Sep 05

A lesson from the children – Cabo Polonio – Part 3 (of 3)

by in Uruguay

Year-round Cabo Polonio surfer Sebastian studies the bay for whales, which are common in the winter. Photo by brandon c janes iv

Year-round Cabo Polonio surfer Sebastian studies the bay for whales, which are common in the winter | photo by brandon c janes iv

At sunset, Cabo Polonio’s school teacher Laura Fontes, Sebastian, a traveler named Rafaela Lahore, an 8-year-old girl (one of Fontes’ students) and I traded turns scanning the bay for whales with a pair of binoculars.

Fontes, 26, was raised in the town of Rocha about 100 kilometers away. She said growing up in Cabo Polonio is its own form of education and the students are smarter because of it.

“(The students) can talk about the wind, the ocean, the animals, more than any children in the world,” Fontes said. “They play outside. In the city (children) just sit in front of computers or television,… here there are lots of places to play.”

Her school is a two-room cinderblock building with a breath-taking view of the western bay of Cabo Polonio.

Seven children of different ages and levels attend Fontes’ class, set under the fading portraits of Uruguayan liberator José Gervasio Artigas and José Pedro Varela, a Uruguayan education reformer.

Varela (b.1845 – d.1979) pioneered the first program of universal, free and compulsory education in South America. Today the country’s school programs even extend out to this isolated plot.

controlled liberty

Town dentist and former political representative of Cabo Polonio, Gonzalo “Ajo” Nuñez, has lived on the peninsula for 26 years.

When I arrived to interview him at his home – where he lives with his dog and young girlfriend Fatima – he insisted we smoke a joint first. Then, after he had thought through my questions, he rolled out onto his lawn and asked me to start rolling the camera.

Of everyone I met in Cabo Polonio, Nuñez seemed to have the most reasonable vision for the town, as a state-run ecotourism resort.

Nuñez was a member of the Committee of Advisors during the period in the 1990s when residents asked the goverment to come in and stop the illegal housing boom. The government stopped the construction, however, it brought with it other forms of pollution, he said.

He told me a story about an attempt to install a street light in downtown Cabo Polonio, which threated the town’s stargazing.

Children of the village – probably egged on by their parents – knocked out the lamp by throwing rocks at it, Nuñez said. The government tried to fix the lamp several times but each time the children would knock it down, until it gave up.

Across the dunes

I left Cabo Polonio before dawn, hoping to catch the 8 a.m. bus to Castillos and then on to Montevideo.

Hiking in the dark across a sandy river and over the sand dunes something mystical was still singing in my head.

Freedom is the most imprecise word. The word takes on special meanings for different people and different generations.

But passing over that seven-kilometer wide threshold of sand, I felt a freedom that I had been missing for a long time – exactly what Bea Pereira (the woman from the first video) was referring to when she described the “sprouting of the wild part of your interior being.” It was a freedom to be a child again.

So I understand now the myth of Cabo Polonio. This sunny, moon-shaped peninsula in Uruguay is no tourist destination. It is a libertarian paradise – a fountain of youth.

From the school yard, a view of the western bay at Cabo Polonio | photo by brandon c janes iv

From the school yard, a view of the western bay at Cabo Polonio | photo by brandon c janes iv


previous parts:

VIDEO: In defense of squatters; Cabo Polonio – Part 1

Pueblo chico, infierno grande: Cabo Polonio – Part 2



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