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Monday, December 28, 2009

Sol de Noche

Well, it is 1:30 in the morning and Denise and I have just returned from night fishing on the beach, in front of the house. Here in Uruguay, it is common to go night fishing for little fingerling fish, some no bigger than an inch, getting up to 6 inches. They use little fish nets (like butterfly nets) and attract the fish with a bright light- typically a lantern, with aluminum foil on one side to direct the light at the water. They call that light the "sol de noche" (or sun of the night). The fish are usually floured and fried whole.

But how, you ask did we find ourselves on the beach that night, fishing and sharing a meal with a large family?

Earlier that day, our doorbell rang. When I answered it, the couple said "Hi!". I knew right then that "they were not from around here" (a phrase I heard many times in 1969, during my hippy phase, when I drove a pink thunderbird from Hollywood to Dallas texas- but that is another story). They introduced themselves and we invited George and Katherine inside. George is (and here is where it gets interesting) Russian, born in Argentina and living the last 22 years in New York. His wife, also Russian, speaks fluent Spanish. In fact almost all of the family speak perfect English, Russian and Spanish- children included. During his early years in Argentina, his family loved coming to Marindia and eventually, many years ago, bought several lots and over the course of the years, built and built and built and now they have a lovely little villa overlooking the beach, just a few blocks from our house. George had run across the blog, quite by accident and determined to look us up when they arrived here for a 10 day visit. We were thrilled to meet them.

He introduced us to Nicholas (his childhood friend from birth) and his wife and sister Xenya (spelling is probably wrong). They and their children planned a nighttime visit to the beach for fishing and having a good time and invited us to go.

So, we found ourselves waste deep, in water not too cold, searching for little fishes. Denise got 2 and I got 5. To be honest- the fish were so small, that you could miss them at the bottom of the net if you didn't look close. But they were fish and I did get 5. The night itself was almost too good. The temperature was just right. The Southern Cross was just at the horizon and the crashing waves had a bright blue phosphorescence that is rarely seen. It couldn't have been more perfect.

After some hot dogs and other refreshments by the fire, we parted company- happy to have been invited to share with them in their family outing.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Summer At Last!

OK- for those of you huddled around your fire tonight, in the cold, cold north- EAT YOUR HEARTS OUT!

Midnight of last night (the 24th) was the traditional fireworks display both public and private (I don't know why). But it must mark some kind of transition, because this morning and afternoon, it is finally summer. While we normally have less than 4-5 people on the street, there are now dozens. Families have arrived and the houses which were having work done (painting and prepping) are now filled with people and children and dogs. Since this is a quiet street normally, it is a nice change.

And the weather has cooperated, as well. It has been very miserable. Overcast, muggy- but today, for the people that came to the beach- it has turned out beautiful.

Welcome summer. Stay awhile.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Pozo Negro

No, this is not some exotic spa that we went to over the holidays. A pozo negro is a septic tank and for the past week, ours has been full. We have lived here for almost a year and a half and never had the septic tank emptied. It is quite a large system, but even large systems eventually get full. The average house, here, on the Costo de Oro, has one or more large septic rings, which will cascade into one another, until they are full. Since the ground is mostly sand, it just leaches into the ground easily (a good reason not to ever drink water from a well, here). When another ring is needed, they will just dig it out by hand, install the ring and the capacity of the system just became doubled. It is not uncommon to pump out the septic system every 3-4 months, depending on the size.

One advantage we had was that there were two separate covers. The picture shows the two holes- one on the left is the pozo negro and the one on the right is a camara (or chamber where all of the pipes come together). The pozo negro, itself is an engineered system and should last for at least a year, before having to be pumped out. However, it had probably lain dormant so long, and we not realized that it would need to be taken care of. So it was good news when the truck came this morning.

They successfully emptied it and the total cost was 1100 pesos (about $55 US). They charge by volume. At least now we can face the new year without fear of overflowing the covers . I am going to go out and clean off the patio, now and then take a shower- secure in the knowledge that the shower water has someplace to go.

I think this gives new meaning to the phrase- "Out with the old and in with the new".

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Licensed to Drive

For those of you who have waited with baited breath, please brush your teeth (the phrase is actually "bated" breath, a contraction of abated- meaning to hold) and read the following.

Well, thanks to the Midnight Run, this morning I was able to go back downtown, to the Indendencia (City Hall) and with little trouble, presented my documents (cedula, current US driver's license, medical certificate and passport with an arrival stamp less than one year old), paid a fee of about $800 (pesos) and within minutes, received my Uruguay driver's license, good for 2 years. The next one can be for as long as 10 years. Two interesting differences between US and UY licenses. The number of your driver's license is the same number as your cedula and there is no address on your driver's license.

Now, I will tell you why there were so many problems. The facilitator we had hired (Peter Stross) was supposed to help us get our residency and our driver's license, as well. Back in May and June of this year, we started pressing him to finish his job. He had told us all along that we needed to get a translation of the US driver's license into Spanish, which used to be done by the US embassy. Then, according to him, the US embassy stopped doing that. He asked the Intendencia in Canelones (our department) if an exception could be made and have them issue a UY license without the translation. He told us they would not. What seems to have been his problem, is that he didn't know you could easily make the transfer in Montevideo (where he lives). Because of his lack of knowledge, Denise's license expired and was unable to renew by mail out of the country. She is now officially pissed off at Peter. My license would have expired within the week.

