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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......