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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Welcome Back Wally!

It's been a month since Wally's return to Uruguay and my friends thought it was high time to have a "Welcome back, Wally" karaoke party. We have been too busy to have had it sooner. I thought you'd like to see the invitation (in Spanish) that my friend Carolina made up and e-mailed out for us. Last week (the date shown on the invitation), we were all set to have the party, about 25 people acknowledged that they were coming. Salads and desserts were promised by those invited since this party was to be a "lluvia", which means shower or rain/rainfall in Spanish. The word lluvia corresponds to our English term "Potluck" with the idea that everyone contributes to the buffet meal. Well, the weather turned ugly and threatened to pour down real rain that night. Since many of our friends would be arriving on motorcycles and bicycles we took pity on them and canceled the party. We asked instead, for a "raincheck", how fitting that term was! We were literarily asking for a change on account of rain.

This week's party saw better weather but only a dozen people  attending. One couple's child was sick so they bowed out with lots of apologies and several others had to go to work instead on the new date. I'm sorry that my bicycle buddies Veronica and Nancy couldn't come this week, I really owe them a separate dinner for all of their help while Wally was away.

We had some Chorizos and salami. Here in Uruguay Pizza normally comes without Mozzarella cheese unless you request it as a topping, so one person brought little pizza squares, sin (without ) cheese. One person brought a bunch of thin sandwiches and I mean thin.  It's funny how I still find things different and amusing in this country. The sandwiches in question were not thin due to a lack of ingredients or finances on the part of our friend rather they were store bought and these are the typical sandwiches found here. I've seen these flat ones many times before and I finally had to ask about their size. That seemed to cause some confusion as my friend couldn't conceive what I meant by fatter, thicker ones. My friend kept asking, "Do you mean sandwiches made on Buns and not white bread?" "No, sandwiches made with white bread just bigger and thicker!" "I can't picture thicker sandwiches!" Oh well, I left that subject alone and took a picture instead!

Then it was time for karaoke. Wally wrote everyone's name down, then we picked their names from a hat (a straw hat) and he made everyone sing. We have slowly been adding Spanish songs to our Karaoke player. Our friends sang Spanish songs this evening. Wally and I even tried singing some songs in Spanish! With some help from our friends, we sang, that is I tried, Fotografia, a duet, by Juanes and Nellie Furtado. It's a song I intend to work on and really learn for future karaoke gatherings. If you think that Spanish speakers talk really fast, you should see how they sing. Many songs may start out slow enough but most verses seem to increase in speed as the song progresses.

Since we had to sing in Spanish, Wally made them sing one song each in English (empathy training). Our friends seem to love the "Backstreet Boys" so a group of them tried, "As long as you love me" by that group. Most people here know English songs so they bested us with their English while I still hung my head down in shame.

One couple really surprised us with how well they could sing. Andrea sang a very Spanish (from Spain) type of song "Ojos Asi" (eyes like that). I think it had some Arabic lyrics as well (not that any of us know that language) during the singing, we felt we should all be wearing boots and doing the Paso DobleEveryone started clapping hands in unison and someone ran around like a bull plunging at an invisible cape. 

Andrea's husband is named Marcelo and he is a real character. He works in Montevideo and has been riding the bus to work for some 14 years. It takes 1 hour to get to Montevideo by city bus from Salinas and Marindia and Marcelo has accumulated some very funny true-life stories from that long roundtrip bus ride each day. He cracked us up by telling us some of those stories.

One day on a very crowed bus he was sitting down next to someone while others were standing. The ones standing were holding on to the above hand rails.  Pressed up against them was a man standing. This man kept looking under his arm, that was holding on to the grab bar at the man seated next to Marcelo. Peeking under his arm he kept staring and staring at Marcelo's bench companion. Finally, the sitting man said out loud "Hey! "Why do you keep staring at me?" The standing man said,"I'm staring because except for the mustache, you look exactly like my wife!" The sitting man said, "But I don't have a mustache!" The standing man said "I know, I was talking about my wife!" A true story!

Another time Marcelo was ridding on the bus when a policeman came on board. As a side note the bus companies allow up to 2 policemen to ride for free while on the same bus. If a third one steps on he will have to pay. Well a policeman came on board payed and during that he dropped his gun, it slid out of its holster. An old woman saw what happened and picking up the gun she walked over to the policeman. Gripping the gun she pointed it at his head saying,"You lost your gun, you lost your gun!"

