On February 15 we anchored at Punta del Este, a popular resort town located on a peninsula where the Rio de la Plata meets the Atlantic Ocean.
Although the Spanish first set foot in this area in the early 16th century, it was not until 1907 that Punta del Este was first recognized as a village and it became a city in 1957. The area was originally inhabited by the Charrua people, the last 500 of whom were massacred by the Uruguayan government in 1831. Today it has a year round population of less than 10,000, but it balloons during the summer when vacationers, including Argentina’s rich and famous, flock here for the beaches.
After breakfast we boarded a tender for the long ride to the town’s port. It was morning and there were folks dressing the fish from the morning’s catch. Isla de la Lobos, about 5 miles away, hosts the largest sea lion colony in the Western hemisphere, more than a quarter of a million. A handful of them were in the water by the fish vendor, waiting for the trimmings they knew would be coming their way. This must occur every day.
There were birds waiting for scraps as well, some in the water and some sitting on floats.
Leaving all this action we walked around the fairly tranquil port and came upon . . . two sea lions, sunbathing on a concrete platform that tilted down under the water. They looked very relaxed; maybe they had already eaten their fill at the fish vendor’s.
We continued around the harbor and walked down along the beach. This is the river side of the peninsula where the beaches are calm. It is called the Mansa beach (Spanish for “tame”). There were a lot of flowers in this area, and really all over town.
We walked across the peninsula toward the Atlantic side. We found the public library on the way, but unfortunately it was closed. It looked like just a storefront facility, but its always good that there is a library for people who like to read. We also passed a small synagogue, in what was a very sleek but rather uninteresting modern building.
The beaches on the Atlantic side of the peninsula are called Brava (“fierce”) and are considered better for surfing than swimming. On a hill of sand overlooking the beach is a sculpture called La Mano (“The Hand”). The fingers of a giant hand reach out from under the sand, serving as a memorial to those who have drowned near here and a warning to those who might swim. It was constructed by Chilean artist Mario Irarrazabal during an open air sculpture festival in the summer of 1982. Made of concrete and plastic reinforced by steel bars, it was completed in six days and has since become perhaps the most recognizable symbol of Punta del Este. The idea is similar to a sculpture called “The Awakening” in Washington, DC (near where we live), which shows the head and arms of a giant arising from under the sand.
In the morning Rick went out on our veranda to look across at the city and a whole flock of parakeets flew closely by. It was too fast for a picture & we didn’t see any more. Quite a sight, since he had never seen parakeets out of a cage before, much less flying in a large flock. But we did encounter a few of them in the trees in a park called Plaza Jose Artigas. Jose Artigas was a leader of the original Uruguayan independence movement and this plaza is known for its art and handicrafts market. Unfortunately, the market was closed but we did see the statue of Artigas and it was a pleasant park to saunter through.
We walked up the rocky Atlantic coastline toward the end of the peninsula. The sidewalk had an interesting pattern of dark and light bars and birds were on some of the rocks. Several places were full of shells that the birds must have dumped there after eating their contents. We also passed a beach on the way, well used even if not the nicest white sand.
We walked up on the peninsula to visit the two landmarks in this area. Faro de Punta del Este is a lighthouse built in 1860. Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria is a Catholic church built in the mid 20th century that is painted an unusual light blue.
We walked back to the port through the residential areas of town. At the entrance we came upon a plaque honoring Astor Piazzolla, the Argentine composer who was the originator of tango nuevo. He spent many summers in Punta del Este and in 1982 composed the Suite Punta del Este. The classical duo on the ship, George and Agnes, usually finished their set before we went to dinner with a tango, introduced by George with “It’s tango time!” More often than not it was a tango by Piazzolla. They missed the plaque when in Punta del Este and seemed to appreciate it when we gave them a photo of it.
Well, that brought us full circle, back at the fish vendor in the tender port where the birds and sea lions were still entertaining the visitors. After spending a little more time with them we boarded the tender for the long ride back to the ship. We were relieved to re-enter the air conditioning on this very hot day.
We were anchored near Gorriti Island, which is close to Punta del Este. From the ship we could see Punta del Este beyond the island, and also the island’s beaches and boat harbor with its own lighthouse as we sailed away. The end of the Punta del Este peninsula, with the lighthouse and the church, could also be seen from the ship.