The devil may be in the details, but the details in Diablo aren’t worth a damn!
We jumped off our bus from Monte Video on the road approaching Punto del Diablo, Uruguay a small beachside town just short of the Brazilian border. We were following the only instruction given by our landlord-to-be; “get off at bus stop 2”. The simplicity of his directions led us to believe that the rest would be obvious but as we stood at the side of the road we quickly realized we should have asked for a little more detail.
Parada 2 was the second to last stop before town and while there were a dozen or so signs with Cabana and Hostel names pointing in various directions none said “Las Coloridas”. We’d found the tiny cabin-in-the-woods online using www.portaldeldiablo.com and having sent out a dozen inquiries with only the one coming back in our price range (I don’t want to talk about the woman who wanted $240/night for her shack) we had only a vague recollection of where it was. All we knew was that we were at the right bus stop, our cabin was the “Amarillo” (yellow) one of four colourful A-frames. We decided to head to the grocery store and ask for help. They had never heard of it, but they (the clerks and customers) guessed it would be across the main street. So, packs on backs, we wandered the dusty streets of Punto del Diablo.
An hour later, we were fed up. Back at the grocery store, they suggested we abandon our reservation and check in next door (at an additional $20/night). We didn’t feel right about that but were starting to feel dumb about not having a phone number, address, or map to our location. We decided to take a taxi into town and use the internet to mine for clues. The taxi never came.
So, packs on backs, we started the walk to town. Passing another store we thought we’d try our luck because we knew we were close. Luckily, she knew exactly where it was. Or, as we came to find out after another 30 minutes of trudging over sandy roads in the hot midday sun, she thought she knew…but didn’t. Into town we went.
Like a beacon of hope, we discovered a Tourist Information Centre. The helpful clerk wiped out a big binder filled with all of the names of cabanas in Diablo (there are a lot) and found ours on the list…but it didn’t have an address. No problem, she pulled out a map and put a dot to mark the spot. It was back toward the bus stop where we had gotten off, but on the other side of the road. So, packs on backs, we trucked up the hill in the 32 degree heat. Don’t forget this is the day after my bedbug attack, so I’m sweating and oozing as I pound the dirt. An hour later, having covered every street on that side of the highway…we accepted the fact that we were lost.
Now, getting lost is what we do, it’s how we get our kicks but we were starting to feel a little like this was the bad kind of lost. We should never have doubted the power of being lost because our savoir was only a block away and waving flags at us. No, it wasn’t our cabin – it was the La Fortaleza Bar… and no, it wasn’t our savior because we drowned our sorrows in booze (although we considered it). There, we met the owners – Eduardo and Marta. A lovely retired couple who had just moved from Buenos Aires and built this out of the way restaurant to keep them busy in their ‘retirement’ (which includes keeping the place open and hopping for 18 hours a day!) Not only did they let us use the internet to find the map and the contact info, but Eduardo insisted on driving us to our destination (which was in fact, on the other side of the main road). We were in no position to reject a ride from a stranger…so we hoped in. Eduardo took us to where the place was located on the internet map…no yellow cabin in sight.
We drove around and around the surrounding streets with no luck. He pulled out his cell phone and got the landlord on the line who gave him turn by turn instructions until finally we spotted the green house, the red house, the blue house, and ours, the yellow. Three and a half hours after getting off the bus, we’d arrived…a mere four blocks from bus stop 2.
Later we would discover a small wooden sign with an arrow two blocks before the bus stop. We hadn’t seen it. We’d followed the advice of locals and information officers but it took an out-of-towner to get us there. Would we change it if we could…not if it meant that we wouldn’t have found La Fortaleza.
We returned the next day to have lunch and use their free wifi. We stayed for several hours getting to know this charming and affable couple – we found out about how they’d built the place, that Eduardo is an award-winning amateur photographer (with the same camera as Tim), that they’re expanding to include camp sites next year, we talked about travel, blogging, politics, and Marta’s love for the Boca Juniors Football Club…it was fantastic. We had returned as patrons to thank them for their help but we weren’t able to even the score because Eduardo suggested that we visit Santa Theresa Park and the Fort there…he would drive us out the next morning.
When traveling gets to feel like a constant deflection of people trying to get the better of you, of people giving you the gringo price, or providing you half the information you need, of incompetence masqueraded as aptitude; it refuels your engines when you encounter people like Eduardo and Marta. They probably feel like they didn’t do anything special – but for us, it was just the thing to remind us that this trip is about meeting people, getting to know the culture, and having unique experiences…all of which they gave us. If you’re ever in Punto del Diablo stop by and say ‘hi’ and sample their home-cooked meals (Tim recommends the fish balls).
Oh, and if you are looking for the ‘Amarillo Cabana’ of Las Coloridas…it’s before the bus stop, to the right, then another right down the new, unnamed street you won’t find on any map – can’t miss it.