The Cape - Our few days at Cabo Polonio

Trip Start Apr 12, 2011
Trip End Apr 01, 2012

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Where I stayed
Hostel del Cabo

Flag of Uruguay  ,
Sunday, May 22, 2011

This is where we begin to get off the beaten track thanks to the advice of Miguel at El Galope hostel. Cabo Polonio is, as we understand it, a slightly illegal settlement that the government have made into a natural reserve to stop any more building on the land.  There is no road in and out – only a 7km track through large sand dunes (apparently the biggest dunes in S. America) and so access to the settlement is restricted and the only way in and out is by truck.  It originally started as a haven for surfers and hippies but now is a bit of a tourist attraction, but still with no mains electricity or water. 

We get the bus to drop us off at the turn off to the main road where a truck is waiting to meet all the buses.  After about 20 minutes the truck starts only to stall and cut out, then there is some banging and smoke and we're back going again.  Unfortunately they didn't manage to fix the truck enough to go up hills and we fail at the first hurdle.  But a Land Rover comes to the rescue and seven of us pile into the car with the luggage on top. We’re told by a girl on the truck with us (she also runs the only year round restaurant) that at this time of year the population is about 50 people but can swell up to 1000 with visitors from day trippers during the summer.  She takes us to the couple hostels that are open and we choose a bright orange hostel called Hostel del Cabo with sea views from the dorms.  Ran by Pancho, it is a small beach hostel, situated right on the beach with amazing ocean views. We decide that we have to work the place out before dark and so wander round the settlement to work everything out.  We even come across our first penguin as a few have been swept in from the rough weather the day before.  Unfortunately most of the penguins are dead but I’m glad to say the one we found one that was alive. It wasn’t there the next day so I’m happy to believe it is back swimming with its friends! 

It gets dark pretty quickly and we’re both very glad of the head torches we brought as they have not had much opportunity for use yet.  We head to the hostel where Pancho is preparing two big fish (Corvina – a meaty white fish) for dinner and calling round his friends to say that he has more fish than he knows what to do with.  So we have our first meal with the locals ( who include 'The Captain’ and Raul, a Uruguayan / Canadian former furniture restorer) as we’re offered the fish for free – very tasty and we share round wine and coke – our first calimocho drinks (red wine and coke and surprisingly good).  We then head to the restaurant (El Alero) for a drink as we had promised to go for dinner – it’s a bit difficult to tell if we’re in their home or a restaurant but it’s cosy all the same.  It’s only 10.00pm but we’re the only ones there so we just have a quick drink and head back to the hostel as we have no idea what kind of time is normal for drinks and I don’t think they would ever tell you that they were closed.    

The next day we awake to bright blue skies and an amazing view of the bay so we take a walk along the beach to see the main attractions – the lighthouse which is closed and the colony of sealions that live behind the lighthouse.  Here you can get within 15 metres of a large sealion colony which is pretty interesting to see them so close sunning themselves on the rocks. We walk to the south beach to find slightly more permanent structures (most the buildings on the north beach are more wooden shacks) but still not much sign of life.  We haven’t seen any other tourists apart from the family from the US since we arrived but at least that means we have the beaches to ourselves. 

Our afternoon is spent walking along the beach and across the sand dunes to a viewpoint of the bay – it feels like a long trek in soft sand but it’s only a three hour round trip.  We get back to the hostel to find Pancho feeling very proud of himself as they have put up extra lights to make the hostel more visible.  Some buildings have their own supply of electricity from a generator or wind turbine, but many rely on candles for light - and all the water comes from a well.  The locals seem quite happy keeping busy with small tasks each day and only seem to bother about watching tv when the football is on (of course they go to the police station to watch the football).  We head to El Alero for dinner where there is a big party in (yes it does get weirder – it’s a film crew), they’re all Spanish speaking but we’re quite glad that someone else is in the restaurant.  We have the best ravioli (with a fresh mushroom sauce) that we have tasted in a while and more corvina with roast potatoes and salad.  I don’t think that we expected that standard of food from a kitchen lit solely from candles!

I can see why people stay longer in Cabo Polonio as you have unspoilt natural beaches on your doorstep, very friendly people and an easy social scene but I think off season, two nights is enough and we move on up the coast to Punta Del Diablo.

Full photos here:

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