Apparently Uruguay has the longest carnival (or carnaval) in the world. At 40 days, that’s quite a party. We stumbled into the middle of the opening celebrations yesterday and it was a great antidote for the sadness we felt at leaving the Grande Amburgo.
Our hotel told us we could buy tickets from a particular agency, but this turned out not to be true, and we were told to just turn up at 8.30 pm and ‘it would be obvious’ who to buy tickets from.
I approached one of the officials at the gate of one of the enclosures with seating, and asked how to buy tickets. He told me he was the boss (chefe) and I didn’t need to buy tickets, and he ushered us in. It turned out that we were in the main VIP enclosure, right at the start of the parade, and from what I could gather this was mainly reserved for family members of those in the parade. For a moment it crossed my mind that he wanted paying (Mozambique has damaged me) but we came to the conclusion he was just a nice guy.
Certainly we were made very welcome, and had a brilliant view of the parade.
It was an odd mix of brazilian-style skimpy costumes and headdresses, middle aged men and women in a range of odd outfits, and some tiny kids showing off their sambas. It wasn’t terribly slick or professional but it was massively good-natured and fun. Whilst there were some stunning figures among the men and women, beer bellies, stretch marks, cellulite and wobbly thighs were also all on show, decked with sequins and gold spray paint and not much else.
There was a big African theme, with an excellent drumming group and floats with elephants, grass huts, lions and troupes of ‘African’ costumes (animal skins, loin cloths, masks etc.). There was a group of guachos and ‘kings and queens’ which i guessed represented different states. There were harlequins and a group of people with model TV cameras on their heads. There was what i think was a Freddie Mercury tribute float. There was an ‘Indians from India’ group doing traditional Indian dancing. There was an excellent capoeira group. There were a lot of men dressed in drag. There were samba schools and religious groups. There was a singer with a yellow toy monkey around his neck. There were floats clearly making reference to various myths or stories – most of which were incomprehensible to us although I did recognize the Incas and some gentlemen dressed as conquistadores.
Half the time people didn’t really seem to know what they were doing, and at one point there was a 20 minute hiatus in proceedings. People wandered between the barriers and through the dancing hordes. Floats were generally pushed along by hand by a few guys, occasionally veering off course. Headdresses were routinely yanked back into place and costumes regularly re-adjusted. The music consisted mainly of hoarse singers with microphones attached to speakers in the back of vans and a couple of guitars or mandolins.
The primadonnas and perfectionists of Rio would probably roll their eyes, but everyone, paraders and spectators, oldies and kids, gay and straight, black, brown and white seemed to have a blast. I reckon that is more important that the perfect choreography or beach-buffed body.
It was a wonderful, bonkers, weird night. Most of the dancers were moving too fast to get decent pictures, and the woman in front of us spent most of the time on her feet waving her arms about, but these will give you an idea….