You know how most buildings have a lot of those straight lines everywhere? If there’s a wall, it’s straight. Windows – same thing. Sure, every once and a while you’ll run across a diagonal line, or the occasional rounded edge of a curve, but by and large straight lines and right angles make up the bulk of modern architecture. But in the sun-kissed region of Uruguay’s resort haven of Punta del Este, there’s a building that mocks such vertical/horizontal symmetry with every fiber of its construction. You can even spend the night there, too. It’s called Casapueblo, and if you’re a lover of all things non-conformist you’ll find yourself right at home.
Built by Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró as a summer home, this sprawling whitewashed structure of anything but straight lines now serves as a hotel, art gallery and point of interest for visitors to the area. A maze of lopsided and dream-like walkways evoke images of Santorini – that is, if you visited the Greek Island and decided to immediately drop acid. I’m pretty sure my three-year-old niece drew a picture that now hangs on the fridge which closely resembles its architecture. And if The Lorax ever decided to visit Uruguay, you can be sure that this is where he’d stay.
The Casapueblo, for all it’s quirkiness, is highly rated as a hotel. With unique rooms that each bear a different name and commanding views of the South Atlantic, it has plenty of appeal beyond just the surreal aesthetics. While my visit there was strictly for the architecture, I can’t deny that I lamented not being about to fully explore every abstract nook and cranny at the more leisurely pace of a paying guest. It was here that I truly appreciated that straight lines are highly overrated, and its a lesson I haven’t forgotten.
Casapueblo is just a few miles outside the resort town of Punta del Este, situated on a high bluff called Punta Ballena. Punta del Este is a happening beach town, and if there were a such thing as the Uruguayan Riviera, I suppose this would be it. The inviting green water attracts locals and jet-setters alike, and the silhouette of smaller-class cruise ships frequently surround the peninsula. Punta del Este is also about a 1.5 hour drive east from the capital Montevideo, and is the most famous of numerous beach towns that line the Rio de la Plata to where it meets the Atlantic.
One of the basic precepts of leisure travel is the desire to see something different; something you can’t experience at home. I can sincerely assure you that unless you live in a Dr. Seuss book, you are unlikely to see any building even remotely resembling Casapueblo. That splash of diversity along with a world-class beach destination nearby is enough to inspire anyone to leave the straight and narrow. So bring your camera, swimsuit and leave your protractors at home. There be curves ahead, and that is what makes it worth visiting.
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It’s that time of year again. While I’m vacillating my attention between my icy driveway and the level of oil for my burner, my mind tends to wander from the chilly environs of my native Long Island and longingly travel to points south—way south. I don’t know if it’s comforting or teasing to know that even though we’re on the same page of the calendar, on the other side of the equator the sand is on the beaches, not the roads, and the only ice to be found is mixed with fruit and liquor. And while we had our chance to enjoy the warmth of summer a few months ago, I can’t help but feel a twinge of envy when I think about the pleasant weather happening right now in lower latitudes.
Looking back, some of my fondest beach memories took place during what North Americans, Europeans, most Africans and all Asians with the exception of Indonesians (who never get cold weather anyway) would consider the winter months. So here are a few of them with incongruous dates to match the picture. Perhaps it will warm you up by imagining yourself there—or with anger at my having brought it up.
January 25, 2008
Punta del Este, Uruguay
Seeing the word January on the calendar doesn’t often conjure images of sun-kissed beaches and warm waters, but it certainly does to visitors and residents of this happening resort area less than two hours’ drive east of the capital of Montevideo. I only got to spend a few hours here before my cruise ship was set to sail onward, but it felt great to (literally) get my feet wet again after several months of cold weather back home—not to mention having been in the frigid waters of Antarctica just a few days before.
March 10, 2013
Ilha Grande, Brazil
Historically, March is one of the snowiest months where I live, so you can imagine the joy of coming to the end of the sometimes arduous path through the jungle and stepping out onto the powdery sands of the beach called Lopes Mendes—considered one of Brazil’s best. I distinctly recall walking the edge of the waterline, alternating between the baking sand and the cool waters of the South Atlantic while listening to music on my iPhone and marveling at the verdant scenery hugging the ribbon of sand curving off ahead of me. Upon returning to my wife and blanket and opening a bottle of the local cerveja, I can assure you wind chills and snow drifts were the last things on my mind.
March 18, 2009
Praslin, Seychelles Islands
While at the end of the season—though technically on the winter side of the Spring Equinox—visiting the golden sands of the beach at Anse Lazio in late March was zero part lion and 100% lamb. I arrived here at sunset after a delayed bus ride, broken sandal on a steep hillside descent, and an encounter with a pack of dogs with questionable motives. All that was forgotten—along with the date—upon seeing the calm waters lapping the rounded granite boulders bordering this tranquil cove. I took my pictures, caught my breath and negotiated a cab ride back to the resort with the last of my cash, but if I had the chance I doubt if I would have ever left until well into Spring.
So as we Northern Hemispherers (trademark pending) prepare to enter the heart of winter’s wrath, it’s not such a bad idea to steal a thought or glance south. Perhaps planning that trip to the other half of the planet will be what you need to get you through a few months of heavy coats and scraping windshields.
Have a favorite experience in the Southern Hemisphere? Leave a comment