Commune dating

Their relationship to successive national governments (even that of widely admired socialist president Jose Mujica, whose progressive run in office ended last year) has been uneasy at best.

Some swathes of beachfront still technically belong to the state or remote private owners, so any properties built in those margins stand on shaky legal ground.

And, in many cases, to smoke some weed – though this community is so long and far removed from regular law enforcement that locals say Uruguay’s legalisation of marijuana in 2013 made no discernible difference.

There are roughly 100 permanent residents now, though the number apparently drops to 30 or so in the much less hospitable winter.

Molina is one of the last true Cabo Polonians, in the sense of being born here.

His father and grandfather were seal hunters, and he followed them into the trade before it was outlawed in 1990. Like most local businesspeople, he only started selling his wares when visitors started asking to buy them.

More recently it’s been middle-class couples and families from Montevideo and Buenos Aires, who are not so keen to go without wi-fi.

“We work hard to accommodate them, but we also think that people should adapt to Cabo Polonio, and not the other way around.” Molina sighs in the dim candlelight, against the low buzz of the generator.

“There’s a huge sense of freedom here,” says Leonardo Segalerba.

The makeshift settlement of Cabo Polonio, half-way along Route 10, the country’s coastal highway, is only accessible by foot or 4x4 – which might explain why it has become something of a tiny, independent republic populated by probably the most colourful bunch of characters in Latin America.

Less than 100 years ago, the only humans around here were the lighthouse keeper, his wife, and a huddled band of hunters who made their living off the local seal population.

This includes Playa del Sur, where my rented cabin stands facing a painterly evening seascape (once immortalised in song by Uruguayan musician Jorge Drexler, who wrote a whole album inspired by Cabo Polonio).

It’s well-stocked with candles and bottled water, the comfort level pitched slightly above the original hand-built, brightly-painted, pioneer-style “ranchos” of the rearward beach, Playa Del Craneo, but below newer luxury “posadas” like La Perla – which offers en-suite bathrooms and a decent in-house wine list.

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