So I, at least, am now allowed to operate motor vehicles of no more than 9 passengers legally in Uruguay. Denise, no thanks to Peter Stross, will have to take the test to get hers.

On an interesting side note, while I was on my way home, window shopping a few streets away- I noticed camera crews lining the sidewalk. I stopped, got out my camera and within a few minutes a car pulled up and the new president of UY, Pepe Mujica, stepped out on the sidewalk and entered the building for some kind of meeting. Others followed. But what was interesting was this- here is the president of the country (OK a small country), newly elected, getting out of a car on a crowded street in the middle of the day. There were probably some security people, but I wouldn't bet on it. He seemed to be just some guy getting out of a car at the sidewalk. You got to love a country like that!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Midnight Run to Paysandú

This sounds like the title of a somewhat interesting spy novel, at least. In fact, if anyone does the treatment and submits it to a major studio- I would like Robert Redford to play me (he is still good, after all these years). Anyway, back to the real world.

Last night (actually at 30 minutes past midnight this morning), I boarded a bus for Paysandú. Why? I'm glad you asked. Here is the story.

For the past 6 months, we have been trying to find a way to get our Uruguayan driver's licenses without having to take the test. In the past (we were told by our residency facilitator), the US Consulate would do a translation of the driver's license and then Uruguay would accept that, and issue you one here. We were told by our facilitator (the guy who we paid to know) that this option was no longer open. In fact, we were told that he had gone so far as to contact the main office in Canelones (our department) and asked if any accommodation could be made and we were assured that it was not possible. So, Denise's license went out of date, and this month mine would expire.

However, on a local forum, I casually mentioned that I was going to have to take the written and practical test to get my license and was informed that I should be able to take my US driver's license, medical exam (required in any case) and a passport showing entry into the country less than one year and be able to get a license, on the spot. Ah! Here is where the problem begins. Our passports haven't been stamped for entry for over a year and 1/2. So, in order to take advantage of this possibility, I would have to cross into Argentina and back, get the stamp and complete all of this before the 31st of this month- a month that is busy on anybody's calendar. Hence the midnight trip to Paysandú.

Well, it actually worked out quite well. The trip, itself was uneventful. Got some shuteye on the trip up. Upon arriving at Paysandú, I realized that I had to take a taxi to Colon (the Argentina side of the bridge) and back to get the stamp. I was quoted 500 pesos for a 30K trip. Probably a bit high, but it worked out, since I explained my situation to the driver on the way over and he was able to explain why I needed to use the passport to make the crossing, and not simply my cedula (UY ID card). In fact, without the cedula- I would have been subject to fines. So, after explaining- Stamp, stamp, stamp, stamp- drive over the bridge and then stamp, stamp, stamp, stamp (getting UY and Argentine entries and exits in the passport. On the way back, we passed by this lovely plaza and church.

I rushed back to the terminal, and found that the earliest bus back was about 2 hours later. Good. So I thought I would try and get the medical exam out of the way in Paysandú. After being directed to 2 different hospitals and being informed that that is done by appointment- I was directed to a clinic way uptown. I searched and searched and finally found it. It wasn't open yet, so a few of us were waiting around when they came to unlock the doors. We took our numbers. Most were there for the carné de salud (your basic health card), but since I needed the driver's exam, I was told it would be later in the day- no go for me! So I returned unsuccessful, just in time to get the bus back to Montevideo.

Since it was day, I got a chance to see some of the rural parts of the country. It reminded me of rural America, farms and equipment and all. I was particularly impressed with Flores. It had everything you could want in a city. Almost all of the little towns along the way had nice main streets and many beautiful stores and restaurants. I had not expected it to be so nice. I was pleasantly surprised. I wish I had taken some pictures of the cows I saw. Now they were contented! They were laying around in lush fields just hanging out.

Arriving back in MVD, I now had to find the SUAT clinic that was recommended to me for the medical exam. Fortunately it was very close to Tres Cruces (one of the main bus terminals) and within minutes I was inside, filling out the forms, giving money (430 pesos) and eventually was ushered into a rather large exam room. I was asked about medical history (broken bones, diabetes, etc), whether I wore glasses or had any noticeable problems, to which I could answer no. They did note that I have high blood pressure and informed me that if it was too high, they could not certify me. I had forgotten to take my pill that morning, I had been on the road for 13 hours and had not eaten since the night before. But, I passed (it was high, but within the range). They gave me my certificate and I rushed off to the Intendencia.

The licensing portion of the Intendencia closes at 3:00! I was there 15 minutes late. So, we don't know the end to this story. Will I have spent hours of my time and thousands of pesos for nothing? Or will I get my driver's license tomorrow?

