It says a lot about us that The Mack and I decided to ditch a trip to Iguazu Falls and the nature reserves on the Argentine/Brazilian border in favour of a few nights unbridled hedonism in the Uruguayan Ibiza, Punta del Este.
It says even more about us that we turned up in Punta del Este to find that we’d well and truly missed the party.
The plan seemed foolproof and awesome. By boat from Argentina to Uruguay then up the beautiful coast to Brazil. For The Mack, it meant 3 countries in 3 weeks. For me, a nice little sojourn before the Brazilian main event.
Buenos Aires to Colonia
A hop over on the ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia for a spot of lunch. Pretty little colonial town (clue’s in the name). Coloured houses round a cobbled square, old jalopies with foliage dotted about the place, that kind of thing. Just the right side of Disney in the sunshine.
Except that by the time we’d got off the ferry, found the tourist office, then found the bus terminal, booked our onward bus and dumped our luggage, we only had 2 hours to eat it and beat it. Still, what we saw looked cute enough. Even if all of the people in the town looked to be from the same family. Very distinctive features, Uruguayans. I think it’s the straight noses.
Colonia to Montevideo
We’d been told that the bus journey from Colonia to Montevideo was around 2.5 – 3 hours. What they hadn’t told us was how unbelievably comfy the bus seats were. Like they’d been woven from our most beautiful dreams, to gently cradle and cosset us. Not only that, but the buses have wi-fi. And they run on time. And the staff is incredibly helpful and courteous. The word that sprang to mind was “agreeable”. Uruguayans are just very agreeable people. We think we figured out why, but more on that later.
What we hadn’t factored on was the bus stopping everywhere on route to pick up passengers. Mainly in lay-by’s where there didn’t seem to be a single building within 5 miles. And you’d be able to spot it. Uruguay is very flat (probably). And very rural. All the shops we passed en route were selling tractors or farm implements.
We had seats assigned to us on our ticket. But there was someone in mine when we got on the bus and there were plenty of other seats, so we did that very British thing of just taking the seats in front rather than trying to make a fuss in a foreign language. Which was fine. Right up until a young couple got on at about the 24th lay-by and told us we were in their seats. So we got up, ready to recover our rightful seats. Only to see that they were now occupied by a fast asleep guy and a woman with a sleeping toddler in her arms.
But it was ok. We stood, figuring we only had about a half hour left of the journey. Chalking it up to experience. And then I made the mistake of thinking out loud to The Mack that maybe we’d screwed up and this wasn’t a direct bus, given the number of stops it was making. By now it was 8pm. We were hungry, crotchety and standing. I didn’t have a ready guesstimate of how long it would take. I wasn’t an expert on the arterial roads of Uruguay and how this affected journey times. I should have kept my mouth shut. I was saved when we rolled in to Montevideo 45 minutes later.
We’d only planned to stay one night in Monte. We weren’t convinced of its merits when we did our pitiful research. I think we were right. However, our hotel was adorable. The Hotel Palacio. Just off the main square and staffed by spritely septuagenarians. The Mack was expecting a s***hole. What we got was a spruced up turn of the century room with great big bathroom and a huge terrace overlooking the city. Not bad for £30. And a lovely old man who spent 10 minutes showing me how to work the cable TV (there were 2 on buttons and an up and down programme selector involved… and he had bifocals).
We tried to have a night out in Monte. We’d heard that it got a bit lively on a Saturday night. It certainly had a strip of pubs/bars to rival even the ropiest UK town. After careful deliberation (based on the severity of the look of horror on my face), we picked one that had “Pony” in its name. It didn’t disappoint. All you need to know about it was that our drink of choice was Long Island Iced Teas. And the covers band started with a Bon Jovi ballad. It was all we could do to drag ourselves away.
Montevideo to Punta del Este
The Mack was quite excited about hitting Punta. He’d been allowed to choose the hotel for this one and we’d upped the budget so that we could do a bit of pimpin’ in Punta. We’d booked 2 nights, so that we’d have plenty of time to recover from a big night on the razz.
I’d checked where the hotel was before we left Monte. I knew that it was a bit out of town, and I’d mentioned it to The Mack before we booked it, but he said he was fine with it. Perfect mix of detox and retox.
When we arrived at the bus station at P del E, I asked the lady at the info point to show me on a map where our hotel was. But she couldn’t. Because her map didn’t cover a large enough area. Because we’d booked into a hotel about 15km away in the next resort. Literally miles away from the action.
You think that was a disappointment… Fortunately, it didn’t matter so much when we walked into the town to find a cab only to discover that it was empty apart from some tumbleweed blowing down the main street. Apparently, party season in Punta del Este stops at Easter. Who knew? Clearly not us.
Ok, no problem. So what? We get to spend a couple of days in a lovely golf and spa resort on the banks of a lake. Tennis courts, bike rides, swimming pools, the works.
Oh. And one other thing. It’s deserted. Most of the lights are switched off in the common areas. They’ve drained the jacuzzi and turned off the sauna. You’re paying over £80/night to stay in a mausoleum. The rigidly bored girl on the front desk tells you they’ve upgraded you to a lake-view room. You realise it’s so they can better keep an eye on you and they only have to hoover one corridor.
We tried to escape on some rented bikes. After an hour’s cycle of pedalling past weird thatched cottages, swearing, reattaching our chains every third revolution and a knackering hill climb, we saw Punta del Este still miles out of reach. We cycled back, dejected and resigned to our gilded cage. Pimpin’ it weren’t.
We had a hushed dinner in an all-but-empty restaurant. The food was good, but it came at a price. I had no idea tedium could be so costly. We marvelled at the fact that the mixers in the mini bar cost the same as the spirits. So we just made stronger drinks. We slept. A lot. And our dreams were a montage of The Shining and Cocoon.
We pondered on Uruguay. Its political and economic stability, compared to its better-known neighbours. It’s cleanliness and organisation. The agreeableness of its people. And we realised, it can be all of those things because… THERE’S NO-ONE IN IT.
So we decided to cut our losses. No adventuring in search of people in ever remoter fishing villages up the coast, as originally planned. Nope. You won’t find anyone there. We spent a heart-breaking amount of cash on a next-day flight to Sao Paulo. But when we paid almost the same again in a taxi from the resort to the bus station at Punta del Este, we knew we’d made the right decision. And I vowed never to let The Mack choose anything, ever again.