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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

La Paloma!

La Paloma means, "The Dove" in Spanish but this is not a post about birds but rather a travel post.

The La Paloma that I am writing about is a seaside community located along the Atlantic Ocean in the Department of Rocha in Uruguay. Rocha is the last department before you hit the Brazilian border. Uruguay has 19 departments. Think of them as being small states in a small sized country, although they are more like the size of counties. Seattle, Washington where I lived before was in King county for instance.

La Paloma is about 220 kilometers from the country's Capital of Montevideo. This old directional sign doesn't look like much but if you live here or are planning to visit then the directions to La Paloma are pretty useful and clear. Travel north along Route 9 then jog down towards the coast using Route 15.

Why should you visit, why did we? I'll give you three good reasons why La Paloma is worth the trip!
The lighthouse, the beaches, the port.

The lighthouse (or El Faro in Spanish)  named Cabo Santa Maria lighthouse is the second tallest one in Uruguay! Cabo in Spanish means the "End' and since this lighthouse in La Paloma sits on the cape at the end of the peninsula, it's known as Cabo Santa Maria lighthouse. There are 22 light houses in Uruguay. The tallest one is on the Isla de Lobos near the world famous resort of Punta del Este. That lighthouse is 190 feet /59 meters tall. The smallest one is Cerro de Montevideo, near you guessed it Montevideo. It stands at 27 feet (8meters) tall.

The Cabo Santa Maria Lighthouse stands tall at 95 feet (29 meters). It is an active lighthouse owned by the navy and manned by the "Department de Ayudas a la Navegación"or Department of help to the navigators. The shores are rocky here in areas (unlike our home town beach) and the lighthouses are a real necessity.

The lighthouse at La Paloma is a masonry one, made from brick, painted white. It became a National monument in 1976. The best part is that you are allowed to climb to the top on weekends and national holidays in the late afternoons for a nominal fee of $20 pesos (more or less a buck, US). I'm told that the view of the town and ocean is fantastic from up there. Don't miss the opportunity like I did to go to the top.

July through October is Whale Watching Season here in Uruguay. I hear that this is the vantage point you want to see them from!

An interesting tidbit is that the lighthouse is also used as a giant sundial! There are marker posts located on the sand encircling the tower. As the sun travels across the landscape it casts its shadow. When the tower's shadow intercepts a marker you can surmise what time it is. Of course, we were there at high noon
so we didn't see a thing! So please note, if you ever visit this lighthouse, climb to its top and stay before or after high noon to see the tower's shadow cast. If you do this you will be two steps ahead of us!

See La Paloma for its beaches! The beaches, yeah I know, Uruguay is one long beach up its coast but to real aficionados there are beaches and then there are beaches!

Each beach in La Paloma has its own following and the little playas/beaches scattered around the seaside community are indeed different from each other!

La Aguada beach is an internationally known, surfers beach. La Paloma has several year round surf shops, restaurants and artisan shops. That says a lot, if you realize that many small communities virtually roll up their side walks and close down after the summers high season. La Paloma has several surfing schools, this should show you how serious this sport is considered down in this area.

Corumbá beach is named after a ship that sank off its shore. Part of the wreckage is still visible there.

El Cabito beach is recommended as a good diving spot for some first timers as the area is very calm yet has natural rock tidal pools with sand bottoms. It's also good for small children as the area is covered with small rocks to gather.

Los Botes beach has fine hard sand. It's wide with very few waves where lots of fishermen bring their catch so you can get fresh fish.

Solari and Zanja Honda are both wide with white sandy beaches and life guards. They're good for the whole family to play volley ball and lounge on.

There are other beaches including the two bays, one on each side of the peninsula, Bahia Grande and Bahia chico (Big Bay and Little Bay) but you get the drift that, there is a beach in La Paloma that will suit your own particular needs.

The Port (or Puerto). I think that ports with their varying boat styles and colors always makes for a great photo op. A good place to get a fishing trip out of.

