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Monday, June 30, 2008

A Day in Marindia

We took a little trip to Marindia, yesterday. That is where our new house is located. It's not really a town, more like a community of houses between towns. Towards the south is Salinas, a very small town, though it does have lots of services on the main road (markets, medical, pharmacy and restaurants) that are open all year round. But less than 5 miles north is Atlantida, the main town in our area, with more than enough activities year around and served by one of the largest stores (Tienda Inglesa). The bus stop at the highway where we get off made us wonder. It had "107" spray painted on it. For those that don't know, in New York we lived at 107 Columbia Heights. And in Seattle at 107 S. 107th Street. So it was kind of weird to see that. As it turns out, the rest of the spray paint job read "107.7 fm"- no doubt a popular radio station.

The main road from the highway to the beach is only about a 5 minute walk. Actually quite easy to get to and from bus service on foot. As we walked towards the beach, the road is "paved" more or less. It is a coarse rock and asphalt finish, but better than many. And midway between the highway and the beach is the little obligatory plaza. Yes a little traffic circle (for those 3 or 4 cars an hour) with a small statue (didn't check who it was, yet) and then you continue on down to the beach, leaving the paved portion behind. Still, the dirt roads in Marindia were very well cared for, and heavily tree lined. This is winter, so most of the trees are bare- but I can imagine that they will be glorious in spring. Almost all of the houses were very expensive homes, so it would seem that though it is a small community- it falls on the luxury end of the scale. I am pretty sure that we wouldn't have been able to afford most of the houses we admired.

Down at the beach, we saw a young man fishing. He said he didn't catch fish- but it was relaxing. Just my kind of fishing. We saw this imprint of a horse's hoof in the sand. But other than that, there were not more than 6 people out on this sunny and warm Sunday afternoon. Then looking back from the beach, at the water's edge, we saw our house! Denise was thrilled. If you were walking along this beach, looked up and saw it, you might say "boy, I wish I could live there", and that's exactly where we are planning to live. I think if you click on the picture, you can get a pretty good idea of what we saw. It is the brick house with large orange (yeah, I know) shutters covering the windows.

Then we walked up to the property and saw that we already had dogs- four of them. I think they belong to the neighbor. I'm torn between shutting off their access or leaving it open and having free guard dog service without having to feed them.

Then we walked back up the road, looking at all of the beautiful houses surrounding us. We are going to have to do a lot of work to measure up to the neighborhood. Coming up from the beach we saw "Club Marindia". It was an open building and some kids were inside, playing table tennis. Couldn't really tell whether it was public or private. Maybe that is our local country club?? Looks like they could use a good maintenance supervisor.

On the way back to Atlantida, we walked up the other street into Marindia. We were pleased to find a little supermarket, butcher, wifi spot and around the corner a little bar (serves food, as well) and all of them were year round service. So we will not have to be going into Atlantida as often as we had expected.

It was a nice little visit to our new community on a warm Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

BIG Day in the BIG City

Our trip to Montevideo yesterday, was a day filled with activity- obtaining medical cards in the morning, fingerprinted at Interpol for FBI clearance later, freedom marches in the streets and then signing the boleta (official house offer) in the evening.

Lets start with the medical card. Every citizen and every immigrant (yes we are immigrants) must have a medical exam. It is surprisingly thorough. They do a blood workup, background information, blood pressure, eye exam, urine analysis (by the way- you bring your own urine sample in a bottle that you buy from the drugstore) and dental exam. Now none of these is extensive, but they do give you recommendations along the way. I was about 20 lbs overweight and was recommended to lose some. However, since they weighed in kilos- I saw that I only weighed 75.5, so I felt much better then if I weighed 170. In about 45 minutes (yes, they have the results from the tests while you wait), they issue you a fully laminated medical id card. You are not in any danger of being rejected for any medical problem- it is just a requirement. And of course all Uruguayans have access to free medical at state clinics. It is not the very best, nor the speediest- but it is available (and did I mention?)- free.

