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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Karaoke- Uruguayan Style

The young couple who stayed at our house while we were in Buenos Aires was enthralled with the karaoke equipment that we brought with us. It is a very sophisticated system, with over 1300 digitized, high quality songs. Denise and I enjoy it on our own and we have shared it with others over the years. So, last week, Carolina and Hugo (our friends) suggested that we host a karaoke party at the soonest opportunity. Since the special assembly day was last weekend, last night (Saturday) after the meeting (which ends at 9 pm) was the earliest possible date and we decided on that. It was to be a "lluvia". While the word means rain, apparently it also refers to a social, where everyone brings food and drink and share in the evening.

Saturday morning, however, was Denise's appointment for the "revision" of her tooth problem at the main office of Medical Uruguaya in Montevideo. So, we dutifully trooped into town in the morning. Spent several hours waiting (much of it trying to figure out where we were supposed to pay the statement we had received (a small amount of $8 US). Turns out that we didn't have to pay and the dentist couldn't figure out why they gave that to us in the first place.

Eventually Denise was called in, they looked at the tooth and said, yes it needed to be filled (that took about 5 minutes). All that took only a little under 2 months. That must be a record in Uruguay. Anyway, it turns out that they only fill one tooth per customer under our plan (which is OK for this time). They looked at a filling that Denise had and she explained that it was from New York, so they agreed to do the work. We will try and get it filled in a couple of weeks. By now, we realize it might have been better to get it done locally, but at this point it is more of an interesting experience than anything.

After getting home, we cleaned up the house and prepared for the evening. Even though it would be a "lluvia", I planned on having food on hand. I made chicken, potato salad, corn and a nice peach shortcake, plus had enough beer, wine and sodas available for a small army. We had planned on having as many as 20. About 15 showed up, starting around 9:30, after going home and changing out of suits.

They brought fixings for chorizo (sausages) and hamburgers, which would be BBQ'd and put on buns. They were intrigued by my US-style BBQ and while they enjoy a good asado from the parrilla (the UY BBQ), the 10 minutes or so that it took to heat and cook the food drew admiration. I finished up the chicken I had cooked in the oven on the BBQ and we started eating. When we started it looked like we had enough food for about 30, but I was impressed how the food was enjoyed so thoroughly. I actually had forgotten about some corn that I had cooked, and even though the eating had slowed down, they all accepted and enjoyed the corn when Denise brought it out. Even though these people tend to be thin and fit- they can sure eat!

Surprisingly, little beer, wine and sodas were consumed. I guess I'll have beer for months to come. We all lingered on the patio for hours, enjoying conversation and the cool breeze that had managed to come up. By the time 11:00 came, I wasn't even sure that we would get to karaoke. Was I wrong.

We cleaned up the dishes, then Carolina (who proved to be the musical director for the night) got us all inside, and looking over the song list, they started singing. The system is pretty complicated. It requires selecting a USB hard drive from the player, selecting the proper folder and then entering song numbers. Since I had only briefly shown them how it works, I was pretty sure I would have to do all the work. I couldn't have been more wrong. I was a spectator the whole night and enjoyed every minute.

I had found and entered a couple dozen Spanish songs, which they took to with delight. There was a big difference between karaoke in the US and karaoke here. In the states, each singer sings his song. They may be good, bad or positively horrible- but it is more of an individual effort. Here- it was a group effort. Everybody sang and they just handed the 2 wireless mics around from one to another, but nobody stopped singing.

After an hour or so of Spanish songs (and Denise reminded me how happy I was that I found them), they started on good old standards. We had several who accompanied the songs on our conga drums (they finally got put to use). Finally, at about 2:30 in the morning, it started breaking up. I think that if nobody had taken the initiative, they would have stayed all night, and with the fun we were having, I would have loved it.

