• Jocasta Shakespeare

Fishing in Uruguay

Updated: Feb 4

Valizas is a small village on Uruguay's wild Atlantic coast. Most travellers go further North to Punta del Diablo or South to Cabo Polonia. Here, the ocean currents hit the beach so hard, they deposit the bodies of dead Sealions on the sabre curve of sand that points up towards Brazil. Babies with pale hands, limp as medical gloves, roll in with the surf. Upended teenagers with sleek whiskers, perhaps the losers in fights since it is Sealion mating season, shed skin in patches, inviting in rainforest bugs and flies.

Walking along the shore here, the sand sparkles with crushed shell and sun is paint-stripper hot. Shacks of corrugated iron and wood are built along the beach as far as the Sealion graveyard, where the wild reclaims its territory. Blue plastic water barrels sit on high pedestals beside most shacks. Food has to be carried from inland or grown in the scorched dust. Living here is cheap but not easy.

When the Spanish arrived here they found an Indian settlement at the mouth of the river, which flows into the Atlantic further down the beach. They had called this place River of the Painted Bird (Uru-Guay) and perhaps the living here was easier for them, knowing the forests and birds and animals the way they did. Now a small colony still exists at the river mouth. Men wait in small boats to ferry people across the sweet water to the other side. It here the fishermen negotiate in from the stormy, deep ocean, around sand banks and upriver to sell their small catches of seabass, corvina, catfish and shark.

Along the sand come a horseman. He rides bareback seated on a red blanket and wears flipflops. He sits like a warrior, leaning back, feeling the electric tension of sprung muscle beneath. He takes his horse into the surf, its ears pricked forward, hooves dancing at the cold touch of salt water, trusting but ready for flight. This must be a young, untried animal. But there is no bit, just a rope halter around its mouth with rope reins. I've never seen such a balanced and beautiful horseman. Coming out of the surf, he turns to check the heels of the horse, perhaps to make sure nothing is caught on them, then with a touch, releases the energy and gallops off into the dunes.


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