El Diablo Tranquilo, Uruguay
It’s 5:20 am here in Punta del Diablo, Uruguay. I’m perched on a stool behind the reception desk at El Diablo Tranquilo hostel, listening to the Killers and waiting for the sun to rise.
In the past two weeks I’ve seen a lot of sunrises. The hostel faces east, towards the ocean, and every day the black velvet night turns into a purple bruise, then a metallic blue. A thin line of pink eases onto the lip of the horizon. Finally fire-orange streaks light the bellies of cumulus clouds and ignite the pale morning light.
Sometimes I see the sunrise on the walk home from El Pico, a grungy little surf bar where stray dogs wander the dance-floor and the local 2-man reggae band plays an epic cover of Bob Marley, Guns and Roses, the Police and the Cure all in one song.
On days like today, though, I see the sunrise at the end of my nightshift at the hostel reception desk. I’m trading 3 shifts a week for room and board, a deal I worked out with Brian Meissner, the 25 year old owner of El Diablo Tranquilo.
Even though I’m already plenty busy with my writing and editing work, I really enjoy working at the hostel. I like being part of the staff. I like selling beer to the late-night crowd. I like going into the kitchen at the El Diablo restaurant and asking Cho Cho the Cook for my meal.
Cho Cho the Cook is a perpetually stoned 23 year old Uruguayan with an impressive pot-belly. If he’s in a good mood, the food is fantastic – slabs of fish on rice with vegetables, steak milanesas lightly fried with baby potatoes…
If Cho Cho the Cook is in a bad mood, or if he hasn’t had enough to smoke, the meals are awful – 2 fried eggs on French fries with mayonnaise, or on one sad occasion a can of corn mixed with a can of tuna fish.
Cho Cho is actually second in command in the kitchen. The head cook is Diego, alpha male of Punta del Diablo, a ripped big-wave surfer with an easy grin that shows off perfectly white teeth, as if he brushed three times a day with baking soda.
Diego lives in a shack behind the hostel and wakes up early every morning to check the surf forecast on the computer. If the wind is from the north, Cho Cho will be on his own in the kitchen.
“My life is only four things,” Diego told me once, speaking easy Spanish for me to understand. “Surfing. Cooking. Smoking. Women.”
Brian the Owner could fire Diego for skipping work for surfing, but he likes him too much.
“I swear the guy can’t even write his own name,” he said one morning while Diego (shirtless as always) was checking the surf forecast. “But he takes one look at all those little wind arrows on the screen and knows EXACTLY where the best wave in Uruguay will be today.”
My life in Punta del Diablo isn’t quite as simple as Diego’s, but I’ve developed a tranquil routine. I have my favorite empanada stand, down past the fishing boats on the beach, where a grandmother makes the oily meat pastries from scratch, feeding the dough through a metal roller, filling it with fish and cheese and dunking it in light oil to fry.
I do my editing work plugged into my laptop in the hostel common room, on white couches in front of the fireplace. If the common room is too busy I go upstairs and write on one of the little tables by the foosball table. Travelers pass through all the time, and usually I stop work a few times every hour for a conversation, a cup of coffee, or maybe a ham and cheese sandwich if Cho Cho is slow with the mid-afternoon meal.
Everyday there’s an hour or two before dusk when the light turns golden and I walk the two blocks down to the beach, fly a kite off the rocky point while watching cormorants and surfers, or take a run down the beach in Santa Theresa National Park.
I’m really content these days. Work is going well. The Fodor’s assignment in Patagonia is finished. BraveNewTraveler.com had more visitors in the last 30 days than in all of last year. The Matador network is coming together, and it’s a great privilege to work for an exciting startup alongside such talented, good people - Ian MacKenzie, David Miller, Ross Borden and Ben Polansky.
I feel comfortable with where I am right now. It will be great to get home to Vermont, but Punta del Diablo is a good place too.
Everyday it seems like I have at least 4 or 5 moments when I feel really, really lucky, happy and blessed. I dance and goof around. I smile. And these moments are just getting more and more frequent, lasting longer and longer. I can imagine living wide-open again, embracing every ounce of beauty in the world.
6:20 am. I’m going outside to watch the sun come up.