“There is a lot of fun to be had every year, and one fine way of getting it is called carnaval…” – Vanessa Pinhero
(Carnaval at Isla Flores, in Montevideo, Uruguay.)
The main event takes place along Avenida de 18 Julio (July 18 Avenue). It is a parade similar to the one that takes place every year at the Sambadromo in Rio de Janeiro and is beamed to the entire world. The float, the music, the costumes share the same Afro-centric concept of the bacchanals. But the resemblance stops here.
In Uruguay, the actual carnaval (not just rehearsals) starts in January and lasts no less than forty nights, instead of the usual three to five observed in the rest of the world. Within that period, different towns and cities schedule their own celebrations. In these localities, carnaval days are vacation days.
The content of carnaval is very profuse and diverse. It goes from folkloric or parody plays at the theater to a naval battle on the Rio Grande. In the streets, it may be a simple bloco (block party), or a lavish procession of floats and scantily clad women. The choice goes from African candomblé, to European romance, to rural tablados. It is up to the visitors to pick and choose what they want to see and where they want to see it.
In Brazil, you spend hundreds of dollars for a good seat at the Sambadromo in Rio or for an abada (uniform) to follow a popular band on the Ondina circuit in Salvador. In Uruguay, access to carnaval is dirt cheap. The best seats on a stand, at the Isla Flores parade, cost no more than… $30 per night.
Carnaval in Uruguay is family oriented. The sight of small children inside the parade or on the stand is familiar. This trait makes a family trip to Montevideo, during the dead of the American winter, an attractive adventure of fun, culture, and education, on the beach, with the kids, at 80-degree temperature, surrounded by a throng of welcoming people who treat you like the British royal family.
(O. Robert Jeanlouie, Sunday, February 16, 2020)