The South AmerNewman

Spring Fever

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It was early, and while my eyes weren’t open I could sense my room slowly being illuminated by the light leaking through the slats of my balcony window. My eyes slowly cracked open. It felt uncomfortably warm in my room and my head throbbed. My throat yearned for water and it felt like I had two golf balls under my jaw.

With some effort, I pulled back the covers and sat up in bed. My body wanted to yawn, but I was physically unable to open my mouth wide enough. It was in that moment I thought to myself, “Yeahhh I don’t think this is just an allergy problem anymore…”

Sure enough, within just a couple of hours a physician at Hospital Británico informed me I had contracted paperas. He handed me the blood test results, on which he had me scribble down the English translation: mumps.

Hospital Británico | Montevideo

The mumps? What am I, 80 years old? Really? Didn’t I get vaccinated for that like twenty years ago? The good thing is that it’s just a virus, and while it may have taken lives in the ole Oregon Trail video game, nowadays it can be treated with anti-inflammatories and reposo: rest.

The extra time in bed enabled me to devote time to resume-writing and job applications (Hello, potential future employers!) as well as prepare presentations for various conferences and workshops, the largest of which was the 10th Annual Language Teaching Forum sponsored by the National Administration of Public Education (ANEP).

Presenting at the Foro de Lenguas de la ANEP

Fortunately within a few days the swelling subsided and as soon as I was no longer considered contagious I was able to get back on my feet, just in time for spring. Yes, while my Minnesotan friends are grumbling about the first snowfall of the year, those of us in the Southern Hemisphere are celebrating warmer weather.

Just as the arrival of spring in the Midwest is marked by the melting of snow, the return of robins and orioles, and the chatter of baseball season, I’ve been able to observe the Uruguayan signs of spring. The most striking has been the crowds of people flocking to the city’s many parks and plazas.

Many Uruguayans take to La Rambla, the walking path that stretches over 22 kilometers (nearly 14 miles) along the coast of Montevideo. The gorgeous weather and good vibes make for a great scene. Children, teens, and adults gathering to sip mate and simply spend quality time together.

Beautiful afternoon in La Plaza de Los Bomberos
A sunset on La Rambla

This phenomenon is something we really miss out on in the States, or at least in Minnesota. I mean when was the last time you went to a park to just chill with a friend and chat? It’s my impression that “getting together” in the US requires “getting a coffee”, “going to lunch”, or “grabbing a few beers”.

In Uruguay you just find a park bench, or settle down on a patch of grass. Every neighborhood in Montevideo (and in every other Uruguayan city I’ve visited) has at least a couple parks, meaning Uruguayans are always within walking distance.

Parque Rodo | Montevideo

As a result, there’s little need to make formal plans with people. Just a quick text does the trick, “En un rato vamos al Parque Rodo para tomar unos mates, te parece?” (In a little bit we should head to Parque Rodo and drink mate, you in?)

A pleasant, free way to get to know someone and take in some fresh air at the same time. It might not seem noteworthy, but the simplicity of it is something I have really come to appreciate.

A beautiful afternoon brought hundreds to El Cuadrado: a skating “rink” along the Rambla in the Palermo neighborhood of Montevideo.

While Uruguayans complain of the allergy-producing plátano tree, their bloom in spring time creates a tunnel-like effect over the streets of Montevideo. The sunsets come a bit later (7:15 PM) and the sun rises much earlier as well; Much to my surprise it was quite light out when some friends and I called it a night last Saturday.

Many cities and local organizations take advantage of the nice weather to host community celebrations. I recently found myself in the Florida department thanks to an invitation from a friend (Fernanda), a Fulbrighter (Liz), and “their” family. Not only did we enjoy a top-notch asado and city tour, but we had the chance to take in a traditional gaucho parade.

This bridge in Florida is built upon Piedra Alta, where the Uruguayan Declaration of Independence was allegedly signed on August 25, 1825.
Los Patricios del 25 | Florida, Uruguay

The arrival of spring is also signaled by a pair of prominent music festivals, both of which I was able to see: one came pre-mumps and the second just a couple of nights ago (October 28).

First came AntelFest in Piriapolis, a alluring little town just over an hour east of Montevideo along the coast. Me, Justin (Fulbrighter), and a couple of his friends had the chance to see some of Uruguay’s most prominent groups take the stage, including Cuatro Pesos de Propina, One Tiros, Dostrescinco, and the headliner: No Te Va Gustar.

