Uruguay Zen

by Liz Caskey on August 11, 2011

Every now and then, I get obsessed with a country. It doesn’t always mean I am going to leave everything behind and move there, but there’s an undeniable attraction. One of those places that flirts with you, where the culture, people, and geography totally seduce you. It’s like having an innocent middle school crush where nothing ever materializes but you feel alive, fascinated, in love. I have been officially “obsessed” with Uruguay for a few years now.

I first became smitten with the sugar white sand beaches and azure Atlantic in José Ignacio and Punta del Este. The sophisticated yet low key vibe and green rolling pastures of the campo, countryside, a stone’s throw away, had me at first glance. As we explored the vineyards and farms, I became friends with Uruguayans. I realized they all made me feel like family. It was a homecoming, on each visit that I received in no other place. I even grew a fondness for Montevideo, frequently shrouded by Buenos Aires’ shadow but a true capital in every sense. Uruguayans share openly and are generous, affectionate souls –and wonderful hosts. On every visit, I felt welcomed into their world.

Uruguay, in my humble opinion, is an ideal place to “get lost” and forget about the world for numerous days, or weeks. The bucolic countryside with vistas of the Río de la Plata or Atlantic are so enticing. But it’s not just the place. Once again, it’s their attitude. There has to be something more that energetically pulls me back again and again. Like a magnet.

In June, my husband and I journeyed from Buenos Aires across the Río de la Plata to Colonia in the southwest corner of “coastal” Uruguay. While many people just day trip from the Argentine capital to Colonia, we decided to dive deeper in the province. We arrived on a raw, drizzly, gray morning. Colonia’s colorful facades and cobblestone streets were charming but a steady rain set in and my husband’s self-inflicted hangover from the night reared its ugle head…so we hit the road towards Carmelo. Carmelo is a non-descript town an hour to the north in the province of Colonia on the shores of the great River. As we moved into the verdant countryside, even with the rain, the horizon was wide open. There’s no place in Chile you see that far as there are hills and mountains everywhere. I kept having flashbacks to driving through my native Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Soft rolling hills studded with golden bails of hay. Farms with tall silos, dairy farms, and thousands of cows grazing peacefully. We passed tiny villages flecked with hearty palm trees swaying in the breeze. School yards were empty as the rain continued to come down.

Traveling for over an hour, we reached Carmelo, which I can only describe as being typically Uruguayan. It was one of those vintage towns that has probably not changed since 1930. Imagine a place in South America where there are no tall fences or bars on the windows to keep out trespassers. Donkeys pulled rustic wooden carts, full of recently chopped firewood to fuel the chimneys on a cold winter day. Several classic cars (in a near gallopy state) passed us. The townspeople appeared to move in flocks on their bicycles, steering in the middle of the streets without a care in the world. While normally, this type of haphazard traffic would annoy the heck out of a capital-goer like myself, something magical happens when I step on the soil of the Uruguayan countryside. I feel myself start to unwind. I relax. I take it with a grain of salt—err, patience. As we drove, I rolled down the window to smell the fresh, perfumed aire brought alive by the soft rainfall. It smelled of eucalyptus and pine and a certain dampness from the River close by.


On this trip, our destination was the Four Seasons Carmelo Resort. Located outside town on the edge of Río de la Plata in a private estate, the hotel is nestled amid a native pine and eucalyptus forest. As we crossed the entrance gate, we followed a clay red dirt road that curved through the forest opening onto the main lodge constructed with a steep roof made from slate and polished wood. The only sound was silence. In the distance, a bird cooed. The rain drops tapped. It was cold, but I stopped to close my eyes and breathe deeply several times. The air was invigorating, cool, restorative, punctuated by the scent of the trees and wet ground. Inside, they received us beside the fireplace with a mug of homemade Apple-cinnamon tea. Sweet and warm, it felt like a hug for the body—and soul. I felt as if we’d arrived in a delicious refuge leaving the elements and world behind us.

The lofts and bungalows of the Four Seasons Carmelo Resort are completely decorated with a heavy influence from Bali—from the architecture to wood carvings, furniture upholstery, and accessories. Truthfully, at first I thought it was odd to import the Balinese concept—to Uruguay?? However, as I spent more time there, I got the why behind the decor. It is a Zen place. You easily fall into sync with nature, and yourself, there. Pretty soon, I couldn’t have cared less about email, the office, even our cats (in Santiago with their “grandparents”). I went into a deep, relaxed state that focused on enjoying—without time frames, deadlines, nor stress. Not a care in the world. If you have not experienced the concept behind the Four Seasons (anywhere in the world), it’s worth it to immerse yourself in their world. It’s a mundo of exquisite details, noble materials, service that anticipates your own needs from drawing an aromatherapy bath to making sure my stock of Illy decaf espresso never runs out. It’s about simple luxuries of having a perfectly fluffed bathrobe, soft slippers, and 800-count Egyptian cotton sheets on a feather mattress that makes you feel like royalty. The only thing you have to do is not think. Just be. Relax.


And that’s what I did. I practiced the art of doing nothing. Not an easy feat for a type A personality like myself, but not impossible either.

Zen is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese character which means meditation. It means to be present in the moment—not thinking of yesterday nor tomorrow. It’s savoring sensations, smells, emotions, and just being without any judgment. Taking the time for myself to just be without having to do anything. Connect profoundly with the incredible world around me that I tend to take for granted on a daily basis. Don’t we all forget to stop, look, appreciate, give thanks for this miraculous, wonderful experience called life?


In Carmelo, I rediscovered living in the present. I let myself experience simply being alive and having my full senses to take in the world. I let the resident masseuse reshape my tired muscles and overworked spirit. I breathed deeply and walked through the forest, feeling it rather than only listening. I sent my mind on a much-needed vacation. I enjoyed the soft rain and cozy fire, then delighted in the warm rays of the sunshine that emerged the next morning as the clouds broke. My husband and I appreciated fine wines from a neighboring winery project with the winemaker along with a nutty, pungent homemade Parmesan cheese. We slept in and I forgot about an alarmclock. And the Four Seasons staff, was there, ready to help us relax and rest.

I love in Uruguay how they always respond to a simple request with the phrase, “a las ordenes”. Roughly translated, it means, at your service. They make you feel like they are there for you—to share, help, and make you feel at home. Beyond being an amazing hotel, the Four Seasons Carmelo truly does provide the place, environment, and tools for you to leave it all behind and enter in your own Zen space—your world, your onda.

Yeah, it’s one of those places that when you leave, you think to yourself, “I’ll be back.”

 

Published in Spanish as Liz’s monthly column for Revista Placeres in Chile.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Arnold August 12, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Great write-ups on Uruguay. I know the feeling – one can definitely get obsessed with a country. I’ve got a couple of those obsessions as well. Although I have only spent a weekend in Montevideo, I quickly realised the potential for more visits, to see more of Uruguay. Sure, it doesn’t have the spectacular nature as Costa Rica, but is much safer and way more relaxed to travel in than for example Brazil and presents itself a bit more raffined than Paraguay. I’ll come back!

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