The Dedos on the main beach, Punta del Este. They were designed by a chilean sculptor and represent new life.
Very overcast morning today, but caught a bus over to Punta del Este. Maldonado
is really just a suburb of Punta now, they join up so one continuous line of development. When we arrived at Punta we got off at the Plaza Artigas and felt like we´d walked into a ghost town. There was absolutely nobody around, no cars on the streets and all the shops were closed. It seems that while Punta del Este plays host to around 850,000 people in summer, in the off-season you´re hard pressed to find anyone about (the permament population is only about 9000, apparently!). There are high rise flats everywhere, and we were told that about 90% of property here is owned by foreigners, mostly Argentinians and Brasilians.
The port of Punta del Este.
We managed to find a tour company open, so booked a tour for the afternoon before heading back into the now only semi-deserted main street for lunch. It was very cold with a biting wind, so can understand why no-one was out and about.
Our tour left at 2pm from the bus terminal, and after picking up people (mostly Brasilians) from various hotels, our first stop was at the port. Gazed longingly at the beautiful boats, and saw two sea lions catching fish just off the pier. The sea side was very rough, so no surprise that most boats were tucked safely in port. We then drove through the oldest residential area to the square with the lighthouse, weather station and a church. On the way, we saw the anchor of the HMS Ajax, which sunk in the Battle of the River Plate just off Punta del Estate in December 1939.
A frolicking sea lion with a fish in his mouth.
We drove across to the district of La Barra
(via some very nice residential areas) and crossed the ´wavy´bridges - the Punte Leonel Viera - over the Rio Maldonado. It was like a mini roller-coaster ride, so most enjoyable, and got to do it on the way back too! From here we drove over to another residential district and saw the most expensive house in Punta, last sold for US$15million - this doesn´t sound like a huge amount, but the house actually wasn´t that impressive, so land values here are obviously pretty high.
The last stop of the tour was Casapueblo, the museum built and run by Carlos Paez Vilaro, a Uruguayan artist. His work is very reminiscent of Picasso (he paints, sculpts and makes ceramics) while his house had a very Gaudi-esque look to it with lots of curves and odd shapes.
Choppy waters on the port breakwater, Punta del Este.
Attached to the house there is also a hotel, and the artist still lives there part of the time. The house looks out over the Rio de la Plata at Punto Ballena, and has a spectacular outlook. Interestingly, his son was one of the survivors of the Andes plane crash in the 1970s, when the Uruguayan rugby team disappeared after the crash for almost three months. A movie was made of this, as it turned out that the survivors had to eat some of their dead team-mates to survive. Paez Vilaro also wrote a book about the search for his son and finally finding him.
AT the end of the tour, our driver dropped as back in Maldonado (very handy) and headed home to the hotel for the evening.