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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Paul McCartney and the 28,000 Uruguayos

Last Sunday’s concert of Paul McCartney at Estadio Centenario here in Montevideo is momentous for the Uruguayos as it was the Beatle’s first performance in the country. In fact, Wikipedia reports the phenomenon of having 28,000 tickets sold out on the very first hour it was made available in the market. I’m glad, more of blessed, that I was part of that history.

Let me share a lucky bastard story. It was too late for me when I read from the papers that the concert was taking place in weeks. I was in a barber shop then. On the next day, I hurried to the Abitab close to the office but I didn’t get the bad news right away (the guy doesn’t speak English). I was given with a piece of paper that contains another contact number which I tried calling in but it seemed like the recorded message was just set on repeat mode. In surrender, I emailed a colleague asking if she has a spare ticket through his connections in the team (she always surprises us before with regard to tickets). That’s when the world crashed and informed me that the tickets were finished as early as the first hour it became available. I felt bad because I already posted in Facebook that it’s a must-go for me. Days later, I got a phone call from the same colleague telling me that I should thank her big time. One of her teammates has a friend in Abitab who happens to secure one spare ticket for me. It wasn’t the cheapest one though. I paid UYU 500 or PHP 1,058 more compared to the one that I was originally planning to buy (UYU 900 or PHP 1,903). Surprisingly or not, the tickets reached as crazy as UYU 15k or PHP 31,711 for the VIP ones.

As early as 6:30pm, people were already queueing
The week before the event, I already made a research on the bus numbers to take. It’s a whopping crowd of 28,000 so I had to be ready. Going there is easy. Going out of the mammoth soccer arena is different. Clocked at 6:30pm, I was already at the venue, specifically at the Olimpica side. Long queues for the VIP’s were forming. I had to brush up my limited Spanish and ask those ushers in neon vests (there’s plenty of them) regarding my section (Colombes 2). It’s just one arena and it didn’t take long for me to locate my gates (there are four choices printed on the ticket). I had to yield a bit to snag a souvenir shirt (got an XL as L’s were finished already) and the concert tour program (each costs UYU 500 or PHP 1,058, very expensive).

There’s a fleeting feeling when I finally saw the enormous crowd on that autumn evening. It was my first time to be in an event with that huge number of people. With the aid of the maps posted almost every corner and with a little help from the security personnel, I finally positioned my section which is a soccer field away from the stage and a few bleacher levels up (very far and I liked it). I just chose a seat that’s not obscured by a spotlight tower in the middle of the arena and waited.

The 28,000 patrons who finished the tickets on the first hour
At 8:30pm sharp, two giant vertical video walls started to light up. It scrolled down with bits and pieces of what could have been a musical journey for Paul McCartney while a medley of his songs was played. It lasted for close to half an hour which I didn’t bother since the video walls are too big (from the ground up to the ceiling of the concert stage box) that I can see the details even from our section. Some were practicing a giant wave in which I participated almost eagerly. Then he came out on stage with the band wearing a blue suit and probably a pair of black jeans. He sang “Hello, Goodbye” (complete list can be found in the Wikipedia page) which had me in LSS for days now. It’s like I was hearing an old song for the first time again.

This shows how far I was from the stage
After another song or two, Paul then greeted the crowd in Spanish. He pronounced “Uruguayos” correctly and confessed that he studied the language while he was in grade school. The rest of the spiels were in Spanish but it was written on a paper placed on the floor or somewhere else and he was just reading it admittedly. Of course, the crowd cheered for every sentence he can finish. After two or three more songs, he changed his guitar. I thought it’s for tuning but it’s not and he made this clear by lifting the instrument like a trophy. The second guitar happened to be an electric guitar. Or for the musically ignorant like me, it sounded at least like an electric guitar. He shared that it’s the same one that he has been using since the 60’s. Then the crowd cheered some more. The act started to create a pattern, like changing the guitar from time to time, from ukulele (“Something”, I think, as a tribute to George Harrison) to acoustic guitar (“Two of Us”, my favorite “Blackbird”, “Here Today”, in which he quipped “the conversation I never had” with his “hermano” John, to name a few). And to break the monotony of it all, he played the piano (“The Long and Winding Road” and a whole lot more). His “Live and Let Die” on piano had fireworks on display to the amazement of the roaring crowd. There were two encores just like in other tour stops and it’s satisfying to hear him end the concert with “Golden Slumber” in a medley with two other sleeper songs, pun intended.

