Punta del Diablo: A winter jaunt to the beach

Days: 369-370 (29 June 2015 – 30 June 2015)

Total distance travelled: 83,475.76 kilometres (51,848.3 miles)

Despite the countless fellow travellers we’ve met over our journey to date, a mere two or three had actually visited the tiny pocket of land between Argentina and Brazil that is Uruguay.

The only place that had been truly recommended within that pocket was Punta del Diablo, a small town on the Atlantic coast.

In summer, the population here swells to around twenty thousand thanks to a steady influx of South American vacationers and also a smattering of gringos.

When we arrived, in the heart of winter, the population was completely local and back to its true size of around two thousand.

We’d left a dull, wet and cold Montevideo that same morning, and it was a little understandable that we wondered what the hell we were doing heading to the beach at that time of year… however we never knew if we’d be back in Uruguay, and there was the slim chance that we might be able to set our eyes upon some Magellanic Penguins!

Fortunately for us, despite a couple of emails that had been missed at our end, our host was there to meet us and ferry us to our hostel, otherwise it would have likely taken us a good while to get our bearings.

We checked in, finding ourselves the only guests at this neat, ever improving hostel with one of the best kitchens we’ve found anywhere.

A little hungry, we quickly made the twenty minute walk into town where we discovered this fishing village was truly sleepy.

The tiny fishing hamlet of Punta del Diablo

The tiny fishing hamlet of Punta del Diablo

Seriously, despite there being hundreds of dining and drinking options in summer, at this time of year, we laboured to find anything open.

Eventually, we did find a couple of options, only for no staff to appear in one, and the other, it was just ridiculously overpriced.

By now both hungry and a little grumpy, we searched for a mini supermarket that we’d been advised was the best place to shop in town.

We’d earlier popped our heads into a couple down near the main thoroughfare and although serviceable, hadn’t been wowed.

To our surprise, when we did finally find this recommended store, it was home to a great range of fresh fruits and vegetables, had its own butcher, deli and bakery, as well as a decent range of general groceries.

We loaded up on supplies and made our way back to the hostel, our initial plans for a solo night here quickly shelved as we decided to walk up the coast the following morning to visit the relatively close national park (it sat about twelve kilometres away).

Our hostel included a delicious complimentary breakfast, so after consuming it and a couple of mugs of hot tea, we emerged outdoors into a beautiful winter’s morning.

Bathed in sunshine, we began our walk, and pretty soon we realised we had company that we couldn’t shake.

Four of the hostels dogs, as well as their ever present neighbour dog were along for the ride, and somewhere along the streets, a large black dog joined their troupe as well.

Empty streets on this beautiful winter morning

Empty streets on this beautiful winter morning

We started our walk along the shore, occasionally watching members of our pack futilely chase birds in seemingly playful fun, a challenge all but a particularly old specimen partook in in, whilst he contently kept us company.

It wasn’t long before we unexpectedly had our first penguin sighting, although it wasn’t in the manner we expected.

Our first Magellanic Penguins weren’t in such good shape

Our first Magellanic Penguins weren’t in such good shape

At regular enough intervals for us to wonder what was the cause, we began to find these poor little bodies, always solitary, in tangled little heaps upon the sand.

Wondering what denizen of the deep was the cause of this destruction, we also began to consider the possibility that perhaps they’d simply gotten lost during their migration, and perhaps starved.

A little sombrely, our path now took us through the town of Punta del Diablo itself, as the beach surrendered the shoreline to a rocky promontory.

The occasional swim for some of the dogs kept them happy, whilst we ambled through the quiet streets and back into the sandy dunes on the opposite side.

“Quiet please!! I’m listening to the sea…” (left) & Content after an ocean dip (right)

“Quiet please!! I’m listening to the sea…” (left) & Content after an ocean dip (right)

We continued to find these little penguin bodies on the shore, probably spotting six or seven during our total journey.

Then it suddenly changed.

There in the distance stood a lone Magellanic Penguin!

So I pulled out our camera and grabbed a quick shot before he disappeared back into the surf.

Finally, a beautiful, living, Magellanic Penguin

Finally, a beautiful, living, Magellanic Penguin…

Only he didn’t disappear… and before either of us could fully comprehend what was happening, the large black dog that we knew not from whence it came, was off and charging directly towards this little flightless marine bird.

I began to chase the dog, yelling at it, but ultimately hoping to alert the penguin to its danger.

Both of my flip flops were thrown in vain, then all we could do was watch in horror, as the penguin continued to stand there, blissfully unaware until it was suddenly in the jaws of this black terror and was soon no more.

In shock and completely despondent we abandoned the thought of continuing any further, the black dog keeping an obvious distance from us.

The main ‘harbour’ for the fishing boats of Punta del Diablo

The main ‘harbour’ for the fishing boats of Punta del Diablo

It’s a shame that such a moment ruined our day, and at the time, despite there being little we could do, we continued to beat ourselves up about it.

Time has calmed us a little, and we can certainly see that base urges and animal instinct meant we could have done little.

But still, it did sour our visit, to this beautiful (and peaceful, at least in winter) part of the Uruguayan coast.

It’s tough to recall every moment having been on our adventure for so long, but at this point in time, I was failing to find a moment where my spirits had felt any lower…

 

Notes:

* A four and a half hour bus ride from Montevideo’s Tres Cruces terminal to Punta del Diablo set us back $526.00 pesos each.

* Although our fear was that dogs had killed all of the penguins we’d spied, it is very possible that this was not the case http://phys.org/news/2015-06-dozens-penguins-dead-coast-uruguay.html

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15 Responses to Punta del Diablo: A winter jaunt to the beach

  1. That dead penguin is kinda sad. Great post. TT

  2. How sad about the dog killing the penguins. If the dog was starving and in need of food, that is one thing. Survival of the fittest. But if it killing simply for sport, that is horrible. I’ve not yet been to Uruguay, but if and when I go, I will want to to be during the summer season. I once visited Peru during the winter season and was amazed at how cool those sea breezes could be!

  3. heather says:

    What a horrible ending to a tense day. I would have been devastated had I seen the situation.

    • Chris says:

      Yeah Heather, it did shake us up. That said, with hindsight we can at least understand that there is little we can do to curb some animal instinct…

  4. Vyjay Rao says:

    It is so touching to read about the fate of the penguins, wonder if the local authorities or any other organization out there could do anything about this.

  5. Tracie Howe says:

    What a bitter sweet moment to delight in your only living penguin sighting just before the attack. So sad! I wonder how you would have enjoyed this place if this tragedy didn’t happen?

  6. Erin says:

    Poor little penguins! You must have felt sad and defeated after seeing something so tragic. It makes me sad just reading it 😦

  7. Ugh this made me so sad because penguins are my favourite animal… 😦 I’m sorry you had to witness that terrible attack! Not a great end to the day, I bet :/

  8. Kevin Wagar says:

    Oh man, this really bummed me out. I’m heading to Argentina with my kids so they can see penguins and I hope we have a happier experience!

    • Chris says:

      Yeah, it was a sobering moment. But I guess travel isn’t always fun and glamorous! I hope your Argentina trip goes well, it is an amazing country!

  9. klipdrifters says:

    Aww man what a damper, poor penguins! Surprised the authorities haven’t stepped in yet. Exept for the poor penguins, it looks beautiful.

  10. The place looks like a good place to interract with locals. It’s so sad that you discover a lot of dead penguins on the shore. I hope that the local government or other concern bodies would take a look the real cost.

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