If you've ever read anything from Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Marquez, you will be familiar with the term "Magic Realism." This term best describes certain things that tend to happen in Latin America, which are a good mix of magic blended with a pretty good dose of realism. I would say that this is a pretty good description for what we found on this trip.
Uruguay is the second smallest country in South America nestled between Argentina, Brazil, the Río de la Plata (River of Silver) and the Atlantic Ocean. About four million people inhabit it and it has some of the highest standards of the continent in terms of democracy, peace and lack of corruption. All of these standards make it quite a safe place to have a skate tour with a bunch of cameras and English speaking people.
Words & Photography By Gastón Francisco.
Red Bull invited us to venture on this tour with the likes of Wes Kremer, Chris Pfanner, Madars Apse and Carlos Iqui. Some research was done in advance so we were aware of various skate spots and some pretty amazing places.
We met up in the capital city, Montevideo, and on the first day of the tour we were already hanging out with a bunch of locals at a downtown plaza enjoying the comfortable summer weather, local hospitality and great skate spots while sipping on 40s and rolling fatties. As this was happening and life felt unmatched, we caught a glimpse of four cops walking towards us. The usual approach was taken so we were about to discard the brews and smokeables when one of the locals told us not to. He informed us that Uruguay had passed a law the year before making the growing and consumption of weed totally legal and ruled by a state company, just like they had done with alcohol over 100 years ago. We had heard and read about this but to actually be doing it and feeling totally calm as the four cops walked by us without even caring was an exhilarating feeling. There are very few places in this world where you can enjoy this kind of freedom. Not only this, as the local kept on explaining, Uruguay also recognizes same sex marriage and abortion is legal, making it one of the most liberal nations in the world and one of the most socially developed. It came as no surprise after this that we were only busted at one spot during the whole trip and we never encountered the typical citizen-cop, who wants to frame you inside the should-do of society.
It is also worth mentioning that one of the colorful facts of this country is that their latest president is some sort of Latin American version of Nelson Mandela. His name is José "Pepe" Mujica and he is indeed an interesting character, somewhere between a politician and philosopher. He was a guerilla fighter in the 70s who spent about 10 years in solitary confinement and never sought revenge. Do yourself a favor and search his name on YouTube to see some of his infamous speeches. He is such a person of the people. I can tell you that not long ago he was caught—while being president—at a hardware store around the corner from the presidential house buying a toilet seat because the one in his office had broken. He also lives on a farm, drives an old VW Beetle and has a three-legged dog.
Montevideo is an old city. It has some great skate spots and a very unusual coast. It lies on the river mouth of Río de la Plata, which is the widest river in the world and carries down an immense amount of sediment from Brazil turning the water dark brown. This means that they have beaches that look just like a normal ocean beach but when you look out to the horizon, the water is completely brown. We skated and bathed here for a couple of days until we decided it was time to keep exploring.
After a solid hour drive we made it to Punta del Este. This small beach town becomes a luxurious getaway for the rich and famous of South America—Trump Tower included—and it is the place where the Río de la Plata meets the Atlantic Ocean. Depending on the currents, you will find that one day the water is totally brown while the next it might be a deep ocean blue. Since we arrived before high season we were able to skate some pretty good spots without having to deal with ridiculous amounts of snobby tourists.
A few days in and it was time to keep exploring, so we followed the coast north towards the mystical hamlet of Cabo Polonio. This place is as unique as they come. It lies on a peninsula, has no roads leading to it, (which means that it is only accessible with 4x4s), has no running water nor electricity and it is made of some one hundred houses. This is as close to hippieville as you can get. We rented a nice little house here and relaxed on the beach for a couple of nights.
To make the whole Uruguayan experience complete we decided to spend a whole day in a typical Estancia on the countryside riding horses like "gauchos" (local cowboys), eating fatuous "asados" (BBQ with incredible meat) and just getting to see some of the nature the countryside had to offer.
This whole trip ended up being a pretty amazing experience. We got to see some pretty nice sights and got as close as possible to a culture that is unique in its own way. Uruguay is definitely a gem to be visited and a place to be taken into consideration whenever you plan your next skate trip or just a normal trip. This small country where the river meets the ocean and where magic meets realism awaits you with its arms wide open!