A goodbye hug and kiss to madre and then I am off on my lone travels for a week until we reunite in BA. It has been a few years since I traveled on my own. Where it used to fill me with nervous excitement, anticipation, and an intense feeling of freedom, now it makes me feel more of the nervous and less of the excitement. And yes, lonely too (much as I am loathe to admit it).
Eating in restaurants alone is no fun. I check my emails far too often and am unreasonably disappointed when there is nothing new in my inbox. I drink too much (bad) coffee and eat too much to distract myself. And I walk aimlessly, exploring the ciudad vieja of Montevideo. Anonymous yet not anonymous as surely I stand out, the only pale-skinned, red-haired, blue-eyed soul and this city is not so big that you can lose yourself in it.
At the hostel I am the odd one out, the only gringo. Low season being upon us, it has been solidly booked by a group of twenty or so Uruguayan university students. It’s like I took a wrong turning and found myself in a student halls of residence. The staff make an endearing effort to make me feel welcome sharing a beer with me in the lounge. Playing my namesake song especially for me is a sweet touch… ‘Suzanne takes your hand, and she leads you to the river...’, Leonard Cohen’s deep luscious voice resonates from the speaker behind me as I sit finishing my lunch just before having to leave to catch my bus north. It’s a fleeting moment of contentedness. I pack up my things and leave.
On arrival in Punta del Diablo, after finding my way through the sandy darkness from where the bus drops me off, I am met by the welcoming faces of a hostel-full of travellers. The night turns into a pizza de la parilla fest (pizza cooked on the barbeque) washed down with free-flowing home-made wine poured from a vat-sized communal bottle. I wake up the next day with a headache to match but am gently eased by the sound of the waves seeping through my bedroom window with the promise of some contented and calm days ahead.