How can I even begin to write about how awesome this week was? It’s technically one AM on Tuesday, but I want to try to stick to the schedule as much as possible so that I don’t get bogged down trying to explain too much cool stuff. The week started out very peacefully, with me sleeping in late, taking siestas, chilling poolside, getting tan (or at least as tan as I can be), talking to my family on Skype and ended busily. I don’r remember doing anything specifically on Monday or Tuesday, which means they were good days (haha), and on Wednesday I hung out with the world’s cutest baby and hung out at the grocery store with the family.
My friend had gone to visit her boyfriend in a neighboring town for Valentine’s Day, so I just kind of did my own thing. When she returned on Thursday afternoon (Valentine’s day) we ended up going to the Buena Onda (good vibes/waves) ice cream shop. It kind of reminded me of a Ben and Jerry’s. They advertise that their ice cream comes from “vacas contentas” or happy cows, and while I don’t know if that was true, their ice cream was certainly good. That night, we went to Flo’s friend (and my friend) Leticia’s house, where we played Just Dance on the Wii with her family. You know, just in case I didn’t make a fool of myself at the karaoke. Unfortunately, I am definitely better at karaoke than dancing, which isn’t saying much for either activity hahaha. It was a fun, laid back day, and even though they celebrate Valentine’s Day here, it was definitely a nice escape from all the ridiculous hype around the holiday in the US.
Friday was when things started to pick up. There is a bicycle race that exists here, in which the participants bike the roads of the whole country, going through different cities and towns along the way. Fortunately for me, the Rutas de America race went through Flores, and Flo and I went so that I could see it. There were a ton of people out and about, despite the extreme heat. I was sweating just standing there (hot, right? I know), so I have no idea how the cyclists were able to do it. There was a lot of hype, with signs being waved, camera crews, ambulance and police presence, etc. So it was a high energy event, even though the cyclists blew through in probably under 5 minutes. Fortunately, I had my camera ready as they came through, so there will be a pretty cool video on facebook at some point.
I then spent the afternoon running errands with the sister- getting money at the band, buying my ticket to Buenos Aires (I’ll be going on the Buquebus, or “Boat-Bus,” and looking for a way to charge my new camera. I tried to stop and visit my high school teacher’s mother, who still lives in the town, but she wasn’t at home when I went.
In the evening, one of our friends stopped by. She had just got back from the beach in Colonia, and we just spend an hour or two catching up. When the parents got back around 11-11:30, we went out to dinner, where we ordered Chivito. For the uninitiated, chivito is a bed of french fries topped with ham, bacon, cheese, fried egg, and more french fries. Oh, and mayonnaise if you want. Definitely not kosher. We again ran into Leticia and her family, so we all ended up eating together. As far as I know, the only faux pax I committed was almost knocking over the plastic Venus di Milo statue.
Saturday, was the “candombe” portion of the Carnaval parade. I have been told that Uruguayan carnaval is the longest in the world, and that it lasts for more than 40 days with parades and plays, etc. My ultra-nerdy travel guidebook (that I unashamedly love-thanks Mom!) said that Uruguayan carnaval also tends to be more vibrant than in Argentina, though I obviously do not speak from experience. We watched from the office of the Dad’s horse racing club, and it was the perfect spot. Candombe is originates with the Afro-Uruguayan community, and was a musical form that the slaves would use. At night they would slip away from the owners and go outside the city gates where they would play drums and dance. Basically, each school or group of candombe practitioners is called a “comparsa” and there are certain components that each group will have. First in each group comes the banner naming the group and where they are from. Then comes people carrying a moon and usually 2 stars, which I was told symbolize the coming of night. Then there were different dancers, with certain “types” that appeared in every group, for example, 2 or 3 “old couples” or a comical old man and woman. Then came the dancers, also known as vedettes, and they are all ridiculously beautiful. Seriously, it is a good way to get a complex hahah. If I were that hot, I would probably wear as little as they do. Anyway, they are then followed by about 50 people on drums, and it is so loud that you can literally feel the drums in your bones. I got a LOT of good photos and pictures, and so I will be sure to upload some. There was also a little bit of capoeira, the martial arts-dance fusion, which is more Brazilian than Uruguayan, but I’m really glad that I got to see it. There were supposed to be 25 groups, but 34 showed up, so you can imagine that the parade lasted for about 3-4 hours and ended at about 2 AM
After the parade, we returned to the plaza to hang out and drink a little before going to the club. There were a TON of people in the plaza and the club, since the comparsas came from all over the country. We went to the club at about 3:30 AM. I didn’t really want to go, as I was exhausted, but I ended up having a good time, and stayed until about 6:30. On Sunday, I woke up around 11 and got ready to go out to lunch at the restaurant. When I came back, I slept until about 6 PM. I wanted to treat the family to a meal out at a restaurant, since it was my last full day at their house, but they wouldn’t let me. So instead, the sister suggested that I pick a food that I like and cook it for the family. I decided to make fried rice. I cooked it outside on a sort of propane camping stove, as it would make the house really hot if I cooked inside. One thing that I don’t like about the stoves here is that they have to be lit manually. For example, I have to turn on the gas and then light it with a lighter. I know it is a stupid problem to have, but I am definitely scared of inadvertently blowing something up. Nonetheless, after a couple of tries I got the hang of it and the fried rice came out really well. One embarrassment that I had was not knowing how to debone and de-skin a chicken. We always buy the skinless boneless chicken breast, but I don’t want anyone ever to think I am some sort of useless diva. So the mom helped me with that, but I watched everything, and hopefully, should the need arise, I could successfully debone a chicken.