Carolina my friend and interpreter in emergencies, made a torta (cake) for dessert. It was "muy rico" (very rich) a phrase, often heard here. It had a frosting of whipped cream and was layered with what else but Dulce de leche. If you live here in Uruguay you must learn to love and embrace that carmel like substance as it is in or on 99% of the desserts served. I went from being so so about it, to challenging myself to find desserts without it, like finding lemon torts for instance. Finally, I found a brand that I liked called "Los Nietitos" an endearing term for the grandchildren. Now, I too buy big tubs of it. Apples and Dulce de Leche, umm,umm, yum,yum!

We stayed late into the night laughing and singing, glad that Wally was back and so was our Karaoke parties!

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Being from California, originally, we naturally love Mexican (technically Tex Mex) food. Most people think of Uruguay as having that type of food. Not so. Uruguay caters more to Italian based pasta dishes and Mexican food is foreign food, and not very popular.

Corn tortillas are unheard of here. Not surprising since producing the masa (bleached corn meal) for the tortillas is a high energy and high polluting process. Millions of liters of water in Mexico City are polluted each day with the calcium hydroxide (limewater) solution needed to produce the masa. Little wonder that Uruguay would not wish to produce corn tortillas for a population that really has no taste for them.

However, a few years ago, flour tortillas began to show up in the markets. A few mexican restaurants have even sprung up, though to be honest, the food doesn't really taste like California. We recently went into town and had a burrito at the California Burrito Company in Old Town (pictured left). It was OK, but nothing to write home about. The "corn chips" pictured below were vile- really. Obviously made from regular corn meal and attempting to pass for corn tortilla chips. 

Up until recently, I have been satisfied with buying flour tortillas from Tienda Inglesa (our local giant supermarket). But 2 weeks ago I couldn't find the better brand ("Bimbos", if you can believe that) and had to buy another type. They look perfectly flat and gave the appearance of being made of cardboard, but I wanted tacos and so I bought them. When I got them home and used them, I realized that cardboard would have been an improvement. So, I wondered if I could make flour tortillas, myself. For years, in Seattle, we had made corn tortillas, since masa is readily available there. We had a cast iron tortilla press and cast iron griddles. So I looked into flour tortillas.

Interestingly, flour tortillas are very easy to make and despite the fact that this was my first effort, they came out surprisingly well. Here is what you need:

  • 2 cups of white flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup warm water

I found this recipe that had the lowest amount of oil. Other recipes used as much as 1/3 cup. I mixed the dry ingrediants in a bowl and slowly added the water and oil mixture until it formed a crumbly, wet dough.

Then you form it into a ball on a lightly flour dusted surface, knead for 4-5 minutes and cover with a cloth for 20 minutes to let the dough rest.

You then pinch off golf ball sized bits of the dough, roll them round and cover them for another 10 minutes.

After that, you flatten them on the surface by hand to about 4", then roll them out with a rolling pin to about 7" or 1/8" thick. I actually didn't roll my thin enough, so they were closer to pita bread, but still came out fine.

Cook them on a hot griddle (or cast iron pan) until they bubble and brown (about 30+ seconds each side) and plot them on a plate.

They were fresh, warm and did not taste a bit like cardboard. Plus, I don't have to drive or walk into town and buy them, I use items I always keep on hand, so Denise and I can enjoy fresh warm tortillas whenever we want.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Cedula- A National ID

We are legal aliens! We got our cedula renewed!

When we were younger, Wally and I did a lot of traveling together and we also, lived in several countries. We did that last feat by doing what millions of tourists do, we went into a country as tourists but then we stayed! A US passport can get you into most countries for about a stay of up to 3 months. After three months time, many countries allow you to extend a tourist visa for a short time. You can also, just simply cross the border and go into another country, get your passport stamped then come back the next day, or so and start another three month stay. Countries don't really want "Perpetual Tourists" living in them this way, "forever" but many people choose to do this. Some people do this because they are part-time residents, spending only 6 months at a time in a country of their choice. When we lived in Germany, eons ago, we rather enjoyed these forced border crossings, in search of a passport stamp that would start the period over again. We visited such places as Denmark, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, France, and Belgium to name just a few. When we lived in Portugal we crossed into Spain.

However, when we choose to "retire" here in Uruguay, we knew we would be here to stay! We also wanted to do things the right way and get legal residency. After all, we were buying a house here and would live here 24/7, not dividing our lives between multiple places.

 So from the very beginning, we arranged to get our immigration papers in order. We hired some help. Before even coming here, our Birth certificates and our Marriage certificate had to be "legalized" at the Uruguayan consulate, in the US. Even though we were legally married in the USA, we had to be legal in the eyes of Uruguayan law. Arriving down here, we then had to have an FBI check and get fingerprinted. We got health tests done, and our marriage and birth certificates translated into Spanish. After all of that, we had to go to the Immigration department in downtown Montevideo, for our final approval.