Denise wanted me to hold off posting until I knew the outcome. But that wouldn't be any fun. Even if this is a total failure, it was a great experience. She pointed out that I was able to take off at a moment's notice, mash enough Spanish together to get the job done, and came back home in one piece. So- successful or not, it makes a good story- and I'm all about the story.

More tomorrow.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Since we are nearing the end of our home improvements, we have started unpacking and putting up some of our memorabilia. Our guest bedroom has been packed with boxes and we are close to getting it empty, so that we can buy a bed and actually have a guest room. In the process we are going through photo albums and today was almost a perfect day.

After the feria, we came back home and put away our vegetables and cheese. Then we set to work unpacking more boxes. By 9 in the evening, we had gone as far as we could and I set out to cook a little dinner for us. While I was cooking Denise read out of her diving log book. We had learned how to scuba dive in Hawaii in 1977, and she read over the 35 dives we had made. Not many, by professional standards, but some very memorable dives.

We dived in Hawaii, Guam, San Diego, Catalina Island, Jamaica and Seattle, Washington. The deepest dive we made was 210 feet, and several over 150 feet deep. We did night dives and spearfished and took photos. While it was not a long career in diving, it was very memorable and it was enjoyable reliving the experiences. I had almost forgotten that we were ever scuba divers. I think if the opportunity presents itself, we would love to dive here, but I don't think there is much of a dive industry.

Then we started thinking about some of the places we have enjoyed together: Hollywood, Hawaii, Guam,Germany, France, England, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Portugal, Spain, New York, Japan and finally Uruguay. One evening was hardly enough to even do more than just touch the places we have been and seen, but it was enough to realize that we have really enjoyed some wonderful times, and it is not over. We tend to think that it is "over" for us since we retired to Uruguay, but really, this is just another adventure. While it seems very comfortable and homey to us, Uruguay, after all, is another hemisphere and another country. So our adventures are not over, just entering another phase.

That led to a nice candle lit dinner, with the windows overlooking the water and the stars were out all the way to the horizon. I can't think of a more perfect evening. The weather during the day was nice and warm and this evening was cool with refreshing breezes. Afterwards we snuggled up on the couch, with the dogs and cat warming our feet and we listened to music until about 1 in the morning.

It was about the most perfect evening we have enjoyed, thus far, in Uruguay. I think we are finally home.

ps- I noticed that I used "perfect" too many times in this post. Sorry- can't help it. I won't change a word.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

More Dental Work

Well, Denise lost the temporary filling (for the second time this week), so this is the third visit to the emergency clinic. Still it cost nothing with our medical, and since we are determined to try and save money where possible, she has resisted going to a private dentist and is determined to see the process through to the end, no matter how many visits and how long it takes.

I dropped her off at the clinic and then continued on to Montevideo to pick up some papers for the car. When she was finished having the tooth repacked, on the way home she took a little walk and found this store, nearby. This is a pañalera, not to be confused with a panadería. At a panadería, you can buy bread, but a pañalera is where you go to get a diaper service. Not knowing Spanish could let you in a for a big surprise.

Then a little later, she found this creative graffiti. You see, Uruguay has it all.

I drove into town as far as Géant (a large retail store) at the edge of MVD. I try and keep from driving in town, as it is crazy, so I took the bus from Géant. I took the wrong bus, however (a #104) and got the scenic route. They told me later that they say about the 104, "life goes on...." (la vida continua), implying that life goes on, but there are some questions about the #104.

Remember we got the car in September, and are just getting the paperwork, now. And the amount of paperwork is about the same amount that we got when we bought the house. There are all the declarations by the buyers and sellers, witnessed, stamped and filed, as well as all of the old sales contracts (about 3 others) back through the years. Now, I can go to Atlantida, and register it locally and get Canelones plates. Buying a car is not easy in Uruguay, nor cheap. But when all is said and done- you need a car.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dental Work

Denise chipped a tooth last week and we have been debating whether to use the medical insurance to get it fixed (reportedly a complex process, but cheap) or have it done by a private dentist. Last month Denise attempted to have a blood sample taken for analysis, but they poked too many holes in her, without getting a sufficient amount for the test, so we would need to go to the main office in Montevideo to get it done. In addition, we need an insurance ID, which can only be obtained at the main office. So we decided to try and lump it all together.

We visited our local doctor at the Salinas office, this morning. After explaining the problem, she told us that dental services (emergency work) are available just a short distance away, in Solymar. We went immediately.

Upon arriving, we were told to go upstairs and we would be served in order, since this is an "emergency" facility. What they didn't say (and we failed to properly read the sign) is that we needed to check in with the dentist. After about 1/2 hour and another visit to the front desk, we finally figured it out. Then they took the doctor's note and Denise was in the chair within 20 minutes. Turns out that she needs a root canal and they started the initial drilling and did a temporary filling. We can come back this Friday or Monday and continue. So far the cost = $0. It is covered in our health plan. Eventually there will be some charges, no doubt, but we couldn't have expected more prompt service and so far are very glad we decided to use the health plan.

