Saturday, February 25, 2006

Where to go in the Summer (Rocha)

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The most busy days in the summer in Uruguay are the first 15 days of January and this coming week, known as Carnival Week. Every year the selected week is a different one (always in february though) and as many people get Monday and Tuesday off, they usually go somewhere and spend this long weekend at the beach.

One of the most popular departmentos (states) is Rocha (about a three hour drive from Montevideo) and its most popular beaches are in La Paloma, La Pedrera, Punta del Diablo, Valizas and Cabo Polonio.

My favorite is Cabo Polonio, a very small town surrounded by dunes that doesn’t have water or electricity. This is not very comfortable to spend a long vacation but it is certainly worth it for a couple of nights. After sunset everything is so dark that you can see an amazing number of stars. Never forget your flashlight when you pack though, or you won’t be able to get out of the house at night. There’s a beautiful light house there and right next to it is one of the biggest sea lion reserves in the world. They all gather there at around sunset and start making noises until it gets dark. I can show you the picture but I guess you need to go there to listen.

La Paloma, La Pedrera and Punta del Diablo are all very pretty and more conventional, as they have nice houses with all the basic needs. Many people go to their beaches to surf and occasionally surfers are the only ones who can get into the freezing cold water. Sometimes however, it is really hot outside and you don’t mind. There are times when the temperature is decent but you should not count on it, if you only like warm water go to the Caribbean.

Another option in Rocha is Santa Teresa. This is a national park where you can go camping, enjoy the beautiful beaches and see some animals that you don’t get to spot anywhere else. There is also a very old fortress to visit that has a lot of historical objects inside. At around noon, some guys dress as they used to when the fortress worked and they perform a little show.

While you are driving from Montevideo to any of these places the landscape is more or less the same all the time. You see lots and lots of green meadows with cows, sheep and horses. You get to see these white flowers when you are in Rocha and there are palm trees all over as well.

Next posts will be Maldonado and Canelones.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Tablados, Murgas, etc...

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Murgas are popular musical theater performed during carnival (in February) at different places in Montevideo. You can see them at different tablados, or at the Teatro de Verano (summer theater), which is a big open-air amphitheater where the murgas contest is held.

Both the theater and all the tablados are always crowded with people who want to see the best murgas, parodistas and comparsas. Pictures shown here were taken at a tablado called Club Malvín and the participating murgas are La gran siete, Agarrate Catalina and El Gran Tuleque.

Tablados are usually basketball courts where different murgas perform during the carnival season. Families gather at about 10 pm on weekdays and leave around 1:30 in the morning. How they manage to keep the kids awake or to get up the next day remains a mystery but so much fun makes the fewer hours of sleep certainly worth it.

The show consists of a group of people (mostly men) who dress in various costumes and sing about different contemporary topics such as politics or funny events that took place during the previous year. They sometimes make up their own melodies but more often than not familiar songs are played with new, hilarious lyrics. The singers are usually very good but that is not the only reason people like this. Their costumes, make up and above all the expression in their faces definitely add up to the show.

Some of the performers are only singers and there are many songs sang a capella but sometimes drums, guitars or some other instruments are present as well. They change their costumes more than once during the performance and they keep you interested all the time.

In between shows it’s possible to eat hamburgers, pizza, popcorn, churros and cotton candy. They are all prepared on the sides of the court and you can get them there but there are some people going around and selling them to the audience as well.

It is hard to describe the kind of music because I’m sure there is nothing similar to it elsewhere, and especially the feeling that it produces in the audience. The best way to know is to go, so if you are here any February don’t miss it.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

saint valentine's day

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Just a footnote, the 14th of febraury is no big deal in Uruguay. Actually there is another day in the year set as the lover's day. In this thing we going against the flow. Those who celebrate saint valentine's day in Uruguay are a minority. Some gifts shops are trying to impose the day for economic reasons but without real success so far. Anyway it's a matter of time, globalization will do the rest.

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Monday, February 06, 2006


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This celebration comes from African religious beliefs and the Umbanda religion. Iemanja is one of the Orixás (pronounced orisha and meaning god) they believe in, the orixá of all waters, also known as the mother of all orixás. She has the power of procreation.

Although in Brazil the selected date is December 31st, in Uruguay she is worshipped every February 2nd.Iemanja UruguayOn this day, thousands of people will gather at different beaches to honor Iemanja and receive her blessing and protection. Although most beaches will be crowded, the most popular one is Playa Ramírez. Not only devotees will attend, every year more and more curious people will stop by to watch the festivity. They start arriving in the afternoon and they will leave late at night, around 3 in the morning.

Celebrants are mostly dressed in white or light blue and they will make different kinds of offers to the goddess. The most common offers are flowers, watermelons and candles. However, some people go a little further by making sand sculptures or small boats that will carry a sculpture of her and will be full of fruits and foods of different kinds, money, candles and whatever you can imagine.

Iemanja UruguayIemanja Uruguay

Sometimes even some animals, such as chicken or pigeons will be sacrificed and their blood given to Iemanja. The offers will be launched into the sea and if they are swept out she will have accepted the offer. In return, the person making the offer will have their wishes come true enjoying health, money and a great love life. If the offers return to the shore, whishes unfortunately won’t come true. At sunset is when most people get into the sea to make the offer but this will continue until late at night, especially with people lighting candles and putting them in holes they dig in the sand Iemanja UruguayIemanja Uruguay
Before and after the offers are made celebrants will form a circle and dance to the rhythm of the drums while some people get blessed by pais and mais. These people can communicate with the orixas and with the spirits of dead people that are walking around and give them protection. When she gets out of the water, the mai is in a trance. She will spin around and speak in Yoruba, the African language that the orixas speak. In that moment, she is not herself, she has been taken by an orixa and she will offer protection to the supplicants.
Iemanja UruguayIemanja Uruguay

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