The first time I visited Punta del Diablo was way back in June of 2006 (which is late fall in Uruguay). I didn’t know anything about Punta del Diablo at the time. It was just a name on a sign and a dirt road leading from the main highway toward the coast. I was driving from Punta del Este to the Brazilian border, just exploring. So, I took the turnoff to see what a rural beach town in this area looked like.
On the five kilometers of dirt road between the highway and the beach I passed a man in a horse drawn cart with three dogs following behind. I went by two men putting a thatch roof on a small cottage. I then went by a small store with an elderly woman and a young woman sitting on plastic chairs in front of a small store with two small children close by.
The road became narrower and veered to the left by some small rustic shops and restaurants to a sandy beach next to a rocky point. There were fishing boats hauled up onto the sand by large hand wenches. Along the beach was a row of connected fishermen’s sheds where men were working on their fishing gear.
I got out of my rented car and walked across the sand to the middle of the cove. It was quiet. The stone and sand landscape of Punta del Diablo seemed particularly unprotected and bare to the elements that had shaped them. The sea had shaped and smoothed the rocks, the wind had shaped the land, and necessity had shaped the lives of the local people who made their living on this rugged shoreline.
A sense of awe came over me as I stood on the beach. I experienced a profound simplicity of mind that made my everyday concerns seem trivial. I was having a moment.
The next time I would hear about Punta del Diablo was five months later at the Tres Cruses bus terminal in Montevideo. I offered to help a group of young English speaking backpackers with surfboards find their way.
“Are you going to Punta del Este”, I asked.
“No”, they replied, “we are going to a place called Punta del Dialbo”.
“Why not Punta del Este?”
They said they had heard that Punta del Diablo had good surf and was a really cheap place to stay.
Over the next three and half years I witnessed Punta del Diablo’s rustic realness become discovered by the world, with the number of summer visitors going up close to 10 fold. Many of the surfers and budget travelers that initially came to Punta del Diablo for its affordability, experienced what is most special about this place. Those who came wanted to come back. Friends told their friends and the word got picked up in popular travel publications that described Punta del Diablo as “hypnotic” and “mystical”.
And I know what these travel publications mean. Something about Punta del Diablo takes you to the heart of nature and necessity.
After my first visit to Punta del Diablo, I wanted to acknowledge and honor the experience I had there. I wanted to wear it around my neck or tattoo it on my arm, but I did not know how to articulate it.
However, I have since noticed Uruguayans in Montevideo, Punta del Este, and several other communities in Uruguay with the words “Punta del Diablo” burned into their mate gourds or woven into beaded bracelets. I had discovered a secret society, which, although must live in the scurry of the city, has experienced the same thing I experienced in Punta del Diablo. And the way they show their colors is as simple as the name of the place.
I confirmed this when I started a Spanish class in Montevideo in 2008. My instructor came into the classroom with a mate gourd with the words, “Punta del Diablo” burned into it.
She was one of us.
And by now I had learned how members of our secret society greeted.
“Do you like Punta del Diablo?”, I asked, pointing to her mate gourd.
“I love Punta del Diablo” she replied.
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