Montevideo, Uruguay, January 21, 2018
She warned me. There would be music and noise from the bars on the street below my window.... But it would stop right? Well no! And now at 6 am, it's still booming, people are still yelling, and cars are still growling by. Luckily I have a fan that camouflages most of it and I did sleep, a lot, which, luckily I can. I'm going to see if there's a different room available for tonight.
I took this at 6:30 this morning. The music was still blaring and there was A LOT of yelling going on. All this in a country that doesn't open most stores on Saturday and none on Sunday. I guess that's so they can sleep all afternoon to stay up all night-
Soon after, shouting was coming from the other direction - close to the bus stop, 2 men were fighting-
The woman at the front desk is from Venezuela and so helpful and smart. She thinks their energy comes from the maté they drink because it's very high in caffeine. She says if she doesn't drink organic, she shakes. The maté cup is packed solid with herbs. One cup and bombilla are shared amongst friends and it is rude not to offer a cupful to your neighbor. Hot water, not boiling as it will burn the maté, is poured into the cup and the drinker must drain the cup. Because there are so many leaves in the cup, it's nothing more than a few swallows. I think it would take me a while to get used to it - it tastes like boiled hay bale-
My first stop today was at the Feria de Tristan Narvaja - a huge flea market. I was glad I went early because it was still cool and there were few people around. By noon it is packed and in the heat, that would not be pleasant-
Everything imaginable is for sale-
I took the bus back to my hotel to save my legs. In the bus, there's a driver and a second man sitting about 4 seats back who takes the money and issues the tickets. I tried talking to him but he spoke so fast I couldn't understand a word he said. So many don't open their mouths or enunciate their words, even though they know I'm a learner. It's frustrating but I guess they don't know how to speak to someone like me. Finally, after telling him a few times I didn't understand, I just turned away. He repeated himself several times but never once spoke louder or slower-
Once back at the hotel, I changed rooms-
The hotel is in a big old mansion. From the first floor, which is where reception is, it's 14 steps up from the street. The second floor, where I'm staying, is another 40 steps up. Ceilings are at least 20 feet high! Most buildings in the Centro Historico are owned by the city and only rented by the entrepreneurs. Because they are all protected buildings, no renovations can be done without written permission and definitely no modern changes can take place. Hopefully tonight is quieter because now I look out at el Teatro and there's no performance tonight-
After a short rest, I went to el Museo de Carnaval. Carnaval has a long history in Montevideo. Unfortunately the excitement doesn't start until this Friday but hopefully what I see in Rio will make up for missing it here. Long ago, tablados were stages made of planks set on top of barrels. Groups would perform for money collected by passing a hat. They wore funny giant papier-mâché costumes made by the best artists in the country. They also painted their faces and poked fun at the problems of the day. In the mid twentieth century, there were 160 tablados set up around town but today there are only a few stages spread around the city where 40 ensembles perform. They are divided into 5 groups and compete against one another. The performances start this Friday and will go on for 40 days! City crews were busy building bleachers this morning-
The museum is very small but the costumes on display were fantastic. Unfortunately my flash doesn't work so....leather spikes on the shoulders-
They use miles and miles of fabric and even macrame cording. Lots look like they're shellacked, maybe to withstand the gruelling 40 days-
A shirt made from empty food packages-
A painting depicting former carnivals-
I really enjoyed my visit and got away with pretending to be an Uruguayan. They pay less!
The Mercado Del Puerto is next door and filled with super expensive parillas. Luckily I wasn't hungry anyway-
Walking back to my hotel, I went through a small market where an artist has made characters out of shiny cutlery-
After another rest, this heat is killing me, I went on a tour at el Teatro. It was built in 1856 by private investors and was meant initially for the rich and famous. Later, it was sold to the city and they have created a very public and open place. It was closed from 1998 to 2004 for extensive renovations and today is beautiful. One of the original chandeliers that weighs 250 kg-
Originally, the front boxes were for the very rich, even though they couldn't see the stage from their seats. For them, it was more important to be seen. They're no longer used today because Montevideo does not promote an elite society-
The theatre seats 1200 people and acoustics are so good, microphones are not required-
They also have a more intimate Black Box Theatre that seats 140 people. Both are used a lot by the people of the city and towns throughout the country are invited to come for free performances.
After the Teatro tour, I headed for the barrio of Palermo to watch the candombe. One of the receptionists at the hotel lives there and said it could start at any time after 5:30. I didn't want to miss anything so I went early. Luckily, she also suggested a restaurant where I could go for a beer so after checking out the street where the performance was supposed to be, I headed there. I must have looked like I just fell off the onion truck because the owner tried to scare the shit out of me. He told me I couldn't go see the candombe wearing my hat and sunglasses - they scream 'gringo'. I had to leave my camera, watch, ring and necklace with him. They might even try to steal my runners because they could get $100 for them on the black market. I had noticed walking into Palermo that it was a poorer neighbourhood; there was more garbage lying around and there were homeless people sleeping on the sidewalks. So, I had a beer and thought about how what he said made me feel. Fear breeds fear. I've been to 80 countries and never been robbed, touch wood (I'm tapping my head right now). Yes I've been lucky, but I'm also aware and careful and I try to make sure I'm in safe enough areas. But everything he said made me feel nervous. Fear is crippling and what's so interesting about it is that it doesn't exist. Fear isn't a thing. It's an emotional response to an idea and we create our emotions by our thoughts. Time passed. The waitress said we would easily hear the drums when they started. Finally it was 7 but still no noise. I had another beer and put all my gringo identifying stuff in my hat. I wasn't going to be robbed. I wasn't going to go to the show so sure I'd be safe and come back missing my camera. I had to heed his advice. Finally about 7:20 I decided I'd go and check out what was happening because I'd seen many people walk by, obviously going. I did sneak my camera along! As I approached the street where it was supposed to be, the pounding got louder and louder and the crowds grew. They had started and so I followed them for about 3 blocks before I decided it was time to walk home if I was going to make it before dark. That was another thing. I'd asked him where I'd catch the bus back to the Centro afterwards and he looked at me in horror - Bus? No! No! You'll take a cab. I'll call you one! Well, I got back to his restaurant in one piece, but as I was putting my stuff back on, two gringos, a man and a woman, came running around the corner chasing a thief on a bicycle! I guess it was safe and it wasn't. There were so many people there you couldn't get beat up but some tourists were snapping all kinds of pictures and taking selfies. Cell phones on selfie sticks are easy to grab. You could be pick pocketed if you weren't careful but I kept my hands in my pockets. I walked home.
The candombe is a huge part of the Uruguayan culture. It is a combination of the Afro-Uruguayan community that began in the XVII century with the arrival of the African slaves. In the grouping there are many drummers and the sound almost makes you vibrate. They play very well together-
Marching in front of the drums is Escobedo, a man dancing and making a broom spin on top of his arms and body
Gramillero who represents the tribe's witch doctor and the Vedette. That's her in black but I'm not sure if the man in coral is gramillero or not-
Leading the group was a flag bearer and 2 groups of women, dancing to the drums-
They're getting ready for the coming 40 days of festivities when they'll be wearing extravagant costumes and performing in other neighbourhoods.
I am glad I saw them practicing and now am looking forward to Rio!
Walking home, the city was alive again. Sundays are sleepy but in the evenings, everyone comes out. There was old time dance music playing in a square and a lot of people in their 80s dancing. Restaurants were full and people were out enjoying the cooler weather.
Locks around a fountain-
I had a really busy day and it was awesome. Tomorrow I'm going to the Andes Museo and the Harley store before I catch a bus to meet the group in Puentes Del Este.