Uruguay's Ramshackle Paradise
Imagine a coastal town made up of eclectic homes constructed out of salvaged materials and populated by a motley handful of bohemian twenty-somethings, fishermen, and gauchos. Place it in southeastern Uruguay, about 300 km from Montevideo, and you have Cabo Polonio: a squatter's encampment turned real live community surrounded by sand dunes, grazed by horses, and almost completely cut off from the rest of the country.
There are no roads, no electricity, and no way to get there except by bus, jeep, foot, or on horseback (hence the large number of horses in the area). Half hippie paradise, half shanty town, Cabo Polonio is truly a place unto itself. And the architecture? Stunning in its ramshackle aesthetic, cheerful colors, and "anything goes" ethos.
It shouldn't surprise you that Cabo Polonio began to take shape in the 1960s, when squatters began building homes along the coast. It's safe to assume that most people who "live" in Cabo Polonio have no legal right to be there, but while the endless array of lawsuits make their way through the courts, the inhabitants continue to live as they always have: off the map, off the grid, and in homes that a snob might kindly deem a "shack" but in reality are extraordinarily imaginative dwellings perfectly suited to the landscape.
But when you take a second look at this boho enclave, you see the type of homespun hippie aesthetic that's packaged and sold at American chain stores, but actually exists in Cabo Polonio. Tourists have discovered the simple charms of Cabo Polonio in recent years as evidenced by articles in the New York Times among other publications. Not that the inhabitants are complaining. Many residents rent out their homes and pitch a tent along the beach while guests are in residence.
In the high season residents turn their homes into makeshift restaurants and bars where tourists and long-term inhabitants alike can meet to enjoy the simple pleasures of the area.
With no electricity, it's possible to spend your entire vacation without hearing the sound of a television (we can only assume the one above simply washed ashore or was abandoned on the beach about 40 years ago). Yes, that means you can forget about charging
your iPhone, too, unless you have a Solar Savior or the will to fight for a spot at the only generator in town.
primitive, totally self-contained, and (as of now) mostly unspoiled, Cabo Polonio is a great example of how a luxurious hideaway doesn't have to mean 5 star restaurants and ultra-expensive amenties.
It can mean a colorful shared house by the sea and a horse to take you wherever you need to go. But as the long-time residents of Cabo Polonio might ask you, why go anywhere? You're already in paradise. MT