New hypothetical, your work has you hanging out in Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital, for four days. It is springtime and Punta del Este is a bit on the dead side. You will soon take to Montevideo’s town square to cheer their soccer team as they qualify for the World Cup. You will roam up and down the colonial streets and learn that beer is only served in magnum-sized bottles (which you will carry with you during your roaming, because soccer hooliganism requires it). You will marvel at how people who seem to eat nothing but meat 24/7 are not succumbing to cardiovascular disease on every corner.
But it is your second time in the city and you still have a lot of free time to fill. What do you do? Easy, you go to Punta del Este anyways. It’s less than two hours away, it’s beautiful and you are neither Argentinian nor wealthy, so there is no seeing or being seen to concern yourself with. Also, you know that the Spanish word for street, “calle” is pronounced ca-ye not cash-ye and that singing has no place in polite conversation.
There are plenty of buses that make the Montevideo-Punta del Este run, but for the sake of freedom and mobility, our group of 8 chose to rent a couple of cars and caravan it. The plan was to get there, park at the tourist information center and have them tell point us in the right direction. Good in theory, not so good in execution. The only thing that we learned from the tourist office was what we already knew, we were a month early to the party. It wasn’t that they explicitly told us this was case. It was more that we gleaned it from the fact that the office was closed tight and would not be opening until December.
All was not lost. Across from the office was a marina, where fisherman cleaned and sold their day’s catch. It was there that we discovered that we were not the only unseasonable guests.
Had the ferry been running, we could have met their buddies with a trip to the Isla de Lobos, site of the largest sea lion colony in all of the western hemisphere.
With the tourist office a bust, we stopped to eat, drink our first of many mega-beers (seriously, these things put a 40 to shame) and seek some guidance. The helpful waitress sent us walking in the direction of a seaside shrine dedicated to the virgin of the Candelaria (for real, that’s her title)!
Scattered amongst the carpet of mussel shells, there are plenty of plaques honoring the dead.
|Shopping Punta del Este-style.|
But the shrine was not our intended destination. We were headed towards the hand in the sand. Well, technically, it’s only the fingers in the sand. The full hand is either in the process of sinking into the earth, to which one assumes the rest of the body has already surrendered or is slowly clawing its way out. The names given to the popular symbol of the city “Man Emerging into Life”, “Monument of the Fingers” and “Monument to the Drowned” do little to solve the riddle of which way the hand is headed.
I’ve read that the Chilean artist who created it, Mario Irarrazabal, intended the sculpture to serve as a warning to swimmers, as this side of the peninsula, known as the Costa Brava, has rough waters. Yet I also read that he is displeased at it being referred to as the “Monument of the Drowned”, so even there, the message is a bit mixed.
Copies of this mysterious sculpture can also be found in Madrid, the Atacama Desert in Chile and Venice.
|..or what it looks like to have a giant thumb going all up into your business|
Having examined the disembodied fingers from all possible angles, it was time to begin our trip back to the more populous Montevideo, but first we had to stop at a stunning homage to an accidental cannibal (thanks again, kind waitress). About 20 minutes west of Punta del Este is Casapueblo. This very Gaudi-esque hillside museum and hotel was built by the Uruguayan artist, Carlos Paez Vilaro in honor of his son, Carlitos, who regardless of what becomes of his life, will always be known as one of the 16 survivors of that plane that crashed in the Andes. For anyone that has not seen the movie, that was the plane that was carrying a rugby team when it went down. It was assumed that none of the 45 passengers had survived both the crash and the subsequent avalanche so search efforts were quickly called off. The sixteen survivors, faced with no food, no heat and little hope of rescue, were forced to resort to the only available source of sustenance, their dead comrades. Seventy-two days after the crash, two of the passengers encountered a farmer (after a 10 day cross-Andes trek) and thus, people became aware of the survivor's plight.
So Carlitos survived, his dad built this beautiful structure and we had the opportunity to watch the beginning of a lovely sunset from its terrace. I don’t know if the scene is any lovelier come summertime, but I doubt it. We practically had the cafe to ourselves with nothing but the sounds of the ocean and the occasional bird call to serve as our soundtrack. All along the terrace, there was not one che-che-che to be heard. It was glorious.
But the story doesn't end there. We still had three days to enjoy. In Montevideo....
|Note: this is not a small man. He is actually a giant Swede, one that happens to be drinking an even giant-er beer.|