Search This Blog

Friday, December 31, 2010

I Heard the Whistle Blow!

I heard the whistle blow and I came running!  

The end of the year means tip time, here in Uruguay! It is probably the same where you live. You may wish to show gratitude to people and services who have been especially good to you during the year. Maybe it's your favorite coffee barista or the mail man who went out of their way to be kind and helpful to you, etc... maybe, no one stood out?  It's usually up to you. Here in Uruguay, there is often a gentle reminder that it's the end of the year that "Hey, we served you well". The garbage pickup crew starts to blow a little whistle at this time of year throughout the neighborhood on your trash day!

They start around Christmas but then they keep on blowing it through the last day of the year (today). Wally and I didn't give them anything on Christmas (since we don't celebrate that) and we were broke the beginning of this week but I know that they keep lists of "who is naughty or nice" oh, I meant to say who is appreciative or not (they check off your name on the list when you "donate"). So it was up to me to keep an ear out, to listen for the whistle and make sure that someday during this last week of the year we ran and gave them a little envelope, a token of our appreciate for their services. They have been friendly and never complain if we have a lot of trash! Whew! I finally heard the whistle today! It was cutting it short this last day of the year but I heard the whistle and I came running in time to give it to them.

As you know, this is the last day of the year, December 31st, 2010. We have been in Uruguay for 2 years and 7 months. My, how time has flown by. Looking back over the last twelve months worth of blogs I am struck with how busy we've been for supposedly retired people. It all started with Wally wanting to get "Early Retirement" which means at age 62 not 65. We think it was a smart move to choose an earlier date. In 2008 the housing foreclosure debacle hadn't quite impacted Seattle, Washington yet. That means we were still in a favorable market for selling our house. Wow, if we had waited too much longer and put off retirement until say now, I don't think we could have gotten such a quick and meaningful sale. I've since heard from others (still back in the USA) on  how the banks have devalued their properties. Houses no longer have large portions of equity to cash in on. Our little cottage wasn't worth much, at all in fact, we lived in a lower end neighborhood because that's what we could afford. Still, we got the most we could, out of the sale.

I laugh when I hear of people looking for retirement spots when they are still, say, 7 years until retirement. In that time a lot can change in a country or a life. Wally and I have always been impulsive, quick deciders. For us, it seems to work only because we get a "Gut sense reaction" to a situation which ends up being truer than if we over-analyze something to death. The saying used to be "Your first choice on a test is usually the correct one" Also we find that if we don't act at once we will probably procrastinate and not do it at all.

Today, Wally turns 65 years old. Yes, he was a year end birth baby- a great tax write-off, for his parents back then! I only mention this because, what if we had waited for full retirement age 65 to kick in, then decided to move to a foreign country? We would have had a slightly larger monthly check but with all of the lay offs back in the USA would he have been able to keep his job? Would we have been able to sell our cottage back in Seattle at a decent price? Would this house, still have been on the market here in Uruguay? Most important, would we still have been brave enough to pick up and leave the United States and come here or anywhere else for that matter? Who knows? What ifs are just that, what if! All I know is I am glad to be here in this gorgeous summer month. Having the seasons reversed and starting a new year in summer is somehow very up lifting. Tonight, Uruguay will have their country wide New Years Eve fire works display (the second such, this month). This time to view the display, we will go down to the beach at around 11:00 pm. set up our Costco double-wide folding chair and look towards Atlántida (the larger city/town nearby) and see if we can see the display from the beach. We will keep the front porch lights on and the pillar lights on at our house and in that way we'll be able to see our house from the beach and keep an eye on it.

Since I don't want to leave you with a picture of a garbage truck, as your last image of the year in Uruguay, I am including a few random photos taken during these last 2 years of our being here. Enjoy!


I hope everyone will be safe and keep reading along with us in the 2011 year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Word Of Mouth And The Expat Pipeline!

The Expat community is a group of loosely connected people that basically have only 2 things in common. One commonality is that they are foreign born, not native to the country that they are living in. An exception would be, they have lived so long elsewhere that they now consider themselves strangers to their birthplace. The second uniting factor in an Expat community is that they live in the same country you have also chosen to live in.

I really don't like the word Expat which is short for Expatriate. It sounds so Anti country and radical but it doesn't mean that at all. The word is taken from Latin origins, and it only means: ex (out of) and patria (country/Fatherland). There are many reasons to be living outside of your birthplace whether temporarily or permanently. Jobs, Schooling, circumstances and personal choice all can be a factor. Wally and I have chosen to retire outside of the country where we were raised. We have been an "Expat" on several other occasions by living at one time in Germany and another time in Portugal. I'd like to include Guam in the list as it was a pretty different living experience, however it was a territory of the USA so I can't count that as an expat experience.