Videos of selected performances here:

1> Intro
2> My Valentine
3> Two of Us
4> Blackbird
5> Give Peace a Chance
6> Let it Be
7> Hey Jude

For the Roxette concert a year ago, I didn’t finish the very last song as I had to hurry up and get a cab considering that Velodromo is modestly a smaller venue. For “On the Run”, I stayed until the last beat. Never mind that the 28,000 crowd would outrun me to get in the bus or a cab. Speaking of that, I revisited my Plan A which is to get to the nearest bus stop in Olimpica area. Unfortunately, the one in my game plan wasn’t operational because they closed some of the roads for the concert. I ended up following the flow of the concertgoers, assuming that they will lead me to the next bus stop. When I reached an intersection and people were divided, I just walked after those who were turning right. After a few more meters and out of nowhere, there’s a queue of three or four taxis and no one was taking a ride. Talking about being a lucky bastard until the end.

The rest of the pictures here.

P.S. An officemate claims that the stadium on that fateful night was filled with 50,000 people or more.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Confronting Demons at Punta del Diablo

When I first read on Wikipedia that Punta del Diablo is listed by Lonely Planet as one of top 10 must-see cities in 2008, I knew that I had to visit the place without even checking the accuracy of it. Summer’s over and it’s mid-autumn almost. I had a hunch that if I miss the sun this season, I won’t be able to experience the Uruguayan beach life again. Not to mention that last week was Holy Week and as most locals take it, it’s a week for tourists. To top it all, just to make the beach adventure more unique, I did the trip all by myself. This time, too, I won’t be having any itinerary aside from the bus departure/arrival. That’s the first demon that I had to wrestle head-on as I am an OC person.

Bus Fare and Hostel

Two weeks prior, I decided to visit Tres Cruces to do an ocular on the bus tickets. The only detail I knew then was that it takes roughly four hours to reach Punta del Diablo and that it’s going to be crowded with regard to hostel reservation. My default was to go to the always trusted COT bus company but unfortunately, their bus doesn’t get in the city proper, the usher said. The 5km-walk from Ruta 9 to the beach is definitely taxing and time consuming for me and my trip. I went to the tiny tourist information booth but I was prompted to ask the bus terminal’s customer service instead. The girl there then provided me a list of bus companies and their schedule to and from Montevideo. Among the list, I chose Cynsa primarily because of the convenience with the schedule. I paid UYU 857 (PHP 1,840) for the round trip.

For the hostel, I was down to only two options, El Diablo Tranquilo and Hostel la Casa de las Boyas. It was very hard to decide which one but I eventually ended up with the former because of the free towels. For 2-night stay, I was billed USD 62 (PHP 2,652) which is a little more expensive than usual because it was the holiday season.

Washing of the Feet

I arrived at around 9:30am at the beach without any hassle of reaching a different destination. Or that I wasn’t sleeping. The bus apparently is not the directo type so I had to consider the odds on the first stop at Rocha. It was a long stop. With my red backpack still on the bus, as I had so much trust with the abuelo seated beside me who also offered to inform me where to take off, I went to the toilet at the mini-office of the bus company. There was a huge map of all the bus stops painted on the wall so I took a picture of it to be guided. I saw people passing by with bagful of medialunas so I took my chance and visited the nearest bakeshop which is a block and a half away for a quickie breakfast on the road. Two more stops at 19 de Abril and Castillos, and that’s it.

The dirt roads and houses/inns in Punta del Diablo
It was misty and cloudy when I arrived at Punta del Diablo. It was no surprise as there was a mild thunderstorm in Montevideo the night before. My impression of the place is that it is a combination of the rugged Cabo Polonio and the upper class Punta del Este. The houses are similar to those in Cabo in terms of bohemian appeal only grander in scale and more elite-looking. The area itself is bigger with wider dirt roads and a telecommunication tower is visible from a far. Close to the bus stop is a series of supermarkets, restaurants and bars. Some of them have the Wi-Fi logo.

