Once a tiny fishing village on the East coast of Uruguay, near the Brazilian border, Punta del Diablo has become one of the area´s top beach resorts, while it has managed to preserve its natural beauty and unique identity.
It is rare that little paradises like this may stay as beautiful and charming while developing as much as Punta del Diablo has over the last 15 years or so.
When I spent some days there last week, I was overwhelmed both by the beauty of the two adjacent bays, Playa de la Viuda (Widow´s Beach) and Playa Grande (Great Beach), and by how much the little town had expanded towards both sides of the coast and through the lush inland woods.
The place was a far cry from what I remembered seeing as a child on my first visits there. Namely, a line of little stands offering seashell crafts along the coast, a few small huts, and angry seas that sent threatening waves over high rocks. This was a wild place, only fit for the home of hardened seafaring people, used to strong winds, high tides, and to facing the anger of the oceans at every turn.
Oddly enough, the little old-fashioned fishing boats were still there, decorating the shore off the village´s main street.
I had never paid much attention to those local fishermen of the Uruguayan coasts, except for the one I granted them when I went out to their little fish stands to secure some of their delicious fresh catch. But that all changed when me and my friend Mar met Walter, who later became Sharkman in one of my poems.
Walter told us about how he took his tiny little boat out to sea for hours, and how it could move enough that 99% of people who dared accompany him would get sick after only a few minutes on board. He also told us stories about catching shark, and how he had to hit them with a club, because they could bite him right on the boat.
I thought a lot about him alone out there, about the people who wanted to buy his humble beachfront home because of its location, and about the reasons he was not willing to sell and take a fortune over the life he had chosen for himself in that place.
I heard stories about the winter winds, and how people who had settled in the are couldn´t stand being away from it for too long, because they “missed the sound of the sea,” as one of them put it.
All of these stories were told over delicious spaghetti del mare and other seafood wonders prepared by the cooks at LA ROSCA MOCHA, which became our favorite local restaurant. Incidentally, I came to discover that the owner of the place had once been an English literature student of mine in high school. Between the sharkman´s tales, the spicy arugula pizza and basil daiquiris, the purple sunsets and the feel of the sun on my skin, I discovered a new Punta del Diablo and fell in love with it forever.
The beaches reminded me of Hawaii, and they were so quiet in December, just at the end of Spring, that it was a delight to walk down the long stretch of Widow´s beach early in the morning, by the solitary sand dunes.
One afternoon, I took an aimless walk through the woods to discover houses fit for international interior design magazines and a lot of construction going on. The houses are still scattered enough that it doesn´t feel like progress is ruining the scenery, and thank God for that.
I don´t know if it was because I didn´t see the hordes of tourists of January, but I felt blessed to be able to experience the place as it was, and to sense that, in spite of all the building and the popularity and the new restaurants and hotels, Punta del Diablo´s charm was still as wild at heart as Walter, fisher of sharks.