When you decide to go overseas, you don’t just get to enjoy your new host country—you also get the opportunity to experience all the other nations in the neighborhood. So, now that I’m staying in Buenos Aires in Argentina, I recently decided to use the opportunity to take a short trip to nearby Uruguay. It was a country that took me by surprise.
A one-hour ferry ride and short bus journey from Argentina’s capital took me back in time to quiet, sleepy Santa Ana on Uruguay’s coast. This rugged stretch of shoreline doesn’t come with dipped coconut palms and turquoise seas…think a dramatic landscape of grass-topped dunes and infinite stretches of sand.
The spa-warm sea water was great for bathing and the beach never seemed to get full. Some mornings, I made my way down to the sand to discover the entire beach completely deserted—I had my own private beach resort.
One day, I noticed an elderly gentleman standing at the end of a street that ran down to the beach. He was concentrating on his little metal cart that faced toward the sea. Occasionally, a passerby would give him an order and he would set to work—churning out fresh churro dough and dipping it into a vat of hot, bubbling oil. He would then serve up his fried treats to delighted customers.
I took two—each with an indulgent dulce de leche filling—and walked down to a thin stretch of sand to savor this extra sweet moment to the rhythm of the waves.
After a few days, I took a bus to La Paloma; a family-oriented campsite where spindly pine trees hid a spread of family-sized tents, temporary houses and camper vans. Camping is popular in Uruguay for people of all ages and backgrounds. It’s a cheap way to get away from the city and enjoy the beach. The site was a 20-minute walk from the center of the town where dining options abound. The gelato ice cream was some of the best I’ve ever tasted.
Ice cream in hand, I strolled around the town admiring the wares of local artisans who sell handcrafted, cut-price treasures like notebooks and diaries made from recycled materials. I bought a small notebook with a painting of a ship and chatted with the artist. He told me he likes his life in this beach town.
But Cabo Polonio, my last stop, was the most unexpected—that’s because a stay in this protected wildlife refuge means going “off-grid”. The mode of transport to get me there was a jeep that looked like an over-sized dune buggy. I clung on tight while it weaved past shrubs and dunes and civilization disappeared behind us.
It was only when I arrived that I was informed that there would be no ATMs, Internet access or electricity, but I felt ready for the simple life. Evening entertainment involved watching cinematic sunsets, chatting with visitors and dining on tender white fish (freshly caught of course) by candlelight.
It was the best vacation I could have asked for—and one I could take thanks to my travel writing. Trips like this often come with freebees when you’re a travel writer and checks from assignments I worked on in Buenos Aires paid for the rest. I was reluctant to leave those calm beaches but I returned with much inspiration, more article ideas and the peace of the ocean in my mind.
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