I reached my hostel El Diablo Tranquilo on foot. It was a 10-minute walk with a little help of selected signposts. The streets do not have names and this made me miss my directions provided by the hostel website. I should have walked back from the bus stop and headed to the restaurants area then walked past through Playa de los Pescadores instead of walking forward and passing through the “residential” area.

My hostel, El Diablo Tranquilo
The hostel was not packed that time. I was early but it’s good that the lady staff allowed me to get in since my bed in the 8-bed bedroom was not occupied. A guy who later on introduced himself as German was sleeping on one of the bunks. I secured my locker underneath the bed (this is standard) and off I went to do some beach walking.

Playa del Rivero on a cloudy morning
One of the iconic boats along Playa de los Pescadores
The rocky area of Punta del Diablo
Since it was gray for a 10am, it seemed like everybody was still cuddling in their rooms. There were some surfers at Playa del Rivero but the sandy area for picnic and the like was empty (a video here). I finished that stretch and reached Playa de los Pescadores which used to be a fisherman’s village. There was a rocky portion near the playa (check out the video here) and in there stands a statue of Gen. Artigas that also serves as a lighthouse. I was already having chivito completo (and a cappuccino) at Tropico Café – Bar when it started to drizzle.

My virginal experience of Washing of the Feet
I spent the rest of the early afternoon having siesta at the hostel. The sun’s up and was ready to set when I woke up. I hurried up to take pictures of the houses close by while the lighting was just perfect. I stopped at the capilla and accidentally attended the mass on the last minute. The priest who speaks English very well was very eager to have me join the washing of the feet (part of the Maundy Thursday celebration). He even said that one of the ladies can take pictures of me during the ceremony. We were only around nine inside the church so I said yes and thought that I got nothing to lose if I join. That, by the way, was a first for me.

From left to right: chivito and cappuccino from Tropico Café – Bar and the streetfood brochette
Since chivito is, as always, filling, I skipped dinner and just had a chocolate bar. On my way to the back to the hostel, I saw this barbecue stand which resembled largely those isawan in the Philippines. A stick costs UYU 40 (PHP 86) which looks like a brochette, complete with the usual meat and vegetables. There’s an option to have it covered with powder that looks like flour to me but tastes totally different.

Punta del Diablo's restaurants and shops at night
After calling it a night early at 10pm, I woke up at around 1am so I went to the hostel lobby which is just five steps away from my room. I heard people having a drink at the dining room upstairs, checked on some flyers that might be useful and came back to bed after 15 minutes. My roommate German and another one, which I didn’t get a chance to ask the name, were getting ready for a party. I remember waking up again when they came back (probably at 5am), wishing that my dodgy bed won’t bother them when they get to sleep.

A recap of Day 01 in pictures here.

Gallop on the Beach

Breakfast at El Diablo Tranquilo
Breakfast there is served at 9am. Usually, you can start with coffee earlier than that, while one of their staff is still fetching the bread from the bakery. I left my mobile phone at the lobby to have it charged for the day and shared a small table with a lady from Buenos Aires.

A surfer at Playa del Rivero the morning after
Fishing romance in Playa de los Pescadores
I was up and about after an hour. The shower worked just fine and the hot water coordinated. There’s an open-air cinema that I was eager to explore on the first street (around 10 minutes of walking from the hostel) but I couldn’t find it. I ended up instead taking a picture of what looks like an ancient water tower to me. Two not-so-friendly dogs attempted to scare the shit out of me but a guy on his motorcycle was a great distraction. I made a U-turn, went straight to Playa de los Pescadores instead and enjoyed some events going on in there. One was cooking free seafood paella while a bunch of guys were painting an iconic boat on a wall. It’s sunny and the beach was packed with surfers and sunbathers. I tried the recommended buñuelos de algas for lunch from one of the kiosks (UYU 90 or PHP 193) and that’s filling enough. It is shaped like cheese balls and cooked with flour and minced seaweed, pretty much the same stuff that we tried in Cabo Polonio.

