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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
* 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