Stranded in South America

My name is Rachael, I study Modern Languages and this year I’ll be an English Proof-reader for the Linguist Magazine. Last year I spent a semester studying in Uruguay, a lovely little country in South America nestled between Brazil and Argentina. Whilst I was out there, I set myself the challenge to explore as much of the country (and continent) as I could, and I did just that! Here’s a little story of the weekend I went to an isolated village on the coast called Cabo Polonio and how I almost didn’t come back!

To be able to explain this adventure there are some things I need to explain about Cabo Polonio: 

  • It is only accessible by foot or dune buggy.
  • There is no electricity, running water or wifi (apart from in the few hostels with generators). 
  • As there is no electricity, credit cards are no more valuable than monopoly money and cash is the only way to pay. 

My friends and I arrived in Cabo Polonio in the dark and took an exhilarating ride over the sand dunes where we were met by locals with torches calling out the name of our hostel. We followed them through the darkness to the Lobo Hostel Bar where we found out we had to pay for our stay with cash. We had brought very few notes with us (what students carry cash nowadays?) and after paying for the accommodation and meals we quickly ran out of physical money. Left with a mere 80 pesos (or £1.50) between us we spent it in on the classic student essentials: bread and chocolate (alcohol was out of our price range).

At first, having no money wasn’t really a problem as we were in one of Uruguay’s most beautiful nature reserves. We went to the beach, visited the lighthouse and I saw a sky full of stars like I’d never seen before- an experience that will stay with me forever. We had a great time and got away with having very little cash to spend… or so we thought!

Just before the sand buggies arrived to take us back to civilisation, I was looking for my return ticket that we had (oh so sensibly) bought at the beginning of the trip to avoid any problems. Unfortunately, our careful planning had not allowed for my scatter-brained, disorganised tendencies and the fact that I had lost my ticket! By that point, we didn’t even have enough cash between the four of us to buy a single return fare, so we went to get on the dune buggy and hoped for the best.

Naturally, they saw I didn’t have a ticket and wouldn’t let me on the buggy. That was it. There was nothing else to do than to beg in my gringo Spanish that they let me on to the bus because it was that or I’d stay there forever. I started to envision my life as a hermit living off the land in South America, confined to one small village for the rest of my days with no money and only the sea-lions as company. Luckily, after some serious por favors and looking hopeless they ended up letting me onto the modified 4×4 dune buggy. To this day I am thankful to the amused Uruguayan local who looked at this terrified foreign girl, smiled and granted me my pass back to civilisation. 

This is probably the kind of year abroad horror story best left untold, but I think it serves as a powerful message about the thrill of a good adventure, the kindness of strangers, and it’s a pretty compelling reminder to always take extra cash just in case.

Rachael Jones

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