You arrived the other day to Punta del Diablo; a seasonal party town just starting to fill it’s lungs with the bustle of summer energy. You mosied down the crudely paved road sloping past a strewn mixture of crude shacks and luxury residences, headed northeast through the small downtown—if you should even call it such—and soon thereafter find yourself down on the closest beach, Playa de los Pescadores, which is appropriately littered by a handful of colourful Uruguayan fishing vessels perched on the sandy shore.
You poke around in that abandoned structure out by the breakwater; the one slapped annually by the winter winds, kissed by aerosol paints. You climb the boulders and watch the feisty crabs disappear into crevices just out of reach of the tidal pools.
This is where you get eager, perhaps carefree, and decide to make a lunge to explore new territory. This is also where you sacrifice your camera, smashing it hard against a rock in order to continue walking without pain for the rest of the day or year.
“What a boring narrative I’m dragging these poor readers on,” you think and moments later, that idea appears at the beginning of the paragraph.
Let’s leave this lovely, mundane beach, comfortably attended by the families and lovers of today, and start walking. This puts you past the more robust waves—harnessed by the surfing populace—and up over a small hill which curls back to the empty beach of Playa Grande.
Speaking of beaches, where is the right place to stop? It is quite an entertaining activity when on a beach to watch newcomers handling the technique of beach arrival. You have several types: the dictator who heads to a spot without any indecision; the community organizer, who aims to pick the perfect spot and wanders in circles until tiring; and the subverter, who, amongst all but the dictator, will successfully usurp whatever decision is made and move to a spot no different than the original.
Within these then, can be the types known as pack dogs who, faced with a giant beach and only one person on it, will sit right next to that one person, typically arriving with a loud radio, an ongoing mobile phone conversation and a crying baby; kicking up sand while setting up their mobile housing unit; and covering this one beachgoer in secondhand sunscreen spray with the same output as a crop-duster over a malarial swamp.
Where were we?
In any case, today you aren’t really aiming to go to the beach in the “let’s take a swim and read a book” manner, so all that talk just now wasn’t really totally relevant, just an imaginative diversion while walking on this coast Uruguay provides. Today you are exploring outside of Punta del Diablo to see where this beach leads (which invariably in another beach and another beach or just one giant beach until you get to Brazil wherein the beach assuredly continues for a long, long time).
All this walking and thinking and wondering to yourself, “What does the beach look like around that next curve?” has kept you looking and moving forward and thinking and wondering the same. Had you looked backward, as you just did now, you would have wondered earlier if Punta del Diablo and the area to the southwest was just a giant sea of oil into which a dragon exhaled—some of the thickest, blackest, angriest clouds you’ve ever seen, a definitive line between dark and light, rolling towards you at what seems, based on the shadow cast below, a remarkable speed.
There are no houses nearby, no shelters, no people, no method of communications, even the occasional stray dog has disappeared—not the best sign of things to come. And so you are at a crossroads: you can head towards these ominous clouds of potential destruction on a quest to get to town before they do; you can head inland looking for shelter or a bus or, at least a stray dog; or keep on walking. You keep on walking.
Remarkably, after a solid stretch of walking at increased speed, what comes into sight is this strange mound of decaying infrastructure: a staircase with a lookout deck; a large concrete pad—maybe the remains of a now deceased wharf—and a dead skate, part of the Chondrichthyes.
It is not often you are able to climb a lookout tower on a secluded beach in order to survey your options in the face of an oncoming storm, but this is your opportunity. You bound up the first several stairs, focused on the black curtain ahead. Your left foot pushing off, your right foot hitting the step and bounding upwards, back to your left foot…your balance is thrown into anarchy. You grasp with both hands for the railing, arresting yourself from the void below. No stair step was to be found this day, just a gaping hole waiting for the inattentive explorer to attentively find it.
From the top deck you see nice skies to the northeast. Perhaps at the farthest distance you are looking at Brazil. The wind has definitely increased and the pressure is dropping. Swiveling your head around, you are back face to face with the cause of all this excitement.
The second drops of rain are evaded when the stench of rotting sea decay greets you under the concrete deck. The boisterous winds, the slashing rain, the ominous skies, all observed from your fortress next to that dead skate. You think of those movies where the creatures are peering out from the slit of a dark den, yellow eyes blinking; you are now just an animal waiting for your sentence.
The heavens are now completely black. You are thankful for your abstract shelter, squatting to stay dry from the small streams of rainwater exploring its newfound terrain before entertaining the churning salt-laden currents. And then, just as quickly as the charcoal swaths reared forth overhead, the slivers of blue pop through.
The walk along the beach you notice the carpets of shells—layers and layers of shells. Even where you see sand, it is but a thin decoy over the shells. Your foot placed and pulled away reveals a footprint of shells left behind.
This is also where the three-legged dog Clyde shows up out of nowhere; not the first three-legged dog in Uruguay which makes you wonder. A terribly mangy, crippled dog with the biggest heart of them all, keeping up as best a wounded beach pirate can.
And as you walk, Clyde hobbles alongside, unshakeable. And then, for whatever reason—a reason you’d love to understand—he runs off at breakneck speed over the dunes and disappears.
The party of Punta del Diablo before the party began.
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