Then we were whisked off to Interpol for fingerprinting. Each request for residency is accompanied by some type of official police (in the case of US citizens- FBI) report and they take your application, perform the fingerprinting and send it off to the agency for the report. I have never been fingerprinted so thoroughly. By the time the process is over, both of your hands are covered with thick ink (this is not the time to scratch your nose). Then you go to a little washroom, do your best to remove the remnants, and you are back on the street, with the rest of day in Montevideo.

While on our way to the bank (to see if the money that I wired actually arrived), we came upon this huge street rally. Peter Stross, the man helping us with immigration, told us that the speakers were actually high ranking PIT-CNT officials(nationwide union central), because this was an annual celebration of the day when the military regime was ended in Uruguay in 1985, ushering in a democratic government. The speeches were loud, the flag waving frantic and it was very peaceful- it was not a protest.

As we walked around the city, we came upon this interesting contrast- old versus new. Denise's sharp eye caught this interesting picture. Click on it to expand the photo.

Then on to the bank, to check on our money transfer- another harrowing experience with our lack of Spanish. Well, we managed to find out that it had arrived, but there were a list of demands, before it would be released. They needed proof of it's intended use. The US government has required most banks around the world to track incoming dollars in an effort to stem drug trade and no doubt, terrorist funding. So we find it necessary to provide some documents showing our intent to buy a house. That will be coming. Then on to another bank, that has an agreement with the US for direct deposit of social security payments. Finally at the second branch we tried, we sat down, made our request for that new account and were informed that I needed my social security card. Now I've got to find that. Who would have thought I would need a social security card to apply for direct deposit of my social security check in Uruguay?

As the day wore on, it got closer to signing our offer on the house. While waiting in the Plaza del Indepencencia (the main plaza in town), we looked up and saw this odd little statement about life in Uruguay. If you expand the picture, you will see, that in the midst of this beautiful, stately building (no doubt very expensive real estate), overlooking the main plaza- someone has taken advantage of the sunny day to wash their clothes and hang them out to dry on the windows and shutters of their apartment. Because the day was so warm (60's), the ice cream and hot dog vendors were out, and we tried our first ice cream cone. It was delicious. Like some of the best Italian gelato you have ever tasted. The hot dog wasn't great- but it wasn't bad.

As we waited for the escribano (real estate attorney) to pick us up, I took the picture of this statue in a nearby plaza. It pictures cavalry crashing in combat. Then to the escribanos. Hector came and walked us back to his office. Very nice office right above an interior shopping mall, filled with small shops that winds through many of the downtown buildings. Hector told us that if you are familiar with them, you can use them to avoid rain when going from street to street. In the office we met his cousin, Rose and their assistant. Rose and Hector work together in a law firm that goes back several generations to their grandfather. Very professional, they had all the document in order and had arranged for the sellers (a doctor and his wife) to be there with their escribano and also the real estate sales agent. The documents were read out loud, the cashiers check that I had obtained for the deposit was shown around and documents were signed by all. As an interesting side note- the cashiers check we had brought, when given to Rose (who presided over the signing) was put in a little wallet, along with what looked to be other checks, money, etc. At the appropriate moment, she took the wallet out, retrieved the check, showed it around and then promptly put it back into the wallet and put the wallet away. Just a comment about the personal nature of business in Uruguay. Then after everything was signed we all kissed goodbye (yes, remember you give a little kiss in greeting and a kiss goodbye) and we all parted. By the way- I have learned that Denise can kiss everybody and I can kiss the women- but I need to kind of ease up on kissing the men (don't want to give the wrong impression).

