MONTEVIDEO – As the smell of barbecue wafts into the air at high noon, cowboys in colorful outfits and coin-studded belts, farmworkers with bandannas tied around their necks and selfie-taking urban dwellers mingle during Semana Criolla, a celebration of Uruguay’s traditions.
“Countryside and City Meet” is the slogan that municipal officials selected for this year’s fair, where visitors and participants can hear the sparse speech of rural cowhands, the rapid-fire accents of city residents and the languages of foreign tourists.
The fair on the grounds of the Rural del Prado features recreations of old-time “ranchos,” houses built of mud with slanted straw roofs, where visitors can learn about the adventures of Martin Aquino, a legendary bandit killed in 1917.
While half-cuts of beef are broiled on grills – the typical “asado” – guitar-strumming “payadores” entertain audiences with improvised verses that deal with love and its pain, death, life, travails, horses, the open hilly landscape and everything in between.
“Guasqueria” kiosks offer a wide variety of hand-made clothing and leather accessories at stands where artists draw caricatures or sell art works fashioned from wood or horns.
Every day during Semana Criolla, performers take turns on four stages, while cowboys compete in the corrals at breaking in wild horses.
In a show of compassion toward the wild animals, officials imposed restrictions this year on the number of rides allowed on each horse and required the use of blunt spurs instead of the traditional long-toothed ones.
Horse-breaker Victor Rodriguez said he welcomed the changes since they demonstrated “more respect toward the animal,” but he admitted that his peers were still adjusting to the blunt spurs.
“There is always concern about how to improve the horses’ care, and things have improved over the years,” Rodriguez said. “Year after year, people keep coming and they find something new, something better.”