We were then, issued our National Identity card or Cedula as it is called here.

A Cedula is somewhat like a cross between a "Green Card", allowing you to legally work here and a USA Social Security Card. However, the identifying number on it is NOT a closely guarded secret like your SS card would be. So it is also, used as a general ID card, which it is. On the back of it, it states that we are legal residents. It has our thumb print and our place of birth, the State and the country in which we were born. I still, have to get used to the fact, that in Spanish the "USA" abbreviation letters, representing the United States of America are instead written as E.E.U.U. This card also has an expiration date.

On the front of the Cedula, it has my cedula ID number, my name printed out and my signature. It has my picture on it, taken by the Immigration department. The photo is somewhat like a Driver's license photo. The card is light green. It says, Direccion Nacional De Identificacion Civil (DNIC), on it.

A cedula is a very important card to have here, in this land of "red tape" and bureaucracy. Without this card, I would have to carry around my passport as many, facets of life, here are tied to having an ID number of some-kind. When I wanted to get a "points card" at the big supermarket here, they asked for my ID card, a Cedula or Passport being the only ID numbers accepted. A Driver's license with your photo would not be accepted as an ID, which would be in the USA. When setting up customer accounts with a company your Cedula is asked for. When we were buying lots of lights for our house remodel, the lighting store asked for our Cedula number. When you use your credit cards like MasterCard or Visa you have to write either your Passport number or your Cedula number on the credit slip. Your identity is really tied to this number and people keep files on you. This is a scary image for people from the US but it is just the way it is here.

As an example, on how well this system works, I'll mention what happened yesterday. When I paid our car insurance premium, (back in August) at a general pay center, I wasn't given a windshield sticker to put on my car showing that I had insurance, since the girl was new. Normally, Wally pays this, so I was "new" as well, to the routine. Wally realized yesterday, that I didn't have a sticker on the car. He went into the pay-center (this month of February) and explained that we were lacking the sticker. They asked to see his Cedula and then using the computer and his cedula number, they saw that a sticker hadn't been scanned out and assigned to us. They gave an insurance sticker to him "right then and there" (after scanning it).

A cedula card has an expiration date on it, unlike a Social Security Card. For foreigners like us, it expires every 3 years! Since it is a National Identity card, even Uruguayans have to apply and get a card. Children as well as adults have their own numbered cedula (ID card). For a native Uruguayan until the age of 21, a child has to get a new card every 5 years. After the age of 21, a native Uruguayan's cedula's expiration date is every 10 years, until they reach 70 years old. Then the card doesn't expire until they do, literarily!

Yesterday, Wally and I went down to the DNIC or Direccion National De Identification Civil office and renewed our 3 year cedula. The office closest to us is located in a shopping mall!

   In preparation for our cedula renewal we had to first, make an appointment. We did this last month as you are not allowed to schedule this appointment too far in advance of your expiration date. It may take several weeks to get an appointment date available, so a whole month ahead of time should be planned on. You can make an appointment by telephone by looking up the government office. However, unless your Spanish is excellent, this can lead to miscommunication, so that was not an option for us. You can get an appointment online (clicking this link will take you there) but you need a Debit card PIN code number from an ATM to pay for it and you need to have online banking capabilities in place before hand. Santander, Banred, Banco Republica, Antel, Abitab and Redpagos can all be done online. We found the online route "okay", then realized, we had never, "set up", our online bank account (ability) yet, so Wally exited that program. Finally, just like in the book, "Goldilocks and the three bears", we found a solution just right for us! We made our appointment,  in-person, by going to our trusty Abitab center (or a RedPagos center would do) We simply went to the counter and said to the girl "Necesitamos obtenir nosotros cedula renovación" All of those words are so close to English that you can figure them out and possibly memorize them. The woman behind the counter took it from there. It was so easy having her do all the work!  The only thing she asked us was, what day/date did we want to show up on. She asked us to choose (a date) by using a list of available appointments. We were allowed to peek at the computer and see the list of what available times (day and hour)  were empty. We were allowed to book the two of us, at the same time, on the same appointment day. You just let them know how many people you want on the appointment. She asked, if we wanted the appointment at Géant.

Géant is like a Walmart store. The shopping mall, where the DNIC office is located in, is known locally by that store's name.

It cost us about $145 pesos each, at the time of our making that appointment. That includes the cedula price and any charges by the center. You will be given a receipt and an 8x10 paper with the date and time of your appointment on it, stamped that you are paid up! Guard this reservation paper!

