02.02.2017 - 12.02.2017 30 °C
“Four and half cows” said Valentin to Nikki at the start of the walking tour around Montevideo.
“For each of the 3.4 million people in Uruguay, there are four and a half cows. And one and a half sheep. So you need to eat four and half cows while you are here. This is the mission of all Uruguans”, he continued.
“What happens if you’re a vegetarian?”, asked Nikki.
“It’s easier to be gay than a vegetarian in Uruguay” he said. “But you eat fish right? Not that Uruguayans know much about fish. It’s either tuna or fish. Don’t ask a Uruguayan what type of fish is being served. If it's not tuna, it's fish. That's all we know....”
Talking of meat, in Spanish red meat is “carne”. Chicken is not “carne”, Chicken is “pollo”. So it’s not real meat. Nor is tuna.
From my point of view, the best thing about Montevideo is the Mercado del Puerto, the port market. In South America, the roasting of meat is extremely popular on a “Parilla”. The Mercado del Puerto is centre of that culture in Montevideo, where everyone from port workers to office workers come for lunch. So, of course, we had to have some lunch too….
A Parilla at the Mercado del Puerto (Port Market) at Montevideo. I don’t know where Winnie the Pooh is, but there is Piglet…..
Another Parilla. Don't say there is no vegetarian!
I love the “Jamon” in “Latin” countries. The conical cups are to catch fat dripping from of the legs of ham.
Er, “Where is Uruguay ?”, I hear you ask. Aha! It’s here. Sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil.
Location of Uruguay.
The Spanish first tried to settle (aka “invade”) what is now called Uruguay in 1516, but the Charrua Indians thought this wasn’t a good idea and kicked ‘em back into the ocean. Or killed them. Spanish influence in the area increased through the 18th Century as the Spanish tried to limit Portuguese influence.
By the way, it was Pope Alexander VI who in 1493 proclaimed that the new world would be carved up between the Spanish and the Portuguese along a line 100 leagues west and south of the Cape Verde islands off West Africa which explains why Brazil speaks Portuguese and virtually all the rest of South and Central America, and Mexico, speak Spanish.
Carving up the New World in 1493
Montevideo was founded as a military stronghold in the early 18th century by the Spanish in competition with Buenos Aires. It changed hands frequently between the Spanish and Portuguese during the 19th century until, partly due to British intervention, it became the capital of independent Uruguay in 1828.
Slavery. I still can’t quite my head around the fact that up until just over 150 years ago it was deemed acceptable to go to Africa, capture men, women, and children, put them in chains and onto a boat, bring them to the Americas, put them up for sale, sell them, and then keep them as slaves. But that was the case.
Montevideo was a required stop for the slave ships on their way to Buenos Aires and 20,000 slaves were sold into Uruguay.
Freed and slave Africans and Afro-Uruguayans fought in the various wars of independence during the 1810’s and 1820’s, and were rewarded with the Free Womb Law of 1825. Under this law the children of slave mothers were born free, although obligated to serve their mothers’ master until they reached the age of majority.
Slavery was not outlawed in Uruguay until 1842. Slavery was made illegal in the UK in 1805 and 1865 in the US.
And we got to experience a little bit of Uruguan Carnaval in Montevideo! Nikki managed to get us the best seats in the house, or on the road, to be more precise, for the Las Llamadas (“The Calls”) parade. The name comes from when, in the past, the different carnival groups (“Comparsas”) would use their drums (“tambors”) to “call” to each other.
On the Thursday night that we attended there were 19 different Comparsas parading. The make up of each Comparsas is the same and is shown on the diagram below.
A schematic showing the different people making up a “Comparsa”
Starting at around 9 pm, the 4 hour parade of Comparsas starts. The role of the different figures in the Comparsa is:
“Banderas” – the flag wavers. These, and there are about 6 to 10 of them, have the colours of the group and wave the flags at the front of the Comparsas. One of these will be the “Estandarte”, the standard bearer.
