In the winter of 2007, I spent three months living in Buenos Aires. However much I love that city, one of the fondest memories of my South American sojourn was a trip to Cabo Polonio, a magical village on the eastern coast of Uruguay.
I first heard about Cabo from a friend who grew up in Uruguay. As he talked lovingly of this oceanfront village that had no running water or electricity and can only be reached by horse or 4×4 across sand dunes, I was already enchanted. The timing was perfect. My friend Lucia from Slovakia was joining me in Buenos Aires and our plan was to take a side trip to Uruguay.
One morning at the crack of dawn, we boarded a ferry from Buenos Aires to Montevideo, and then hopped on a bus heading to Valizas. About three and a half hours later, the driver left us and a handful of other passengers on the side of the road, claiming we’ve arrived to Cabo Polonio. To me, it seemed rather like arriving to the middle of nowhere. The sun was going down and I started to wonder if this adventure was a good idea. Then a 4×4 appeared, we jumped on and off we were for a sunset ride along the sands.
During the fifteen minutes it took to reach the village, night descended and stars appeared above in their brightest form. As we approached Cabo Polonio, a surreal sight started to unfold. All around us were flickering candle lights inside little cabins scattered around the dunes, edged by the ocean on both sides.
Cabo Polonio is located on a sliver-thin peninsula with no road access or electricity. The feeling of isolation and seclusion is real here – you are literally disconnected from the rest of the world. The only sources of light are the lighthouse on a slight hill at the top of the cape and a couple of generators that power the lone hotel and two grocery stores. Rain water is collected from various wells that supply the hundred or so cabins.
We spent the first night in the only hotel, Hosteria La Perla. Open year-round, it is pretty basic but in Cabo Polonio terms quite luxurious since it has a generator-powered light (which gets turned off at midnight) and a restaurant. But we preferred to ‘keep it real’ so the next day, after talking to some people, we rented a cabin on the other side of the cape, where the ocean is rougher and you can hear the waves crashing at the rocks all night. The lodging was rudimentary at its best, quite like camping enclosed within four walls.
And then the next day, the magic of Cabo Polonio started to happen. We met a few friendly people who have been coming to this artsy community since the early days, back in the sixties. Maria was a tango singer of shamanic proportions, mother of three, hippie and survivor who made delicious wholegrain bread and prevented rain from falling when she felt like it. Madrid-based Pedro was a film director of sharp comments, vivid stories and an impressive record of films behind him. The beautiful and gentle Tomas wrote stirring poetry and cooked delicious fish. There was also Gerry, the quirky owner of Cabo Polonio Hostel, and the German accordion player with his Argentine girlfriend…
For the rest of our stay in Cabo Polonio, we stayed in the cabin Maria was tending for her friend in Paris. Palacio de la Luna (Moon Palace), she called it. Each night, we had dinner soirees, cooking communally on a wood stove. It took forever for meals to get ready – and that was the beauty of it. In the meantime, there was guitar, song, poetry, tango, moonlight, red wine, and the sound of sea lions lazing on the rocks below.
There are few places in the world where I felt as connected to the ocean, the sand, the silence… and the people around me. Something special happened there, in Cabo Polonio. It all just clicked in the right way, tuned into that perfect frequency.
Cabo still appears in my dreams. In the last one, I returned after many years to find the village totally changed, with hotels, restaurants and all the perks of a tourist resort. From the bottom of my heart, I hope that will remain just a nightmare.