Second, before your appointment day arrives, go to the main Montevideo Immigration building shown in the picture (remember, this is where you originally went 3 years ago). That office is near the port and banking area (old town) on Missiones (street/calle) You are there to buy a, "Certificado de Llegado". That is a legal certificate saying you live here. That is the only paper and documentation you need. Nothing else needs to be legalized or translated. In case any problems arise, it is best to get this certificate before your scheduled appointment date. Go to the front desk, (for Tramites ) no number is needed for this line. Tell the clerk that you want to Renovación (renew) your cedula. This desk, then gives you a number. Sit or stand and wait for your number to show up on the large TV screen. It will post your number and show what number window to go to. When you go to that window or desk they will ask for your address. Take an electric bill or something else that shows your address. They write the address down, then they send you to the cashier to pay. Wally and I each needed to buy our own certificates. The cost was a total of he two certificates was $228 pesos or $114 for each one. After paying at the cashier, you wait near until they call your name and you approach that desk.That desk gives you your certificate right then and there! The certificate is very official looking! Keep all receipts!

Third, on the day of your appointment go to the Géant mall, if you booked that location. Stay on the main level.  There are benches in front of the door to the office, in the mall corridor, grab a seat. It's not worth arriving too early before your appointment time. You are not allowed to get in line, until your scheduled time!!!

The office doesn't open until 3 o'clock or 15:00. The last group scheduled is at 7:50pm or 19:50 hrs. The office closes at 9 o'clock (21 hrs).  Our appointment (for the two of us) was at 15:40. We quickly realized that, that was not our exclusive time slot  but was a group slot. About 12 people will have that time slot.

A man will call at the door for the 3:10 /15:10 group (the starting group) then 12 people, in that time slot, will enter the office and check in. You will show your 8x10 appointment letter reservation with the stamp and receipts that you have payed. You (and the 12 or so other people in that slot) will take a seat in front of a large TV screen. You will wait for your Cedula number to show up on the screen and a window number. You see how unsecured your number is!!! The rest is easy!

 When you see your cedula number and window number displayed go to that desk area and show your certificate that you brought with you, of where you live, the certificado de llegado which surprisingly doesn't show your address! (It just says you live in this country) So tell the person your address, he will ask for it. I always keep it written down on a scrap of paper. Then he takes your thumb print and your picture (so show up looking good). He asks what you do for a living or your workplace information, I said, "I'm retired" and I am a "ama de casa" or a housewife. That was good enough. The one helping me was great! He even said that we were neighbors because he lived in Salinas which is next to my community. He spoke a little English and we hummed to the Beatles song which was playing. After taking my picture he showed it to me and said how nice I looked it it! Then he handed me some paper towels and directed me to a sink where I could wash the ink off of my thumb. He said I might have to wait another 10 minutes to receive my cedula I was to wait with a group of people leaning along the back wall, until my name was called . I waited about 5 minuites. They called my name and I received my new, laminated cedula card good for another 3 years!

The cedula renewal process is easy! Everyone in the country whether Native or foreign born has to do it.  So you don't feel like you are being picked on because you were not born here.

After getting our cedula s, since we were in a mall, we went into a store and bought some cat-food that was on special (oferta), 4 bags for the price of 3. Then we treated ourselves to an ice cream cone.

Here's some "on the cheap" advice. There's a special on at the McDonald's ice cream Stand. Our cones only cost $35 pesos each. The cones were filled with ice-cream from Lapataia, the dairy farm in Punta del Este. The ice cream is not the normal McDonald artificial stuff and the cones came with a chocolate covered cookie stick. What's more they were filled with dulce de leche, of course! Not bad for $35p.

All in all, it's nice to have our identities intact again!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Day Of Deliveries!

Today, the exchange rate is oh, so dismal! I've been trying to hold out for a better one but the $19.30 rate has been hanging around for a week. Today is February the first, the start of a new month and soon people will be stopping by our door for their due. So it's off to the money house (cambio) to exchange our Social Security dollars for Pesos. The Cambio house offers a better rate than the bank does. We might get 5 to 10 cents more per dollar through them or  $19.35 or $19.40 this month . It makes a difference!

A good exchange rate, say like the one in November, of $19.80 can mean a project or two can be accomplished around the Glass house. Hey, a good exchange rate can even add a night out at a restaurant or a Pizza, although I like the pizzas Wally makes at home with his greek olives and feta cheese!

