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Posted by on Jan 10, 2014 | 0 comments

Dreaming of the Devil: The Joy of Going Back

It’s not true that travelers have a “list” of places to see and, once they’ve checked off every box, hang up their knapsacks. When you’re traveling, you’re constantly adding to your list. Every casual conversation with fellow wayfarers introduces a world of possibility when your life is strapped to your back.

The flip side of the travel coin: You also discover special places that keep calling you back long after you leave.

A surfer heads out with his board in Punta del Diablo. (Photograph by Ben Long)

A surfer heads out with his board in Punta del Diablo. (Photograph by Ben Long)

For me, Punta del Diablo, on the eastern coast of Uruguay, is one of those places. The tiny bohemian fishing village captivated me from the first moment I stepped off the bus. Its sandy streets were lined with shanty cafes splashed in an assortment of colors as surfers, travelers, and fisherman lazily roamed the streets, letting their lives unfold. My plan to stay for just three days soon turned into three months when I met the folks at El Diablo Tranquilo Hostel.

But, as they say, all good things must end. I returned to the “real world” (which, for me, is West Virginia), and spent the next three years of my life in law school. After spending countless hours in class, a repeat visit to Punta del Diablo seemed impossible. But when, through a bizarre twist of fate, an opportunity to work for a travel start-up in Buenos Aires brought me within driving distance of the place, I jumped at the chance to go back.

Walking into El Diablo Tranquilo was like walking into a dream that had been haunting me. After spending the lion’s share of the past two years traveling, it’s still the best hostel I’ve ever encountered.

What makes it so good? It makes you feel at home even though you are three hours from nowhere on a forgotten coastline in Uruguay. It’s a place where new “hostel families” are born around the fireplace each week and friendships last on Facebook long after guests have departed.

The bride and groom on horseback (Photograph by Ben Long)

The bride and groom on horseback (Photograph by Ben Long)

However, my return visit to Diablo didn’t follow the script I’d rehearsed in my mind countless times before. Much to my surprise, the hostel managers, Youri and Sol, asked me to stand in for a wedding photographer who had backed out on them just hours before their big day.

I’m a nature photographer for a reason. Wedding photography scares me, and it’s not hard to imagine why (no pressure, right?). But what better way to cut my teeth than at a beach wedding in Uruguay?

Nerves were frayed as rain poured down on Diablo, but Apollo smiled upon Youri and Sol when “go time” came around. And, instead of reliving my dream, I was able to be part of a much larger and more important one: a fairytale wedding on a forgotten beach.

The day proceeded quite seamlessly, from the ceremony to a bonfire to dancing on the sand. Armed with blankets and a live band, the wedding party fought the ocean winds to set adrift sky lanterns before dancing around the fire to some local Uruguayan tunes. As usual, the whole experience proved that the unexpected parts of travel are often the best parts.

I didn’t pare down my bucket list on this trip, but it hardly mattered, and that wasn’t the point. The wedding added yet another layer to Diablo’s mystique, further fueling my love affair with the tiny coastal town. I will always have a wanderer’s heart, but the desire to see each and every place around the globe is starting to fade. Now I know that getting to know a special place intimately over time can be a far more rewarding than checking a name off a list.

Travel Tip:

If you ever venture to Punta del Diablo one day, don’t miss Cabo Polonio just 50 kilometers south. You will question what century you’re in as there is no running water, electricity or cars allowed in this artistic village surrounded by sand dunes and beaches.

Ben Long is a writer and photographer from Lewisburg, West Virginia, who is currently based in Argentina. See more of Ben’s photos on Flickr and follow his story on Twitter @benlongtales.

Do you have a special place you return to again and again? Share your experience with us in the comments section for a chance to appear on Intelligent Travel or Traveler magazine:

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