“If you can,” Susana wrote, “come to Montevideo this weekend for the fiesta.” She didn’t tell me the “fiesta” would actually be that of Carnaval, the largest celebration of the rich, fascinating annual African-Uruguayan cultural tradition known as El Candombe, or Desfile (Parade) de Las Llamadas.
Second only to the annual event held each February in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Carnaval Montevideo is celebrated and seen world-wide via live TV coverage and if you are lucky enough to purchase a seat along the route, to be there in person for this dynamic event. The parade took place over two nights, with 42 distinct comparsa groups, a total of more than 3,000 elaborately costumed performers–men, women and children–parading along a 12-block street route, lined by crowds of people like us, sitting, drinking, eating, laughing and taking photos of all the beautifully costumed participants and their elaborate facial make up.
The parade is both celebration and competition, as there are monetary prizes awarded to the best performer in each category. Standard characters include the escobero, a man who walks and juggles a broom, two classic Mama Viejas (old mothers), flag bearers (portabanderos) whipping around large, colorful banderas, the vedette (star dancer), a large half moon and two stars carried high on large sticks, and the many other beautiful dancers followed by a band of at least 40 or more musicians playing their tambores (drums), creating vibrant rhythms that get even the most reluctant feet tapping and bodies swaying along with them.
There are at least 100 performers in each comparsa, sometimes more, each adorned in the specific colors of their group, with elaborate costumes and matching make-up, smiling and dancing and beating their tambores. Take a look, see the dancers and others, listen to the tamboriles striking their drums, and you might even start clapping as we onlookers did, singing out the names of the different comparsas, like “Elumbe”, Susana’s favorite:
The trip from Buenos Aires to Montevideo is an easy one. Three hours by ferry or, in my case, I chose the quick 1 hr. ferry to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguary where I spent a day visiting dear friends in their country home, then I rode the bus to Montevideo, 2-1/2 hr journey in an air conditioned, comfortable bus with free wifi access. In addition to going to the Carnaval parade on its final evening, I spent the weekend with friends
the famous Rambla that spans the coastline of the Rio de la Plata, the government buildings in the city center, the Teatro Solis, and the whole area where we strolled alongside arts and crafts vendors and enjoyed lunch
at the old Mercado del Puerto, stopping for artesanal ice cream in a lovely little plaza,
shopping in the newly renovated Mercado Agrídulce, and sharing a Sunday afternoon parrilla uruguaya (barbecue uruguayan style) on the rooftop balcony of Susana’s apartment, eating, drinking, talking and laughing with friends.
What a wonderful way to spend a weekend in Uruguay! Invited back again for 2015 I definitely will return to enjoy Carnaval in Montevideo next year. Come join me!