The Spanish Karaoke

Backstreet Boys (Way, Way Back)

I'm All Out of Love (Not Really)

I posted the videos I took, not because they are good. It is more for my own enjoyment and the embarrassment of all concerned. You will see that not everyone could carry a tune (which is being quite generous)- but that did not matter at all. What did matter is that everyone had a good time and we look forward to doing it again.

A Special Day

Last Sunday, we were invited to a special assembly day of Jehovah's Witnesses. The assembly hall is located in Colon, deep in agricultural country. It is only about 1/2 hour drive from here, so we decided to pass up the bus arrangement and drive ourselves. Big Mistake.

Our little car ("Krispy Kreme") stopped 3 times on the way. It just stopped running and I had to pull over the the side of the road and sit. This is me, sitting and steaming at the inconvenience. After a while it would start and go for another couple of k's, then stop again. I almost decided to turn back, but realized the problem. We had been driving with the brake on! Now before you judge me harshly, let me explain. The parking brake was having a problem releasing completely, so we were just overtaxing the engine. I fiddled with it (the technical term most mechanics use) and eventually got it to release and we continued on to the hall.

Once there, we found that it was much like any assembly hall in any of the dozens we have seen over the years. In fact, since Uruguay is predominantly European in ancestry (80% or so of Italian extraction), we felt quite at home there. It could have been an assembly hall in Washington State. For some reason, however, while we looked just like them and dressed just like them, we found it very hard to understand what they were saying. They persist in speaking Spanish!

The program lasted from about 10 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon and included a baptism. Since we had arrived a little late (we had a good excuse this time), the attendant seated us in the front row. Now this row is usually reserved for those preparing for baptism (I guess the attendant forgot that). So, at about 11:00, when the speaker started giving the baptism talk, explaining all the new privileges and responsibilities associated with entering into full association with a world-wide brotherhood, he kept glancing down at Denise and I seated right in the front row. He commented that not only were there youth among us who have come to appreciate the need to get baptized, but also some mature ones (looking directly at us and smiling warmly). We tried to look dumb (which was not too hard) and I think he might have been a little disappointed that we didn't line up with the others to change into swim trunks for the baptism. As with many assembly halls, the floor in front of the stage opened up to reveal a baptismal pool. Below is one of the candidates about to receive full water immersion baptism.

We enjoyed our visit. I am beginning to have new found respect for anyone who leaves his country of origin and travels to a new land as immigrants. Most immigrants in the US stand out in a crowd (which we don't), but they face the difficulty of learning a new language (and English is a difficult one), on top of having to make a living. With all the time in the world, we are stuggling just to learn Spanish.

On the way home, we noticed that most had arrived in special event buses and many on motorcycles. Ours was one of the few who took the trip in a car- and that almost hadn't worked. Maybe next time, we'll take the bus and "leave the driving to us" as the old Greyhound slogan used to go.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Buenos Aires- Day 3 - Jan 21st

Well, we finally arrived at our last day. We had been thrilled with our visit. so far. Today would be a tough to get through the day with $21 US, until 11:00 at night, when we would leave.

We made good use of the breakfast buffet at the hotel. We stayed around the room until checkout time at 12:00 noon. We showered, dressed and packed everything up. They allowed us to keep the two bags in their storage room. When I checked out, I offered the desk worker a $20 peso tip, but he declined. I had mentioned the previous day our little cash flow problem, when I asked him where I could changes some Uruguayan pesos. I really had wanted to give him something for his help, but he was adamant. You will notice that Denise has a little plastic bag with an apple- very prudent on her part.

We left the hotel in time to take a subway downtown and pick up the tourist bus again, at one of the stops. Remember our bus ticket was 24 hours and we still had a few hours to use it. We had planned to go to Boca (the picturesque harbor town of immigrant shacks) and Recoleta Cementario (where Evita and many other prominent former residents are buried).

We caught the bus and enjoyed the ride to Boca. That portion of the city is still very run down, as it was in the old days. Originally the immigrant workers, too poor to build proper dwellings, would use scrap materials to put together rough dwellings. It is still a barrio that is the seat of radical politics, following it's unsuccessful attempt to secede from Argentina in 1882.