I installed an antenna last week and am spending about 1 hour or more listening to news on the local channels. I think I am making good progress, as I watch with a dictionary and look up words as I can hear them. I think that in a short time I will be able to understand Spanish, if they speak like a newscaster. The conversation (in Spanish), might go like this:

"Jorgé, where is your wife?"
"Wally, my wife has just departed for a 2 hour tour of the local feria. She will be meeting with local food producers in hope of acquiring supplies for the coming week."
"So what about this weather?"
"Yes, Wally, I fear a high pressure front is coming in from the south that will bring precipitation and some cloudiness in the coming days....."

Well, anyway, you get the idea. But eventually I hope to understand everyday conversations, at least well enough to find out how to get dental work done at our local clinic.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Well, this is the first week that I have felt we have entered summer. The past year was a very dry year, and it seems the rains and storms this past month were trying to make up for it. But one sunny, warm day and all is forgotten.

So it was time for my summer haircut. I told Denise I was going for a haircut, but she was not prepared for the reality. Actually the last 3-4 years when we lived in Seattle, I cut my own hair, using electric shears and a 1/4" attachment. I saved hundreds of dollars over that length of time. People would ask "do you cut your own hair" to which I would reply "do you think I would pay someone to make me look like this?" But today, I actually did pay someone to make me look like I just got out of 30 days in the county jail. I had to re-acquaint myself with my wife- she was not that happy about it, though. After my shower, I automatically reached the comb- OOPS! I won't need that again for months.

Had a new carpenter out here yesterday to look at about a dozen small projects needed to clean up some of the loose ends. He said he would be here on Monday at 10:00am and he actually came at that time. Very promising start. We shall see.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Saturday Has Come and Gone

Saturday has come and gone, but the cabinet maker didn't. We waited faithfully all day. At about 11am, we decided that he probably wouldn't make it in the morning. By 3pm, we finally realized that he wouldn't be coming today, at all. So we decided to get on with our lives and got ready to go to the meeting at the Kingdom Hall.

Guess what? The car battery was dead- left the lights on. Saturday was just not our day.

But on the plus side, we started watching the BBC series- "The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency", set in Botswana. For anyone unfamiliar with Alexander McCall Smith (which is probably most people), I would heartily recommend any of his books as a good read. My wife introduced me to the #1 Ladies Detective Agency series some years ago and I became hooked. A very, very, very laid back series, but you can't help feeling drawn into another world and the BBC series captures the spirit of the book well.

So no cabinets, but a good detective series.......

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tomorrow The Cabinets Arrive

Tomorrow, the cabinet maker says that he will deliver the last of the kitchen cabinets. How often have we heard that? Actually about 6-8 times. He has been going to come on the weekend on numerous occasions. It is actually getting funny. However, there was a certainty in his voice that has been lacking the last 6-8 times. I actually think he will show up. Tomorrow will tell the tale.

Our little growing family (2 dogs and a cat) are getting along splendidly. The cat loves playing with the dogs. The dogs, for their part love playing "catch the cat and try and pull it apart". Strangely, Nathan doesn't object. He just lays there while the dogs just chew away. He is looking like quite a rough and tumble cat.

The little beetle is running great. Haven't taken any trips, yet, but soon. Meanwhile just enjoying the beginning of summer and the warm sunny days and sounds of the surf. After several weeks of stormy, rainy weather, this is quite a welcome change. We are finally settling in, and getting a little routine together with the dogs and with our life in general. This is about the first month or so that life has seemed less hectic. I just got back from shopping and I made Denise an Orange Julius drink (made with fresh squeezed orange juice) to which I added a small shot of Cachaça (the national Brazilian drink). I almost feel like we are retired......

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Small Accident

There have been some complaints that my blog is getting bogged down. Yes- I confess, nothing much is happening. We have begun to enjoy our life here, finally. I think when the novelty of realizing that we have actually succeeded in moving to South America, and living in a foreign country finally sinks in, we will be ready to start off on new adventures. But I will share this little story from this last week.

I finally had my first accident in Uruguay. It was on the motorcycle, riding parallel to the Ruta (main hiway East and West in Uruguay). I had just visited a drug store, whose owner kept cars for sale outside his business and sold them for people. He agreed to take the bikes on consignment.

I decided to visit the house of some fairly new arrivals from Mexico (their last expat residence) and when I turned onto the road, I was faced with a school bus. I turned the bike and braked (a bad move any time) and laid it down, right on my leg. Now that sounds pretty exciting, doesn't it?

Well, here is what really happened. I was driving a motorcycle, but not the cool Keeway. I was driving my wife's scooter, to charge up the battery. Yes I was driving on a frontage road to the hiway, but the hiway has very few cars on it most of the days and there were no cars on the frontage road, at all. Yes, a school bus was coming, but in Uruguay, they transport school kids in 8 seat suburban type vehicles (long station wagons). And, oh, did I forget to mention that I was going about 4 mph? Yeah. I think my ego took a worse bruise than my leg (especially when the guy from the hot dog stand came over to pull the bike off the old guy), though it did keep me in bed for a couple of days.

