Cabo Polonio: Bonding and Isolation Over Stolen Milk and Cocaine
Peace is fleeting.
Horizons are rarely unspoilt.
Beaches, seldom lonely.
Cabo Polonio has one tienda. The owner, Rigo, has the monopoly; meat, produce, red wine... he's the guy. There is another tienda, but it's fifty kilometres away. A bit of a hike.
Cabo Polonio has one bar. The owner, Waldo, has the monopoly; beer, grappa and cocaine. Again, fifty kilometres.
Smatterings of what resembles other establishments are around too. Two hostels, a boarded up restaurant, and a dotted landscape of some of the oddest looking houses you will ever see. Electricity is restricted to the early evenings, there is no internet and access by road? Don't be stupid.
Cabo Polonio is, to say the very least, interesting.
Demelza (you know, the woman I can't ever seem to shake... my wife) and I had been in Cabo Polonio for a few days. It was cool, all good fun, but we were getting kind of bored and knew that it was time to move on. There's only so many perfect sunrises and unspoilt horizons a man can take. On what was supposed to be our final night on the cape, as we sat with uppity backpacking Europeans, yawning at the hipster braggadocio that was their perceived expertise on wine, cheese and coffee, our view of the perfect horizon became contaminated. From the Brazilian north, a lone silhouette staggered up the beach in our direction. A lump formed in my throat. Who was about to land in our world and interrupt the Europeans' scintillating repartee? A hippy? A psychopath? Both? And what an unconventional way to rise to Cabo Polonio. Our route now seems rather boring in comparison; bus from Montevideo to Rojas, change to the Chuy bus and get the driver to drop you off on the highway in front of the national parks office on the way to the Brazilian border. Stand around looking lost for ten minutes until you work out that you have to pay five dollars at the office that for all intents and purposes, looks deserted. Then either walk for two hours over the wild sand dunes until you see the water or, preferably, catch a lift in the tray of an insane monster truck that's designed to trample Mother Earth into a state of 1950's housewife submission. The Honeymooners comes to mind; not sure why?
The stalking shadow grew upon us. I was nervous. I'm a writer; I don't like people. I sat at the green plastic table on my green plastic chair and white-knuckled. My Chileno buddy, Tetrix, sat plucking Hostel Viejo Lobo's beat up mascot guitar. He was good. He could seriously play. As opposed to that Dutch motherfucker we shared a dorm with who stole my milk and thinks he's Bob Dylan. He sucks. Got some news for ya buddy; Bob Dylan can't sing or play guitar either!
It was a multinational table; a derelict, loserish United Nations of sorts. Kind of like the real one. Demelza sat next to me (just can't shake her) and next to her was the Dutch milk thief; she hated him too. Opposite me sat an Italian national, Enrico, and next to him, hogging all of the weed, was hostel worker, Hannah. She's German. Her regular booty call, Luis, only stayed in the dull conversation out of business politeness. He's the owner; Uruguayan. Luckily for him, he had to excuse himself from the circle because a Danish fella had thrown a piece of plastic into the smouldering fireplace. Smart.
As the silhouette slowly transformed into an actual person, it was apparent that some drunkeness had been involved with his day. With a bottle of tannat in one hand and a spliff in the other, he staggered up the beach yelling to us Obrigado! He was Brazilian, tall, bearded, scruffy, drunk and spliffed out of his mind. Another derelict loser! He gave everyone at the table a high five and sat down in the circle. One of us, one of us.
Daniel's personality oozed gregariousness and drunken philosophy. Like a Brazilian Hemingway, he immediately took over direction of our twisted production and suggested we build a fire and "burn a shitload of meat." So Daniel, Tetrix, Enrico and myself all hobbled our way up the most solid section of the sand dune to Rigo's tienda. Man, did that place have some serious meat! Slabs of unidentified animal all over the place. As Rigo had never heard of carry baskets, we loaded up our backpacks with probably horse, not sure, and two bottles of wine each. We needed to keep our hands free for the walk back down. If the walk up was anything to go by, one of us was sure to be head-firsting back to the hostel like a human toboggan. It was Tetrix.
After three hours of me seriously debating the merits of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy with a freshly arrived, young English couple, Tetrix sidled up beside me, put his arm around my shoulders and flashed the cheesiest grin I've ever seen on a five foot six, drunk Chilean jazz guitar player. He signalled with his wobbling head that he would like a private conversation and abruptly took me aside into the pitch black to begin whispering in my ear. It tickled. "Hey, Kangaroo..." Yes, he calls me kangaroo. "...Kangaroo, do you like to..." Through a deliberate squint, I could just barely make out that he was touching his finger to his nose while he snorted repeatedly. "Do I like to what, Chileno?" I'm as bad as him at inventing nicknames. "...you know man, do a little blow?" I scoffed, "Well, what the hell do you think I'm in South America for, the culture?" I was there for the culture. "Well, you go get the Rugby player..." (Demelza, a Kiwi, who has never picked up a football in her life) "...and I'll get the Brazilian. Put on some pants, Kangaroo, Luis showed me a place." For the record, I was only wearing underpants, you know... for the ladies.
