Paysandú is nestled in the middle-western boarder of Uruguay and Argentina. Known as the second largest city in the tiny country, its 80,000 people population is dwarfed by Montevideo’s 1.8 million. So when a city-dweller goes to Paysandú, she is really going to a town.
I cannot recommend this place enough. Not only is the drive stunning (and who doesn’t love a good road trip), but one gets a whole new perspective of Uruguay in the interior. Life is simpler. The already friendly Uruguayans become as helpful as small-town neighbors. Everyone was willing to give directions and answer questions. In fact, one morning when my friend was still sleeping, I had a lovely conversation about interior life with a camping neighbor. Not that the city-folks are not (especially when compared to North Americans), but interior people just seem to be a little more relaxed and easy-going. So take your picture in front of the famous white letters and enjoy!
Paysandú has a fabulous little quaint downtown area full of shopping and street markets. And every Semana Santa (Easter Week) they celebrate with a Beer festival. Now, let me explain first. If you are looking for the small tasting glass and wild “I didn’t know how drunk I was going to get off of a tiny glass and ended up dancing on a keg” kind of experience, lower your expectations significantly. The Beer Week is more like an artisan fair mixed with a state fair with some beer thrown in the mix. There really is not much actual beer or label choices. But, the local big-name bands, the incredible people watching, and the most delicious choripan make it all worth while. We went Thursday-Saturday and had the best time!
I highly recommend camping if you decide to go. The campsite is super chill with an abundance of space. It is right next to the fairgrounds and the beach and it is constantly patrolled by the local police (not to mention right next to the police station). Families and hippies alike cook asado, play music, partake in some smokes and drinks and simply enjoy living. We had a fabulous time at our campsite and it was all so easy! If you are looking to camp, simply drive to towards the fairgrounds, ask the police which direction for camping, and choose the one to the direct left of the fairgrounds entrance. There is a camper who sells all sorts of necessities, including the famous Patricia right outside. There are plenty of parillas and tables throughout the site. Sure, the bathrooms are a little gross, but there are bathrooms and they work just fine. Or just go jump in the water directly to the rear of the campsite. We lucked out on a pretty sweet spot with a picnic table. My friend’s camping stove was perfect for cooking some good eats when we were not partaking in the hamburgers and choripan. Plus it was the perfect table for card playing and whiskey drinkin’ and discussing life.
The festival itself is pretty large. The beginning is artisan stalls where you can buy anything from homemade soaps to children’s clothing. Taking a stroll around the stalls is like stepping into the true cultural experience of Uruguay. The mate paraphernalia and parilla tools are perfect indicators of Uruguayan life. There is also an area of chess games. Brad kicked my ass. In fact, he kicked my ass in all the games that weekend. It tells you how happy I was just to be there that losing didn’t bother me as much as it usually does. As you keep walking, you
hit the beer stalls and the giant stadium where the bands play. The smaller bands start around 7pm and play sets of about 30 minutes. Then the more known bands come on at 9ish and play for about 45 minutes to an hour. Each night, there are two major bands. Thursday and Friday are the rock nights. I was completely entranced by La Trampa and No Te A Gustar. Of course, I didn’t know the lyrics but the composition of the songs were pretty on point. Plus, it is the first time I actually saw some Uruguayans let their hair down and not worry that others were watching them dance and groove. It was quite fun to watch! Although there are plenty of people, the stands never feel crowded or encroaching. Bathroom lines were easy and no one was out-of-control drunk. It was one of the tamest beer festivals I have been to, but worth every peso. That is the other thing, each night was 550 pesos for the festival and the concert. Not bad at all. Two nights was perfectly sufficient for us, but if you are diggin the music, then go all week.
The final area of the festival is the carnival. It is like a mini state fair with carnival rides and silly cheap prizes. It is the place that if you have the right person, can turn your entire experience into a childhood dreamland. I am the type that has no problem doing crazy childish activities while the world watches with horror and judgement. It used to drive my friends nuts as I dragged them from ride to ride or convinced them to do bumper boats with me. Every once in a while I will be with the perfect friend who will be just as willing and wild as I to tackle the gigantic inflatable obstacle course. But Brad vetoed real quick, stating he was not about to be the creepy gringo bumping cars with a bunch of small children and their dads. LOSER! But really it just challenged me to mentally try and convince my friend Kyle to fly down and come with me next year. Hear that, Kyle? You have been challenged. I did, however, make Brad play the buy something stupid under a 100 pesos game. I thought my little drummer toy was the best thing ever at the time. I also convinced him to play the gigantic inflatable soccer darts game. Equally as epic and fun. So, if you want to relive some childhood fun among a boat-load of Uruguayan families, the carnival area is perfect for you.
A Personal Reflection and a bit of Sentimentality:
For me, this festival represented my independence again. It let me live freer than I had lived in several weeks and I saw that same mentality all around me. It also gave me back significant pieces of my life I had been missing: the first being live music. I miss fan-based live music so much. There is something so powerful about seeing a bunch of people in one area go nuts as they sing classic favorites at the top of their lungs. They don’t care who is listening or watching. Fans just enjoy the magic that instruments and vocals provide. So this gave me a baby taste of the music scene again and made me re-evaluate the music I had clung like a security blanket these past few months. I started asking friends for recommendations again and listening to music podcasts. This festival inspired me to make playlists again and share them with my friends, even knowing some wouldn’t like my choices. Second, I have been missing having a buddy. I love my girlfriends and wouldn’t trade them for anything, but I need the male buddy role filled. Every chapter in my story, I find the male buddy who keeps me balanced. The Stephens, Richs, Michaels, and Neels have been so important in my life. These are the dudes who go for a whiskey with me and discuss topics that need a different gender opinion. These are the guys who play game after game of pool with me just because I need a chill night out. I once convinced Stephen to leave a boring movie he was watching at the theatre with his parents to come play with me. Although that time, I think we played hours of skee ball and air hockey. (Love you to the moon and back, Stephers). These are the guys who have given me every opinion under the sun about guys in my life. Neel is one of the best dating advice givers…EVER! Speaking of…phone call soon, buddy. I have a doozy for you to analyze with me. These amazing gentlemen are NOT my Robert Parker – who is now and will always be my number one. They are simply and wonderfully my buddies and I have really missed them. So going on this camping trip with Bradford was really special. This trip allowed me to get to know someone I really had not had much individual interactions with beyond learning to drive and awkward trips to the hospital. And getting to know Brad opened my eyes to my Uruguayan (well, American in Uruguay) buddy. So thanks, Brad for coming with me on this adventure. It was a true and honest pleasure for which I am very grateful! High Five!