With all this Nisman insanity, freak weather and a tampon debacle to boot, you may not be alone in wanting to split the city for a stretch and give yourself a well-earned break, in, say… Uruguay? Try La Pedrera, a small seaside resort in Rocha, on the country’s eastern coast. It is less chic than Punta del Este, and also easier on the wallet, but in summer it attracts a distinctly younger and more local crowd.
The small town inherited its name from the ancient rocky formations by the coast which date back to the triassic period over five hundred million years ago, when South America was still apart of Gondwana, the southernmost supercontinent (who knew!). Nature lovers can come for a spot of bird-watching: The region hosts ostreros, calandra larks, thrushes and chiricotes, which are now protected. In late winter might even catch a glimpse of a whale as they come near the coastline.
At the bottom of the Calle Principal, the main street which forms the town center, you can choose between La Pedrera’s two beaches, separated by a narrow stretch of rocks. The first, El Desplayado, is the most popular. The sand is flatter, finer and, for the sporty, doubles up as a great volley arena. The westernmost beach, Del Barco, attracts more young people. Here the waves are bigger: it is the home of surfers and water-sport enthusiasts. It even boasts its own tourist attraction: the remains of Cathay VIII, the Chinese fishing boat which wrecked on its shore in 1997, giving the beach it’s name.
Food, thankfully, is plentiful. Check out Don Rómulo’s for some good old-fashioned Italian, or hit up any of the many restaurants lining the coastal Rambla or the Calle Principal: ask for la pesca del día. Short on cash? Try Salvatore, an interesting but irreproachable blend of woks, salads, milanesas, tacos and quesadillas. There is also a handful of quality bakeries which you should probably avoid if you value your physical health. If not, try the pastelitos de dulce de leche con banana, or the tartas fritas. There is no going back.
At night time, the Calle Principal fills up with makeshift stalls selling artisanal crafts and general hippie paraphernalia. There are also street artists, showcasing everything from juggling in hot pants, athletic dance moves and unicycle stunts to some of the stranger and more unsettling puppet shows I’ve ever seen. Keep an eye out for a man with a large antler standing in a chalk circle around a scented fire while an eerie music plays from his portable speakers. Uh huh.
Nightlife in La Pedrera begins later than in Buenos Aires; many people don’t head out before 2.30 AM. There are several bars to choose from down the main street, but the busiest is without doubt La Negra, the Resto-Bar not five minutes from the beach. During the day it serves ceviche and fresh picadas, but by early morning it transforms into a nightlife hub playing popular music and frequently hosting live bands. In summer, people often congregate on the beach to drink and smoke under the Southern Cross.
Although the town did not begin to attract tourists until 1990, it now hosts a series of events throughout the year. During Semana Santa, private enterprises and the municipal authorities co-produce “Jazz entre amigos” (Jazz among friends), a feel good music festival, while this February 19th begins the 11th edition of the La Pedrera Short Film Festival, a three-day movie marathon showing short films from around the world. Recent winners have come from France, Belgium, Spain, Argentina, Slovenia, Brazil and even Cambodia.
The town’s largest event, though, takes place traditionally on the second Monday of each February. The Carnaval de La Pedrera annually brings in between fifteen to twenty thousand twenty-somethings, filling the small resort miles past its actual capacity. Moral of the story: book in advance. Despite the crowds you can still enjoy the buena onda of the festival, which features music, fancy dress, foam and frequent water fights.
There are several places you can stay in town, and all within crawling distance of either the beach or the main street. Brisas de la Pedrera is a good bet if you can spare the cash for the hotel experience, with a nice location between the Calle Principal and the Rambla. Montevideaños like to rent out one of the many small beach houses off la Rambla, or just check into a hostel.
La Rubia, up near Ruta 10, is probably the liveliest hostel in town. It has good showers, plenty of hammocks, a swimming pool with some nice mood-lighting and a great sociable atmosphere. Hang out in the kitchen for a chance of getting offered free food, or chill in the bar area, which on weekend nights doubles up as a dance-floor.
If you’re getting bored, but can’t face heading back to BA just yet, La Paloma, Rocha’s biggest resort, is just a couple hours walk down the beach, or you can head up north to the yet-more-hippie Cabo Polonia, which has no roads, no electricity, perhaps a dozen shacks and plenty of sea lions, for a chance to experience the seaside as it was meant to be.
La Pedrera is considerably cheaper than the rest of Uruguay, as I discovered when I optimistically approached the duty-free counter on the return ferry with my measly remaining fifty pesos. Although restaurant meals can cost between two to four hundred Uruguayan pesos, empanadas are cheap and plentiful, and bakeries sell sandwiches and pastries for a good price by the weight.
The nearest airport is at Punta del Este 80 miles away, but it’s probably cheaper to get a flight into Montevideo, another 70 miles down the coast. Buses leave frequently from the capital’s Tres Cruces bus terminal and take around three and a half hours for just under four hundred Uruguayan pesos with either Cynsa-Nuñez, Rutas del Sol or Cot.
The main ferry companies that run from Buenos Aires are Buquebus (the priciest), Seacat (a half-way house) and Colonia Express (no complaints). All three run connections directly from the port in Colonia to other towns around the country.
Have fun, watch for those mosquitos and go get tanned!