Not much has been happening. We are back to having all of our furniture inside rather than stored around the yard and extra bedrooms. Now we are just waiting on upper cabinets to be built and installed (waiting and waiting and waiting- you get the picture). I really don't know how Uruguay businessmen ever make any money they way they start work and never finish. But at least we have everything necessary to a function. And the little VW bug is working great. Now if I can just sell the bikes....

Now it is time to get our little Fusca (bug) out on the road and see some of the country. That will be fun.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Day At the Beach

Well, we took advantage of nice weather today and took the dogs to the beach. It has been almost 8 days of intermittent rain (starting with the big downpour Friday before last) and while yesterday was very nice, I spent most of the day on my hands and knees fighting the fine fight against dandelions. I think I have won the battle in the front yard. But that was yesterday. Today would be different.

The weekend crowd had left today (all 6 of them) and we had the beach almost all to ourselves. Barney had been to the beach only once, and on the leash all the time. Shila had never been. We walked them down to the beach and let them fly. They loved it. Barney took to the water (with his short hair), but Shila got in a little too- just at the foam break.

They ran, they sniffed, they picked up things that couldn't be identified, but must have been intriguing, all the same. All in all, it was a successful outing. They were even willing to drop things which we thought they should stay away from (though we had to resort to shouting, at times). Shila finally got tired of it, and we trooped them home. They didn't mind being put back on their leashes when we got near the stairs of the beach entrance and we were happy to bring them home, safe and sound and probably quite tired.

Last week the carpenter told us the last of the cabinets (the uppers) would be finished and installed on Friday or Saturday. Well, you know how that went. But for now, having the floor finished and our furniture back in place and the kitchen sink installed (wow! I can finally wash dishes in the kitchen and not in Denise's bathroom) has put us in a much better frame of mind. I have spent the last few days using my weed wacker to clean up the back and front yards. We are not intending on having anything that would allow us to play lawn croquet, just a clean back yard that the dogs can enjoy. I have projects that will keep me busy during the next few weeks, and then we should be in top shape.

So, while the northern hemisphere settles into it's winter position- we are getting out fans and swim trunks and planning on our summer vacation. Where will we go? How about a lovely beach in South America? I think there is one nearby.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Week to Go Down in History

Well, despite rumors to the contrary, we are still very much alive. But this past week was a milestone in recent history. Three different workers (count them, three) turned up to work on completing some of the projects that had been started months ago. Perhaps the recent election brought out the volunteer spirit??

Anyway, Friday brought us one of the most dramatic thunder and lightning storms and dropped hail the size pecans and dumped more water in an hour than we have had in the last month. The picture at the top is sheets of water on the front window. I had opened the shutters in the morning, not expecting such a heavy rain, and had to go out in the downpour to close them. I was soaked through in a minute. Earlier, before the heavy rain, I had been out in the yard "watering" the dogs and heard strange popping sounds. I couldn't figure out what it was until I got hit on the back of the hand with a large hailstone. It hurt! I quickly got us all inside. Shortly thereafter, the water came down. The picture to the right is the front door mat with some of the hailstones.

Eventually it subsided and Jorge, who had never stopped working, completed the last of the tile work for our living, dining and office tile, including the fireplace. The next day he returned and started the kitchen and we were able to move our furniture back. Saturday night, we sang our first karaoke songs in weeks and enjoyed sitting in our "new" living room. Hell Week(s) is officially over.

Earlier in the week, as I mentioned, several other workers came out of the woodwork (no pun intended, since one of those workers is a cabinet maker). Firstly, the herrero (iron worker) came back to finish putting in the security locks on the shutters covering the front windows and doors. A sturdy post at the end and 2 locks in each postigo (shutter) gives us a little more security.

Then, Pedro, our cabinet maker, came with the doors and drawers for the lower cabinets, which had been installed way back in June (about 5 months ago). Each month as we checked on his progress he assured us he would be over next week. Well, he did come next week, just a little more "next" than we anticipated. In his defense, he lost his helper and had been sick. Denise has designed the kitchen cabinets with many, many drawers (as most kitchens lack these). The cabinet maker could not figure out why we needed so many drawers. But all the doors and drawers are raised panel construction and the drawers were installed with custom ball bearing glides. He has told us to expect the upper cabinets this coming Tuesday. Hmmmm I am sure it will be a Tuesday.... but will it be next Tuesday. We shall see.

The puppies and Nathan, the cat, have been taking their incarceration well. They have been confined to the hallway for weeks now, but spending most of the time outside, as the weather has been very nice (past Friday, excepted). Today, Sunday, Jorge and his helper are here to finish the last of the kitchen tile. There will still be a few more days of work (finish grouting, cleaning), but we are fast approaching the day when all of our inside projects will be finished and we can get on the the business of living.

Since buying this house at the end of July, 2008, we have been trying make the house own own. Perhaps now, I will have time to get bored.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Master Gardener

We took advantage of the lovely sunny day and the fact that for the first time, Denise and I are mobile in a little car. We went to our favorite vivero (nursery) in search of a plant that Denise needed and we would (for the first time) be able to bring it back easily.