People told us that the main tourist section in Boca, right at the water's edge, had been done up like Disneyland and was very fake. True, but it was great. Going there on the off season and during the day, we felt no apprehension, as some have suggested while visiting this area. It was fairly straight forward tourist fare. Quaint shops, great art. We had our picture taken in the traditional cutouts. If we had had a few spare pesos, I would have had us pose with any number of the fake tango dancer couples. They give the man a hat and drape the woman in a shawl, and pose you as a tango dancer with one of them for your partner. It would have been fun- perhaps the next time. By the way- there were public restrooms right near the entrance to the street. Inside a little series of inside shops were 2 nice restrooms. Good to know.

Well, we still had time to take the next bus over to Recoleta, so see the cemetery. But the first bus that came along was full and we had to wait another half hour in line. If we didn't catch the next bus, however, our ticket would expire. The next bus came, and as we boarded and they checked our ticket, the attendant had to look at her cell phone for the time- we had 10 minutes to spare and she let us board.

The travel back to Recoleta took us by now familiar sights. While Buenos Aires is big, it is much easier to get around in that either Montevideo or New York. I think this is because of the broad streets and seeming open area. We arrived at the Recoleta stop and paused by a statue while Denise ate the apple that she had "borrowed" from the breakfast buffet. She lamented that she had left her water bottle in the tour bus- then we headed up towards our destination.

The Cemetery is located in a very posh section of town. Inside the cemetery it is pretty dead (you have to forgive me), but outside, it is lively. Shops and restaurants line the square and lots of people are about in this upscale part of town.

We entered into the cemetery through grand gates and located a display that shows the location of the "residents". There is no charge for entry, but you may contribute for a brochure or a guided tour. We were approached for donations to help the children (only the 2nd time on our trip) and I parted with a few pesos (despite Denise's concern for our dwindling funds).

Recoleta Cementario is marvelous. I have never been one to tour cemeteries, but this was beyond belief. It was row after row of little mausoleums. They were granite and marble and bronze and brass extravaganzas. Each was a little architectural wonder. There was sculpture in bronze or marble. Some of it was just too elegant to imagine. We walked about for hours. We found the site where Evita was buried. A crowd was around there and we waited to take a picture. Then we wandered off and Denise snapped all that she could, until the battery expired on the camera. My battery on the video had died much earlier- so we were left with no way to record anything more.

Denise wanted one more ice cream, but the neighborhood was too ritzy for our budget. We decided that we could walk back into the center of town. The previous day, Denise had purchased a couple of empenadas near the bus terminal. Our local panederia has better, by the way. They had a special- 1/4 chicken and fries for $16.50 pesos. We could just afford that, factoring in the subway back to the hotel to pick up the bags and back to the port area for the trip home.

We walked and walked and walked. Between Recoleta and downtown there is a street (Ave. Alvear) where all of the world class retailers had shops: Cartier, Louis Vuitton, etc. Eventually we got to a little park area, and decided just to rest. Denise was kind of concerned because we had no money and no food (silly girl). So, I asked her if she would like a bottle of water (I could just fit the $3 peso cost into our budget). I went over and got a bottle and brought it back. Once she had the bottle of water, she brightened up considerably. She is a cheap date! We sat there for about an hour, enjoying the flow of traffic and watching people with their pets. They love their pets in BsAs. All of the dogs were fat. We saw no skinny dogs, like you will in Uruguay.

Eventually, we realized that it was getting time for us to leave. In fact, we actually had to move. So we got the nearest subway and headed back to Retiro, for our chicken special. At the end of the line, there were all sorts of fast food options underground. We looked at a little shop and decided to have a milanesa and fries, with coke, all for $16.50 ($4.42 US). It was really good. The milanesa wasn't the flattened chicken you get in Uruguay, but a really plump, deep fried chicken and the fries were cut like potato chips, but thicker. It was very refreshing and put us in a good frame of mind.