So I quickly wrapped up my winning argument on how the internet is just a complete rip-off of the interactive Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy book within the story, and that the author, Douglas Adams, should at least be partially credited with its invention. Then I put some pants on.
Out of the four of us, only Tetrix had any idea where we were going, so we blindly followed his footsteps into the opaque of night, hence my non-description of the walk. Suffice it to say, I ripped my pants on what I'm assuming was a gate that we inexplicably climbed over instead of opening it and walking through. Clothes were not my friend this evening.
The place Tetrix led us to was the only bar within a fifty kilometre radius. It was cramped, dingy, lacking roof, had no toilets and was run by a very seedy looking motherfucker who, as it turned out, was actually a very seedy motherfucker. Waldo. Tetrix and I followed Waldo into a dark room behind the bar and made the deal, leaving Demelza with Daniel. He is a damn teddy bear that guy; he quelled her growing nerves beautifully while I was gone and from that moment on, he was a friend for life. At fifteen dollars for a gram of coke, we made many trips to the dark room that night.
Waldo kindly allowed us to snort straight off the bar counter. Mirrors are so passe. There are no police in Cabo Polonio and the drunks sitting at the bar didn't seem to mind, in fact, they didn't even flinch. This brings me to Alvaro.
Alvaro is a poet, old, and controls a boy toy who is half his age and who seems to have a problem with his birth name, as he refused to provide it to us. Let's just call him Colin. Colin was tall, strapping, dressed like a plumber, and was Alvaro's "muse". He must be some muse because Alvaro immediately proclaimed to us that he was the creator of the famous phrase I think, therefore I am.
Descartes is a damn plagiarist.
I was under no delusion; I knew that Alvaro was only our friend for the night because there was free coke on offer. He probably leeched onto every coke snorting backpacker he saw. But who cares? We were all up for a good time under the banner of this unique environment and it was an honour to have the blood sucked out of me by a true local. Because he's a leech. I couldn't even tell you how, or when, Alvaro and Colin joined our group; like a pair of ever-present metaphysical spirits, they were just... there.
So four became six.
The six of us banged on for a couple of hours, philosophically debating each other's perceptions of Tibetan spirituality, improvising spoken word poetry, and of course, powdering our noses. At some stage during the night, the Dutch motherfucker rolled in to scam some free marching powder. I went all snooty high-school girl on his ass and screwed my face up at him while twirling my hair; or something of that ilk. He wasn't about to get any drugs from me, that's for damn sure. Once he realised that he wasn't going to be offered any, he left. Heartbreaking. He stole my milk!
Eventually, as Waldo wanted to close up, Alvaro suggested that we all go back to his house to continue the party. We had been talking about his poetry for much of the evening and now he wanted me to read some of his work. The real reason? He wanted more coke.
Words sound so much cooler in Spanish than plain old English. So expressive. At the time, I was still in the beta phase of Spanish language implementation, but on coke, whoa! It must have been a confidence thing because I was on absolute fire, spitting out fluent, humorous and cohesive conversation with anyone that dared listen. Colin and myself spoke for hours.
It's a microscopic, incestuous world, Cabo Polonio. That very day, Demelza and I, while on our daily walk to hang with the seal colony, had been admiring a particular house for its unusual structure, nauseating colour scheme and foxhole mezzanine. This house, turned out to be Alvaro's.
To see inside the house was a stone cold trip. No straight angles, a circular kitchen, and a mezzanine level designed to fit one, and one person only; Alvaro. It was far too small and cramped for Colin's lanky legs. Writing, smoking and homoerotic paraphernalia littered the main room which housed many, many, porn magazines. On the wall, etched in Spanish and written in English, were those famous words; I think, therefore I am. Who knew that an unknown, coke-addicted, Uruguayan poet dreamt up that phrase?
We sat around the octagon coffee table, hoovering up lines like we were vacuum cleaner salesmen demonstrating a new, whizz-bang product. It wasn't until sunrise when everyone decided that they'd had enough. Or we ran out. Whichever came first. Regardless, our bonded friendships had been sealed.
As six became four again, we strolled along the beach for a while, desperately hanging on to a wonderful succession of hours that had to inevitably end; Demelza and Tetrix arm in arm, Daniel and I wrestling like idiots on the beach.
All was rare and beautiful as the sun rose over the once again unspoilt horizon; priceless bonds with nature, and with each other, forever entwined, and a serious hangover setting in.
Thousands of miles of Latin American mountains, desert, and jungle, now seperate Demelza and I from Tetrix and Daniel and it is only on rare occasion that we catch up on social media. But we don't need to, for when we do, it's as if we only saw each other yesterday.
Chileno and Brasilia; the wife and I thank you.
*If you enjoy the theatrics and revelations of Benjamin Munday, subscribe to The Low Road for a free download of his award winning story, 'The Ashtray'.