Vivero Myosotis is right near the well known PachaMama's vivero. While PachaMama's excels in fruit trees and food bearing plants (as well as a few ornamentals), Myosotis specializes in landscaping plants. I have never seen a more complete display of such plants, here, before. The vivero is worth a visit, if not to buy plants, simply to wander through the parklike setting. What makes this place really unique, though, is the proprietor, Horst. Yes it is a German name and while he was born in Uruguay to German parents, he has lived here all his life.

Horst knows just about everything there is to know about plants. He is like a walking encyclopedia of plants, and loves to talk about them and explain their uses. Beyond that, however, he is quite the character. He speaks Spanish, German and English fluently and understands about 11 languages. During his working years, he worked for a German company that exported wool from Uruguay and travelled widely to service their international customers. So, besides speaking English and German, for example, he also can mimic the dialects. He does a great Brit, a tolerable New Yorker and a very funny Chinese guy speaking English- beside many of the German variations.

We only went for one plant, but came away with 1/2 dozen. Besides anything else, he is quite the salesman. It is a good thing he doesn't sell dogs- or we would be maxed out.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hell Week

No, I am not pledging a fraternity, this week, but we have finally started on the rest of the floors in the house. This means that for the next week, our finished living areas will be confined to the domestic wing of the house, namely, bedrooms, hall and bathrooms (glad we have the bathrooms). But the office, dining room, living room and kitchen will be in various stages of construction, so we (including the pets) are confined to smaller spaces. We can use the kitchen to cook (for now), but we eat on plastic chairs and folding wooden tables. However, it will be worth it to finally have all of the house completely tiled, removing the last of the old asphalt tile squares. The photo at the left is our floor after the tiles have been taken up.

At least we have our bedroom finished and can use the TV and DVD player to keep ourselves entertained, while work goes on. If the weather were better, we would love being outside, but this weekend was dreary and wet. In fact, last night we had the most severe lightning storm (though brief in duration) that we have experienced, here. One strike came so close, that it might have actually hit some house circuit. Can't be sure, but after the lightning had moved on, Denise noticed a weird crackling sound and light coming from inside the stove. She got me out of bed and I unplugged the stove, after finding out the the electric element for the broiler in the over had melted! Can't actually figure out how that could work, since the electrical outlet showed no visible darkening and nothing else was affected. However, we did unplug everything immediately. I will have to figure that out later, but for now, I was able to disconnect those wires in the stove and we can still use it (actually never did use the broiler, so it wouldn't be a big loss if it never gets fixed). The photo at the left is our pet's cramped quarters in the hallway. Still, with lots of fluffy pet mats and loads of sticks and chew toys, they seem to be adjusting well.

The Fusca (VW beetle) has finally come back from the 2nd mechanic. The first mechanic that we used (at the recommendation of our vet who owns a superb show quality beetle), was good for brakes, bearings, new tires and such- but was sadly lacking in expertise on motors. He rebuilt the carburator without finding the broken acceleration pump and never mentioned the fact that the choke cable was missing. When I got it back from him, I was barely able to start it and it ran horribly. However, the 2nd mechanic we found (Steve in La Floresta gave us his mechanic) was a master worker. The owner was a trained VW mechanic who set up a small shop when he retired. He, his son and another mechanic work there, in what might be described as a hole in the wall. Very out of the way, with little indication of the business. A very large work space, but off the ruta. When I got it back from him- the motor was noisy, it had little power and a very rough ride! In other words, it ran like a proper VW Beetle. He fixed everything the first mechanic had missed. I would heartily recommend him.

The pets are getting along wonderfully. Nate (the cat) has integrated with Barney (the black dog) and Shila (the brown furry, cute dog). They enjoy playing together, and it was a wise idea to get a 2nd dog- to keep Barney company.

Our tile guy says that we will have the house back together after this coming weekend. Tomorrow we will actually see some tile going down.

This will be our second summer. Last summer we had workers here every day for 5 or 6 days a week. No privacy and little chance to enjoy the house. This summer should be different.

Hell Week- your days are numbered.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

That's Why I Hate Doctors

We are members of Medica Uruguaya, a local health care provider. Many people cite affordable health care in Uruguay as one of the reasons to retire here. Being relatively healthy, I have mostly looked at health insurance as "catastrophic coverage", only to be used in worst case scenarios. In fact, I had probably only gone to a doctor a few times in my life, until the last couple of years, and then only because I had contracted pneumonia. I had a hernia operation just before leaving for Uruguay (getting that taken care of was mandated by my wife), and other than that, I have not had much use for doctors. So, while health care insurance is wise, it probably would not be the highest consideration from my standpoint.

My wife and I receive complete coverage for 1,363 pesos/month each or about $128 US for us both. That entitles us to consulations and major surgeries such as hip replacements and heart operations, etc. Several expats that we know have had full hip replacements, very successfully. The doctors are knowledgeable and the facilities are modern and well kept. Interestingly, when you are hospitalized here, there are a few things different than the US. For instance, there needs to be a family member (or you can hire someone) to care for your patient needs during your hospital stay (water, helping you to the bathroom, etc). That is considered your part in the process. They also make an "in home" inspection of your living arrangements before admitting you to surgery, to make sure that you will receive sanitary health care after leaving the hospital.

