Tuesday, March 11, 2008

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.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Tim,
Just sitting here, incidentally with the sun rising behind me, shaking off Andy's last few "last one's" and thinking about how truly lucky we have been to have such great people become a part of this young project. Of course we've got our problems with the bottom line, the perpetually broken truck, the poor saps at El Tranquilo Bar suing us, and countless more challenges, but feeling the contentedness among the staff has been an immeasurable lift. After all if I hadn't had such a wonderful experience at the Secret Garden in Ecuador I sure wouldn't be here. So keep smiling at that sunrise, because every laugh I hear and grin I catch reminds me just why we all do these crazy things with our lives.
Thanks much Tim, see ya in the morning,

4:02 AM  
Blogger N. said...

De las cosas que me llevo del Diablo pienso antes que nada en el camino de casa al trabajo. Nunca antes uno asi: el mar aparece alla lejos, entre los pinos, y corta el horizonte como una nitida navaja de agua. Despues aparece entero, violento, absolutamente inmenso. Se rompe de a poco el silencio humedo de las manhanas de este rincon en el fin del mundo.

Cuando llego al bar la escena se completa con los personajes todos.... que bueno atraparlos aca! Chocho, Diego... juas! Que figuras. Y como no hablar de "Ani de Alaska", que no sabia meterse al mar, o de "Camilo", extranha mascota del grupo? Topo, el Negro, mi franchute preferido...

Alguien me dijo una vez que si cada cual supiera que es el mejor comediante del mundo, seriamos todos muchos mas felices. Nos observo en el bar, en el hostel, en el pico.... una familia.
Ahora que vuelve cada cual a su camino, me invade la nostagia de un nuevo fin. Y al mismo tiempo, la celebracion.

Que bien vivido Tim! Salud por todos!

10:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tim you are the man i hope one day my Camping experience leads me to some of the great places you been ! keep it up

5:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah Tim,
Sounds like you've got the good life going! You and Becky! How I envy you guys. Our turn will come. Soon, I hope. When it does, be sure we'll pick your brain to find out where we should head. Please get in touch with us when you get back to Vermont. Love to see you again and hear about your adventures. I'm sure you've been keeping up with the news. Have you read Obama's recent speech? If not, you should. NPR has a transcript on it's site. Love to hear what you think when you've read it.
Continue the good life!
Lisa Timbers

8:40 AM  
Anonymous Suz said...

Don't work too hard, but congradulations. I just noticed that BNT is now pushing 2,000 subscribers- that's amazing! Congradulations on finding a better rythm and a great place to work from. Do you ever get out to surf with them?

11:26 AM  

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