The phenomenon of people living outside of their native country is growing hence there are many expat communities in many different countries. Why do I call these group of strangers a community? For the same reason there is a "Little Italy" and a "China town" in almost every major city like NYC, LA, San Francisco etc... And several Spanish barrios in the USA and in every country for that matter.. The shared experience of facing a new and foreign (to you) culture with different customs and language can be daunting! The process of immigration to a country is remarkably similar however. The same paperwork, the same fact finding process, and the same general life challenges can all be made much easier by asking questions of those who have done it before you.

The first thing to do before moving to a new country is research. This can be through acquaintances, family and friends who have been there, to online resources, like web sites and blogs like ours!  Surprisingly, the local embassy in your country is probably not as knowledgeable as someone actually living in the other country might be. We have heard of many times when an Embassy said "Sure you can import your car!" When every Expat would have told you "No way!" and been right! Of course, you need to get proper visas and other paperwork from your local embassies but to learn practical applications on how to import your dog to shipping issues, an Expat can really help guide you.

All of the above information is a long winded background to help you understand why most Expats immediately seek out other expats when they arrive and join a online forum, a virtual community, in the new country they have moved to. We joined one called Southron started just 4 1/2 years ago here in Uruguay. It's free and you never really have to meet the other Expats but you can write to them and ask questions. Usually there is a group that meets from once a month to once a week at some restaurant. It's a loose standing arrangement for whoever wants to meet face to face. People pass out their e-mails and phone numbers (if they wish).

It was through Candy, writing on the forum board that we learned about a new Mexican Restaurant in a town nearby. Now this is vital information because our group of expats knows that food is a very important issue. Uruguayan food is Great! Your basic meat and potatoes. Yes, potatoes not rice. This is not your typical spicy Latin, beans and rice type of place, that's Californian /Mexican fare. While Uruguayans eat good food it soon begins to become rather monotonous. Bland and mild tasting. Uruguayans don't eat spicy foods! Most restaurants here serve the exact same meals. Loosely adapted from an Italian heritage but now a watered down version. Pizza (not Chicago or NYC style, too bad!) lasagna that has slightly transformed and Milanese (thin breaded fried chicken or other meat). About 10 standard items can be found at every eating establishment here in addition to the asado ( slow roasted barbecue meats). Now the food is pleasant just never changing. The USA being the Ultimate Expat location in the past for immigrants from around the world has spoiled us eating wise. In any given week I would go to "Panda Express " for pseudo Chinese/Teriyaki food to "Vince's Italian  restaurant" truly flavorful Italian food, to any number of Greek, Thai, Armenian, etc.... You get the picture now and Expats do too!

Wally and I rushed out to check out the new Mexican Restaurant in Las Toscas a little town past Atlántida, about 7 kilometers away from us. We found the restaurant easily enough. Uruguay is a small place. The first thing I found amusing is that since this was the 29th of the month despite the sign saying it was a Mexican restaurant they were advertising "Hoy Noquis" or Today Noquis. Click on the highlighted 29th and you'll be reminded of what Noqui day is.

The owner of the place is Philipe or Phil, he is Mexican and his wife is Uruguayan (that makes him an expat here in Uruguay) they have just opened in the town of Las Tocas. Which means that this place is much closer to us than going all the way to Piriápolis to another newly opened Mexican restaurant we reported on. Hey, what's up with the sudden interest in Mexican food? I'm glad that Uruguay is starting to be introduced to new foods. While I don't want the tiny influx of incoming expats to change Uruguay, variety is always nice. I won't say it's the spice of life because Uruguayans in general shy away from spice but I think they will enjoy it if given the chance!

We heard they stayed open until 11:00pm. We arrived at 10:30 and sure enough we could order. Inside looks like a little deli which we thought Oh no, it's selling the same Uruguayan menu. but Philipe is smart he did that as a backup plan and it worked because many people came in and out that night. He assured us the Mexican food was listed on the wall. He speaks Spanish of course being from Mexico and also speaks English. He freely conversed with his clients gently explaining to them what a chimichanga was and telling them yes it had meat in it a must for any Uruguayan. We had a beef one and it was good (chicken was also a choose)! I had some tasty Flautas with chicken inside. Wally had something called a Gringa, that was really a quesadilla (tortilla and cheese wrap, this one had chicken as well). We would have preferred something else. The salsa was good, the chimichangas were good and the flautas tasted good not exactly California crunchy but tasty. I would order them again! Next time we will try his burritos, tacos and nachos with the works! We took a picture after everything was already mostly eaten.