Now, we had to get the subway back to the hotel. We spent about 3/4's of an hour wandering around to find the right transfer points and another 1/2 hour because we got off at the wrong stop and had to walk further than expected- but we made it. They let us use the rest room downstairs, where we washed our faces and prepared to get to the boat.

Back on the subway, we got off at 9 de Julio (we had walked to this spot from the boat on the first day). Finally we found the Buquebus terminal. On the way there, I bought another bottle of water and we would leave the country with $2 pesos ($.53 US) in our pockets.

When we came to the check in- it was 11:00pm- only 15 minutes leeway. If we had made a few more wrong turns, we might have been too late. Once again through customs and Denise received the necessary stamp on her passport to obtain the UY driver's license and onto the boat. On the inbound trip, I had checked the bag at the bus and picked it up in Buenos Aires. This time I checked the bag in Buenos Aires and expected to get it at Montevideo. Wrong! I had to pick it up in Colonia, which meant a long wait, while others were going through customs and boarding buses. It would have been better to keep the bag with us on the boat.

We arrived back in Montevideo with the sun coming up. We stopped for a breakfast at the terminal. We chose the "Americano" which was scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, juice and coffee. Apparently, they thought that Norte Americanos love bacon, because it was fried bacon with a little egg. I loved it, but Denise could have passed on it. Anyway we got a bus back to Marindia and got off up by the Ruta (main highway), with our normal 10 block walk back to the house.

As we walked back to the house, on unpaved roads, it finally dawned on us just how rural our area is. After 3 days in a completely paved city wonderland, the difference was distinct. We are living in the "country" as it were. And it was a most perfect day. The sun was beaming, the breeze was light, the temperature was perfect, and as we walked back to the house and finally saw it, and the beach just beyond, we were glad to be home.

The dogs had been nicely taken care of, but the cat had hidden during the 3 days (we think up the chimney in the guest bedroom). The cat got a shower, as did we and we fell into bed for a well earned rest. And so ends our adventure- home again, at last.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Pozo Negro II

Yes, if you enjoyed Pozo Negro back in December- be sure to see Pozo Negro II, coming to a theater nearby.

Hopefully, this will not be like a Rocky movie, with endless sequels. Actually we had the pozo negro pumped out on Dec 24th. But about 2 weeks ago, we realized that it was backing up again, much to our dismay. First of all, though we paid $1100 pesos (which is a ripoff price), I realized they hadn't pumped it to the bottom. They probably came at the end of a run and didn't have the capacity. They said it was OK- but it wasn't.

So we contacted another firm last week and made an appointment on the day after we returned from BsAs. They showed up this morning and pumped it out again. This time, however, they did a great job. They thoroughly cleaned it out to the bottom, cleared up the lines and only charged $600 pesos. Half the price for twice the job. That is what I call a bargain. Now we have a magnet on the refrigerator with their name for the next time (and there will be a next time).

Buenos Aires- Day 2 - Jan 20th

Tour in Buenos Aires

Well, we woke up this morning refreshed, but sore all over. I think we walked more the previous day than we have in months. We went downstairs to the breakfast buffet. They had coffee, cereals, cheese and ham slices and all kinds of croissants and pastries. A very nice start to the day. The previous day had been hot and muggy. But today, the weather was picture perfect. Overnight a little thunderstorm had passed, with brief rains and it had cleared the air. There were deliciously cool breezes that would last throughout the day. Perhaps why the city is called Buenos Aires?

Denise had the idea to find a tour bus, to kind of get an overall view of the city. The desk clerk, who spoke perfect English, told us that they had such tours near Plaza Martin. After consulting our little "Lonely Planet" map, we decided to try the subway. The Subte station was very close. After a short walk, we went downstairs and purchased tickets. You can buy the tickets separately, or buy a ticket that can be used repeatedly, until it is expended. The cost of the ticket- $1.10 (about $.30 US). This is the best bargain in town. And you can make your transfers on the same ticket, as long as you don't leave the stations. The subways are clean (not Toronto, but better than New York). Also, the stations have beautiful tile murals all over the walls and even some on the floors. I think another visit will warrant a trip on the different lines, and pictures of all the art. Kind of an underground art gallery.