Sunday night was also the second night of Carnaval, but this time it was the more Brazilian-influenced samba style carnaval parade. Many of the groups, though not all, came from the northern border region of Urguay, where there is much more of a Brazilian influence. For example, in some towns people are bilingual in Spanish and Portuguese, as well as a sort of mixture of the two. The groups are called “escolas do samba” or “samba schools” in Portuguese. This parade/competition (because the different comparsas and escolas compete against other groups of the same style) was much shorter, and there was live singing, as well as drumming and dancing. Additionally, each school had a different theme, which was at least for me, a little more interesting than the comparsas, which were all comprised of the same components. For example, one of the themes was classic fairytales, so you could see Cinderella dancing next to Peter Pan, etc. There was also a traffic safety theme, in which the sister of Diego Forlan (the soccer star) participated in. She was in an accident that had left her paralyzed when she was 18, and it was definitely a powerful image. There was also a social networking theme, with corresponding costumes. There were also Japanese and African themes, though some of the images and iconography were maybe not what we would consider politically correct in the US. Despite all that though, it was interesting to see a different culture’s perspective on other cultures. I took less pictures and videos due to a battery shortage on my part, but I still got some good ones. I have to say though, it was nice to just be in the moment and enjoy it rather than worrying about documenting every second.
Monday I woke up late, and quickly ate lunch and packed up, as we had a bus to Montevideo. I swapped with Flo’s boyfriend who had come to visit, so that they could sit together during the ride. I sat by myself (except for the inevitable screaming baby next to me), but it was sort of nice to have a couple of hours to just sit and zone by myself (I know I’m weird). We arrived in Tres Cruces and took a taxi back to the apartment. I know I’ve said it before, but this apartment is AWESOME. Hardwood and tile floors, excellent location, etc. I clearly watch too much House Hunters. Or I’m just secretly a 40 year old woman. Seriously though, if I ever have enough money to travel back and forth frequently, I would love to get a place somewhere in Uruguay. Anyway, Flo had some people from her design class over, and I just hung out, scoping out maps of where I’ll be living in BA and things to do while I’m there. I also took a siesta (this will be a rough habit to reverse when I return to the US).
A little after 9 PM, last year’s Spanish language TA came to pick me up outside the apartment. We went to Punta Carretas, a beachfront barrio of Montevideo and ate at a restaurant called La Criolla. I had something similar to raviolis with a 4 cheese sauce, which is another thing I am getting addicted to here. Of course, all the delicious things are bad for me, but whatever. We talked about Wooster a lot, but also about changes in job and life since returning to Uruguay. She also updated me on the lives of the other TAs, and all of them seem to be doing well. After we finished, we went to get ice cream at a place called Las Delicias, which was very aptly named. If you guess the weight of your ice cream bowl, its free. I guessed 185g and it was 190g, so close but no cigar. Maybe I’ll go back and order the exact same thing, though that might be playing the system. Considering my complete lack of comprehension of the metric system, it was a lucky fluke. We talked some more about things I could do in and around Montevideo. Though I’ve only ever spent like 5 full days in the city, I feel like I haven’t explored it as much as it deserves. Maybe tomorrow morning, I can go and walk around or take some sort of bus. In the evening I am going to another Peñarol game at the Estadio Centenario, and it will be a blast. I try to buy a flag of every country I go to, (though I still need an Indian one) but I already have a ton of Uruguayan flags, so maybe I can buy a Peñarol flag this time around.
Anyway, Cecilia and I had a great time chatting, and then she drove through the scenic route, though it was unfortunately dark, past Las Ramblas (the beachfront walkways), more of Punto Carretas, and the American embassy, also known as “the Bunker.” Seriously, it looks completely ridiculous among the beachfront community and the apartment complexes. Why do we pick the most severe designs possible? Probably sheer intimidation. Also, me being the nerd that I am, we stopped at the MERCOSUR headquarters and I got a picture in front of the building. It was totally beautiful, but I couldn’t tell if it was old or built new to look old. We drove by the Golf Club and Parque Rodó, where I went the first day. Basically, I got a nice tour and good company, so it was a successful night. Depending on when the Peñarol game ends tomorrow, the 3 of us (Flo, Cecilia and I) might go out to see a Carnaval play, which I haven’t yet been able to see. It is now officially 3 AM here and I am running out of steam, as you probably are too, so I will sign off. Next week’s post should be good too, as I will have been to Piriapolis, (a beach) and will be arriving in BA! Until next time!