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Published: January 18th 2009
I always have a hard time writing about weeks spent on beaches. You never really "do" anything, besides lounge around, have some drinks, and simply relax; I love it. As such, I´m hoping that some of the other twelve friends that were there with me could help out...
New Years in La Paloma, Uruguay was the only date we had when we set out on our South American adventure. Everything was planned to be squeezed in before it, or left until after we had met this date. I ran out to the airport in Montevideo to pick up my friends Alyssa, who I knew through my time working in Madison, and Katy, who went to college with Alyssa. They had bought their plane tickets a few months ago and more recently, their friend Alex realized how wonderful their idea was to come down and joined in. We headed over to La Paloma where we met up with Eric and Drew. Eric´s friend, Ceci, who is from Uruguay and has a beach house in La Paloma, was their with her father to greet us, drive us to our cabana, and start showing us around town. It was just the beginning of
their amazing, unending hospitality. (And, while Ceci´s family is the epitome of a great host, everyone in Uruguay is incredibly friendly and welcoming. Everyone bends over backwards to help you out, in all my travels I´ve never seen a more hospitable people.) Our cabana was on the beach just on the outskirts of town, not too far from Cecis familys place, where Drew and Eric were staying. Burton, his special lady friend Anne, and Marie, a friend of his from high school, were able to rent out their neighbors house.
The second night in town was New Years Eve. We got a ride into town, from Ceci of course, and picked up a ridiculous amount of meat, several crates of beers, a few bottles of booze, some bubbly, and a few veggies. (Oh, and the big news was that Eric broke his vegetarianism streak for this week!) We lit a fire in the parrilla (a wood fire grill) and I started the several hour affair of grilling. It was amazing, I loved it. I am determined to have a parrilla when I have a place of my own. It is like an elevated fire place, with a fire in
one corner, and a grill area in the other. You take the coals from beneath the fire and move them under the grill, consistently monitoring the temperature. The meat comes out succulent. It was fantastic, and the meat turned out excellent if I do say so myself. At midnight we were treated to a completely unexpected fireworks display as people from all directions started shooting them off as we watched from the beach. We went back to the cabana and the dance party started. Three in the morning rolled around and it was time to go out to the pre-party. We made it to the club sometime near 4:30. I headed back near 6 and it was considered an early night. (This became the routine for the week.) All said, it was the most memorable New Years I´ve had.
The city itself is a pretty laid back place with numerous beaches. Nearly everyone there is on vacation and the entire city has a festive atmosphere (that could be because nearly 90% of the vacationers are under 25 giving it a ridiculously young, vibrant, party feel.) There are tons of restaurants, houses for rent everywhere, a packed campground, plenty of
souvenir stores (which the girls used thoroughly), only three ATMs (which hardly ever worked), and quite a few ice cream parlors (which the girls also frequented). We spent most of our days lazing around, recovering from the night before, sprawled out on the beaches soaking in the sun, simply letting the relaxation wash over us in a beautiful location. The nights were absolutely ridiculous, dinners after midnight, preparties until five in the morning, going to the bars until eight, getting a few hours of sleep and then napping until late in the evening to do it again. For the first time in my life, I have to say, Im getting too old for that and could only handle doing it every few nights.
One day we did manage to pry ourselves away from La Paloma and jumped a short bus ride out to Cabo Polonia. More accurately, we took a bus to a random stop along the road, then jumped on an enormous four wheel drive military style vehicle to take on the rough, sand dune road out to the cape. The village is a tiny little haven of hippies with two enormous, gorgeous, nearly deserted beaches. We had
a nice seafood lunch at a restaurant directly on the water, chilled out on the beach and spent some time body surfing. Out on the point we visited a large colony of sea lions which provided quite a bit of afternoon entertainment. It was one of the only "activities" we took the effort to accomplish in during the week.
The most memorable thing, for me, about the week was soaking the Uruguayan culture as much as possible. There arent many backpackers in Uruguay, and very few in La Paloma (first travel blog on the city!), so you get a good taste of the culture: beaches, grilling, late nights, yerba mate, and relaxing. And, as I said before, Uruguayans in general have simply shown to be the most welcoming people Ive met on my trip; even out doing the Indians in going out of their way to make you welcome.
(Katy´s Edit: Whoa, whoa! No mention of some key, very important beach vacation activities: scrabble and beer pong! I carried a little bit of American goodness, travel scrabble and ping pong balls and 16 ounce blue plastic cups, in my backpack 6,000 miles to make NYE just like home.
It is also worth mentioning that we taught Uruguayans how to play beer pong, and while at first they were skeptical, it was clear that they got hooked pretty quickly. Who knows, maybe ceci's dad will expand his plastics business to include 16 oz cups and ping pong balls to become a bizzillionaire, and the social culture of college-aged Uruguayan kids will be forever impacted. It will all be traced back to a little backyard pong and flip cup in La Paloma... And of course, I would like to point out my big wins in scrabble... And yes, 'jades' IS A WORD!) (Kyle´s Edit to Katy´s Edit: Rodrigo, Ceci´s brother, and his friends did catch on to the finest of American college drinking culture quickly. After only one game they got into it, playing by themselves for the next several nights. It took on tremendous proportions, with the requisite amount of trash talking and, on a South American twist, full on soccer chants. However, their propensity to down $2 liters of vodka in 12 packs, is something that not even the most hardened Natural Light drinkers could stomach.)
(Eric´s edit: Well Kyle summed things up pretty well, but there
were just too many individual worthwhile moments during the nearly 2 weeks we spent there to mention them all, so I will just run through a few that have yet to be mentioned. First, allow me to reiterate the overwhelming hospitality of Ceci and her family to host Drew and I for two weeks, to show us the ways of the parilla, and to help us all with logistics which made life for our entourage easier. The idea to spend New Years in La Paloma is one credited to my dear friend Leo on Kauai. Leo is from Uruguay and La Paloma is his old stomping grounds. Its also through Leo that I am friends with Ceci. Well, Leo talked up La Paloma in the summer time and as Kyle mentioned, it was everything we could´ve hoped for as the town, which is a quiet beach town during the rest of the year, floods with young people who party the nights away at the awesome clubs on the beach and spend their afternoons alternating Caipiriñas and Mate at the many beautiful beaches. During our stay, there was a fantastic rock concert, Bahia Rock, which took place at a spectacular venue
right beside the beach and the setting sun. Along with Ceci´s uncle, Jorge, we spent many hours jumping around to some national Uruguayan rock - No Te Va Gustar (this translates to ¨you´re not going to like it¨) and La Vela Puerca being my personal favorite bands of the festival. La Paloma also saw me catch my first waves since leaving Kauai. They were small and less than perfect waves, but when one hasn´t surfed in over 4 months, a surfer is grateful for anything. It was heavenly to be back in the water on a surfboard! The last little highlight I´ll mention is the customary ovation to the sun that Uruguayans give in thanks for a beautiful sunset. La Balconada is one of La Paloma´s beaches where the crowds pour in on beach day afternoons. With a good view of sunset, some of the best beachside bars and restaurants, and the softest sand in town, it is the place to be during the day. We spent a few afternoons here and watched some absolutely magnificent sunsets made all the more powerful by having many hundreds of people screaming, cheering, clapping and shouting as the sun receded below the horizon.
An awesome tradition to say the least! La Paloma was the perfect kickoff to 2009. Thanks again to Leo for telling us to go there and to Ceci and her whole family for everything.) (Kyle´s edit to Eric´s edit: Yes! The cheering as the sunsets was amazing. I loved it! Ugh, I´m so glad I had you guys to remind me of these things!)
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