We sat in the rickety old van we rented in Montevideo cruising along the Uruguayan highway. From the backseat, I admired the angled tree trunks with green leaves exploding far into the sky. Farms paraded past us one after the other. The sun bathed us through the windows. Throughout the ride, when she wasn’t asleep, my Abuela complained about my father’s driving and the various potholes we hit.
We detoured off our main route to find a tourist attraction. It was about three twisting hours north of the capital city. The GPS tricked us into a few wrong turns. We found ourselves in a field with cows that looked even more confused than we were. Finally, we located the big brass bull that proudly guarded the top of his mountain, squirting water from his mouth. We rubbed his pelotas for good luck as we took pictures, hardly containing our laughter. My Abuela complained about the steep hill that led to the bull and the lewdness of the tradition.
We arrived at our rental beach house on the honey-coloured sands of Punta Del Diablo as the sun was setting. The floor-to-ceiling back windows overlooked the sprawling dunes that disappeared beneath the Atlantic Ocean. From the wooden deck, I studied the motion of the waves, listening to them glide to and from the shore. I squinted, scanning the horizon for land on the other side, but there was nothing but water. I was just a blip in the middle of the sea. I inhaled the salty air with one long breath and felt alive. Meanwhile, my Abuela complained about the dust in the cottage and of the gaudy purple leather couch in the living room.
We drove to the local beach town in search of dinner. We realized in an instant that the word “town” was a bit generous. Everything was deserted, as we were travelling in the off season. There was just one sandy road with a handful of empty restaurants and a small grocery-convenience-liquor store combo. Wandering dogs laid sprawled out by the road. Dry boats leaned against the buildings, their owners sipping mate nearby. My Abuela complained about the leather-faced fishermen who watched us explore their territory and about the seclusion of the area.
We opted to have milanesas for dinner. My mom quickly fried the breaded veal on the cottage stove, and we ate it with fresh cut tomato salad. It was the only home cooked meal we had on that vacation and likely the most delicious of the entire trip. The veal was juicy and the tomato so refreshing. The wine that accompanied the meal was bitter at first, but then sweet. My Abuela complained that the food was overcooked and under-salted.
After dinner, we stayed seated around the table for a long time. There was nothing else to do. There was no television to watch, and the wifi signal didn’t reach us. We didn’t bring cards or games of any kind. The skies were pitch black and sprinkled with bright stars. We relished in the opportunity to talk and laugh the night away. My Abuela was particularly bright and animated that night. She told old cuentos, with her wise comedic timing. She wasn’t complaining anymore.
I curtsied down at the end of the night and gave my grandmother’s frail body a tight hug. “Goodnight Abuela.”
“Goodnight,” she responded, emotion overtaking her voice, and tears sparkling in her eyes. A smile danced across her lips. She pulled me close again, caressed my head and whispered, “today was perfect.”