We arrived at Plaza Martin after one transfer. This is a beautiful, spacious park (actually a series of them) that extend to the Retiro (the main bus and train stations). The Retiro is like Grand Central Station and is undergoing a renovation of the facade. You can go anywhere in the country from there.

We were stopped by a man who had all kinds of information about the area (he had brochures) and directed to the Bus Tourístico. He was also collecting for some charity (he seemed to be quite legit) and so we gave him something for his help. We weren't able to find the bus, however- probably our lack of Spanish rather than his directions. But we did wander about the Retiro for about an hour and asked several people about it, including some policemen. All were rather vague in their answers. It could have been me, but I really think they didn't know. Eventually, we found a tourist information booth and they gave us the brochure and explained the system.

The Bus Tourístico (a double decker bus), which is sponsored by the city, travels a circular route and make 12 stops at various popular destinations. You find one of the stops (or go to the starting place in Plaza de Mayo) and you can get on and buy a ticket. The ticket is a 24 hour ticket for $50 pesos each (about $13.50 US). They have headphones which broadcast an ongoing cultural and historical dialogue in several languages. As you go through the city, you get an idea of the relationship of it's parts in a very short time. I think this bus is a must for the first time visitor. We finally found the stop at Plaza Martin (right where the man in the park had directed us). We hadn't recognized bus stop before, but when we saw it, we realized it had all the information, plus a schedule of stops. The bus comes every 30 minutes and you can get off and get on at any time you want at one of the designated stops. We took the full circuit, for an overview and then went around and got off at the starting point- Plaza de Mayo.

Plaza de Mayo is where the Casa Rosada (the official seat of government) is located. It is colored pink either 1) because the colors of the two opposing parties (white and red)were mixed together to promote bipartisanship or 2) that the blood of cows was mixed with wine to resist the effects of the sun. Either way, its a beautiful pink building. This of course contains the historical balcony where Eva Perón (Evita) comes out to address the crowd after her husband (President Juan Perón) is released from captivity. Currently it houses government offices, and apparently the president has an office there where daily business is conducted.

Walking down towards the port (Puerto Madero), you are greeted with a lovely walk along the waterways that carry the cargo ships and other traffic throughout the extensive area of shipping and containers. Along the water itself are beautiful brick buildings with restaurants and cafes. You can get buffalo wings at "Hooters", drinks at "TGIF" or have dinner at dozens of upscale restaurants. The bridge behind me is called "Puente De La Mujer", inspired by the angle of Tango dancing.

There is also a beautiful sailing ship that offers a walk-on tour for $2 pesos. We had planned to go back the 3rd day, but didn't quite make it.

I had been trying to locate a restaurant that would epitomize the meat eater's experience in Bueno Aires. I wanted a restaurant where they brought meat around to the tables on huge platters, where steaks flopped over the edges of the plate. If I could have found a restaurant that threw meat at the customers (like the Pike Place Fish Market)- that's what I wanted. There were just too many choices. The guidebooks had some suggestions and a City Guide website had others. We had been invited to a fish dinner by Tom and Nancy, but I was holding out for meat, a side order of meat and a meat related dessert. Well, with all the choices and no clear winner- we ended up in a beautiful restaurant near the hotel ordering a fish dinner.

I will have to admit that this dinner was exceptional. It was a complete fish (each one sufficient for a couple), off the parrilla, served on a wooden board with potatoes and salad. We all split a couple of bottles of wine and it was all we could eat between the two of us. We had a delicious chocolate cake for dessert. Our portion of the meal came to about $178 pesos (about $48 US), which included one bottle of wine, the gave us a discount of about 12% (probably because we are in the off season in BsAs). I gave him my MasterCard to pay. Here is where it begins to get ugly.