Back to Atlantida on the bus and a good nights sleep (but not after a quick milanesa at our local restaurant). A BIG day in the BIG city.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Feria in Atlantida

Thursday is feria in Atlantida. A farmers market, if you will. But more than that, actually, since you can buy clothes, DVD's (properly pirated), bicycle parts, honey- you name it and you can get it there. Not only is the produce outstanding and the cheese and eggs are unbelievably fresh- you don't pay the 23% IVA (sales) tax you do in the stores. And you can buy just about anything you can buy in the stores in the feria.

This is Denise with Syd & Gundy- expats who have helped us immensely.

There are ferias all over the country. Several in Montevideo, one here on Thurs, another in the next community on Saturday. You should never miss going to the feria. They actually are very timely. They open at about 3 in the afternoon(you can go earlier, but not all the stalls are open) and end around 5 pm.

The vendors have their spots "reserved". Not officially, but they definitely have their spots. And if they don't show up, the space remains empty. The produce stand here is just one of many. You may buy potatoes from one stall, brocolli from another, and so on. The prices are listed in pesos (about 19/$) and usually in kilos (for those of you that didn't sell pot, that is 2.2 lbs). Sometimes they are marked "c/u" (cada una=bunch) or "1/2" by 1/2 kilo. It is truly a buyers market. These vegetables are fresh out of the garden and have never been refrigerated. You can tell that. You have never tasted better.

When you come out of the market and get into your car, you must pay the "car guy". All over the city, in very place you can imagine, there are guys with reflective safety vests who "watch over your car". Don't know it they actually do, but you only give them 2-5 pesos, or 10, possibly if you are gone a long time in a bad neighborhood. That is only 5-10 cents, so it pays to pay them.

We are staying in the hotel, with limited space to cook, so all we bought was some of the most delicious cheese you have ever tasted. Still I can hardly wait until we get our own place, and our own kitchen, so I can go down to the feria and stock up. Love the ferias!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Warm Day at the Beach

Well, it was such a lovely day today that we decided to go for a walk on the beach in front of the hotel. Actually, in the stretch of tree lined coast behind Denise, will soon be our new home.

But first, we went to our bank to get a cashiers check for the deposit on the house. It took nearly 1 1/2 hours. That is because they are very meticulous with their transactions. They check and double check. You sign a dozen forms. And then, our signature hadn't been posted on their computer yet, and despite the fact that I had my passport, they waited until they could contact the main branch and verify the signature. These things are things that many think about negatively. I was just happy that I had the time to wait and get things done nicely.

Then we went on down to the beach. As far as you could see, and I mean that literally, there were less than 10 people on the beach, including us. Most of those were clustered on the point around a couple of fishing boats pulled up on the beach. We walked in sparkling sunlight in a kind of lazy warm (60's) weather until we went up to a local restaurant for a nice milanesa al pollo.

Have I told you that we love Uruguay?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Keys to Uruguay

When we first got to the hotel and checked into our little apartment, they gave us a set of keys that looked like they belonged to the Munster house. As it turns out these are the standard Uruguay locks and keys.

They are the old-style skeleton keys and I am told that you dare not lose them, because they can't be duplicated. I don't know about that. Give me a halfway decent New York thief and I think I would have a new set in minutes.

I was so thrilled when I finally got rid of the last of our keys in the US. I felt we were finally on our way and was hoping to cut down on the number of keys I carried. Looks like I will have quite a pocketful, for some time to come.

Ah the Milanesa

We just came back from lunch with an architect friend of ours who inspected the house we are interested in. He has spent many years abroad (Germany, France) and introduced us to the milanesa.

This is a thin cutlet, much like a chicken fried steak. It could be made of beef or pork, but recently (20 years ago) milanesas al pollo (chicken) were introduced. This is a milanesa al pollo and that plate (that it covers, is no small plate). The fries are underneath. There was some discussion about the original milanesa, which were very thick and meaty, versus the thinner versions appearing in more modest economic times. Carlos (the architect) remembered his mother's milanesas with longing.

