I was hot, sweaty and frustrated as I walked down the sandy Uruguayan road. I was also wearing jeans and boots which made my condition much worse. The night buses in South America are freezing even when the outside air is warm so I always wear jeans on the bus. Also wearing my jeans made my ridiculously full bag slightly easier to pack. But as I wondered around the small coastal town of Punta del Diablo I just wanted to find my well hidden hostel and change into shorts. I followed several hand painted signs which led me in a giant circle. Finally I stopped and asked for directions. An American who was on his way in the same direction gave me a ride to a place that I had walked by ten minutes before.
I checked in, dropped my massive backpack and put on my board shorts for the first time in more than two months. Two months, was way too long. Then I walked out onto the second floor deck of my hostel and stared at the blue Atlantic. Something deep inside of my chest snapped and a heavy weight that I had forgotten I was carrying began to slip. I looked at the rocky peninsula to the South with a small white lighthouse confidently perched on it, and another strap tore. I watched as the waves gently rolled toward the yellow sands of the beach leaving delicate, ephemeral trails of foam and smiled, and the last ropes that held the burden broke and it fell away from me and silently disappeared into the dark. A light joy filled me. More than dropping my sweaty pack or getting out of my filthy jeans and even more than the feel of the cool ocean breeze on my skin; the sight of the ocean relaxed and soothed me. It was the antidote for a toxin I didn’t realize I had ingested. I was in a place that I had never been to before but I was home.
On this trip I have visited so many amazing places. I have befriended spider monkeys in the jungle. I have explored some of the greatest cities in the world. I have seen surreal high desert lagoons that were home to thousands of wild flamingos. I have searched for my physical and metal limits high in the Andes. I cherish all these experiences but there is nothing that nurtures my soul like the sublime beauty of the ocean. At that moment, on the wooden deck in Uruguay, I decided that for the rest of the trip I would not leave the beach for long.
Later that evening I went down to the hostel bar and ordered a Cuba Libre. Within a few hours I had made several new friends and by midnight we were all telling stories, laughing and drinking with determination. Sometime later, it was after the point of caring about silly things like clocks, bar tabs or accidental drownings, an obviously insane person recommended a swim in the ocean. I was not the only one obsessed with the sea. Soon we had all changed into our swim suits and were walking towards the black water.
A few moments later I was floating weightlessly in the warm waters of the Atlantic. I thought to myself, this can’t get any better and then I focused my eyes on the dark sky above me and saw the luminescent cloud of the milky way emblazoned from one horizon to the other. My new friends splashed and laughed around me but for a few seconds I was gone. I was simultaneously part of the black ocean waters and the blazing stars. The incessant voice in my mind, that always plans and worries about the future when it’s not visiting and analyzing the past, fell silent. I just existed; just barely. Moments later a wave rolled over me and I flipped several times before I came up shouting and laughing. I went back to joking and playing with my friends but occasionally I looked up a the sky and mumbled a quiet, reverent obscenity.
Eventually we decided it was time to go back to the bar for another round of drinks. As we walked up the beach towards the glow of our hostel the night breeze gently pulled droplets of water from our skin and one of my new friends said “I haven’t felt this amazing in a long time.” I muttered a lame “Yeah.” but I could not have agreed more.