They returned the card, saying that it couldn't be processed. Oh no! What now? Well, we had enough cash to pay for the meal, but that would leave us short of money for the following day. Here is what happened. I had tried to use the card to purchase our trip tickets, but it been declined at that time. So, about a week beforehand, I had called the credit card company and found out that a payment was missing. I tracked it down and found out that I had paid a Sears retail account (which I no longer use), rather than the Sears MasterCard account I use. I contacted them, they reversed all the charges and in the end I was left with a negative balance on the card. I was told that would clear it up. Apparently it was still hung up in credit limbo and I didn't want to draw any more cash out of our Uruguayan account.

So we went back to the hotel for our last night there. Counted out our money. I had some UY pesos, but the banks don't change Uruguayan money, for some strange political or economic reason. So we had about $80 pesos (about $21 US) to last us out the entire last day, and we were leaving BsAs at about 11:00 in the evening. How would that work out? Would you like to be stuck in a foreign country, in a city as complex as New York or Paris with only $21 dollars between the pair of you?

More on day 3.........

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Buenos Aires- Day 1 - Jan 19th

View of Buenos Aires Skyline

Well, we finalized our trip plans, made arrangements for friends to stay in our house and watch over the dogs. Early Monday morning (actually 2 in the morning), we set off on a 3 day excursion arranged through Buquebus. What moved us to make this trip was an invitation by Tom and Nancy Roth, of Seattle, who own an apartment in Palermo Vielo and are in town for a week or so. What makes this a unique opportunity for us is the fact that Tom and Nancy sold us our house in Seattle, about 20 years ago, which we sold to finance our home purchase in Uruguay. So there is a big tie-in.

The bus portion of the trip from Tres Cruces, Montevideo, uses lots of buses, loading hundreds of passengers. You trade in your e-ticket for a boarding pass, check your luggage and get under way for a 3 hour trip to Colonia, one of the jumping off points for Buequebus ships. At the Buquebus terminal in Colonia, you pass through customs, and have your passports stamped and examined (this means that Denise will be able to get her driver's license, as well) and then continue on to the boat.

While standing in line, a fellow traveler with a US passport introduced himself as Danny Holodek. We got to talking and spent the 2 hour boat trip sharing stories and finding out about Danny. He is an opera singer (tenor), dancer and all-around entertainer. He had just returned from Punta del Este, where they had put on a production of La Traviata, with Luz del Alba, a world famous opera star. This link gives some information about this in Spanish (Luz del Alba performance). Danny worked from Dec and they only had 60 days to put the entire opera together. It turned out to be quite successful and they plan to do this each year, bringing a different opera to Punta annually. I have taken the liberty of posting this exclusive and interesting look into the production that Danny worked on.

Well, we arrived early in the morning, after all of this travel and decided to walk a little way into town before setting off for our hotel, in Palermo Soho. On the way into town, we spotted the latest incursion of North American enterprise, the local Starbucks. We stopped for coffee and croissants, then made our way up to the main street in town, 9 de Julio. This is supposed to be the widest street in the world. And at one end of the street, the lanes all come together, but by the time it passes through the city- it is actually separated into 4 multi-lane roads, separated by landscaped park areas. It takes several stops to cross the street from one side to another. But to be honest, I looked at it as 4 separate parallel streets, rather than one giant street. Still very beautiful.

We took a taxi to Palermo Soho, to the Esplendor (a little boutique hotel booked with the package), and checked into our room. It was very clean we were very happy to have a place to sit down and shower. We called Tom and Nancy and let them know we had arrived. They invited us up to their place to discuss what we might do that day. Their apartment is only about 7 blocks from the hotel, on a quiet tree-lined street. Their apartment has a spectacular open feeling, with windows floor to ceiling, including the loft that adds a full height bedroom, office area and bathroom to the place. Tastefully decorated- this is a super place to stay in Buenos Aires. They plan to spend 6-8 months each year, there.

