I arrived in Punta del Este on a late night bus from Montevideo. I had promised my dad I would visit Uruguay during my South America trip – as he himself had visited many, many decades before (when in the merchant navy) and had very fond memories of the place.
I could see what he meant about Montevideo, it did have a lot of charm. But it was very quiet the weekend I spent there. Wrong time of the season I guess. I did have the very best steak I had eaten anywhere in South America though, in the Mercado del Puerto (sorry Buenos Aires, you were pipped at the post).
My dad had read about the beautiful resort of Punta del Este in a weekend magazine. Being a dutiful daughter (and knowing how much my dad was vicariously enjoying my travels) that is where I headed next.
I was all in by the time I arrived there. Uruguay was my fifth country in as many weeks. I was on to my second chest infection of the trip, and I still had to find somewhere to spend the night. Punta del Este was dark, it was cold and wet and, much to my increasing panic, it was decidedly closed.
The hostel I had had hoped to stay in, closed. The next two I tried, closed. Thankfully the decorator on site at my third attempt was able to direct me to a hotel he was fairly confident was still open. He was, however, slightly perplexed as to why I had made the effort to come to Punta del Este at this time of year. By now, so was I.
I woke up the next morning in what was actually a pretty lovely hotel. They had given me a very decent corner room, which, when I flung open the curtains, presented me with an ocean view only a few metres from my window. The only problem with this picture was that the ocean, the sky and all the very many clouds gathered above me, were a cacophony of grey. It was very, very wet outside, and the palm trees betrayed how windy it was. I stayed in my room as long as was permissible, feeling fairly flat, and without much energy to search the streets for anywhere that might be open or able to feed me.
When I finally could stay in my room no longer, I headed to the bus station to drop off my backpack and book a ticket out of there on the first bus available, which was at 10pm that night. It was going to be a long day.
I could fully appreciate that in the height of summer this place would be lovely. It had some very upmarket looking boutiques and restaurants and hotels. All closed.
Deeply hidden within my raincoat, with the toggles around my face pulled as tight against the wind as was possible to achieve with my cold, wet over-pink fingers, I managed to find an open restaurant, ordered pizza (always required when I am at a low ebb) and wondered how on earth I was going to fill the hours between now and bus o’clock.
There is only so long I can make a pizza last, so on leaving the restaurant I aimlessly traversed every street available to me for signs of life, occasionally casting a glance at the foul-mooded ocean at each crossing. At one particular crossroads, casting my eyes down the street, I spotted something dark in the ocean, it was there one minute and gone the next. My steps continued in the opposite direction, but then my mind caught up and said “Hold your horses there missy, what was that?”
I had no better purpose on the planet at that moment than to investigate. As I turned to face the ocean and walk towards it, another dark shape loomed out of the water. Now this was getting interesting. What is that?!
Arriving at the sea wall, the sea churning with all its might, the cold rain blowing into my eyes, I can hardly believe what is right in front of me. My Lord, if it isn’t whales? Whales!!!
I have never before in my life seen whales, or any large sea creatures for that matter. But, I have long held a profound respect for the awesome dignity and beauty of our largest mammals on the planet. And here, right in front of me were a group of them, tossing themselves back and forth in a violent ocean. I could only assume feeding on some little fishies, or plankton or some such, brought so close in to the shore by the bad weather. And it really was very grim weather.
I no longer cared. I sat my behind on the drenched sea wall. There was no one else in sight. Nobody on earth knew about these whales right now except me, and them. These creatures were here just for me, and I for them. I must have sat there getting absolutely drowned for a good hour at least. I never saw another human being. But the whales and I were just fine in each other’s company. I felt so blessed to see these guys. So grateful. A level of gratitude that could only possibly have been achieved by the feelings of misery that had preceded it. I was in love with this moment. I still am. Whales for heaven sake!
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