Mate, Sun, and Noise in Piriapolis
Off to Uruguay! After spending most of our trip in Argentina, we left today to head to the beautiful beaches of Uruguay (and get another stamp in our passports). Uruguay is a much smaller, flatter, and somewhat more laid back version of Argentina. They smoke more cigarettes and drink more mate, spend more time lounging, and spend even less time rushing around (not that Argentines are in any type of rush). I'm not sure I've mentioned mate before, but it's an herbal tea that Argentines and Uruguayans drink constantly. We saw a lot of Argentines drinking mate, but nothing like in Uruguay… you know how to tell a tourist on a beach in Uruguay? They aren't drinking mate! No joke, it's everywhere.
The most famous destination in Uruguay is Punta del Este, a favorite beach spot for the rich, famous, and beautiful. Seeing as Punta del Este in the high season was more than slightly out of our budget, we headed to the smaller, cheaper beach town of Piriapolis, about 45 minutes south of Punta.
When we read about the different beach towns in Uruguay, we were drawn to Piriapolis because the town is backed by some of the tallest “mountains” in Uruguay. For anyone who has been to California, the Uruguayan mountains are more like very small hills. We took a chairlift to the top of the fourth tallest mountain in the country, with a whopping elevation of about 1,200 feet! But it was a beautiful perch to overlook the town and the beach and enjoy an ice cold beer.
There isn't really much to say about Piriapolis… the town itself is small, consisting of about 10 blocks separated from the beach by a rambla and a busy street. The street is lined with subpar restaurants, expensive beach shops, and ice cream parlors. The rambla is about 10 feet wide, dotted with park benches and steps down to the sand. Piriapolis was originally developed by a wealthy Argentine, Piria, in the 1930s, the first beach resort created in Uruguay for wealthy Argentines who were unhappy with their beaches. Piria built the Argentino Hotel, a massive structure that still exists and operates today, and the rest of Piriapolis grew up around the hotel.
We were both surprised at how busy (and noisy!) Piriapolis is. Not that it's a bad thing, it's actually quite entertaining, but we assumed that Punta's little brother would be pretty mellow. Not so! The beach was packed all day everyday. And I really mean all day: the sun doesn't set in Uruguay until about 9 pm, and there were always people still on the beach at sunset. The sunsets were beautiful! We watched the sun dip below the horizon every day.
As for the previously mentioned noise, Uruguay (especially Piriapolis) is loud. There are no laws regarding noise controls or mufflers, resulting in hundreds of motorcycles without mufflers flying around town deafening anyone in a 2 mile radius. To add to this racket, there are trucks that drive around town blaring music and tonight's special deals at local restaurants and bars from speakers mounted to the top of said trucks. The good thing is, when you get down onto the beach, the waves drown out most of the noise.
Uruguay is famous in South America for its fresh fish. We took full advantage of this, and discovered Uruguay's other specialty: mussels. And the fish and the mussels are soooo tasty. It was a very nice change from the massive quantities of baked goods and beef that we have been consuming. No change in the wine consumption though!
Our last morning in Piriapolis, we decided to venture from the beach front and ramble along the rambla. We discovered, just on the far side of the beach, a series of fishing villages. These villages had makeshift peers, launch ramps, and boats that were hauled in and out of the water using an old tractor. It was a vast contrast to leave the bustling touristy beach town of Piriapolis, walk ten minutes, and discover a humble, quiet fishing village. This is the Uruguay that most tourists don't see, and we were thrilled to have seen it by accident!
We definitely enjoyed the sun and the sand, and were happy to be enjoying the beach at the end of the trip!