The August sun rises above the Centro Obrero Tupambaé, where I’ve just left my first raid dance. The next bus down Ruta 7 doesn’t come for two more hours. Since the previous afternoon, I’ve shared countless sips of mate with friends and strangers, gone to a beauty pageant, turned red with sunburn, and danced to Lucas Sugo. Now I’m headed back to Cerro Chato—a small town (pop. 3,227) four hours outside of Uruguay’s capital—to referee a youth soccer match.
I’m with Manuel, Gabriel, and Victor, friends from Cerro Chato I’ve only recently met. The four of us are sitting on a curb and freezing in the dead of the Southern Hemisphere winter. We joke around for a while after not seeing enough passing cars to warrant hitchhiking the 45-minute trip. Needing fortification, we resign to the bakery across the street to eat bizcochos filled with dulce de leche and quince paste. Still in a freezing, half-asleep state, I take advantage of a set of keys to the local high school and sprawl on the teacher’s lounge chairs for the most awkward nap of my life. Twenty minutes before the bus is due to arrive my companions wake me.
This is the best part of life deep in the Uruguayan countryside. It’s being awakened from a nap in the middle of a eucalyptus grove dotted with cow excrement by the sound of racehorse hooves and cumbia blaring full blast from pickup trucks. It’s a day spent eating sausage sandwiches (choripan), steak with French fries (asado con papas fritas), hot dogs and fried bread (panchos con torta frita), and breaded steak sandwiches (milanesas). It’s a party where jeans, vests, plaid shirts, and berets make up the standard male wardrobe. It’s students and teachers, bus drivers and passengers, doctors and patients, parents and children, sharing a drink, a dance, and a laugh.