In the outlying communities, health care needs are met by smaller clinics, where doctors rotate through the week. We see an English speaking doctor who was born in the US and returned here after medical training. Medical tests and visits to specialists cost extra. I recently went in for a complete blood analysis. The battery of tests costs about $10 US, and was very thorough. When I went in next week to get the results, the doctor went through the various parts of the report. Hemoglobin- OK, Platelets-OK, etc., etc. In fact, most everything, including the urine sample, tested out OK- except the cholesterol levels. I was at 226, while 200 is the target here in Uruguay. I have been told that the US is now wanting to see a cholesterol level of 170 achieved (bad news for holders of MacDonald's stock certificates).

Anyway (and here is the reason that I hate doctors)- she wants to improve my health. She actually wants me to do something about it. That is because Uruguay is very much into preventative medicine. I assume that most of the world's medical profession is into preventative medicine, I just never took much note. She wants me to cut out butter (using plenty of olive oil), whole milk, fats, etc. Then I have to come back in a couple of months, let them take another blood sample for tests and see where we stand.

I DON'T WANT TO GET BETTER! Oh well, having said that, I am starting to cook better meals. Avoiding fats where I can, not using salt. Boy if this trend keeps up- next thing I will be exercising. But lets not get carried away. Let's see what happens in a couple of months...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tug O' War

Well, it has been less than 24 hours and Barney and Shila have learned a new trick- tug o' war. This is going to be the best ever! Right now Barney has the height advantage, but at the rate Shila eats, and her current girth, she will outweigh him in no time. While Barney goes bounding across the yard- Shila follows at an accelerated waddle.

And Nathan has warmed up to Shila, almost on first sight. She is still feisty and can put both of them in their place (more a brave show of teeth and growls, rather than a true threat), but she is much more submissive than Barney, so Nate has even slept this close, something he's never done with Barney.

Today, Nate , is going to the vet- not to get tutored , but you know what.... We hope this will mellow out the mix. After having the cat for about 6 months, Barney for 2 weeks, and Shila for a day, I don't know how anyone who works does anything. Being retired, with nothing more to do than care for the pets (and trying to train them), cook, sleep and eat- I can just barely get through the day. How do people with pets, jobs, children, social and religious obligations do it!? Seriously! My hat goes off to the valiant working men and women of the world who manage to care for their families, jobs and personal life and remain sane.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

New Puppy on Board

Yes I am writing about a 2nd puppy. After berating Denise for getting a puppy, last week at the feria, without any input from me and being railroaded into taking the puppy over mild objections. I thought it best to accompany her, there, myself, to keep these things from happening. Anyway- could you really turn this down? This guy came through the feria with 2 puppys, one male and one female. They were sooooooo cute. Anyway, I melted. So much for toeing the line.

We took the one with the pink ribbon (either she supports breast cancer or she is a female- either one OK) and are planning on calling her Shila (pronounced Sheila). Let's see, now- 2 weeks ago Denise got Barney, today we got Shila. At this rate we will end up with 26 dogs by next year. So we also got 2 more roses for Denise's rose garden and several pet rugs with varying designs. We will have tile floors probably carpeted with these wooly throws.
We've got to stop going to the ferias.

On the car front, we had almost everything we could think of done to the Bug. The list includes rebuilding the carburetor all new ignition parts, front brakes and some rubber sleeves on the axles and many other things. Along with the 2 new tires, the bill came to $600 (US). We did discover one other minor problem that needs to be fixed (a bearing that requires the motor to be pulled), so another couple of hundred and we will be on the road.

Nathan and Barney are getting along well. A little too well. Nate has begun to look at Barney as his little "boy toy", and we are going to have to get the cat fixed tomorrow, to keep him from completely brutalizing Barney (Barney- don't bend over to pick up the soap!). The new puppy, however, should provide quite an interesting bit of entertainment. Who needs TV?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Krispy Kreme on the Road

Well, we finally finalized our purchase of that VW fusca (Beetle) and thought we would say goodbye to some memorable times on the Uruguayan bus system.

For almost a year, we have enjoyed the buses in UY. For the most part they are clean, and if you don't travel during rush hour, they are spacious. During rush hour, the buses operate on standing room only, and Uruguayans do not have a "space" requirement. They are happy to stand packed (and I mean packed) back to back, side to side and every which way for up to an hour. And more space can always be found for the new arrivals.

During a bus ride, you may be treated to: guitar music, offers to buy candy, gum, band aids, socks (among other things). On one trip, 2 local actors played out a scene from a local melodramatic production (very badly, I might add- way over acted). We won't have that type of entertainment in the VW.

The bus drivers decorate their own buses in their own style. Here you can see fuzzy dice. Hmmmmm- apparently there are no revue boards for decorations.

