Bouncing over the expansive sand dunes in a sturdy jeep, I arrive in Cabo Polonio as the sun rises over the pine forest. Situated within a national park on the eastern Uruguayan coast, the town spreads out along the sea front, the one-storey buildings scattered where the grass meets the unending white sand.
Following specific regulations in order to preserve the area’s natural beauty there are no tarmacked roads to connect the peninsula to the Uruguayan coastal route. The local taxi service of the area is a man managing his horse and cart, a welcome change from the noisy traffic clogged streets of cities.
Our jeep is searched as we enter the reserve. Guards at the control point prevent a resort exploding vertically on the town by ensuring building materials are not brought into the land. The few residents who have carved a home for themselves have resourcefully built structures from a variety of recycled and found objects, among other materials, and so the town has become a haven for innovative design.
One house that stands on the periphery near the waterfront is constructed from wood and fishing nets, with speckles of coloured glass in place of a regular window. Inside, the walls are insulated by flattened aluminium milk cartons and used corks line the doors while the beds are built from old boats. Across the path is a bar known locally as ‘the nook’. Camouflaged by surrounding plants that line its outer walls, the bar is encased by the shrubbery like a shell, hiding its customers behind the thick stems. Bottles are embedded in the interior floor of the bar and each table is settled within its own plant-lined cubby.
It’s a Sunday morning and Cabo Polonio’s inhabitants are awakening, domestic duties already underway. With no running water in the vast majority of the homes and cafes, everyday tasks are not easy, but residents have inventive solutions to manage energy consumption and maintain their self-sufficiency. Tanks are filled from wells, several roofs are donned with solar panels, and the embers within hand-built fireplaces continue burning throughout the night.
Many of the town’s inhabitants have chosen to remove themselves from the stresses of urban existence without preaching environmentalism. Yet with continuing technological advances many residents have full access to the internet, a useful resource for work. However, there is a gentle simplicity in this lifestyle. Without electrical mains covering the area the only light to compete with the star-filled sky are the candles in bottles lining the sandy paths.
Photos: © Helen Morgan