Tag Archive for: uruguay

uruguay flag punta del este
uruguay flag punta del este

Punta Del Este, Uruguay

December 10th 2013. This was the date that the tiny South American nation of Uruguay broke new ground and became the first country in the world to (re) legalize marijuana. Jose Mujica, the leftist now ex-president who pushed the initiative, was hailed as a hero by stoners worldwide, and other countries watched on to see what would happen. As an occasional indulger of the herb and a supporter of legalisation, the country was a must-visit stop on my tour of Latin America. I ended up spending a month in the country and the weed situation wasn’t exactly how I imagined it. So what is it like?


As a tourist you’re not legally allowed to buy cannabis. That right is reserved for Uruguayan nationals and residents. Still, must be dead easy to pick up in a country where it’s legal right? Not so fast. Because of the incredibly slow rate at which the state is sorting out ‘government cannabis’, buying from licensed sellers isn’t an option because, to date, there aren’t any. This means no dispensaries, coffee shops, pharmacies, or any official outlet where one can go to legally buy cannabis. Sorry to shatter your weed-utopia dreams. Effectively, Uruguayans have to grow their own cannabis if they want to smoke it legally, or be given some by a friend. It’s not even legal for growers to sell their herb as their cultivation hasn’t been overseen to match government regulations. I know, not quite how I imagined the first country in the world to legalize cannabis either.

Update July 2017: Pharmacies in Uruguay started selling marijuana on 19th July. You can read more about it at these links:
Long Lines, $1.30 Grams Mark Uruguay’s Legal Cannabis Debut – Leafly
Uruguay, First Country in the World to Legally Regulate Marijuana, Begins Retail Sales Today – Drug Policy Alliance

montevideo coast uruguay

Montevideo, the country’s capital

With that said, you’ll have to buy weed illegally from a home grower. Yes, still black market! This makes finding weed a little more difficult than you might’ve expected, but not that difficult. Asking around in hostels will likely find you some leads, but its certainly not guaranteed – a friend and I had a few fruitless days searching in Punta Del Este, luckily the remains of his stash held us over until the day we found more – by a stroke of luck, meeting a local on the street. The herb found me on more than one occasion, but usually as being invited to smoke with others rather than as an opportunity to top up my personal stash.


Because you’re buying on the black market there is no official price and how much you pay will vary. Uruguay is not a cheap country in general and the price of the weed reflects this. Typically you’ll pay more in tourist areas, at the upper end expect to pay the equivalent of UK prices – £6 / $7.50 per gram. The price can drop down to about half that, and if you’re lucky you may well be gifted some by a proud grower or just some friendly dude, as I was on a couple of occasions.

uruguay punta del este joint

Enjoying a J on a fisherman’s pier, Punta Del Este.

Tourists can expect to pay more so if you have a Uruguayan buddy who can buy for you, you’ll almost certainly get a better rate. This happened to me in Cabo Polonio; I first bought some at the equivalent of UK prices then later befriended a local who went to the exact same guy, paid a bit less cash, and got a bit more green.


Because of the non-existence of official sellers, you won’t find the choice of herb or product that you would in other locations with progressive laws. Menus of strains like Amsterdam? Forget it. Choice of edibles like in Colorado? No such luck. It’s pretty much as it would be anywhere it’s illegal – you can’t be picky, you will get what you are given – if it’s weed it’s weed, and you can buy it or not.


This is where Uruguay comes into its own and all the troubles of obtaining the herb are forgiven. As the only illegal bit is the exchange of cash, once you’ve obtained your weed, you’re golden. The shady part of buying is over and you can smoke it anywhere you like. There are no coffee shops or designated chill spaces but really they aren’t necessary because aside from enclosed public spaces (bars, restaurants, offices etc.), you can smoke anywhere you like. Yes, anywhere. With its beach lined coast Uruguay has no shortage of great spots to stop and melt into a stoned haze. Tucked between Brasil and Argentina, the country has a large musical influence from both and weed-infused local drum or music jam nights provide a great atmosphere to get dazed.

Atmosphere & Culture

Smoking freely on the street

Weed is no big deal in Uruguay. It was as novel as it was refreshing to see workers lighting up and sharing a joint with a tea on their break – just as one might see workers on a ciggie break. Noone, besides myself, batted an eyelid. While waiting for a bus at the Montevideo terminal, a middle aged lady came and asked me for a light before smoking her joint nonchalantly in front of, amongst everyone else, security guards. Of course, in terms of where you can and can’t legally smoke, weed and tobacco are the same thing. To me, the scene was peculiar, smoking so casually and carefree in a public space was an alien concept; the dodginess of smoking or carrying weed has been so deeply ingrained in me. I’ve lost count of the amount of sneaky or covert joints I’ve smoked; retreating to rooftops, leaning awkwardly out of bathroom windows, scanning parks for potential sources of trouble. Really though, there should be nothing strange about it; I know too well by now that tobacco and alcohol are far more dangerous than weed, but because of my cultural programming the sight was a novelty. The novelty extended to when I finally had my own weed and was free to smoke without worries. I can’t understate how liberating this was and the novelty didn’t wear off during my month in the country.

