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Monday, December 12, 2005

Punta del Este, the destination worth the journey...

I know, I know....
I've been offline, doing my thing. In Punta del Este, no less. Not a bad place to do anything.....Trust me.

So, as mentioned, Tony called Bruno who called housekeeping to make up Apartment 0-1-1 for me in Punta del Este, Uruguay. From Buenos Aires, which has practically annexed Punta as their own vacation spot during the summer months of January and February, most people get there via Buquebus, which is a combination boat-bus situation. OK.... I've been all about the overnight bus, so...the boat is just background noise, right? WRONG. Buquebus is a very cheesy casino-style boat. By that, I mean, it's like a gambling boat, without the gambling. The christmas tree lights around the periphery, the dramatic staircases connecting upstairs with downstairs, the stores selling god-knows-what, the gracious staff. But, that's where it ends. Because at least on a gambling boat, you forget everything and concentrate on the stakes. Here, the stakes are...well....getting a good seat. And, by that I mean, a seat without a heavy coffee breathers exhaling their morning stench all around you, without wailing babies in your left ear, without passengers with bladder problems asking you to get-up-down forty times (did I mention there's about 60 across seats to a row and I was on the aisle), and a seat NOT behind a person who has little regard for crashing back onto your kneecaps every time they stretch like a giraffe. Add to that, I am sick, it's 7 AM, I didn't sleep (shocker...), I have three hours to go, have just taken meds and vitamins on an empty stomach and am cranky. Oh, and the guy next to me had hands that were a cross between Mark Smith's fingers with Plum's thumbs. Mesmerizing, but scary. Buquebus. NO.

I (thank the freakin Lord that I don't believe in...) get off the boat part, and get onto the bus to Punta. Salvation, you ask? Not yet. I sit next to a woman about sixty-five years old who must NOT have a sense of smell because her perfume intoxicated the whole country of Uruguay, easily. Let alone the seat next to me. (Maris, I totally understand how Curt feels about Petit Cherie when it catches in his throat and makes him reality on the bus...) She, meanwhile, is taking out a pocket-mirror every five minutes to put a Danny Zuko style 50's comb through her thinning dyed black hair all the while giggling like a schoolgirl and waving the guys half MY age boarding the bus. What, I wonder, does a woman like her do in Punta del Este. I stop pondering. Too frightening (and sad)...

But, when we get to Punta, it all vanishes. I jump in a cab that takes me to the apartment complex Terrazas de Mantaniales, which is a huge brick red complex of gorgeousness, right on the beach. Punta del Este is comprised of an enormous stretch of beach that encompasses Punta del Este peninsula (the hey day in the 90's that is pretty rundown and cheesy now, La Barra -- the hey day of today, and Jose Ignacio -- the hey day of tomorrow). The amount of real estate is unreal, construction everywhere, it's booming right now. Terrazas is in between La Barra, which is a cute, isolated strip of shops and restaurants that gets going in about two weeks (I'm in Punta about 2 weeks early for the "season" -- think Hamptons pre-Memorial Day with better weather), and Jose Ignacio, a quieter fishing village that is now drawing the likes of the rich and famous (Martin Amis owns a house there ) with a quieter, more affluent vibe.

Apartment 0-1-1 is wonderful. 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, kitchen, living room, terrace overlooking the beach. Thank you Tony and Bruno!! Since I'm still nursing my bronchitis, so this solitude couldn't be better. But, I don't even unpack (my usual protocol when I get to a place, even for a night...), I go straight to the beach with my book and just take in the ocean air and feel happy. This is the same feeling I get when I go out to the Hamptons alone, and sit with myself on the beach, at sunset. Pure bliss. I couldn't find a way to be happier than this. So, I decide, after constant occupation by Santiago, Bariloche, Buenos Aires, Punta will be my relaxtion. From there, I head to the supermarket, which I can guarantee that none of you would venture to entertain the thought of making purchases in because it's so minimal and dirty. But, there I buy tea, cookies, croissants for the mornings, milk, eggs, etc... and start to make my little Punta home for the next days.

My days in Punta took the following shape:
Wake up around 11-12 Noon. Make tea, breakfast.
Head out to the beach with my Ipod (Ilana, Gina - I think 'Constellations' by Jack Johnson is my new favorite song - thought of you guys) and book and Halls. Sit there, content, until about 5 PM.
Walk 5 miles to La Barra for coffee, midday snack, window shopping.
8 PM - go back to Terrazas, watch the sunset of outrageous hues of color and light (some of the best sunsets I've ever seen)
Either have soup for dinner, or go to the little Parilla on the corner for grilled cheese and soup and ogle the waiter I would've rather had for dinner had I felt well.
11 PM. Bed.

And, that was wonderful. Yes, yes...they say Punta is a party town. But, I couldn't have been bothered. (even though Jude Law was in town throwing soirees every night) Plus, I was early in the season, was a non-issue. But, my obsession with Punta wasn't about partying, similar to how I've come to feel about the Hamptons, it was about just relaxing. Terrazas was like Amaghansett with it's dunes and sunsets and quiet friendliness, and local cafes. I fell in love with Punta for everything it's NOT reputed to be, a place for down-time. I've never actually lived on a beach before, so the wind and the sea at night - an amazing sound - took getting used to. But, by day 5, I was sleeping like a baby. Sea sounds, real ones, not machine generated ones in NYC apartments, are a wonderful thing....

I left Punta with a heavy heart, part because I only have two weeks left of this absolutely breathtaking South American adventure, part because Punta just made me smile. But, I know I'll be back. I just now....

Onto Iguazu Falls, the waterfalls bordering Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. Then, Brazil. The last leg in THIS journey.

More soon.