All taken in Playa de los Pescadores, from left to right: paella cooking, wall painting and 20 pieces of buñuelos de algas
I was back at the hostel at 2pm to avoid the afternoon sun. While resting in one of the hammocks, I noticed that the receptionist (named Diego) was talking to the one leading the horseback riding tour (regularly at 3:30pm) to Sta. Teresa National Park. Apparently, one of the girls from the hostel was a no-show. Since I’ve got nothing else to do, I volunteered to grab the available slot.

The moment I was trying to position myself on top of the horse, I knew I was in for a ride. I can’t reach the step and I was too soft to hold on the horse’s hair. Alexis, the tour guide, had to push my left shin up while I had to jump on my horse (his name is Tinto) with my right leg. We succeeded on our first try. I can’t remember how but that doesn’t matter. The three girls (two Germans and an Argentinean) who also joined the 3-hour tour were probably giggling on my neophyte act. Controlling the horse is another thing. The string, like a thin leather belt that is attached to (more of bitten by) Tinto’s mouth, dictates if you want to turn left, right or if you want to slow down or totally stop. When Alexis was teaching me this part, realizing that it’s really horseback riding and not just being pulled by an expert, I knew that there’s another demon that I had to confront.

The experience was simply amazing. For sure my hands were sweating every time Tinto tries to pass through a steep sandy part or when the tree branches in the forest were too low and I had to bend a bit. After 30 minutes of riding, we finally saw a glimpse of Playa Grande which is equally stunning as the unspoiled trees in the forest that we passed by. The beach is very far from the city and it takes some walking to reach it from the park, making it more charming without the beachcombers in sight. There was a short break in the middle of the tour. We stopped in what appears to be a secluded area and slacked off in the picnic table there. Alexis offered us a bottle of tannat and some biscuits. That’s the part where I got to know the girls, where they are from and what they have visited in Uruguay.

Horseback riding at Sta. Teresa National Park
Full moon over Playa Grande
During the other half of the tour, I started to feel uneasy every time Tinto tries to jog. I am not sure if the slots where my feet are planted had to be tightened but it made me clip my knees, as instructed by Alexis, just to keep my balance. After 10 minutes on our way, one of the German girls, the most experienced in horseback riding among us, noticed that her camera is missing. She was joined by Alexis in locating it while I was joined by the other German girl (I think her name is Nora) and the Argentinean (named Graciela) in an area close to the service road. Luckily, they found it. The last leg of the tour had us reach Playa Grande. At close to 6pm, it was full moon (Good Friday) and it was my first time to see its glow reflecting on the ocean. I thought that was the highlight until Alexis asked Tinto to do a gallop for me. He reminded me though that the sand is a perfect safety net just in case I fall (very comforting). Got no choice but to give in and just prayed hard when visited by the thought about what happened to the great Christopher Reeves. Surprisingly, it was fun. The galloping part gives me more space to stand a bit and in that moment, I felt that I have accomplished something. For sure I was all smiles when we were sent back to the hostel. I can say that the UYU 800 (PHP 1,708) that I paid for the tour is all worth it.

Playa de los Pescadores at night
After making a short visit to Playa de los Pescadores in the evening, to take more pictures of the moon, I headed to the other El Diablo Tranquilo which is one hostel star level up compared to the one I was staying at (only two blocks apart). The bar is there and most of the crew and some visitors from both hostels were having a Passover in a long table. Two of them happened to be Jewish and I think they do that ceremony every Good Friday. I watched them from another table, which is a new experience for me on its own, while waiting for my pesca del dia (around UYU 200 or PHP 427). There’s a part where they dipped their finger on their wine while denouncing each of the seven plagues mentioned in the Bible. It wasn’t actually too serious, they were laughing from time to time. Then they ended it with a song in Jewish right before most of them went back to work. The fish, by the way, is just perfect to cap the night.

Pesca del Dia served at El Diablo Tranquilo Bar Restaurant
When I went back to the room, a Dutch guy was already occupying one of the bunks. I remember calling it a day early as it was very tiring for me. German and the other guy were sleeping ahead of me, probably recharging enough energy for another round of partying and booze.