I know that this is a sad picture but shows it was good enough to eat! As a side note the nights have been lovely and warm with NO MOSQUITOS! to speak of so we sat outside at the last minute ripping open our "to go" packages and eating outside at 10:45 at night, a very Uruguayan meal time. Poor Wally puts up with my picture taking.  In the photo below, he is the one on the left. I just couldn't help seeing the humor in this picture. We ate a lot for a total of only $300 pesos ($15). We will be back to try other menu items. To Expat Candy: Thanks for sharing the news of this place.

Word of mouth is a powerful advertising means and expats know the value of information.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Summer Is Here!

December, in South America is the month everyone waits for, as it's the true start of the summer season!

The days are cloudless, bright and hot, hot, hot. "Hace mucho sol! "

Even without looking at the calendar, I knew it was officially summer because the little thatched covered entryway to the beach was reinstalled! I don't know who puts it up or takes it down each year?  I am fortunate to live in a proper "Balneario", which means a bathing resort. While that sounds glamorous it just means that, I live in one of the many little coastal towns that has access to the beach. On a map you will see little icons depicting a Large beach umbrella on it, showing that the town is considered a beach zone. Uruguayans love the beach!

In my balneario we are also fortunate enough to have (during the summer only) a manned life guard station. This picture was taken at 7:30 pm. on a Tuesday (it now gets dark after 10pm). The life guard was shy and turned her back. Last year, I saw 2 guards in action saving a girl who had gotten caught in an undertow. She was shaken but fine.

 Living in a balneario also means that right before the summer season, tractors are sent out and the sand is cleaned of debris. Sometimes the main road leading to the beach is leveled and pot holes filled. That might be the only road taken care of.  We also have a city parking lot called a "Bajada" right at the entrance to the beach. If I ever have a rocking party at my house I could direct people to park there and walk the 1 block (in visible range) to my house.

Right at the street corner across from my house, I can go scampering through the bushes, down a little beaten path to the beach. It's kind of a wild path with real little creatures living along it's edge. When I'm not too brave, I walk one block over to the Bajada and down the concrete steps leading down to the water. In the summer the way to the parking lot can be rather interesting. Here an enterprising woman is offering beach towels for sale, how clever to sell beach towels right where and when you need them, at the beach! I found some of the designs err.. rather interesting hum..

This parking lot also has a little snack stand there offering drinks and sandwiches. I believe it's called The 3 musketeers or Los 3 Mosqueteros.

 Of course no Uruguayan is ever without their Mate and thermos bottle to hold the hot water that they pour into their cups. As a courtesy many places offer free hot water for fill ups. Here's Mickey Mouse indicating this (even this years country fair held earlier had free fill up hot water stations).

Since it was getting late in the day (remember it was 7:30pm.) the winds were picking up so I thought I'd show you a surf photo with white caps. Also, I with Wally's help put together a wide panorama showing our neighborhood beach but looking at another Balneario, Atlantida. The larger town of Atlantida is about 5 Kilometers away from our bedroom community but you can walk, all the way there and never have to leave the beach. Many expats choose to live in Atlantida because it has a more polished city/town feel to it, more of it's streets are paved for instance. Living in Atlantida, you would know it's summer time there because of the many visiting vacationers and because the town turns on its traffic lights in Summer! No kidding, the traffic signal light between "Baipa" the bakery and "Disco" the Supermarket, is turned off in winter for lack of traffic but turned on, during the summer season.

 If you look closely at the picture above you can see a faint shadow of a hill on the right side of the picture. That seemingly island is actually part of the town of Piriapolis. It's several towns father away from Atlantida (about a 45 min drive). It is not an Island but part of the coastline. This picture shows how much of the Uruguayan coast is sheltered by cove/bay like indentations, which makes for mild swimming conditions until you get farther north. That is where the surfers go. Here they only play at surfing.
I hope you enjoyed the little insights into our Uruguayan summer.
Remember, if they build it, they will come and if they build it, "Summer is here"


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Up On The Roof!

Up on the roof!  Last night, that is exactly where we were, upon our roof top! Oh, we had been invited to a pizza party by our friends, we could have gone there. Our neighborhood restaurant had a big blow out that we could have gone to. No, instead we choose to climb the stairs or rather the ladder, up to our roof and watch the moon rising, to watch the Milky way stars spread out before us and of course to watch the fireworks!