However, now, we will probably be doing more traveling in our little Fusca. We found the car on MercadoLibre (UY's version of Ebay). We saw the vehicle and agreed to a price of $3600 for the '87 bug (we did get $100 off the price). That was over a month ago. At that time- we turned the deal over to our escribano. Escribanos handle all kinds of title transfers, including houses and apparently, cars. You would be hard pressed to do the paperwork yourself. They get certificates from police departments, tax offices and other offices to certify that the car has no liens against it. In fact, the process is almost exactly like transferring a house (and almost as complicated).

Because the car was registered in another county, the escribana had to pay an agent to do the paperwork up there, and it took shy of 4 weeks before that paperwork was sent back. Then, since it had been so long, our conscientious escribana ran the documents a second time, in case the situation had changed in the last month. Satisfied they set up a meeting last night, and the title document was read and signed and the keys were turned over. The deal was not completed, however, since the papers need to be sent back on last time to finish it up.

The cost of the transfer was higher than anticipated. I had thought $200-$300 would be expected, but it cost over $575 for the fees. A good portion was the notary fees. We might have saved some money using another escribana, but this is the one who did our house sale and we were comfortable using them, so we have no complaint, merely a mild surprise.

The seller drove us back to his house, which was close to the Rambla and we took that home, since driving in Montevideo, at night, in a new car (or any car during the day for that matter) is a hazardous affair. I am happy to say we arrived home safely, and after freeing the dog and cat from their enforced confinement (and cleaning the floors)- we turned in for a good night's rest.

This morning, after making a thorough inspection of the Krispy Kreme, I am pleased that it is basically in good shape. I took it to a local Gomeria (tire store) for 2 new tires (Pirelli's for $70/each) as well as a basic tune up and oil change. It was kind of strange driving around. This is only the 2 time I have driven in this country and we plan to be doing much more, now that Denise and I can travel together with ease. I am putting the motorcycles up for sale (I think the mechanic who is working on the car my put them in front of his shop) and we will be happy to be able to drive without helmets, gloves or other safety gear. Hey- with traffic in Montevideo being what it is- maybe I should keep the helmets to wear while driving in town.

Friday, September 18, 2009

It was a dark and stormy night......

This is just a brief update for Friday's activity. Nothing to report on the remodel scene. Barney and Nate are getting along famously (the new dog and our cat). It is quite entertaining to watch them play.

I have noticed over the last few days quite a difference between cats and dogs (duh!). I have always been a dog person. In fact, it has been over 35 years since we had a cat in the house (prior to Nate, I have been mildly allergic to cats), while we have had dogs several times we never have had a dog and cat at the same time. While I am still a dog person, I may be shifting slightly to the cat side because of these differences. For instance the cat's idea of cleanliness is a thorough tongue bath over his entire body (including head), using his paw as a wet comb. Very impressive. The dog, on the other hand, is satisfied if only his genital and anal areas are thoroughly, and I do mean thoroughly, licked down. The cat carefully buries it feces, then checks carefully to make sure it is completely buried without smell, while the dog merrily takes a dump wherever it wants and does not even bother to think what might happen to those coming behind him. The cat can manipulate just about anything with it's very agile paws. The dog can bite things. Now, this might not be great revelation to animal enthusiasts, but it is the first time I have been able to observe cats and dogs head to head (in a manner of speaking).

The last few days has been rainy, progressing to cloudy and rainy and tonight we are experiencing a typical Uruguayan storm. That is to say it is windy. And windy here is very windy, it doesn't come and go- it just stays blowing for hours and hours. Now surprisingly a few blocks from the beach, the wind abates significantly. But it rages here, tonight at the coast. We've battened down the hatches. Got the fire going, the shutters pulled over the windows and we are settled in for the night. Barney just woke up and took his nightly constitutional, seemingly undisturbed by the howling winds (he's Uruguayan). But we are warm and snuggled up on this dark and stormy night....

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Barney & Nathan

Well, after almost a week, Nathan has just about gotten adjusted to the fact that we have a new member of the family. The first meetings of Nathan and Barney were tentative, to say the least. However, after the first akward encounters, Nathan is finally accepting Barney and even "stalking" him in the yard and in the house. In fact, Barney had better beware of "Ninja Cat" as he blithely goes his way. Kind of like Kato in the Pink Panther series. Nathan has not been using his claws- a noble effort at self control.

On the "Bug Hunt" scene- we finally have a date set for the final papers to be signed and ownership transfered to us. Next Monday we should be the proud owners of a 1987 VW Fusca. It has taken over a month, until all of the papers could be assembled and verified and registered. When all is said and done, I will post a blow by blow description of the purchase and process of registration.

On the home front- nothing new to report. The iron worker, cabinet maker will all be coming "tomorrow". That has been weeks ago. No worry. However, we do have an appointment at 5:00 tomorrow with a very reliable worker to finish the tile work on the rest of the interior floors. We bought that tile over a year ago and it has been sitting and waiting for this day. It is excited.

With the sunny weather of the past few days, we have all been out in the yard. Denise planting, I am weeding and Barney- well, "It's a dog's life".....