Buena Vida: The Uruguayan Way of Life

Colonia del Sacramento. The Rio de la Plata is technically a river, so it is appears brown due to the huge amount of sediment it’s carrying!

Here’s the thing about people in Uruguay…they do what they want, when they want to do it, and at their own pace. It’s crazy! There’s no way you can rush them or tell them otherwise. It is, in more ways than one, quite refreshing and inspiring. We come from a country that is a world of so much hurry, rush, and unending to-do lists…and I am just as guilty as the next person! (Probably even more so than the average American). Whether it be through your profession, your sense of personal accountability, your family duties, your commitment to a cause you value, or whatever – the American lifestyle hungers for productivity. We feel that our time has to be used productively from the time we wake up to the time we got to sleep, most of the time exhausted after a day of errands, list-checking, and taking care of all the shit we need to take care of to call ourselves a functioning member of society. Maybe a drink or two at the end of the night to get the worries or work stress of the day off our mind.

Viejo Barrio restaurant in Colonia del Sacramento – our favorite milanesas in Uruguay

In Uruguay…this kind of mentality is basically nonexistent. Folks are inclined to take an extra hour on their lunch siesta even if it means thier shop doesn’t open when it’s supposed to. Or maybe just sit in their hammock all day napping and reading. It’s safe to say that you’ll find a lot of the locals somewhere on the beach with mate or a cervesa, and then out again after dark for the prevalent nightlife of clubs and bars. Granted, we were there during their summer holiday, but I get the strong feeling that this permeates everyday life. Bob Marley music and hippie vibes abound through the sandy, unpaved roads.

Sunset at Playa de la Moza in Santa Teresa National Park

We were introduced to the phrase Buena Vida, literally translated as “good life”. However, it stands for more than that. It’s an idea. Buena vida is the culture and a way of thinking. Our travels took us East along the coast, beginning in Colonia del Sacramento, then stopping in 4 different beach towns: La Paloma, Barra de Valizas, Cabo Polonio, and Punta del Diablo.

Calle de los Suspiros – The Street of Sighs. Many legends about this street

Colonia Del Sacramento is a 1700’s era port town on the coast north of Montevideo in the mouth of the Rio de la Plata. The old historic area is somewhat of a peninsula encompassed by decaying walls of the fort from long ago. Cobblestone streets with colorful buildings, trees, and a lighthouse make it feel as though you have walked through a wormhole to a time centuries past.

On our last night in Colonia, we heard music on our way home and wandered toward it…and were rewarded with a giant festival! We weren’t quite sure what it was for, but it was open to the public, there was live music, dancing, and great little side booths of homemade snacks. SO fun – David and I keep calling it our night at the “Taste of Colonia.”

Next stop was La Paloma! While our stay there was short, it was our first real day at the beach and was quite memorable. For one thing, the beach at La Paloma has pretty volatile waves that churn up the sand a lot, so it’s harder to walk down because your feet sink so much as you walk! We thought we were going to walk a lot further than we actually did…clearly underestimated the Ocean 😀 The granules of sand were more coarse, and the waves were just enormous! A nice afternoon and lunch listening to the crash of the waves, walking carefully through the jagged, knife-like rock edges, and inhaling the salty spray.

Onward then to Barra de Valizas! This is a really special place. It’s one of those towns where the sixties are still alive. Just take a look at the pictures of where we stayed…

Valizas was an interesting experience for us because we stayed in a shared space in a kind of cabin/cabana. There were about 5 or 6 other people staying there, in various bunks, lofts, and some camping in the yard. We stayed in a bunk bed.

There are benefits and drawbacks to staying in a shared space. While you make a bunch of new friends who want to share drinks, travel stories, and have spontaneous music jam sessions with you….there is also very little privacy, a dirty and often-occupied bathroom, and the cabana is not sealed from the outdoors. Needless to say, I woke up one morning and had been bitten up by mosquitos on my face and all over my hand that was outside my sleeping bag, and a different day when it rained my sleeping bag got soaked from a roof leak. So yeah, you kind of just have to deal with whatever hand you’re dealt, doesn’t matter if you want to or not, oh well! Not the end of the world, just exposure to outside your usual comfort zone of steady amenities and protection from elements. But lot of really cool, amazing people with great outlooks and ideas on how best to live a life – I think anyone could take a leaf out of their books and gain from it.

Oh, and some pictures of our activities there: Beach hangs, our first attempt at sandboarding the dunes, and a wonderful day hike along the beach from Valizas to Cabo Polonio!

Our last few days we enjoyed the bohemian beach town of Punta del Diablo. This was the biggest town we visited since Colonia with a long winding main drag full of bars and restaurants called Fishermans hill. We explored the Santa Teresa National park where there was an incredible, intact Uruguayan fortress from the 1600s! Got some more beach time in and had a cool night of camping just up from the beach.

It’s strange, being in Uruguay and being surrounded by the buena vida has challenged me as it is hard to find justification in worrying or stressing about, well, ANYTHING. I mean, I wake up in the morning and think: What shall we do today? And it can be whatever we want it to be. Folks, it is a hard-reset to the status quo of always attempting to make the best of a work-life-home-social balance when half the time you feel like you’re treading water. And perhaps I internalized more of the day-to-day worry than is usual, but I know there are plenty of you out there that may feel similarly. Gradually, with each day, I am finding my outlook and mindset changing more and more. It’s baffling, and far simpler than I thought it was going to be. Feeling thankful.

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