#078: The Quest Across the River [Uruguay]Tak's dispatch released on 21 November 2016

Sand Dune Uruguay

A gentle sea bound breeze escorts itself down the dirt road—overgrown weeds lining the perimeter—past abandoned houses awaiting summer—wild flowers coloring the walls—and past the grizzled gentleman tending to his piles of rusted scrap metal and old appliances collected in the yard. Each one of your steps crunches against the hard natural surface; hurried due to the realization you are losing the race with the sun and its daily morning commute.

You wait by the horse pasture—the one you noticed yesterday on your way back from the beach—for the arrival of the owner, ever mindful of the time elapsing which could imperil the river crossing tonight. You see, if you can’t borrow the horse for the journey, you will need to walk, and if you walk, it is, of course, going to take much more time.

Now generally, that is no big deal when you are out in nature with no cares on your mind, but today, if you take too long on your adventure, then the heavyset man down by the river surely will have left for the night and, without him, goes that lovely luxury of using his boat to cross over the strong, alternating currents pushing in and out to sea.

A discovery that his clapboard shack is no longer attended would mean either teaching your electronics to swim as you take chances with mysterious water crossing under a darkening sky or, short of that, being stranded in the rolling dunes until the next day, unable to return to Barra de Valizas, the town where you are now currently seeking the horse’s owner.

Uruguay Sand Dunes & Clouds

You have climbed the giant mounds of sand, each step sinking down, robbing you of propulsion. The ripples crafted lovingly by the wind, erasing any signs of an earlier explorer. These are the luxuries of not having a horse right now. The time continues to move as you take in the giant, puffy clouds rolling past the etched slopes.

Crossing this waterless, sandy expanse—one devoid of shade and structure—with merely your intuition, luck and a crude compass puts you at the mercy of today’s steadily climbing heat. Without a horse, you estimate a minimum of several hours on foot each way to arrive at and return from Cabo Polonio, a small coastal outpost, detached from electrical and transport infrastructure.

You are walking in a particular direction, not quite sure if it’s efficient or even correct. The idea is that eventually you will see this outpost of a town (if you want to call it that). The only error in that thinking is that you will soon find that you never really do find the outpost of a town until you find it and in order to find it you need to head towards it which was the problem in the first place. That is always the problem, isn’t it?

But before you have concluded all of that, you remain steadfast with hope and find yourself climbing up a piles of giant boulders, hoping the elevation will give you that clue, re-establishing where you are and where you need to go. But the stone giants are of little help, put there to merely trick you into scampering about like a fool.

You can either head that direction or that direction. Part of the adventure is not only getting the direction correct but the elevation games at hand. Do you want to go down into that gully and then walk all the way back up to keep the straight line or do you want to head over that way and around so you don’t have elevation changes? If you don’t keep the straight line though, won’t you lose your direction? Or, when you are heading in the straight line, is it? And where exactly is the straight line pointing anyways? These are the problems today. The horse would’ve known.

Sand Dune Plants Uruguay

Of course this is the moment—having been walking through the brown, sandy landscape and under the blue, cotton ball skies—that you have been waiting for. It is the explorer’s moment when you spot that which you seek—or at least hope that you have spotted such. It is now that journey to close the gap, scurrying across the vegetation and running a half step from a tumble down the steep dunes towards the sea, helped (or perhaps put at risk) by that boost of newfound energy.

It isn’t a good idea to judge distance from a beach on a clear day. That town seems so very close in your head. It sure is nice to finally have a visual target.

The beach is desolate, quiet, remote and beautiful. A random truck passes by. There are no roads in or out. Where did he come from? He was headed into Cabo Polonio so that much was clear. Small little beach huts are littered on the outskirts. Sure would be nice to be heading to one of them now. Do they have running water? No. Do they have electricity? No. Internet? No. Yet, they seem to have it all as you admire the raw and simple uniqueness of each one.

Cabo Polonio Lunch Uruguay

You know that part in the Western films where the outsider dismounts and ties the horse, clunks up the stairs with his boots and blasts through the saloon doors nearly taking them off their hinges? That is your feeling when you trek for hours across scenic desolation with successful, if not fortuitous, navigation and find yourself amidst a lovely inhabited beach outpost. The only difference is nothing has stopped upon your arrival, except the feeling of time, which you believe stopped long ago around here.

You’ve spied a couple of restaurants but the one almost close enough for an ocean spray with the empty hammocks swaying looks about right. You place an order, take in the scenery and your fresh fish meal and settle, or more accurately, free fall, triumphantly, into the hammock. This is living.

Around the corner, the rocks and small islands off the coast are covered with barking sea lions who look up at the lighthouse flashing a watchful eye every twelve seconds for the sea captains out yonder. Not more than a handful of people clamber up the lighthouse steps to peer down on this special place, wedged in a National Park.

Cabo Polonio Overhead Scene

You spot a swath of lush, green grass lying lower than the brown scrub everywhere else. You decide to cross through it. You have some time to do such things, more confident you know where you should head to get back to the river crossing.

Your foot was a half-step away; probably wasn’t a rattlesnake but could’ve been a venomous pit viper. When you arrived at the airport, the older pudgy man settled himself down. He was originally from the Dakotas or somewhere in the midwestern United States. “Uruguay is good if you are afraid of poisonous animals because there ain’t nothin’ dangerous here,” he had said.

And then there was the brief discussion you had with the woman back in Velizas yesterday who told you about a couple poisonous snakes you might encounter but, “don’t worry because you most definitely won’t”.

Excluding a rattlesnake and a coral snake and a pit viper or two, that guy at the airport was correct when it came to poisonous snakes. And outside this half a step before you spy the muscular line in the green grass, the woman was correct that you probably wouldn’t see one.

Uruguay River Crossing Boat

After a zigzag adventure on the way back, you find yourself walking the remainder of the way along the coastline also referred to as “the long” way or the “flat way” or the “easy way” as navigation is far simpler when there are no choices to make and the only way is forward.

It is so good to see the man in the shack as he returns a wave. He pushes himself up from the chair and limps over towards his trusty boat. Another day for the electronics. Another night with a roof and a bed.

Uruguay Landscape Black White
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Tak

New York, NY
Internationally-published photographer with a passion for creative food, fine products, unique cultures and underground music. Twitter / Instagram / Email

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