Summing up Day 02 in pictures here.

From Full Moon to Sunrise

A glimpse of sunrise at Punta del Diablo
Without any aid of an alarm clock, I rose at close to 8am. Sunrise’s done but the view on the beach was still stunning. After taking some pictures of it, I went back to the room. The Dutch guy asked me if I heard an alarm from his iPad. He was planning to wake up as early as 5am but something went wrong. Just like yesterday, breakfast and phone charging at 9am. A bunch of gauchos, including Alexis, paraded in front of the hostel while I was finishing a glass of orange juice. I took a bath after and checked out at 11am past.

Last look at Playa del Rivero
A hearty al wok lunch with fried rice and shrimp
There’s nothing much on my last day in Punta del Diablo. I left my bag at the lobby and visited Playa del Rivero to bid goodbye. There were more people on the beach that time. I went back to the hostel and asked Diego to help me call the al wok delivery for lunch (one of the flyers that I got on the other night). At 1pm, I was having a hearty meal of fried rice with shrimp and a maracuya (passion fruit) mousse for dessert. (UYU 200 or PHP 427). It was delivered to the hostel by a woman on her late 40’s on a motorcycle. Unfortunately, I didn’t have loose change for the tip. I finally left El Diablo Tranquilo at 3pm and walked my way to Playa de los Pescadores through the road that was specified on their website (it was a little shorter, I think). It was more crowded that sunny afternoon. I even saw German and the other roommate on their way to the rocky part of the beach. On the last hour, I made a short visit to Playa la Viuda and took more pictures then headed back to the bus stop.

The equally enchanting Playa la Viuda
The almost perfect trip had a very minor glitch on the last minute: I rode a bus that’s 15 minutes earlier than what is on my ticket. I never thought that they’ll have busses from Chuy that frequent. Though I asked the conductor first before boarding in, I should have trusted their sense of time like 5:15pm is really 5:15pm. Anyway, the conductor was nice enough to let me stay. Usually, they kick out the passengers and let them wait for the right bus on the next stop. I was then seated to one of the seats in the first row which is allotted to the elderly, pregnant or family with kids. The little girl beside me who was travelling alone (and who later on introduced herself as Victoria) was very much eager to speak English. She left when the bus arrived at Rocha and got replaced by an elderly. I slept on the whole trip from then on, complacent that I have finally defeated some demons before I reached Montevideo at 10pm.

The rest of Day 03 pictures here.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Of Rodeo and Bellas Artes

Our quickie trip to Prado (I think it’s in the northern part of Montevideo) last Sunday was partly artsy and partly rough. Initial plan was just to visit the gauchos (cowboys) doing their “acrobats” but we ended up slipping in a trip to the museum that houses the works of Juan Manuel Blanes. Talking about hitting two birds in one shot. Bus 582 brought us to the Parque Prado entrance but after asking a lady officer for directions, we realized that the arts museum requires at least half an hour of walking. Not doable for a summery autumn day. We just took a cab.

First things first. There’s no admission fee to the Museo (Municipal de Bellas Artes) Juan Manuel Blanes , a 19th century mansion turned into a venue for visual arts located at Avenida Millan. Not really an overwhelming collection but it boasts of the important ones as per Uruguayan pride is concerned. Some works are easily noticeable at first glance but there are some that would require patience to fully appreciate. Too bad, the descriptions are in Spanish.

Below is a mix of snapshots taken (without flash) at the museum:

After a little over an hour, we took a cab back to Parque Prado where a weeklong Semana Criolla was being held. A bit similar to the one we went into in September two years ago in terms of what to expect but this one’s focused on anything about the Uruguayan gauchos, their horseback riding skills, leather items, lifestyle or just plain handicraft. Entrance fees range from UYU 90 to UYU 170 depending on whether you wish to grab a seat while watching a rodeo or just browsing through. I love the part where the rodeo “announcer” sings the blow-by-blow account of the competition while guitar music is being played live. That’s new to me.

Some highlights of the event:

There's a video here and the rest of the pictures here (bellas artes) and here (rodeo) plus a visit to Da Pentella here four days before the Prado trip.
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