Disponible en español: Llegada a La Paloma
On the morning of February 4 we said goodbye to the Montevidean hostel that had given us lodging for three nights, to the streets of the Old Town and to the expansive capital metropolis. The trip that followed lasted too much and, to my disappointment, we barely got to see the sea at any point. First the suburbs of Punta del Este passed by; then almost two hours later we entered Rocha, the capital of the Rocha Departament, and a while later we got off the bus at the luminous terminal of La Paloma.
As is already automatic for us, we asked for a map and inquired about our hostel, where we headed on foot. Due to reasons of availability, first, and then also of price, in La Paloma we'd had no other recourse but to book places in a shared bedroom. My hostelling experience in that regard was more or less varied, but it hadn't prepared me for this: a mixed room with five twin bunk beds, low and not really firm-looking, with the thinnest mattresses ever seen, and some tiny lockers, all of which filled up with people in a very short time. People who choose to sleep in mixed, low-price shared bedrooms tend to come along with lots of luggage and make room for it liberally (that is to say, there were huge backpacks thrown around the middle of the room, all the time).
The place had a reduced staff, not to say two people (in all shifts, not always simultaneously), and it was reduced also in two very, very major aspects: the bathrooms and the kitchen. The latter was so small that two people couldn't get in it at the same time, and the equipment was scarce, though fortunately it worked OK. As for the bathrooms, they were few and logically they weren't (always) clean, since among that many people there's always one or two that are dirty and careless. For my first shower I got cold water; for the second one, I was cautious enough to get up early, before the hot water ran out.
We men at last have the advantage of being quick; some of the women managed to hog the shower for themselves for half an hour or more, which led to the formation of queues (ask Marisa about that). Naturally they then emerged from the bathroom as if just come from the beauty parlour, which confirms to me that we men are sometimes too lazy to take our time, although in cases like these being negligent actually helps. (My self-portraits of those days are unpublishable, showing how I completely let fo of the routine of combing my hair, shaving and choosing the right clothes, as soon as I left Montevideo.)
I don't want to trash the hostel completely, though, since there were some good things about it. Firstly, it was cheap and the location was very convenient. Secondly, thin as they were, the mattresses were sleepable. Breakfast wasn't just abundant but varied: coffee (black or white) and croissants or biscuits with jam, or juice and slices of fresh watermelon, all of it freely available on a covered pool table for unlimited servings. Outside there were chairs so you could have breakfast facing the streets, and inside, a great patio shaded by a dense vine (a haven for the sunny hours) and a hammock.
I'm speaking ahead of the facts, though. The first day, as I said, we arrived after a long trip, so we quickly dropped our stuff and went to eat lunch at the closest place we'd spotted: a little bar across from the bus terminal, where we were served a sandwich of something that was a beef milanesa in name, though not in looks or texture, and which came to us addled in sticky, antique oil. My chronic digestive troubles made no appearance, which is a clear sign that work not only isn't healthy but should be actively advised against by medical professionals.
After prudently waiting for the meal to go down, we went to the beach. It was our first encounter with the sea proper here in Uruguay (as I've said, in Montevideo the river is practically a sea, but not technically), and off I went, according to Marisa "just like a kid", which is perfectly understandable if you ask me. She likes the sea but basically to look at and listen to it; I have to get inside the water and if possible be beaten, dragged, rudely rocked by it in order to feel it.
My little secret, here, is that it was the first time I went to the sea. As a kid my family never went on vacation (as so many Argentine families) to Mar del Plata or any of the all-too-popular beach resorts in the coast of Buenos Aires; as a teenager we had no vacations at all; when, as a grown-up, I had my own job and the ability to make use of my own money, it never occurred to me to look toward the ocean, but rather I turned to the dense forest or the mountain or the desert. So there I was, 32 years old and for the first time treading on the soaked-up sand, feeling the foam come and go over my feet, the cool shock and the rude welcome of the waves, the salt in my mouth. If I ever get used to it, I'll stop being a kid before the sea and I'll be just one more guy in the beach... but that won't happen soon.
The wind blows all the time in the shore, and it wasn't easy staying in the beach waiting for the sun to dry you off. We went back to town, wandered here and there, bought some food, went to the hostel, grabbed some warm clothes. Then we went down to the beach again to watch the sunset and stayed there, two lovers looking at the sun and the surf, exactly like countless couples on countless sunsets must have done since the world began.
To be continued...