They decided to show us the Museum of Latin American art, which oddly enough, was featuring an Andy Warhol exhibit. Not sure whether he was Latin American, but it was interesting. To the left is one of the attendants telling Denise that she can't take pictures in the gallery (a lot of good that was going to do). While there, we saw a striking woman, dressed in a very sleek turquoise colored dress, seemingly posing for cameras. We thought she might be part of the exhibit (performance art), but it turns out that she was the wife of the visiting Emir of Qatar. While the Emir was having meetings with the President of Argentina, Shieka Mosah, his wife, was enjoying a guided tour of the museum. After perusing the collections of the museum- we met with disaster. They recommended that we eat at the little restaurant in the museum- BIG MISTAKE!

We looked over the menu, and were shocked at the prices (duh!). Anyway, we were kind of forced by circumstances to order a sandwich between the two of us (it was nice with some very tender and rare beef and thin sliced ham) and two glasses of juice, for a whopping $110 pesos (about $30 US). That included tip and a 9 peso "cubierto" charge per person (the charge for putting silverware on the table). Anyway, it would not have been a disaster, except that we had brought limited cash, and intended on using it only for small incidentals, using the MasterCard for food and drink. Just how much of a disaster this would prove to be will be addressed in "Day 3". But for now, let's just say it was an annoyance.

We returned to the hotel, intending to meet them later for a fish dinner, but after taking a wrong turn, walking another 2 hours and being up for over 24 hours- we made our excuses, fell into bed and slept until morning. We woke up refreshed, to start day 2.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Tax Day

Well, today I went down and paid real estate taxes, and car licensing for the coming year. I think if I had know how reasonable costs could be for a car, I never would have bought the motorcycles, and we would be about $1000 ahead. Ah! If only I had known.

The real estate tax for the year (Contribucion Inmobiliaria) came to a whopping $9621 (just under $500 US dollars). But you have to remember that this includes twice a week trash pickup. In Seattle I paid almost twice the amount of my real estate taxes here for trash pickup alone (as well as thousands in RE Taxes). Plus, for paying on time last year I got a $769 (peso) credit and for paying in one payment (as opposed to 6 payments allowable), I received $818 (peso) credit. So it pays to pay.

The car licensing (patente) cost $3,185 (or $163 US). Now that might seem high to some (except in states that have enacted caps for licensing fees), but considering the car ownership is a luxury and not the norm, $13 per month is not exorbitant.

The other night, two of the neighborhood kids came over and asked if they could ride their bikes down our somewhat steep driveway. In the States, I would have told them "No way" and asked them to leave. "OK", I said here in Uruguay. Anyway they played for quite awhile and at about sundown, the doorbell rang. There were about a dozen kids ranging from 3-14 or so in age. They just wanted to thank us for letting them use the drive. I was floored.

I went down to the cambio to change some money for our trip to Buenos Aires. I was so proud that I knew to ask for "Reals". Then I got home and put the money away for the trip. I took another look. Oh yeah! "Reals" are Brazilian money. Oops!

So another trip down to the cambio, this time with the Reals to exchange them for Argentine Pesos. Of course, they had to first change the Reals to UY Pesos, then I bought the Arg Pesos with UY Pesos (clear?). Anyway, I figured that I must have lost my shorts on those exchanges. However, when I took a look at a normal exchange site that I monitor, it ended up being very close to what I would have gotten in Argentina for my dollars. So I was happy, once again.

But something that I did notice. I took pictures of all the bills I was dealing with. You will notice that the US dollar is the mid-size bill. The UY Peso is the largest bill and the Argentine and Brazilian bills are the smallest. So the smallest country between the 2 giants has the largest money. Do you think they are overcompensating?