The Myth Of Legalising Weed

The notion that everyone will start smoking and the population will become lazy was shattered on my trip to Uruguay. In fact, I was surprised by how few locals smoked during my visit. I guess its like how alcohol is treated in France and other European countries; once the repression and stigma are removed, so is the urge for abuse – it’s no longer a big deal, or ‘cool’ because it’s illegal, it’s just a choice people can make for themselves. I’m not saying there are no potential dangers to smoking weed and that no Uruguayan potheads exist, but it doesn’t seem that criminalizing the drug does any good to minimize them. Legalization bit over, you know my stance.


The situation around obtaining weed makes Uruguay far from the stoner’s utopia. That being said, I can’t understate how nice it was to be smoking out and about without looking over my shoulder or some paranoia creeping in. My buddies and I continually used the phrase ‘sin prisa’ to describe our experience of life in Uruguay. It means ‘without hurry’, because when we were cycling around and stopping off for joints, that’s exactly how we felt; totally relaxed and without haste. There was no sneaking down quiet alleys or rush to ‘burn the evidence’, and to me, that’s exactly how weed should be enjoyed; in the moment and savoured. (And as a medicine for those that desperately need it too of course!) And that is why the experience of smoking in Uruguay was unique, in the best way.

Grabbing a bike from the hostel, I dropped a tab, chucked my shades on, and armed with my bag containing a few essential supplies, headed northwards towards Maldonando on the road hugging the coast.

Despite being low season there were still a handful of people scattering the beaches in Punta Del Este and I sought as deserted a setting as I could find. The cute Uruguayan attending breakfast advised me to head that way in my search for a quiet beach ‘sin gente’ – without people. With a clear sky and a grin on my face I left the high rises of the trendy resort city behind.

After cycling for about an hour or so and with Hoffman’s molecule beginning to kick in, I spotted a small gap in the road for the beach. I dragged the bike over a mound of sand and was confronted with the perfect spot; sand and waves as far as I could see and, as I’d wished, noone in my vicinity. There were a couple people in sight, but a good mile or so down the beach and enjoying their own patches of shore. Spot found, I slumped onto my towel and took a moment to slow down and set myself.

Relaxing every muscle, I felt the weight of my body sinking into the sand and the heat from the sun’s ray pouring over and into me, warming me through.

Closing my eyes, I went deeper into relaxation and allowed the sensual lysergic waves of the come-up to wash over me, as the tide massaging the sand just ahead. The barriers in my mind began to disintegrate as my experience became smoother and more fluid.

Then a very strange thing passed.

My thoughts became an odd and scrambled amalgam of English and Spanish. Perhaps the normal state of affairs beneath my superficial consciousness, in that moment I had a great awareness of an internal lingual battle and began to realize how much the Spanish language had penetrated my psyche over the last few months of study and immersion.

New insights flooding in, the complexity of my cognition reached a zenith triggering an explosion in my brain; I began to reel with ideas and an inner dialogue commenced on the processes and implications behind language, its acquisition, how it affects our thought processes and interactions with each other, how this creates culture; and all of its influence on how we perceive and create reality. Rarely visited ideas, concepts and considerations began to flow freely to (or from?) my mind at an incredible rate.


Something like that

In a flash an idea and its comprehension came to me, what I now know to be the theory of linguistic relativity – how learning a new language doesn’t just change the physical makeup of the brain but how it can also change the way the learner sees the world.

Throughout my learning curve I was aware of changes in my mind; thoughts, words and phrases appeared in Spanish more frequently, but I hadn’t really appreciated the way it was changing how I was seeing the world.

I remembered a study I’d read about in relation to colour perception. It found that Japanese speakers have far more words to describe the color blue, and are therefore generally able to see more shades of blue than English speakers. At the other end, the Himba tribe of Namibia in Southern Africa have only five words to describe all the colors in the world. Researchers observed that, without a word for the colour blue, the Himba struggle to tell it apart from green – an easy feat for us English speakers.

Colour perception is just the tip of the iceberg- imagine how language influences how we perceive places, people, ideas, emotions, reality. Language is huge! Uncle Terence was really onto something.

