The Good, The Bad and the Ugly in Uruguay
La playa, or “la plasha” as it is pronounced here, is beautiful. We were excited to encounter soft sand instead of the rocky beaches in Bariloche, which made one yearn for 90’s-era water shoes. Although inflamed with jellyfish, we managed to avoid getting stung and had fun splashing around in the cool and clear water. The apartment in the beach house which we rented was a 5-minute walk from the beach and a 20-minute walk from a beach club (appropriately called “La Espanola”) with terrible food but strong drinks and fun bartenders whom we befriended. We spent a lot of time at the beach during our first few days until we were trolled (details forthcoming in “The Ugly”) by a shitty new restaurant and forced to walk 7+ miles roundtrip in the blistering sun and scalding sand, thereby transmogrifying ourselves into crustacean-colored, semi-functional hybrids of our former selves.
(My sunburn, after a day and a half. I still have disturbing color patches, but they are now gradients of tan)
As in Bariloche, canines are everywhere in Punta del Este. Fortunately, they seem less inclined to leap into the road every 12 seconds, risking life and limb while giving me angina. My favorite sedate dog lives at the beach house next to us and is named Gitano, which was delightful to find out. He is probably 10 years old, due to his noble graying of fur as well as his penchant for sleeping. I was highly impressed when I threw him a morsel of empanada and he did not immediately charge at it, but instead leisurely meandered over to inspect it a few minutes later. Opie Marissa would never.
Perhaps the most exciting canine moment occurred last night, on Christmas Eve 2013 at Soho, a restaurant/bar/club which featured several dogs (and babies) partying at 3AM on the dancefloor. The canines were eventually persuaded to leave the club via food bribery by the staff, but I greatly enjoyed their presence for the 90 minutes or so which it lasted.
(Gareth and a canine friend at Soho)
I thought Punta del Este would be like Ibiza/Miami/The Hamptons, since that’s what it is often compared to and everyone from Naomi Campbell to Shakira has been spotted here in prior years. However, the going out scene was weird last night… All of the locals were still botelloning (or pre-gaming/tailgating, depending on your preferred vernacular) at 3:30AM, showing little urgency in actually getting to the club. I am used to going out late in Spain, but all of the botelloning usually wrapped up around 1AM, not closer to 4AM.
Also, Punta del Este seems less busy in terms of nightlife than any of the places it is compared to, and has significantly less architecture porn or yacht porn than Ibiza or Miami. Next week is the “biggest” week for Punta del Este, as evidenced by the predictable David Guetta concert, so I am sure it will be a lot crazier then, but we are still technically in the high season.
In all fairness, we didn’t check out the La Barra region where most of the clubs were, but we did spending Christmas Eve hanging out at the port section which was recommended to me by a Playboy centerfold-esque Punta del Este friend in the know. Unfortunately we won’t make it to La Barra since we have to head back to Buenos Aires fairly early tomorrow, and couldn’t be up tonight just pregaming until 4AM, followed by Crobar until late morning. Our wallets also probably wouldn’t love it, considering what we paid on drinks at Soho yesterday…
We thought things would definitely be cheaper here, considering that it is Uruguay but we have paid close to American prices for a lot of mediocre things. A shitty chicken fingers lunch for Gareth and a “salad” for me, which consisted of 5 tomato slices and 5 slices of processed cheese on a plate, cost us $45 USD at the beach club. Drinks last night at Soho (1 bottle of Chardonnay and 4 mixed drinks) were $265 USD. That seems kind of unreasonable at a place that wasn’t even popping at 3:30AM and contained numerous canines and children (not that I am complaining about the former… But clearly there wasn’t a Stalin-esque door policy in place)
Our worst experience was at a new restaurant (something like Blas?) where we had the slowest service on 2 paninis which promised to be made with mozzarella, but instead had some sort of processed cheese thing, a ton of olives and tomato slices on a baguette. Even I, the Official Empress of Ordering Out, could have made one of these paninis in like 3 minutes. It took them the better part of an hour, despite the fact that the restaurant wasn’t even busy. We weren’t thrilled, but we had just walked 4 miles in the hot sand into town, so we were okay with paying $40 USD for a sub-par lunch to satiate ourselves.
Noone had warned us that we could only pay in cash until we tried to pay the bill with a MasterCard, thereby unleashing a clusterfuck of irritation and annoyance. We only had the MasterCard and 500 pesos (~$25 USD) on us since we had been hanging out at the beach all day, and clearly didn’t want to bring a ton of cash with us… Just enough for a cab home and maybe a beer. Since the restaurant’s credit card machine was broken, the waitress kept trying to tell us that we could take our credit card to an obscure Uruguayian bank somewhere in Punta del Este and withdraw money. The credit card isn’t linked to a bank account, let alone a Uruguayian one, so this didn’t seem feasible to us but the waitress seemed inclined to harangue us incessantly about how she once worked at a bank, and was essentially Punta del Este’s incarnation of Jamie Dimon.
After endless bilingual arguing, the waitress agreed to take our 500 peso note in lieu of the 850 peso bill, but then we had no cab money since cabs don’t take credit cards either. So, we had to walk another 3.5 miles home in the searing hot sand, feeling like contestants on the first episode of The Biggest Loser who are forced to run a mini triathalon or some other physically grueling activity far out of their normal range.
Luckily, we had an amazing beach house to return to. Notttttt. Our Internet stopped working entirely (it only worked maybe 10% of the time that we were here), we had no hot water (and the whole house smelled like rotten broccoli for hours when we tried to turn on the hot water heater), no air conditioning and our bed was covered in sand which pricked at our sunburns everytime that we moved. We were beginning to feel akin to neo-medieval saints bodily and spiritually tested, an appropriate metaphor considering that it was Christmas Eve. Which brings me to… The Best!
As a life-long vegetarian, I have always hated McDonalds. However, one of the best moments of our trip thus far was finally figuring out how to connect to the McDonalds wifi and contact our families on Christmas, thus lifting ourselves out of the Digital Stone Age which had been thrust upon us. (“Are we in the Bronze Age?” “No, actually the Jurassic Period”, etc. was one of our favorite jokes as we slowly lost our minds over the past few days.) Gareth and I both audibly cheered at the moment of wifi connection in a McDonalds booth, alarming the Uruguayian hipsters who were Facebook chatting next to us.
After spending the better part of the morning in a Firefox-less den of solitude and cold showers which we have grown to despise, McDonalds was a refreshing oasis for reconnecting with the rest of the world. They served better and fancier coffees than Starbucks in the US, and had several chic blonde MILFs and Brazilian model-types as patrons. Who would have guessed?
I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that McDonalds would be the zenith of my Punta del Este trip. Then again, never doubt the power of a reliable wifi connection, functional air conditioning and strong espressos.
Again, we find ourselves eagerly awaiting a return to Buenos Aires.