New Year’s in Montevideo

New Years Eve in Uruguay is a unique experience that starts early in the day and lasts well into the night. Around 11am, walking through the Ciudad Viaja (old city), an energy started to seep into the streets surrounding the Mercado Del Puerto; the old port market. As we continued to stroll our way through this charming, colonial section of the city, we started to notice that people were tossing water over their balconies, aiming at pedestrians below. Along with the bombardment of water coming from the sky, we found ourselves walking through floating pieces of paper, which we soon realized were the ripped out pages of the year before's calendar, a way of discarding the old and starting the year anew. It wasn't even noon, but the city was already pulsating with festive energy.

At around noon, we hailed a cab down to the Pocitos neighborhood to meet up with Michelle's cousins for lunch. The section, which sits along side the water is highlighted by tree-lined streets filled with little bars and cafes. When we made it to the restaurant we were supposed to meet at, no one was there yet and we thought we might have miscommunicated, so we decided to head back down to the Mercado Del Puerto to see what happes when the clock turned 12pm. When we got back, the streets were filled with people dancing, drinking, smoking pot, and splashing everyone with bottles of water and cider; no one was exempt. Fortunately, upon the advice of others, I had decided not to bring my camera along on this particularl outing, so I don't have any pictures of the fesivites. With music blaring, and everyone bobbing along in the streets, playfully getting each other wet, we heard the loud beating of the candombe (Uruguayan drums) heading up the street. Caught up in the excitement and momentum of the festivities, we bopped along drinking a liter of beer and taking in the mood of celebration.

Here is a link I found on you tube of the festivities from a couple of years ago.

We enjoyed the activities for a while, then caught a cab back to Pocitos for lunch at 62 Bar. During lunch, some drunk old man seated at the table beside us graciously ordered the table a bottle of Champagne and came over to join us in a toast. The first of many “Feliz Años!”

At this point in the day, I was feeling sufficiently drunk for New Year's and probably did not need to continue to go drinking, yet after lunch curiousity (or was it alchohol) drew us back to the Mercado Del Puerto to see if the festivities continued into the late afternoon. On our way walking down one of the pedestrian only streets in the old city, I was overcome with the sudden and urgent need to go to the bathroom. I quickly found out that everything closes up by 4pm on New Year's Eve, miracuously even McDonalds and Burger King. While a welcome respite for workers, it looked like there would be no respite for my bodily functions. Then, gratefully, we were greeted on the street by a man telling us we looked too dry for the festivities and laughed. When Michelle asked him (in Spanish) if he knew where we could find a bathroom, he told us to wait a minute and took off into the adjacent, newly constructed building. He soon returned with a friend who invited us in. As we walked passed a small gathering of tailgaiting by the entrance way, we both thought that perhaps this might not be the best idea, still my need at that moment vetoed the “voice of reason” inside my head, as we followed this stranger up three flights of concrete stairs till we reached an open room where he directed us to a small dark room with a door propped open by a bucket filled with water; this was the bathroom. He left us alone and we each quickly did our business before he came back to direct us out. When thanked him graciously and asked him what the building was being constructed for, to which he replied in alll sincerity “It's going to be the Nicaraguan Embassy.”

That evening, we were spending New Year's Eve at Michelle's cousins' house. Like Christmas and Carnaval, New Years is a prized holiday in Uruguay that is celebrated with family and asado (barbeque). That evening, we went up to the rooftop of their apartment, from which you can see all of Montevideo's skyline. Most people in the city have giant bbq's located atop their apartment buildings and this is where the family gathers on such occassions. Around 9pm, there were giant slabs of lamb, beef, and chorizos being thrown onto the bbq, accompanied by a keg of artisinal beer and whiskey if one so desired.

How safe is your BBQ?
A family friend; Pedro manning the grill enthusiastically

We ate dinner just before midnight, and again the pulse of excitement and anticipation throughout the city could be felt in the air. A few random rooftops started shooting off fireworks and before we knew it, at midnight, the whole skyline of Montevideo was illuminated by a colorful display of fuejos artificiales.

Disclaimer, this is not my picture, I was having too much fun to bring out my camera

The festivities continued until about 3am when I could no longer keep my eyes open and had to retire to bed. All I can say, is that Uruguayans know how to party and do New Year's Eve right.

New Years Day was laid back as almost everything is closed and many inhabitants of the city head out to the one of the many surrounding beaches for the day. Our plans was the same. Around mid-day, after lounging around drinking mate and eating little cakes for breakfast, we paid a quick visit to Michelle's uncle, then made our way to the Tienda Inglesa, the hypermarket mentioned in an earlier post to stock up on some Uruguayan sandwhiches and bizcochos. Visiting supermarkets in other countries is always one of my favorite things to do, and this was no exception. While strolling past the bakery section and then meandering into the carniceria (meat market) area, I noticed in the case before me a full pig for sale.

After our shopping experience we hit the beach for a few relaxing hours, then headed to Soca; a small town that sits just north of route 9, but seems thousands of miles away from the coast and Montevideo. A small town of just 1000 people, half of whom are likely related to Michelle, we went to visit one of her cousins households. We spent a couple of enjoyable hours sitting around sharing mate while they shared old stories and caught up. I love being able to really see and experience the Uruguay many tourists will most likely never have the oppotunity to do, and meeting such warm and welcoming people. Feliz Año!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s