This relationship between language and humanity and their influence on each other is an ongoing dialogue. Korean is an example of how humanity’s influence on language has effectively worked back to influence human interaction and society. Their language is steeped in hierarchy – so people know their ‘place’ in a conversation, and it filters through to how they organise and see themselves in social situations.

Language, like humanity, is in constant flux. As we use new words, and develop new ways to communicate, collectively we all affect language in a way that will again bounce back and influence society and humanity. Language changes reality and reality changes language, simultaneously through millions of exchanges the world over. Language can be manipulated consciously to affect reality, for positive ends or more sinisterly as Orwell warned in 1984.

Language can’t be separated from reality because the two are bound. This truth rang out to me as I lay on the sand, continuing to dip and dive through subtopics of the implications of language.

As these reflections died down, I looked out to the sea and the waves rolling in over the sands. As I involuntarily flickered through various points of perspective the colour of the sand changed, from glowing gold to deep mocha to maroon, just as the maroon deepened it switched in an instant to a dazzling daffodil.

Swimmers on, I headed out to the sea and with the water up to my waist, I put my hand to the waves as they rolled over. Watching them closely, I studied their form. I could see the fractal in action, simultaneously seeing the same form across scales, like Hokusai’s Great Wave Off Kanagawa, and how the waves broke into tiny versions of themselves as they hit the beach; I was witnessing the ancient Hermetic teaching: As above, so below.


Fractal in Hokusai’s Great Wave

After dodging the act for few minutes, I took the plunge and dunked myself under. The immersion was overwhelming. Springing back to my feet for air I felt an incredible freshness. I’d just baptised myself!

Reborn and back on my towel, resuming my survey of the tide, a flash of Newtonian insight hit me; in one moment I saw and instantaneously understood the push and pull of the waves, how the two forces work against one another, that this is the way of the world and the universe; the whole is the whole and never changes, and so within, each action must have its equal and opposite. Like when you lower your finger into a glass of water and the level rises; each and every action contains within it its own inverse force.

Checking the time, I burst into laughter. The arrow of time had crashed on to that beach with me and slowed to an almost imperceptible crawl. The present moment expanded and intensified and it’s permanent endlessness was obvious. My being in it somehow elongated and expanded as thoughts of past and future evaporated. Memories and imaginary futures were still accessible, but somehow more distant, less relevant, less real.

I was really there; on the postcard beach with its mesmerizing metamorphosing hues and the glorious irrepressible radiation of the sun. I smiled contentedly; with minutes passing like hours I would have the ‘week-long’ beach retreat I’d been longing for.


Dali – a pretty good depiction of time on the beach

Feeling creative, I took out my pad and began to draw. I attentively followed the pen as it glided across the page, viewing as one might watch an ant making its way with a fragment of leaf; immersed but only as a spectator.

Wavy lines began to form smooth-edged shapes and as form took shape I became intensely focused on every slightest touch of my pen to the paper. I looked at how the forms were shaping up on the page and my mind spouted a multitude of ways that I could manipulate the ink on the paper to create a symbol or image. The page my universe, I held my face a couple of inches from it, earnestly and sparingly using the ink as if the balance of the universe depended on every drop of coloured fluid that stained the tree fibres.

Continuing my phenomenal cosmic intuition, I was acutely aware of and acting in the knowledge of Newton’s third law; for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. With every drop spilt I felt the intrinsically contained counterforce as it was happening in the exact antipode of the universe – each drop falling was pulling with it its mirroring force.

After finishing what ended up being an abstract piece on how water symbolises the flow of energy (yeah I was out there), I closed the paper universe and re-entered the world of the beach. Receptive to all kinds of non-ordinary sensations, I rolled over and pushed my hands into the sand, feeling the epic time span of its formation. Enchanted by the grains over the pulsing veins of my palms, I proposed that all religions, or any system of ethics proposing a moral code of conduct or behaviour; must stem from, at their core, beliefs about the balance of energy; fundamental beliefs about the natural law of the universe.

We are the universe experiencing itself and in this cosmic twist we are life trying to catch up with itself, the ouroboros snake eating its own tail. Something about the human condition pushes us on, collectively we have a compulsion to measure and document in a striving for understanding. From this flying rock we have started measuring and studying the whole thing anyway we can: our minds through psychology and bodies through biology, matter through chemistry, our surroundings through geoscience, out to the distant reaches of our expanse through physics and astronomy.

Even the perceived edges of the cosmos are no barrier to the yearning; abstract ideas are explored through philosophy and the limits of knowledge scrutinized through epistemology. It’s a yearning for totality; the hidden belief that progress has an endpoint and that there lies total understanding capable of ensuring completeness, its what yogis and monks are searching for on a different course to the scientists; union.

