Friday, January 27, 2006

The longest carnival in the world has begun

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Uruguay's carnival, parade in 18 de julio Uruguay's carnival 18 de julio paradeLast Thursday started Uruguay's carnival, which this year's been baptized as the longest carnival in the world. I guess, we may not have Brazilian's glamorous, most famous carnival, but we have the longest, or so they say. It goes from January’s last week until the first days of March. Uruguay's carnival actually has little or nothing to do with Brazilian’s one.

Uruguay's carnival 18 de Julio paradeIt's Uruguay biggest popular celebration; it's a strange mixture between Hispanic carnival traditions with afro rhythms, the result is something I haven’t seen elsewhere. Along the month or so it lasts a lot of shows and presentations take place starting with the initial parade in 18 de Julio the main street in Montevideo's downtown. This initial parade consists of different carnival groups called comparsas which compete for the year’s carnival prize, and walk all over 18 singing and dancing, and waving flags, and carnival symbols.

As it was just some blocks away from my place I decided to pass by to take some pictures. For the record the previous time I'd gone to this parade I was a kid with no more than ten years, and my only and main recollection of it was about "cabezudos" (meaning bigheaded), which are guys disguised with an enormous painted "head", reaching more than 8 feet tall that approach to children to scary them at the rhythm of music. To my surprise they told me that these characters are no longer very frequent, too bad, they rocked. Well this time I also got a little scared but not because of the cabezudos, you see, every time I took out my camera I had the feeling that a lot of eyes that seemed to have escaped out of mordor where watching it and following me. Nothing happened, there was a lot of police presence but it was uncomfortable.

I would like to say it was awesome, but it really wasn’t, the truth is that it didn’t live up to my memories. Between every comparsa you’d have to wait around twenty minutes. It disappointed me to see so much commercial propaganda in the flags, banners and carrousels of each carnival group. I felt the whole thing has gone very commercial. Even though there were a lot of cops there was still a feeling of insecurity. Next Friday is the second big parade in Uruguay’s carnival; named "Las Llamadas", it’s more typical of afro culture in Uruguay, with much more Candombe which a like and for me much more enjoyable.

Uruguay's carnival 18 de julio parade

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Monday, January 16, 2006

It's summer time, not much sun though

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Uruguay summer, La pedrera, 2006
First half of january is over, typically the best days in the year to go on vacations in Uruguay. Usually the best weather days in the whole year, when every teenage girl takes like twelve daily hours of suntan, until it hurts, literally. Even though in this corner of the world it's highly adviced against sunbathing between eleven am to three, because of the ozone layer hole, you know...sun hurts, didn't used to, but now it does, shame on polluting countries! But not this year, nope, the first half of january's been more like... is it really january? is this rain stopping, ever? when are the clouds going to leave?

Map, Uruguay, golden coast, costa de oroHere are some pictures taken in La Pedrera, Rocha, and Solis, Maldonado. Well, yeah, there are a lot places to go on vacations in Uruguay, besides Punta del Este, which is the only one that people seem to talk about. While Punta del Este is more of a high profile beachside, resort, there are a lot of places, specially in Rocha, but also in Maldonado and Canelones, that are pretty good to spend some days lying on the beach, reading, taking naps, swiming, fishing doing whatever but working. In particular, in Rocha, it's where the best beaches are and where less populated is. People go there camping, or stay in rented houses, sometimes, even fishermen hutslike houses. In winter, most of those places are deserted, which is why a lot of people like to go off season, typically in december, or march.

enjoy the pics!

La Pedrera

Camping in la pedrera, uruguay

La Pedrera, Rocha, beach

La Pedrera beach, Rocha, uruguay


solis beach, maldonado, uruguay

Solis beach, maldonado, river, uruguay

Solis, maldonado, uruguay, with friends

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Friday, January 06, 2006

The Wizard Kings

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No, I'm not talking about some role playing game, this is about something that's still celebrated in Uruguay, which is the Three kings festivity or The Wizard kings, or as we ordinary refer to it here, "Los Reyes Magos". Named after the visitation to the Jesus child by three wise men, or three wizard kings, mentioned in the bible. It's a holiday and it's a very special morning particularly for children.

Every January 6th children wake up early and run anxiously to the Christmas tree to find gifts placed by their shoes, does this sound weird? Tradition says that anyone who wants to be gifted by the three wizard kings must leave his or her shoes by the Christmas tree. Also a bucket with water and another one with grass must be left for the feeding of the camels, didn't i mention it?, they travel in camels. Letters are written to wizards with detailed specifications of the dreamed toys, and “unbiasedly” describing the year overall behavior.

It was funny to wake up and find the buckets moved, the grass gone, less water, irrefutable proof of the passing and existence of the three kings for every children in Uruguay. In some families with strong Spanish tradition like mine, gifts were more and better than those given at Christmas' eve, after all it had it's logic, Santa Claus is only one, these guys are three, they should try harder.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A river and two paper mills

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A river and two paper mills is what stands between Uruguay and Argentina these days.  Around three thousand persons blockaded the San Martin’s bridge between Uruguay and Argentina demonstrating against the construction of two paper mills in the Uruguayan borders of the Uruguay River last weekend.

The construction of two paper mills is being carried out in the region of Fray Bentos, Uruguay, by Spanish and Finish capitals.  This subject’s been around for months but right now is gaining momentum with surprise blockades by green parties on the bridges between Uruguay and Argentina, on a high traffic season due to summer tourism. The international relationship among nations is getting tight.

The matter is more complex than it may seem at first sight. On one side, these paper mills represent the biggest investment ever in the Uruguayan history and the economic situation of the country is pretty damn bad for lack of a better adjective. The consequences of the economic crisis lived through in 2001/2002 are present still. Unemployment is up the roof, one every two children in Uruguay is born under the poverty line, emigration rate of educated young people is very high, etc. Bottom line, our economy desperately needs it (some say "I rather die from pollution than starve to death"). On the other hand paper mills will have a contaminating effect, and will affect the environment, period. European enterprises are moving the paper mills out of Europe into developing nations not exactly out of good will. Paper mills in Finland are known to have had a negative effect in the environment. To summarize we are buying ourselves a problem.

Will it be positive or negative in the long term, I don’t have the foggiest idea, I guess time will tell. What bothers me right now is to put up with declarations like those of the Argentinean governor of Entre Rios, Jorge Busti, who’s become an ecologist all of a sudden, and even makes suggestions that the Uruguayan government is corrupt (which is not in discussion really, but is just an statement that no one in the Argentinean government has the moral authority to make). The guy is a clown, he even as a measure forbidded government employees coming to Uruguay on vacations, and wasn’t respected about it (check out this).

One fact that I find very interesting is that there are right now around ten paper mills working in Argentina, throwing their wastes to the Paraná River, and you don’t listen to Argentinean green parties complaining on the news about that. I believe that ecology should start at home.

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