Barra de Valizas is an eccentric fishing and tourist town with a population of about 300 The village is famous for its thatched-roof houses, brightly painted murals and abstract graffiti. Most roads are made of sand, which crests in dunes where the village meets the sea.
We stayed in a hostel called Posada de Valizas, a converted home with traditional thatched ceilings that complemented the laid-back feeling of the town. The posada’s goal, like others along The Route of the Whale, is to provide sustainable tourism by maintaining the smallest footprint possible. Everything is recycled, composted or reused. In fact, the marmalade we spread on our morning toast was made from the orange peels left over from our freshly squeezed juice. Orange rinds were also placed on top of the wood-burning stove as a natural air freshener.
On our second day we set out with Rodrigo and a naturalist guide named Daniela to explore the sand dunes that give Barra de Valizas much of its charm. We crossed a stream near some quicksand, drank sweet water from a natural cairn beneath the ground, and climbed a tall dune to a rock outcropping. The open space, the shimmering sand, and the crashing waves seemed a stark contrast to the “shoebox” feeling of Punta del Este. From up here we realized that “open space” and immersion in the natural world were exactly what we’d come to experience and document for others.
At the top of the ledge, Rodrigo and Daniela gave us a brief lesson in geology. Thousands of years ago these sand dunes lay deep beneath the ocean. Even stranger was the fact that South America and Africa were once united as part of the supercontinent Pangea some 300 million years ago. Evidence of this lay all around us as we explored Uruguay’s coastline. Along the trail we also discovered obsidian arrowheads from the now-extinct Charrua culture, and fossils from a giant armadillo-like creature called the Glyptodon that lived here about ten thousand years ago.
On our last night in Barra de Valizas the town prepared for Noche de la Nostálgia, or Night of Nostalgia – a national holiday on August 24th, the day before Uruguayan Independence Day. People throughout the country dress in retro costumes and listen to oldies music from the 60s and 70s. We found a bar with a real disco ball, colored lights, and blaring music where the locals had come to dance. We joined them, unabashedly, and were welcomed in.