs. Really.
Punta del Diablo is filled with dozens and dozens of large, friendly dogs. They never seem to be thirsty or starving or in poor health, so it doesn’t seem right to call them feral dogs, or strays. It feels more like they’re some kind of “community dogs”, jointly owned by the village as a whole, and taken care of by everyone. You can’t go anywhere there without acquiring a companion or two. It’s as if the dogs there “adopt” tourists, each dog attaching himself to any human that looks lonely for canine companionship. We had a number of such friends during our stay there, and we got to know twenty or so dogs by sight, and named a half-dozen or so of them: names like Mr. Fancypants and Lady Marmalade. And Flipper.
The first time we came across Flipper, I was trying to take a picture of a rusted and collapsed car laying beside the beach. A black dog approached us, and frankly, he did not look good. He looked mangy, his hair was all matted and clumpy, and we tried to move away from him quickly. But he followed us.
We were trying to make our way out onto the rocky peninsula (the one we would take pictures from at sunrise a couple of mornings later) because we wanted to have a closer look at the statue out on the end of it. The dog followed us towards it, and then, at some point, ran out ahead of us. It was as if he had appointed himself our guide, as if he knew which direction we were going, and wanted to help us get there. He led us all the way out to the rocks, but refused to go any further, instead waiting for us there while we took photographs of the statue. When we returned, he led the way again, before eventually getting distracted by another dog and leaving us.
The next day, the two of us walked the entire length of the beach, about 4 miles or so, to see the lighthouse at the far end. The same dog again appeared and accompanied us, and it was on this occasion that he won our hearts. As much as he had the look of an older dog, he was such a puppy in his manner. He scampered ahead of us and back, playing with anything we came across as we walked, and he constantly jumped into the water and frolicked among the waves. We realized that the first time we’d seen him, he must have just been doing this: the water made his fur clump and matt, making him look like he was sick or something. I’ve never seen a dog who liked the water so much. We decided to name him “Flipper” for this reason.
It was a long walk, and Flipper was pretty tired and thirsty by the end of it (as were we: 4 miles on beach sand is exhausting), but he never complained, never lost his puppy playfulness. We were in love with him by the time we got back to the village, and waved goodbye as he ran off in search of water.
The next morning, we woke up early to take photos of the sunrise. Flipper was back, one of the first dogs to accompany us. He’d appear whenever we went into town, accompany us for a bit, and then disappear. Our last evening there, we played with him on the beach for a while, videotaping it so that we could watch it when we missed him.
Our last day, on our way to the bus stop, we ran across Flipper one last time. It was sad saying goodbye to him.
We both miss him now.
Our room had wide double-doors that opened out onto a terrace, and the terrace had such a spectacular view. We spent so many of our hours in Punta del Diablo sitting out there together, whether reading, eating, or just enjoying the sights and sounds that surrounded us.
One evening, we sat out there together for hours, drinking ice-cold cervezas and just enjoying our view. There was a horse off to our right, chewing and swallowing the tall grass in large mouthfuls and shooing mosquitoes away with his tail. There were dogs chasing each other through the field to the left. And in the distance, from one side to the other, lay the ocean. There was a pile of rocks on one side that we could see the waves hammering, whitecaps breaking on stone with a distant crash. We watched that ocean for hours and hours, and we knew in our hearts that it was going to hurt to leave. Punta del Diablo was everything we’d ever wanted (minus maybe an ATM and high-speed internet), and we didn’t want to go.
We started fantasizing about staying, about buying a cabaña and never going any further on our trip, about never going anywhere other than across the border once every 90 days to renew our visas. It was so beautiful there that it hurt, physically hurt, to think about having to leave.
I’d do freelance work from the local internet café, and she’d become a local teacher. We’d live in a cottage on the beach, one with a guesthouse out back. The fact that the internet access there was out during our entire visit, Jessica’s lack of the fluent Spanish one might reasonably expect from a teacher: these things didn’t deter us. We were never going to leave.
Except, of course, that we did leave in the end. But we made a promise to each other. Thirty years from now, or maybe forty, we’ll be back. Probably not to Punta del Diablo itself (who knows what it will be like in a few decades), but to some secluded beach town that is in spirit what Punta del Diablo was for us. And we’ll live in a cottage on the beach, one with a guesthouse out back. And we’ll never leave.
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