So it was a money day. Unfortunately none coming in, most going out. But a necessary evil. We're looking forward to our trip.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Tooth Update

Denise has an appointment at the main office of Medico Uruguaya for the 30th of this month. But this morning, for the third time, the temporary filling came out and we had to trudge down to the local emergency clinic to have another temporary filling put in. A friend asked why don't we just break down and have a local dentist do the job. We want to see how the "free" system works (through our medical insurance). We shall see. By the way, it was pouring down rain, today. What is with this "summer"?

As a result of the little tooth incident, we wouldn't have been good company, so we missed out on a wonderful invitation by our Russian/Argentine friends for a special asado. They were roasting an entire lamb and if we were feeling better, it would have been special occasion, but such is life. Hopefully we will see them one more time before they head back to New York.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Summer Has Really Arrived

Well, after a false start some weeks ago (one beautiful day and then torrential downpours)- we have finally entered the real summer. Now I can see that it begins at Christmastime, for us. Dec 24 is when the families arrive to their summer houses and the festivities begin. By January 2nd- it is in full swing. You can see the difference between the winter beach and the summer beach.

With the hot weather in upper 70's and low 80's, even the dogs are feeling the summer. Here is a picture of Shila eating. Normally, she will eat anything, at any time of day. But today, they didn't care for a morning meal and even Shila only ate, because Denise put her dog dish right between her paws, while she was laying down. That is one lazy dog.

I swept the patios, and washed the windows today. The storms had streaked the windows badly. We now have a pristine view of the beach. Many parts Uruguay to the East (in Rocha, near the Brazilian border) have not fared so well with the rains, this year. Many places had severe flooding and are still just getting on their feet. While we had the rains here, as well, the damage was almost negligible. A few power outages, a little leak here or there is all that we experienced.

So, we sit here with a gin and tonic (the approved drink for hot weather), safe in the knowledge that we are staving off malaria (just kidding), and happy to have finally entered summer.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Neighborhood Fireworks (Fuegos Artificiales)

For the last 20 years or so, I have lazily gone to bed around 11:00 or so, and rarely, if ever stayed up to see fireworks New Year's Eve. I think we went down to the beach one year when we first moved to Seattle, but after that- never. I never even stayed up to watch the "ball drop" on TV. Very boring guy.

My wife, in fact, is the one who loves fireworks. I mostly think of it as a loud, stinky annoyance. But last night was different. This is the first time our house has been in order and last night we decided to sit out on our terrace, overlooking the water and usher in the new year. I had suggested we go to the roof, but Denise declined. We still don't have our roof stairs installed (if we ever will) and the ladder is tricky. So we opted for the terrace, instead.

The weather was mild. Slightly cool, but a refreshing change from the heat of the day. It was a full moon and you could have read a book by it's light. Our neighborhood was in full swing. The neighbors had many guests and there was music and kids playing outside. Before midnight, there were lots of firecrackers and loud explosions. Our pets didn't seem to mind. Because we got them during the remodeling phase of our house, loud noises don't bother them. In fact, they wanted to be outside (in the back yard, of course).

Finally, as midnight approached, we could see some lovely displays from the east and west of us, along the coast. No doubt we were seeing some of the Atlántida show, and San Fortin and no doubt Salinas to the west. But what really surprised us was our local show.

Our neighbors, across the street had such a great production, that we couldn't believe it. They must have had it professionally produced. There was rocket after rocket after rocket- timed with precision. It went on far longer that I expected. Because it was so close, it probably was some of the most spectacular fireworks I have ever seen! Really! But that was not all, the other neighbors and no doubt surrounding streets also added to evening. We felt we were in the middle of some great event- with laughter, shouting and a mariachi band playing in the background. Yes, mariachi music. Even though we are in Uruguay, with no Mexicans around, the local restaurant must have thought that mariachi music would suit the evening- and it did.

So from here on in- no more mister grumpy. I love fireworks! And I can't hardly wait until next year. Actually, I won't have to, since they have fireworks again on Jan 6th, Dia del Reyes (day of the kings) when they celebrate again and give more gifts. You gotta love a country that knows how to party!