AntelFest 2017

Justin and I shared a laugh as we as we reminisced upon how we first heard about the band No Te Va Gustar. Way back in March, on one of our very first days in Uruguay, the four of us Fulbrighters were riding together in a taxi when a tune on the radio caught our attention. We asked the driver if he knew the name of the group: ¿Sabés de cuál grupo es este tema?

“No Te Va Gustar”, he said plainly: You’re not going to like it. His response threw us off guard. Perhaps he didn’t understand. “No, no, no… Nos gusta la canción. Queremos saber el nombre de la banda”, I insisted: No, no, no… We like the song! We want to know the band’s name. 

The driver seemed a bit annoyed by the response, “Se llama así- No Te Va Gustar”, he replied with just a hint of agitation: That’s the name- You’re Not Going to Like It. It was in that moment we put the pieces together. The band was actually called No Te Va Gustar, which is Spanish for “You’re Not Going to Like It.

No Te Va Gustar | AntelFest 2017

That scene in the taxi now felt like so long ago. Back then I knew nothing about this band and stumbled over my words just to be able to ask its’ name. Now, a single chord was enough to get me jumping and chanting the lyrics with as much confidence as anyone else. It was surreal.

As you can imagine, hearing the music experiencing the shows has provoked a lot of reflection and emotion. I acquired the vast majority of my Uruguayan music collection from Guillermo (my host brother-turned-roommate-turned-best-friend), and so it was fitting that he was at my side for Durazno Rock – the second of the two festivals.

Parque de la Hispanidad | Durazno, Uruguay

Durazno Rock is a bit like Uruguay’s Woodstock, and boy did it come on a good day. There wasn’t  a cloud in the sky. Hour by hour music fans filed into the valley, forming a natural amphitheater. As it grew dark, an announcement informed us of the day’s estimated attendance. A whopping 50,000 plus. To put things in perspective, that’s about 2% of the population of the entire country attending a rock concert.

Just after midnight, it came time for one of Uruguay’s most prominent bands to take the stage. Flags waved and fireworks screamed and exploded as La Vela Puerca appeared on stage. The place was lit. Do people still say that?

50,000 strong at Durazno Rock

Banger after banger. It was an unreal show; Guille barely had any voice left when it came time for the final tune. I’d had a feeling I knew what they’d play to close the night and upon hearing the first strum of the guitar I knew I was right.

José Sabía que no puede ser
Que esos amores no pueden durar

It is my favorite song. It’s called José sabía, or José knew, and it tells the story of a man battling the emotions that accompany having to say goodbye to something. The opening lyric tells us, “José knew it just couldn’t be, that these loves couldn’t last forever.”

Y que la vida es así
Que te da sólo pa’ quitarte

“And that’s life”, the song continues, “what’s given to us is only taken away from us.” The song starts out melancholy, yet reflective. José has experienced something amazing, only to see it come to an end.

Y sin embargo levantó
Copas y copas al dolor
Al dolor de seguir vivo
Que es lo bueno que tiene el dolor

“Nevertheless, he raised a glass.” The shift in tone is marked by a key change. José celebrates. He’s appreciative of the emotion he feels. The song calls us to consider how fortunate we are to have things worth losing, imparting on us that sadness is one of the beauties of being alive.

Y también al placer de ganar y perder
cuando todo parece jodido es cuando hay que poner

With so many ups and downs in our lives, the times when we’re least sure of ourselves are when it’s most critical to keep pushing forward full steam ahead. The best things in life come when we are invested one-hundred percent.

I feel you, José. It’s been one hell of a run here in Uruguay and while all these signs of spring are beautiful, they pose a constant reminder that my time here is running short. I knew going into this experience that I wouldn’t be in Uruguay forever, but that’s not going to make saying goodbye any easier.

Like José, I will cherish the sadness of my departure when it’s time. The emotions will only help me to appreciate just how much I’m going to miss this place. But until that day comes I will follow the advice of José and keep living life full-tilt.

A las ordenes.


Algo bueno: I – and thousands of others – attended the Marcha de la Diversidad, a walk and celebration in support of LGBTQ rights. 

Algo malo: Eating a steady diet of yogurt and oatmeal for 72 hours when I had the mumps.
Algo curioso: Last week I witnessed a family try to go sledding down a grassy, Montevideo hill.
Algo sabroso: Homemade dulce de leche and coconut dessert made by Sandra! 

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