I didn't get to stay until sunset. Wally and I had other places to be. However, I hear that the sun setting over the water is simply gorgeous and that there is a tradition at the beach known as La Balconada (It's deep and steep a favorite surfer place) that people applaud when the sun goes down. I wasn't there that night so I didn't hear any applauding first hand but I do applaud this small seaside community of La Paloma and will definitely come back there again. Maybe next time, people will see me waving to everyone from atop the lighthouse called Cabo Santa Maria. I hope so!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Draw of the Hat!

No, that's not a picture of one of Jehovah's Witnesses knocking at a door. Rather, it's from a brochure placed at my door by the National Institute of Statistics or the cousin of the Uruguayan Census bureau.

I say cousin because there are two programs in effect. One is the countrywide Census taken every 10 years here in Uruguay. That one is due to take place this September, 2011. Everyone in this country (much like the one done in the United States) will be visited for a count.

The brochure placed at my door was for a yearly ongoing census that people are chosen to participate in.

Everyone, eventually partakes in this ongoing questioning about your life and business. I asked, why was this, the first time in 3 years that I was being contacted if it's a yearly program? The survey taker said because they just break the group up into random draws throughout the year, and my lot finally came up.

I know that there are people out there who don't like Government noising about into their business. I have to admit, I was not comfortable with the nature of some of the questions. At one point, I asked if after questioning me about my household appliances and gadgets if a truck was going to pull up outside my house that night and then rob me of all of my possessions! The surveyor (a woman in this case) laughed and emphasized the point that all answers were guaranteed secret and protected under law. Still?

The survey question askers, all have a badge to identify them. In the brochure it states that all persons are obligated to answer the "encuesta" or in English the "survey/poll/inquiry/investigation"Article 14 of the Law 16.616 of October, 1994.

The information pamphlet and a 2 page letter, was left in my door while I was out. I thought I'd have to call for a return appointment but just tonight the lady Sophia returned and I invited her in (after looking at her ID) She spoke some English and since I can read Spanish,we proceeded.

The brochure uses words like "the information you offer" and in looking back, I could have told her anything and she'd have had to believe me (unless she could see it for herself).

My brother worked for the US census bureau doing a summer stint recently and he told me how rude some people were and how, he had to report shot guns and bad dogs during his route. I guess with that in mind I was willing to partake fully but in looking back I thought the questions were more about material things than needed. When I asked her why these types of questions were asked she said that the government likes to know about electrical usage and such so they can plan on providing services.

Before the surveyor came back, I did take the letter to my friend's house to look at and she said yes, they do come around to make surveys.

Here are some questions asked (in the future, other expats should ask what would happen if you refuse to answer, I didn't)

How many people living in the home? Their ages, level of education (starting with Kindergarden!) Was the school public or a private one?, Income, What they do for a living?, What did you do before moving here (since I said that we were retired), any outside money sources, (rental,bonds, Alimony, etc...)This I feel was too nosey! Do you have children? Do you own your home (or have a mortgage) or rent, How many rooms in the house. If you had to rent your house out, what do you think you could get as rent? Do you own any other homes? Do you have a cell phone, How many TV's, computers?, Do you have a VHS or a DVD player, Microwave, dishwasher, washer, dryer? Car? Do you have a cedula?, Do you have Medical Insurance? Do you pay for it yourself or does an employer? Do you have emergency service (ambulance rider attached to your insurance) How many years have you lived here? Where did you live before? Do you have any black people in your family (that you are descended from) or Indians? All in all, I think the questions generally were intrusive!

On a lot of other surveys I have seen in my life, the number of people, ages, education and home ownership are the usual questions and in the USA the race question was asked. I remembered in the US a number of questions about Hispanics were asked, (this was way before the Arizona immigrant issue, but I can't help and wonder if that didn't help lead up to that issue)

I was able to answer about Wally for Wally and our cedula numbers were not asked for, just if we had them.

I just thought that I should prepare any expats or Uruguayans that you could be next, for the draw of the  hat.

If not, then expect them in September! I was told, I would have to do that one as well!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Quick Banana Update!