Flag waver – Uruguayan carnival
The “Gramillero” who is the eldest member of the group and “tries to seduce the “Mama Viejo””, the Old Mamma who “despite her age moves her hips sensually and in a very feminine way”.
The Mama Viejo (the Old Mama) and the Gramillero (elder man)
Behind them are the typical characters of the “El Escobero”, the Broom Man, “la Vedette”, the Female Star, “El Bailarin or Bailarina”, the male or female dancer, then,
La Vedette – The female star.
The dancers. Nikki has said that one of the most striking aspects of South America is the complete lack of concern about body shape, particularly for women. Women of all shapes, ages, body shapes wear bikinis. There is not a one piece bathing suit in South America - apart from in the bottom of Nikki's pack! Similarly, with the dancers in the Carnaval, the women are of all ages, shapes, and sizes, and have such a joy in being there! It is so refreshing to see a lack of body image issues!
And finally, and loudly “Los Tamberileros”, the drummers.
The colour, the noise, the glitter is amazing and for Alex was the highlight of his trip to South America (Mike’s was the Iguazu Falls). Here is a link to a Youtube link for a video of the parade (https://youtu.be/VyMkfMIxqOA). The “Candombe” is the drum based musical form of Uruguay and originated in the Afro-Uruguayan population of Montevideo and is based on the Bantu African drumming (Bantu’s are an ethnic group from West Africa and South Africa, primarily in the Niger – Congo region), with European influences and touches of Tango.
The origins of the Carnival is that when slavery was abolished in Uruguay in 1842, these Uruguayan citizens began to form new groups (“Comparsas”) of which the neighbourhoods of Sur and Palermo stand out. The slaves were given time off to take part in the parade. It gradually evolved into today’s celebrations to include all the diverse people of Uruguay, including the large number of immigrants from Italy and Spain.
The Carnival in its present form has been running from 1956 and, with so many Comparsas wanting to take part, the Llamadas parade has been increase from one day to two days.
Impressions from today ?
Uruguay is ranked first in South America for democracy, peace, and lack of corruption, and it shows (although, similarly to Argentina, Paraguay, and Chile it was ruled by a military Junta from 1973 to 1985, with all of the associated atrocities).
For example, abortion is legal in Uruguay and not elsewhere in South America. And Gay marriage. And drugs. And eduacation if free. As are computers in school. For every student.
And, very importantly, income equality. There is a little doubt that income equality is a significant factor in social disharmony. Uruguay has worked hard to reduce the gap between the rich and poor, and you can tell.
Myself and the boys had a week in Uruguay. Nikki was there for almost two weeks and visited Colonia, Punta Del Diablo and Punta Del Este as well as Montevideo. You may have sent the photos she posted on line. For her the highlights were Colonia (a small city which still retains its colonial past, including wall, drawbridge and brightly coloured adobe buildings) and Punta Del Diablo (a hippy commune town out on the Far East coast of Uruguay with beaches that stretch for miles, night markets and probably just a little bit of hash...)
Then I went back to Buenos Aires to wave goodbye to the boys at the airport when they were due to catch their flight back to Australia. Then back to Montevideo to meet up with Nik and head on to Brazil.
Whilst Uruguay was first on the list of South American countries for democracy, peace, and lack of corruption, Brazil must be at or close to the bottom. Nik and I are keeping a very close eye on the electronic media, the press and onlline forums since the police in Espiritu Santo state north of Rio de Janiero stopped work around 4th February because they hadn’t been paid since December. In one week there were 137 murders in the state. 27 of the 100 police areas in Rio also stopped work on 11th February 2017 in solidarity . If it gets too hairy, we’ll just get to an airport and fly off….
(Post Blog note from Brazil. The police in Espiritu Santo went back to work after eight days. The authorities paid the police in Rio half of the amount owed, and they are still on strike, but it’s ok, the marines are on the streets with very large guns. It’s all good. No stress…..)