Last night, was Christmas Eve (December 24th) in Uruguay and here they have huge displays of fireworks during that night. It's like they do in the USA, on July 4th! We don't celebrate Holidays but everybody had the day off, as is typical with any holiday, although as a side note Uruguay is the least religious, Latin American country there is, unlike in the USA, we didn't hear anyone say "Merry Christmas", Whew! What a relief! No, "in your face" excess commercialism, no, 24 hour a day holiday music but before you can say "Bah, hum bug"  having the day off from work (it was a Friday) meant people could enjoy the extra day with family and friends. Our sweet-heart friends tried to include us in their plans. However, it's been really hot here (high 80's)! Yes, I know it's December and your cold up there in the north but remember it's Summer time here!

We wanted to stay home this gorgeous, hot clear summer night. Remembering my favorite song "Up on the roof" Written by Gerry Goffin/Carole King and made popular by 3 different groups, The Drifters, Carole King and my favorite; the James Taylor version, we climbed up on the roof.

Here is Wally, setting up our Costco double folding chair (I'm glad, I shipped it when we moved here). While, I don't like flat roofs for possible leakage problems having one is great for viewing purposes. Of course, Wally made Wine coolers to bring up with us. You can see the tip of my glass.

Here's a picture we took of ourselves enjoying the night together. Our next door neighbor (I guess) doesn't have a sound system so he played the one in his car and we enjoyed listening to that while up there.
Wally won't like that I'm adding this next hard to see picture but my camera doesn't take night shots well (Yeah, it's the photographers fault not the tool) I wanted to show the moon rise, it's in the center. You can see we are looking out over the neighborhood. We have one neighbor 2 streets away who lights his house in a cascading bright green light shown on the left. Wally likes that most of our neighbors have lights that "shine up" and highlight various trees. The up-light effect is rather cool but hard to see here. At midnight, there was a crescendo of fireworks going off in unison in the distance we saw what was a great display up in the city of Atlantida but we had a great night together here at home, up on our roof and we managed to safely climb back down again.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Uruguayan Way

Denise wanted me to call this "The Foundations of Friendship", or I could have called it "Cementing the Bonds of Friendship". I chose the Uruguayan way, because this is how people build houses here- with a group of friends.

This morning, at around 7am, a group of Hugo and Carolina's friends and family gathered at the site of their future house. We would have done it last week, but the weather did not permit it. This morning, however, was fresh and sunny.

Having purchased the lot, some time ago, and recently having dirt delivered to offset the low elevation of the lot, Hugo and his father-in-law spent the last few weeks digging the footings for the foundation and tying the steel that would go into it. This morning the group was going to mix up the concrete and pour the footers.

We had a small mixer (which Denise forbade me to sell) and it was able to be used, thereby shortening the process. Everyone pitched in, filling up buckets and buckets of sand, gravel, concrete and water and before noon the job was finished. Now the walls and interior will be put up during the coming months, by the family. Then, when it comes time for the roof, there will be another group effort to get that done. It probably will take a year to finish, since the funds for the project will only be available from a monthly salary. But when it is over, the young couple will own their own home (mortgage free) in a nice location, just blocks from the local Kingdom Hall. Now how many young couples in the US can boast that?

It is not that mortgages are unknown, here. It is just that they are infrequently used. Most financial support comes from family, of which Uruguayans have a lot. On the site today were cousins and mothers, as well as friends. Carolina's mother had run a 10K race, yesterday, but was one of the hardest workers. While I worked hard, I will probably be laying around complaining for days. About 20 showed up to finish the day out, to make short work of this stage of the project.

An a side note. After selling the motorcycle (we will pause a moment and take our hats off for a brief moment of mourning) last week, we arranged to buy a couple of used bicycles. I used one yesterday to run to the store for milk. Sadly, it was not as much fun as ramping up a nifty motorcycle, but it was practical and as much as I hate to admit it, it probably will be good for our health, as we ride during the summer. And, as I turn 65, this month, I also have to remember that while the motorcycle was fun, it was never a safe way to travel (sigh).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

They Come In, They Go Out.

Yesterday, I said, 'Hello, glad to meet you, now tell me, when do you leave?" 

I met a lovely British woman named Sharon yesterday. She was easy going and had a sense of humor similar to mine. Within a few moments we were finishing each others sentences and smiling knowingly at my husband when he just didn't get or couldn't keep up with the flow of our conversation. She could have become a great friend of mine if, it weren't for the fact that she's leaving Uruguay!
 She's going to go back to the mid-west, back to the USA.