Still, when it arrived, it was gorgeous. It could easily have fed us both, with the side of french fries. Of course, I had ordered raviola with a meat sauce. It came with not just a delicious sauce, but a sizeable portion of what was much like a slice of pot roast (they love their meats). Fortunately, we had a local wine to help us wash it all down, and there was no fried eggs in any of the dishes (though milanesas do come with fried egg, but that is extra).

Ah- the milanesa!

A Strange Combination

Something new, today- fog. This place is the strangest combination of weather and environment that we could have imagined. It is really nothing like we thought it would be.

To begin with- the vegetation is so varied. There are real strange wind-swept pines, almost all over and even growing at the edge of the dunes and right onto some of the beaches (reminds us of Carmel, California). Many are almost limbless until they reach 15-20' and on the coast many lean with the wind. Right next to the pines you will see palm trees, birds of paradise and all sorts of tropical plants.

Then the weather- rain (yes), wind (yes), fog (now I can say yes) and sun (plenty of it) all in less than 2 weeks. In fact, while the northern hemisphere is just entering its long awaited summer, we just entered the first day of winter (on Monday or Saturday, depending on who you ask). Yes, I looked at the weather forecast for this coming week and the winter here is going to be brutal. Daytime temperatures will be ranging from 16- 20 degrees. Before you offer your condolances- may I point out that this is Celsius- so the temperatures are actually 60-68 degrees farenheit (brrr).

Then there are lots and lots of birds. Haven't really seen one, but parakeets (rather large by all accounts) seem to be prolific. While I haven't seen them- you can hear them in the mornings. And it is a rather strange mixture: pine trees and palms, fog and the haunting tropical bird calls, reminiscent of some jungle.

All in all- quite a strange combination.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Day at the Bank and a Cell Phone

Today was a busy day to get some things underway. Beautiful and mostly sunny today- I set off to the bank to see if I could arrange for a wire transfer. When we opened the account last week (in Montevideo), it was explained that due to US regulations, any amount over $10K brought into the country had to have documentation to prove where it came from (sale of house, etc.). At the time, when we had our english speaking guide there to help us, I didn't have the paperwork. So today (on my own) I went down the local BROU branch to see if I could get the transfer approved. First thing I did was take a ticket. Oh have I forgotten to tell you about tickets in almost all the shops? Let me digress...

Almost every shop, bank, hardware store and everything else you can think of, has dispensers of numbered tickets, which you automatically take and wait for your turn. The other day at the hardware store I was the only customer. I went up to the cashier to ask a question. They politely pointed to the dispenser. Then they directed me back to a second person at the back of the store who helped me. Anyway another thing to get used to.

Back to the bank (ticket in hand). After a short wait I was directed to one of the desks. After establishing that we weren't going to be handling this transaction in english- I proceeded. Now here is what I "think" happened. I told the man I had sold a house and wished to transfer a certain amount of money from my bank in the U.S. I told him the woman who opened the account in Montevideo had asked for confirmation of the source of the money and presented him with the title company's closing statement. He said there was no problem and directed me to one of the windows. The teller thought I was prepared to make the transfer at that moment, but I explained I would do it online and just needed the routing numbers. She gave me a sheet of paper with the numbers and circled the ones I would need.

Now, that is how I think it went down. We'll see what happens when I actually try to make the transfer.

Then I needed a cell phone. Since I do not have a cedula (akin to social security card), I cannot get a cell phone on a plan, just buy the cell phone and pay for minutes, in advance. However, they issue you a cell phone number that you keep as long as you are have that phone. I got a little Samsung phone (nice little color screen and very nice) for $25.00 and then bought 77 minutes of time for $25.00. I can take up to 4 months to use the minutes, so they will not go to waste. Since I know hardly anyone in the country they will last a long time. But we will have a phone to use in an emergency. Actually did the transaction in German, since a visitor from Germany happen to be in the shop and translated my requests into spanish. Strange world.

Ode to a Bidet

Before going on, I will let you know that I will try to keep this as clean as possible, given the subject (on strict orders from Denise).

