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Driving along the Uruguayan coast, Punta del Este to Jose Ignacio

I’m up a bit early on our third morning in Punta del Este, Uruguay, after our drive yesterday to Jose Ignacio. I’ve opened one shade so I can see the waves crashing on the rocky shore on the Atlantic side of the peninsula. The sand is wet from the overnight rain. The sky is a low overcast, suggesting more rain may be on the way. The surf is the roughest I’ve seen since arriving here.

Yesterday morning we picked up a rental car. No one in the Avis office spoke English, but we got along just fine until they wanted me to sign a charge slip with no amount on it. We had agreed the authorization would be for 3,000 dollars, and I wanted to see it on the slip. I refused to sign, and they refused to give me the keys. We were at an impasse. Finally one of them suggested I wouldn’t need to sign at all if I had full insurance coverage. They offered me a quote, and it was cheap enough I took it. A few minutes later we were underway.

We drove along the coast, stopping here and there to get photos of the sand and surf. The beaches here seem to go on forever. You can pull the car to the side of the road almost anywhere, hop across a guardrail, and be on the beach. We saw surfers everywhere.

We continued up the coast until we reached Jose Ignacio. It’s a few miles off the main road and almost ridiculously laid back. No high-rises like in Punta del Este. It’s all low cottages and bare feet, at least for now. We parked and walked on the beach for a while until we reached the lighthouse.

After the stroll along the beach, we walked the streets of Jose Ignacio back to the car. That’s when we realized there were no open restaurants there. It didn’t occur to us to bring drinks or sandwiches, and we were getting hungry. We drove around the remaining streets of the village in case we missed something, but left empty handed. We ended up stopping at a gas station just outside the village for an ice cream and to use the bathroom.

We continued up the coastal road. Not far after Jose Ignacio, we crossed a curious ring-shaped bridge. A few hundred yards later, the pavement ended. I attempted a mile of so of the unpaved road, but I didn’t gain any confidence in the tiny Renault. We turned around and headed back to pavement, all the way back to the gas station, where we turned inland to get to the main highway.

At some point I realized I had grossly underestimated the amount of time it would take to get from place to place on roads that are relatively primitive compared to what I’m used to. Back in January we did a short road trip in the north of Baja California. The roads here are like that. If you’re not driving something with a rugged suspension, you’re maxing out at 90-100 km/h, and frequently less. Or you’re knocking your fillings loose. That said, the drive inland through rolling pastures that nourish cattle, horses, and sheep was quite lovely, and the roads forced us to drive slowly enough to enjoy it.

In the back of my mind, I’d been hoping to make it to Punta del Diablo and back to Punta del Este before dark. When we reached Rocha, we found a restaurant attached to another gas station, had a sandwich, and re-evaluated.

It was almost 3 pm. I was getting exhausted. We were roughly halfway between Punta del Este and Punta del Diablo. Even if I stayed on main roads and drove 100 km/h, which is a bit over the speed limit, we’d have to turn around almost as soon as we got to Punta del Diablo if we wanted to be home by dark.

I admitted defeat and drove back to Punta del Este.

In retrospect, I should have picked up the car and driven directly to Punta del Diablo. We probably would have reached it by 1 pm. Then I could have saved the closer destinations like Jose Ignacio for today, when the car needs to be back by 5 pm. But then, I never factored in the weather, either. Jose Ignacio in today’s weather wouldn’t have been the same as is was under yesterday’s blue skies.