THIS town is a “surfer’s dream”. If only it had some waves. We’ve spent the past few days in sleepy La Paloma on the coast of eastern Uruguay (or You-Are-Gay if you´re in Grade 6). It was always going to be a gamble coming here wave-wise – Uruguay is notoriously fickle with onshore winds almost every day. The east coast often goes without decent waves for weeks on end while west facing coasts and Africa get all the swell. But the chance to get amongst the salt and to a more relaxed setting after the monolith of Buenos Aires was too good to pass up. Plus I wanted some sun on my back before we tackle the freezing peaks of Patagonia next week.
Laidback is the first word that comes to mind when describing La Paloma. It has a cruisy, laidback vibe reminiscent of other “surfing” towns I’ve been to. The similarities to coastal towns, in particular the Middleton stretch for you Adelaideans, back home are immense. If the tidy beach shacks, well-maintained, grass-lined open streets and white uncrowded beaches were transplanted into the foreshore at Day Street, South Oz, only the untrained eye could tell the difference. Thatched rooves on the shacks and more dense lush forest around the town would be the only things that’d give it away.
I was told before I went to Tofino last year that it was Canada’s version of Byron Bay. Maybe. The statement La Paloma is Urugua’s Tofino fits much better. Whatever that means. Like these other “hippie”/surf hubs, the town is full of locals cruising around on bicycles with shirts off and surfboards under arm. There’s the token dreadlocked couple selling handmade jewellery on the footpath and a couple of surf shops sprinkled along the main strip. I was offered weed twice by rasta-looking folk in the first day I arrived here. Must be the hair (I’m sporting a man-bun and a redder than fuck beard now, don’t be hatin’).
What I like about La Paloma is that it still has that untouched feel about it, unlike say, Byron Bay. It seems as if it hasn’t been hit by the inevitable tourist masses yet, who will one day pour through the town seeking the aforementioned under-the-radar, non-commercialised aura of the place. I’ve been in town three days now and only met one person (apart from my Spanish teacher here) who spoke fluent English. He was from Holland.
Most visitors to the place I’ve encountered have been Porteños (residents of Buenos Aires) who’ve jumped on a ferry across the Rio de la Plata to holiday for a few days. Nadia, who runs the hostel I’m staying at with husband (I think?) Emilio, told me La Paloma is what Punta Del Diablo (another Uruguayan surf town with an underground/hippie reputation) used to be like five or so years ago. The situation is a tragic microcosm of what happens all over the world – people flock to a destination because of its “cool” and untouched appeal, only for it to become commercialised and sterile years later. The cycle isn’t helped by people like me who tell the world (or the three people that read my blog) how rad the place is.
But apart from how chilled out La Paloma is, how about the waves? Hmm, check back with me in a few days. We landed here during one of its characteristic flat spells (apparently because the coast here faces primarily southeast, it needs rare swell sent northward by passing Antarctic storms, or something). We’ve managed a few surfs (it’s warm enough for boardies right now, score) and even tucked into a few tiny tubes but nothing above waist-height and nothing to write home about. I’m managing to flesh out this post right now purely due to the fact that it’s dead flat today. Check this link to see what it looks like when it’s pumping.
La Paloma is an interesting example of how travel media latch on to the surfing aspect of towns and run with it, without really knowing anything about the sport. Check this from one of the local surf school sites (there are heaps like this: “surfing lessons in South America’s most beautiful surfing
location, La Paloma, which has been described as the world’s surfing
capital because it has a south-facing peninsula with two large bays that
offer perfect surfing conditions, year round.” Perfect conditions year round? What about now? The world’s surfing capital? I think Oahu, Hawaii might have something to say about that.
Or check these out from Lonely Planet about La Paloma:
“This town is a surfer’s dream – out on a point, if there’s no swell on the left, it’ll be coming in on the right”,
and this about nearby Punta Del Este:
“OK, here’s the plan: tan it, wax it, buff it at the gym, then plonk it on the beach at ‘Punta’.”
OK, Lonely Planet: What does any of that even mean?
So with the surf on the decline – the swell is meant to kick again tomorrow fingers crossed – I’ve been riding my bike around town (did a sweet mono in front of a lighthouse, props for the pic Stubsy), eating real good foods with heaps of veggies, reading this, doing Spanish lessons and researching for mine and Dave’s impending Torres Del Paine hike. It’s a rad place to detox, relax, catch up on some Z’s and get a sweet bronze. The jury’s still out on the waves.
Check back here later in the week for my Carnivale account (Uruguay styles) and hopefully tales of glassy 4ft tubes.