                                I'm sorry that this is just a quick filler post!

My eye has now tuned a lovely shade of purple and it's decided to include the area beneath it as well! I can't pretend that I'm wearing an exotic shade of eye shadow any longer with that ring under it.

I am also due for my next Spanish mini Bible presentation this Thursday night.  It's only 5 minutes long but I'm still stressing about it, (remember, I can't even walk and talk Spanish without tripping) I'll practice it tonight with a friend so I can get corrections before Thursday night.

In the midst of feeling sorry for myself, I suddenly remembered our little home grown bunch of bananas, our first ever.

Everyone had told me that I should cut the bunch off the tree instead of letting it ripen on the tree. Finally realizing that they weren't getting any bigger I did the deed.

Next, I thought that people had told me to put them in a bag to ripen. Well, several weeks later nothing happened! They were still green. So I finally took them out of the bag and threw them on the counter and bought regular store bought bananas at the feria. Well guess what? That did it! I think that being in the same proximity with the other mature bananas helped, my home grown ones started to turn yellow and ripen. They are only 4 inches long (10 cm). The one I ate just now was a little starchy but very banana like!

So the conclusion is you can definitely grow bananas at your house, here in Uruguay!

Next week, I will start posting something really good! A three part series (with pictures) on our recent trip to Rocha that Wally didn't cover. The light house at La Paloma, The Santa Maria Fort 
in San Antonio, The barra and coastline of La Pedrera and even better information and lots of pictures on the laguna at Rocha. These areas are really rather spectacular and I'm hard to please.
                                                                                                                                       However, for now, I'm slinking around in stress and sorry mode. I think I'll have one of my 4 inch bananas and dream about a better next week when I share my road trip with you guys.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Triumphs and Falls!

Well, yesterday was feria (farmers market) day. It is held every Thursday morning in the town of Salinas. I walked from my house there, pulling behind me my little wheeled wire cart (bought at that same marketplace, now years ago) I went to my usual booths and bought my weekly supply of vegetables and goods and It was nice.

  One elderly couple, I saw at the feria called me over and asked if my husband was house bound and sick? I said no, that he went to the States because his mother had passed away etc... They said they had wondered at not seeing him around. This couple was selling some odds and ends at the feria. They had a little table set up in the "garage sale" portion. An area, leading up to the professional vendors.  

The man showed me a plant with a small pink flower on it and said, That I should get some. He said that at their house these plants have grown really large. He seemed to be pushing his plant. So I finally asked, How much? or "Cuanto cuesta?"  Then he said, "Oh, no!" I should just come by their house and freely dig some plants up at no cost!  See how nice and caring people are down here! Here, he was selling, a  little rusted coffee can with the plant in it at the feria, yet, I was to go to his house and freely dig up some plants for free! I joked that I didn't want them to call the police on me if they see me digging in their yard! They just laughed!
Now, if I only knew, WHO they were and WHERE they lived? I'd be just fine!!!                                                                                                 

I am just not used to so many new people in my life, so unlike the states, where some neighbors have no interaction at all! I will now be on the look out for this couple again! 

As I was wandering around the market, a member from my church, "a brother" (as we call each other) was going about his business at a house way down the block and he wildly waved at me until he got my attention, just so he could shout Hola! (Hi!), to me! He is Hector and he works at Ancap. He was delivering a garrafa (tank of supergas) to a customer. I now seem to be a fixture in town interacting with people on a daily basis and despite my still limited Spanish speaking skills, I feel we (husband included) really belong here.

After the feria, I went to pay our electric bill and saw an other older couple of the barrio (neighborhood), lamenting at the closure of that restaurant up the street from us. I added my "Qué lástima", that it had closed down and they went on talking to me on how somebody should seize the opportunity and buy the place. The wife thought a tea salon or social club would be nice for the neighborhood and the husband kept saying that he wanted a casino there!