All full bathrooms in UY have bidets. Though most of you know what a bidet is, just in case I will introduce you to the most wonderful bathroom facility ever made- the bidet.


It is a little warm water fountain that you sit on after using the toilet. They place them right next to the toilet, so you can smoothly make the transfer. They can have little soaps near it for convenience and a little towel hanging there, also. I have reminded Denise frequently that the little towel is NOT a hand or face towel.

Why do I love them so? First of all- in countries where paper products are pricey- it is a very economical way to clean up. Secondly toilet paper can NEVER get you as clean as a bidet. Of course, they require some getting used to. There are 2 adjustments- water flow and water temperature, but once mastered, you will never go back.

So thanks to UY for making at least one of my dreams come true!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Would You Like an Egg with That Pork Chop?

Just came back from dinner. Forgot another thing when I talked about weird food (i.e. dulce de leche)- eggs. They put a fried egg on just about all types of food. Hamburgers will come with a fried egg. And ham- that is just about as common as salt.

So, when I saw pork chops and french fries on the menu, that sounded good. Probably should have put my glasses on and read the rest. French fries, by the way, are about the best I have ever tasted- crisp and not greasy. So the order came out: french fries, 2 deliciously cooked pork chops, topped with 2 strips of bacon, slices of ham and topped with a fried egg. Hmmm. Mental note to self- check to see if the obligatory egg is included on my next order and cancel the egg, and ham and bacon. The pork chops and french fries were great, by the way.

Trash Day in Uruguay

What day do they collect trash in Uruguay? It is a trick question, because they collect trash 3 times a week. Each house has little baskets out front and bags of trash are put there. The design varies (some are even like 55 gallon drum BBQ's) and some just hang the bags on a nail in a tree.

In the beach towns, they use modern trash trucks and make the rounds to pick up the bags. Also, they pick up the larger leaf and lawn bags that the street and sidewalk sweepers leave. In Montevideo, however, you will still see the traditional horse drawn cart around the city on their trash route.

Bags of Milk

I forgot to mention a few oddities of UY foodstuffs. Milk is sold in liters (quarts) in plastic bags. I don't think I have seen a milk container. That section of the refrigerated section is just filled with rows and rows of 1 liter bags of milk (all types) and juices. The sell little plastic containers that you slip the bag into, then cut the tip and pour from their.

Oddity #2- dulce de leche. You are probably seeing this more in desserts and ice cream flavors than before. Here it is a way of life. Thick, gooey, cloyingly sweet- it is a lot like nougat, sweeter and more spreadable and it is in everything (except the meat). You CAN find confections without dulce, but you have to look carefully (they will use it as filling for chocolate eclairs- a very disturbing surprise). I ordered flan in a restaurant, yesterday. They had the desserts displayed and I choose the flan. When asked "flan con dulce?" I though he was just describing the sweetness of the flan. It came to the table, with the characteristic sauce, but also with a huge glob of dulce de leche and a cherry on top. UGH! I put it to the side and ate the flan. The waiter made a sad face when he noticed the dulce was still on the place (I apologized).

Surprisingly you can get just about anything in a store you can get in the US. Many of the same brands. Everything seems to be quite good, so far. I bought some 50% crema for my coffee, thinking it might be like half and half. I think if I had shaken the bag for a few minutes, it would have been butter- very rich. The crema (full version) was semi-solid. But they do have non or low fat milk, which we are getting, as well.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Rain- Day 2

OK- it is a cold and rainy day. Expected to rain tomorrow (Saturday) and clear up on Sunday. One local poster (on the forum I use) suggested that after seeing cold, foggy and grey days that we would be tempted to leave Uruguay. Hah! After 18 years in Seattle- they don't know cold, foggy and grey- we invented that in the Northwest.

After days and days of walking (while good exercise) have decided we'll buy a used car here. So the search is on. I wish I could have brought the Mazda- that was a great car.