The funny thing is that she has been here in Uruguay for 2 years and I never knew that or her. We came to Uruguay only two months apart from each other. She lived only 1.5 km away from me and shopped in the same small town of Salinas as I do. So what was her story?

Sharon, her husband and their daughter were tired of running a busy restaurant in the States. Her husband is German and they owned a German food/dinner establishment in a small town, just off of an interstate. The town they came from only had a population of 3000 but it had 3 hotels in it. It was located on a long stretch of state highway, a road where weary travelers had to stop for the night before continuing on the rest of their journey. At one time, Susan and her husband had had a 32 bed hotel there themselves but it was too busy and too much work, so they sold the hotel and just kept the restaurant. 

Why am I telling you all of this? It's because they are the third couple, I've met, who after only two years of living here in Uruguay have had to return to the USA for business reasons. All 3 couples have been in the food related industry and their clients have suffered in their absences.  All three couples have made it to the 2 year mark then said enough. The thought of turning a client dependent business over to someone (seemingly trust worthy) and hoping that they can keep it running, sending you the income so you can live on it, here in Uruguay doesn't seem to be working out in reality. Even when the business IS successful, the danger is that it will need to expand and a hands on, owners being physically present, seems to be what is needed (that happened to one couple). As a side note 2 years seems to be the deciding number as I know of 2 other couples (not in the food industry) who have also left Uruguay after that amount of time to return back to the USA.

I guess, this post is just a reminder to all of you thinking about moving here (to Uruguay) that it can get pretty expensive to move here, bringing pets and containers of household goods, buying property, fixing it up, only to turn around and have to sell it all again after only a couple of years. So don't say I didn't warn you.
So, how did I meet this Sharon on her way out of Uruguay? How did I find myself searching for her house on an unknown back road, looking at lovely cattle herds that I never knew were just around the bend from me? Why, it was through her "For Sale" ad. I guess for me her leaving was helpful as I bought a good (expat quality) dresser for my bedroom from her.

 Hey, on second thought go ahead and bring your containers full of stuff here. However, as I only have a few dollars left to buy anything else with, I would rather have had Sharon and the others stay here in Uruguay. Money can't buy friendship!

Friday, December 10, 2010

End of An Era

Well, today was the last day I will sit on my fancy-schmancy motorcycle. After almost a year of trying to sell it, a friend (who has been admiring the bike for over a year) finally bought it. Of course, I have only owned the bike for a little over 2 years, so I am not sure if I could call it an "era".

Originally, we had planned to have a motorcycle as our only means of transportation. As it works out, that was not practical and once we bought the VW bug, the motorcycle was just for fun, anyway. I loved the "looks" that I would get whenever I rode it. People would stop and talk about the bike. Everyone would say "Great Bike". It was like being a Rock Star- but that is over now (sad face).

To be honest, I will only miss it for a few more days. Almost all of last year, it was sitting in front of a pharmacy on the main road, where the owner sells cars on consignment. He sold Denise's moto almost immediately, but was unable to find a buyer for mine. I actually only saw it a few times over the last year. I have had it back for over a month and it mostly just sat in the little storage shed. So while it would have been nice to have a moto, it wasn't used much, anyway.

So, on this rainy day, I waived goodbye as the little taillights winked on at the bottom of the driveway.

Monday, December 6, 2010

In Search of Free Golf

Like Ponce de Leon's search for the Fountain of Youth, Pizarro's search for the city of Inca Gold and Indiana Jone's search for the Crystal Skull- I am in search of free golf. Yes, rumor has it (and several people reported on it) that there is free golf at Montevideo's municipal golf course at Punta Carrettas on Mondays. It is said that the course is open on Sunday for the public to stroll the grounds and that on Monday, you can play for free.

I would probably amend that to most Mondays. After getting up, getting my golf equipment in order, locating the golf course, I enjoyed the 24 mile drive into town to the course, taking the coastal route on the rambla. At around 9 in the morning the last few miles were stop and go traffic, due to the morning rush hour, but before and after that small bottleneck, it was smooth sailing. I even found the course entrance, easily.

However, it was not to be a day of free golf, today. I was informed that the course was completely closed for maintenance. Normally, some of the holes are closed, and you just play around them. But I was told the whole course was closed. Before I left, I noticed someone boldly walking through the gate, past the guard with clubs and a cart. Then I remembered you are just supposed to go in. So I loaded up the clubs and boldly started through (they had changed the guard and I thought it would be my chance). The new guard informed me that, sadly, the course was closed. So I packed everything back into the Fusca and headed home. Next week (because I have to try), I'll email or call first, before making the trip.