Well, they reached their house and pointed me up the street towards the Abitab's direction. As, I turned one more time to wave good-bye (proud that I had had, a successful conversation with them in Spanish) I tripped and completely fell down, flat on my face, even though I braced myself with my hands! They came running up to me and asked if I was okay? I said yes, but I had bumped my head. They said, "I should put ice on it". I said, "I would, when I got home". After that, I continued to Abitad and payed my bill. Then, I went to the corner store and bought some milk. There I told everyone that I had fallen down and now had  a knot above my eye. Luisa, a dear friend of mine (Carolina's mother) happened to just come into that same store right then and I told her all about it. Everyone asked, if I had been riding a bike (my next big challenge to relearn how). I said, no That I was just talking and walking backward like a Tonto (fool) Then, I could feel my eye getting bigger/swollen. I told Luisa that I was going to skip the congregation meeting that night (why have people wondering).

A side note, remember the TV show "The Lone Ranger" and his side kick Tonto? Who knew? That name means FOOL in Spanish? Think of all the law suits that show would have caused today, when everything is so politically incorrect!   

At least, My fall was on a Thursday and not today on Friday the 13th! So no, superstitions can be accredited to my fall. An interesting thing to note is that in many Latin American countries It's Tuesday the 13th and not Friday that people fuse about! So me falling on a Thursday debunks any bad coincidences. Needless to say, on waking up this morning, I now have an official black eye or should I say, red eye! I was going to call this post Triumphs and Falls! Because the day had started out so well language wise, with me interacting and talking with the people of my community in my newly adopted tongue. Now I know, don't walk and talk Spanish at the same time!

 I've decided to show a picture of the bruise. 
It doesn't hurt, however, it's just interesting how a little fall can cause such a shiner!
I have decided to stay indoors all day today! I'll just huddled up and open up tomorrow on Saturday. I don't want people to think I was beaten up, besides I had a busy day yesterday full of triumphs and alas, a fall!

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Bit Of Whimsy, A Bit Of Pride!

Well, the weather is starting to get a little nippy down here in Uruguay. Our autumn is turning into winter. While the days are still sunny and slightly warm, the nights have seen some of the first fireplace fires of the season throughout the neighborhoods.

Still, rather than pay my bills due, on line, (a benefit during cold weather), I enjoy walking down to the place to pay them in person at our local, "Abitad" bill paying center. The electric, phone, internet and even the water bill can all be paid there.

It was quite amusing when the new center opened up. It shares the same building with an Autoservicio store.
The amusing part is that for an entire year, Wally and I thought that, that meant a new Auto Mechanics shop had opened up! But now having 2¢ worth of Spanish under our belts instead of just 1, we now know that "auto" means "self " in Spanish, so really a self serve grocery store had opened up instead! No cars to be fixed there at all! Almacén is the word we were familiar with as it means grocery store but that phrase autoservicio is now popping up all over to describe a small Mom and Pop place.  

Taking advantage of the new closer location to my house of this bill paying center and of the warm day I decided to walk there. My neighborhood is quite lovely and many people appreciate it's natural beauty.
You may recall an earlier blog we did on trash and cleaning up the neighborhoods. A cry for special attention went out, to clean up a ravine, near a tiny neighborhood park called "Parque de los pájaros". I decided to walk the back roads and check out the area of this park on my way to the center.

A bit of whimsy greeted me. That beach beauty (pictured in the above title) "wearing" a blue pokkadot bikini, said my walk was worth the while.  This small area was reclaimed by the neighbors living there and is a source of pride for the entire group. Today, not only is the space trash free, something to be proud of, but also, what I enjoy is the obvious sense of delight and fun they took in creating this little park for the Niños (the children).

I hope you enjoy these little photos of the creative minds of these Uruguayos using found objects, pride and whimsy to accomplish something inspiring!

As a side note, most parks here have rather primitive playground equipment. Tunnels are made out of 55 gallon metal drums painted up in fun designs and believe it or not, most slides have wooden planks that you slide down on, not metal, OUCH!

Yet, the kids seem very happy here and are respectful to us elders. Huh, maybe simple things can work just fine.