Off to find a roasted chicken and bring it back to the apartment.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Week One

OK, with the first week under our belts, we are prepared to give those of you who have never been to Uruguay (and that would be most of you) our impressions.

Uruguay is a bit worn. It shows its age. And yet there are grand reminders of the days when UY was rich. Colonial architecture abounds on both the coast and in the main city, Montevideo. The capital is kind of like New York in the 50's, without the skyscrapers. You can walk to most parts of the city, but a taxi ride is no more than $5 to anyplace. That brings up traffic.

You take your life in your hands walking or driving the streets. "Pare" (Stop) signs are mere suggestions. On many of the taxi rides we took, Denise dug her hands onto my leg and I was praying. But we got there safely. Taxis have no fear of buses and believe me buses have no fear of anything. Still- it all goes smoothly, though I don't know how.

The food is fantastic. Restaurant meals with wine or beer are usually under $20 and you only need to eat one meal a day. Most Uruguayans would disagree, but one big meal is all we can handle. The portions are so large you would be shocked. You order a portion of fish for $8 and they bring you more than 2 people can eat. We have learned to share a portion between us. Salads are great, and haven't seen many vegetables.

The BBQ (Parilla) is unbelievable! It is about 8' of red hot coals with lamp, beef, chicken and pork all going at once. They have a huge wood fire going at the back and rake out the coals as needed. When they serve you a portion of sausage, for example, it comes with a metal tray on top of a receptacle for coals (you have your own personal BBQ). And the sausages are wonderful. I have had lamb and beef, so far. Next stop pork town... This is me, in front of the parilla (pronounced "parisha") holding pork ribs, with a stupid expression on my face.

The people seem to be the nicest people ever. They all seem so patient as we struggle along with little spanish. I think they are amused. We laugh a lot. I have mastered the "I haven't the foggiest clue what you are saying" look. I do it well. Denise is doing quite well and remembering words for me that I can't. She does quite well on her own. The Rosetta Stone program is helping.

The beach is fantastic. All through the country you have a beach. And you are never far from it. Even in Montevideo the beach is wonderful. Like a Miami beach. Of course, it is cold now. Monday is the first day of winter. And it gets down to 35 degrees and windy. But many days are very sunny, so it balances out. If the beach is so beautiful in this weather, I can hardly wait to see it when winter is over....

Well, that is about all for this week. Will try to post some pictures when I figure out how.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Well, we finally arrived on Thurs. Had a whirlwind tour of Atlantida, stores, restaurants, checked into the hotel and then went to sleep.

Yesterday, however, was our first full day in Uruguay. We took the bus to Parque Del Plata. It was quite an adventure. Used our limited spanish to find the bus. The bus, itself was beautiful! I have never been in a better bus ever! It was almost brand new and the bus driver made change easily. You need to find your seats as soon as possible, however. Even while he was giving change- he whipped the bus out and around and it was like walking the deck of a ship in a storm. But the seats were so comfortable. I think I will find out who makes the bus and see if they do furniture.

Today we look at houses.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

On the Road

Well, the house is finally and fully sold! All items to be shipped to Uruguay have been consigned to the freight forwarder. We are finally on the road. Made it as far as the southern part of Oregon, where we are holed up for a few days to recover from the sickness that befell us. If it ain't one thing, its another.

We are in Grant's Pass, Oregon. And if I was feeling better, this would be a great place to stay. As it is, the bed and bathroom are all I've seen. Beginning to feel better, though. Will move on, when we can move on.

Of course, while I was laid up in bed, Denise took a terrific 4 hour boat trip up and down the Rogue River on a jet boat with thrills and spills (mostly water over the edge of the boat, drenching the passengers). They had a lively narrated tour of riverside flora and fauna, historical points and then a spread at a dining lodge, only used by the boat company (Hellsgate Jet Boats). She loved it and it managed not to rain.