Disponible en español: El Carnaval de Montevideo
The really good stuff, however, was a change of schedule due to a rain we didn't witness. As it turned out, the opening ceremony of the 2009 Carnival season had been put off because of bad weather a few days ago, so that day we'd have the chance to see it. The hostel staff proposed that we go together, at 5:30 PM, and get a good place somewhere along Avenida 18 de Julio, which was already closed to traffic and where you could see long rows of wooden chairs and palcos that looked like gigantic baby playpens (all of which could be rented at reasonable prices).
Marisa and I followed the group but then, deciding we'd found a good spot already, we left them. We stayed at the corner of 18 de Julio and Rio Branco St. (I remember that detail not because I'm some sort of memory freak but because we stood there beside the sign with the street name for two hours).
It's unusual, as I understand, for the first Carnival parade to start during the daytime. That also was good for us. First, of course, we had to wait for the police and the organizers to free up the avenue, for the comparsas and the murgas to line up correctly, for the peddlers of canned foam and cotton candy and confetti to leave (they never left completely). After that there came a couple of buses rolling side-to-side to make room, and then they began coming, one, two, ten, fifty carnival groups, each with their own outfits or banners, on foot or atop carriages with varied ornamentation, dancing or singing or doing choral parody.
If we had arrived one day later, we would've missed it. If we had come to see it on the scheduled date, days before, we would've missed it as well.
One after another came cabezudos, cumbia singers with flamboyant hairdos, a huge flag of Peñarol and a huge Argentine flag, a group of guys clad in gold with boxes, bottles, cages, umbrellas and a whole assembly of props on top of them; a smiling bishop, a king of spades, groups marching at the rhythm of a batucada, a parody of firemen on a mini-firetruck that sprayed Seltz water over us, ladies with curlers... Two hours went by, and necks were already hurting from looking west, and faces burned from receiving the sun on the same side all the time.
It was dusk. With the last lights we went walking, going up the river of colours towards its source and beyond, after the Citadel's Gate, where we found thousands of people, hundreds of troupes waiting for their turn to join the parade. The printed schedule of the carnaval listed (if I recall correctly) some 250 groups; we'd only watched about fifty. So we only saw one-fifth of the first day of the 2009 Carnival of Montevideo. That was enough to call it a day. We left to find something to eat, and then to rest.
To be continued...