Enlightenment is a tricky word, we hear it in stories of mystics and saints, but for the majority of humankind who have never actually experienced the state, the word is only a symbol for some kind of magical fabled myth. Like the sound of Hendrix’s guitars for people born deaf, its mere legend, belief of its existence can only come from logical reasoning or faith, not experience perceived directly and without symbols.

From our ordinary consciousness total comprehension lies out of reach, each of us are only windows of perspective amidst an infinite sea within a sea. But the hint of a higher plain is glimpsed by all; perfection is perceived from some of the windows along the way. It’s rare and uncapturable, present in isolated moments, for the most part existing as an abstract concept and never outright in objective reality.

Perfection is beauty and exists within the eye of the beholder. Glimpses are fleeting, impossible to recall to direct experience or to remember how or why you saw things the way you did – as Van Gogh saw the night sky; the universe as alive and continuously complete in its changes. In this type of perception, those tantalizing views lie, forever leading us on.

Following my ruminations on how states of mind influence perception, I was brought back to earth when a guy sat down on the beach a bit down from me. Due to my morphing perspective, I couldn’t tell how close he was but considering the beach was empty for as far as I could see it puzzled me that he would choose a seemingly close spot. Why couldn’t he find his own patch?

I looked over at the stranger and felt uneasy. Soon after a middle-aged couple arrived and set up base at a spot which also seemed to be fairly close. The effects from the tab were beginning to subside at this point and with my deserted paradise gone I decided it was time to move. With the sun in its descent, I headed back out to the road to find another patch of beach on the way back to the hostel.

Soon after setting off the bike chain was choking and the bike was failing me. As the cars whizzed past I pulled over and, trying to remain calm and focused, set about in an attempt to fix it. After a fairly lengthy investigation, I discovered that a piece of the bike where the chain attaches had come loose and fallen off. I backtracked, retracing my route whilst gazing at the floor for the missing piece, but my search proved unfruitful.

The road was long, straight and each kilometre indistinguishable from the next, I wasn’t sure even how far along I’d come in the morning. That damn perspective trick was tripping me up again. I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to push the bike back to the hostel but it seemed far and I wanted to make it back before dark to get another bike and head out to enjoy the conclusion to my trip.

With my hands and probably face coated in chain oil I stood on the side of the road and waved a passing cyclist down. As she pulled over, her skin was changing colours; the peak may have been over but the acid was still pumping. Despite my lingual revelations that morning I found it pretty damn hard to recalibrate to Spanish and after a rather awkward conversation full of stutters and half sentences on my part it became clear there was nothing she could really do to help me and I felt a bit silly for flagging her down in the first place. She went on her way and left me with my broken bike. On the plus side, I’d gauged from the interaction that I wasn’t so far and began to push the bike along the pavement.

As I passed another gap out to the coast, I saw a woman facing out to the sea, moving her shoulders and arms in circular motions, like some kind of dance or martial art, but as if she was psychically controlling the waves before her. She was alone, and she seemed to be in some kind of transmission, channeling energy from the water. As I tread on, pondering what mystical act this lady was doing, the sun’s rays continued bombing down. In no time I was sweating heavily, but with destination in mind I put one foot in front of the other.

Sure enough, after a short while, I started to recognize landmarks at the edge of the city.

Dropping the bike back at the hostel I decided to head back out on foot for a nearby beach. Despite a few groups of people around I felt relieved to be back on my own with no conversations to muster through or appearances to keep up. I crashed back onto the sand and lay drifting through daydreams. Face down I sank through the sand into a delicious siesta.


If only the photo could come close to the reality

I awoke feeling refreshed. The acid was still knocking but less intensely and with a lightness that was absent before. I headed over to the fisherman’s boardwalk and found my buddy Rodrigo there on the lower level. we went to that spot every day for sunset. He lit up a joint rolled with a roach and a pinch of tobacco – he knew how I liked them and generously bucked the South American trend of only herb and paper to suit my preference- and we smoked gazing over the bobbing bodies of water to the horizon where the sun was about to begin its descent.

The panorama was beyond spectacular.

I stared in awe, trying to open my eyes wider to somehow extend my vision to better receive all the information from the flowing colours and morphing shapes. We sat there late into the evening long after the sun had set, watching the oranges deepen and the thin arched whispy clouds slowly trudging their way across the broad seascape. Those hours played host to one of the most beautiful and life-affirming vistas of my life.

From my vantage point on those wooden planks, perfection did exist.