Ferias of Uruguayan Rio de la Plata

For the months of November and most of December 2022,  we found a Workaway stay in Uruguay where we could stay in exchange for language exchange, gardening, shared cooking and general company out on an organic farm with an inspirational family. In our spare time we communicate with customs regarding our vehicles in Buenos Aires and go to “Ferias”, outdoor markets and find conversational Spanish.

On hit days, everyone dipped in the pool.
The river beach
The windmill which pumped water for the gardens, domestic water for use and drinking.
Alfajores de Liber, El mejores del Ferias!!
Cars we liked
Favorite camper in Valdense
The old vehicles restored to brilliance in Colonia Valdense

Uruguay is bordered on the west by the Uruguay River which flows into the Atlantic Ocean at it’s wide mouth it passes Buenos Aires, Argentina and Montevideo, Uruguay in the “Rio de la Plata” area. Culturally, the people are distinct from the rest of South America. When I asked a Colombian man what he knew about Rio de la Plata culture in he said, “Well, they are not like the rest of the brother countries like Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Chile etc”.

The native people of Uruguay were masacred to allow the immigrant cultures from Europe to develop. (Sound familiar those reading in the US?) Looking around, the first impression of Colonia Sacramento and Colonia Valdense where we stayed was that the people look Italian, Spanish and Suisse with only a few people having the physical characteristics of people native to South America. Also, the accent and vocabulary is very different than the rest of South America.

Harvesting bamboo to make tomato structures
The dulces (sweet jams, jellies and chutneys) at the Feria in Nueva Helvecia, Uruguay

We have been here long enough (6 weeks) that the accent sounds familiar. Being delayed on our intended trip has given us lots of time to fill. We are lucky we landed where we did in this Workaway. Now, we have a good understanding of the small artesianal markets which pop up in the towns of the  Department of Colonia: Valdense, Nueva Helveca, Rosario, Los Pinos, and Fomento. Our host family attends them all as vendors of juices, jams, jellies, herbs, and jewelry.

Niles and Viv with seedlings of lettuce and basil ready to plant.

Since we are without vehicles and our budget for the trip accounted that we would be living in and driving our campers, we don’t have a budget for hoteling and a rental car. We depend on our host family for rides to these small towns. They go to make some money and visit with friends, we go for some diversion, festival food, and music. I’ve loved having the perspective of the vendor at these festivals.

Gaston and Victoria’s car which got them through 7 years of traveling South America was our transport to town and Ferias. The car had many quirks and was at the shop for 2 weeks to prepare it for another trip to Chile in February. We walked miles into town and back after dark to shop and take care of business when the car wasn’t available for an errand.
Nueva Helvecia royalty of the Feria.

Uruguay is an agricultural economy, especially in Colonia, and there is a strong culture of reuse of materials. The garage bins in rural areas are called “shopping”. Our host family picked up and dropped off items during our stay at the “shopping” that most Americans would not consider valuable. But, because Uruguay is hugely agricultural and importing things they don’t make themselves, the people value old cars, old furniture, old building materials and use everything multiple times.

Now, I’m sitting at the Feria in Nueva Helica and the scene is ripe. Christmas music is playing, people have that hungry look for stuff. And they are buying from the vendors we have gotten to know over the past weeks. I’m so happy to see this.

Over these weeks, I’ve held myself back from asking what the value is to the family to attend these markets. It’s not for the money. Tonight’s market is answering some of those questions. The vendors all know each other well now. They know each other and their products well. They share resources, transportation, tables, lights. Most of the vendors live on farms. Some are part of a rural women’s network. These Ferias (Markets) are the social outlet of the farm. Now they are making their money, but first all the networking happened.

Last night a new Feria was held at Fomento, a beach town. The Feria was to celebrate the first day of summer. The wind blew and it was cold near the beach. Very few people showed up even though there was good live music that would have been great to dance to. The tourism government officials stayed in a white tent consuming free food and drinks while the vendors of food and drinks outside watched. There were some hard feelings among the vendors who worked hard to travel and set up  for this flop of a Feria.

On the up side, Niles and I watched kite boarders on the river tear out and back doing jumps and floating turns. Inspired me to do yoga on the beach even with the sand stinging my legs. Niles really liked our time out and off the farm. He also bought a hand crafted silver bracelet from Pablo, a friend of the family.

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