Here I am, in Punta del Diablo, 11,000 km from the British Isles, watching the rain sweep across the seascape in north east Uruguay. I have just turned 50. I am surprised on both counts. The thought of flitting around Latin America for a while has been gestating for a few years. And, earlier in life, I’d have laughed cynically at the thought of still breathing at 50 (or wanting to be). My surprise is welcome.
In what used to be a very quiet fishing village on the edge of a national park, it is winter. Apparently, in the summer this place is heaving with young tourists, eager to take advantage of the surf and ‘laid back’ lifestyle. To be honest, looking at the shacks (currently closed) offering various alternative therapies, hippy tat, and the opportunity to dread your hair or get a tattoo, I’d hate it. But, for seven days we have been the only European tourists in town. If you’re looking for banging tunes and a great nightlife then September is not the time to come. If you’re 50 with three young children and a need to settle them into a new continent where everyone is mostly speaking Spanish then it is perfect.
I love the deserted and subsiding asphalt streets. You don’t feel amiss whistling a tune from a Sergio Leone film and the regular sight of tethered horses adds to the fantasy.
It has rained a lot. Arraigned in our bright waterproofs, the five of us are the quintessentially mad gringos; out walking on the beach when the sane are mostly inside huddled around the fire. We’ve walked miles of deserted beaches; seen countless birds of unknown varieties, kept our eyes keenly peeled for whales but spotted a solitary seal, and everywhere we go, been accompanied by a pack of dogs from the hostel where we’re staying.
I have always loved the tranquillity of solitude but there’s no denying the deep pleasure I get from spending time with Ishbel, Neamh and Ruaridh, trying to answer their questions, and watching their confidence increase around new people and circumstances. I know the next few months cannot possibly be a constant game of ‘happy families’ but I feel sure that the experiences our three will gain on this trip will be a truly positive legacy for Polly and me to have provided for them.
For my part; so far, so good. I’ve started to overcome my initial shyness and had a couple of conversations about the situation in Uruguay and beyond. For example, I’ve just returned from lunch where the proprietor was about the same age as me. He had been in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Angola. I started the conversation as I thought I recognised a tattoo on his knuckles but I was a bit confused by a mistake in the lettering of an acronym. More on my encounter with this possibly dyslexic Sandinista later.
Michael MacNeil, 5 September 2016