I mentioned people stopping by our door for payment. You might not know this but the health insurance company sends a person to your house each month to collect the premiums in person. The person or in our case a lady named Miriam arrives early in the month with our monthly preprinted health cards. She knocks on your door and waits for you to answer, she carries change. They never call first! They just assume you'll be home! In the 3 years we have lived here, I've only missed her 3 times. I had to go to the clinic the first time and get her cell phone number, call her and rearrange for her to swing by the next day. So each month you have to get a new health card to show you've paid. I just thought you like to know that tid bit.

In the midst of my financial musings I got a pleasant surprise! A package was delivered to me from a childhood school chum of mine named Jennie. Jennie and I went to the same Junior high school in our youth  and later the same High School. We were on the same swim team in High School and had many of the same classes and yet we never really knew each other as friends back then. Rather, when I first joined Facebook, on a lark, I looked up some classmates names and friended her. It's funny how living here, a continent and a half away, if you count Central America as the half, I'm closer to Jennie now than I was when we spent 6 hours a day together in the same school!

Jennie is a new, up and coming photographer. She has taken classes, joined clubs and entered several competitions and won! While checking out her Facebook albums and photos I saw a print of hers that I feel in love with. It is of some palm trees on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I love graphic quality photos, so this one, having been not only photographed by her but also computer manipulated by her as well, really struck a chord with me. It reminded me of my Southern California, Pacific coast upbringing. I gave her a thumbs up and mentioned how much I liked that photo of hers. Well, what a surprise I got when she offered to send a signed and matted copy of it to me all the way down here to Uruguay. What a sweet and amazing offer! I said Yes, Yes, Yes!

It arrived today! Her matting the 11x14 print (I so loved) made it an impressive 16x20"  picture. She also surprised me by including two other beach themed photos! Another, 11x14 one, matted as well and a fantastic pelican print, now a matted 8x10 size. All photos were taken by her!

This being a blog about Uruguay you might be interested to know that the 19x24 1/2" box (6 inch deep) packaged up through her local UPS store arrived safely and was delivered through our post office to our door. In addition to the matting costs and whatever the UPS store charged her, It cost her $40 US dollars just in postage to send it down here from California, USA. It took a month to arrive. She mailed it December 27th (after Christmas) and it arrived today Feb. 1st. I just thought you blog readers, who like to know the price of mundane things, would like to know how long it took to arrive and the cost to ship such a package. Because the package was light in weight, it was able to be delivered to my door by post. I have heard horror stories of larger packages having to go through customs and being picked up in downtown Montevideo at the port. A 60% custom charge is accessed on what customs thinks the item is worth.

I wasn't charged anything today and got the pleasant surprise of not one but three photos! So I am including Jennie Duncan's photo site and a second site at  so you can look at her photos. So in the midst of my fretting over the poor exchange rate today and how poor I would be this month, I was suddenly made rich! Rich in beauty and warm feelings of friendship!!! Thank you so much Jennie! You are as beautiful a person in spirit as your photos will be on my wall!

I got a second delivery today, my first firewood order of the year. Every year, I tell myself, we will start ordering wood in the summer for our winter usage but we often spend the money borrowing it for other projects. Well, I finally held some money back and we bought and received a ton today. I tried looking around for a better price but the $2700 peso price ordered from the same guy as last year (Eduardo) was the best I could get. Expats call each other with news on various prices and while I was told to look up this guy or that guy and to go here and there, the reality was that everyone I contacted had a different issue making my purchase difficult. So, I settled back on last year's guy. Back in 2009 we paid $1900 Pesos a ton or Mil but he got out of the business last year. Still, we called him just in case. No, he still was not in business. Last year, I felt I was taken advantage of by a price of $2800 pesos because some pieces of wood were too large to burn safely in my wood-stove.

So I went looking and wandering last year and found Eduardo. This year I tried a few new places first. One guy said that no wood would be available (of the size we needed) until the end of February as he was too busy selling wood for BBQ or Asado which is smaller. One guy wanted $2900 Pesos a ton and he said he would not stack the wood nor come onto your property but would just dump it in front of your house for that price.

 Eduardo said he would charge me $2800 Pesos but I talked him down. I left Wally waiting in the car as he is not as willing to bargain as I am. So $2700 pesos was decided on and that included the free delivery, coming onto the property and neatly stacking the wood in my wood storage area. One ton of cut wood generally takes a pickup size trucks's bed and a small trailer full, as seen in the above picture. All my orders of a ton of wood from the many different companies all hauled in the little trailer and the pickup full of wood. So that insight might help you judge your order's worth. Astillas is the Spanish word you need for the cut open type of wood versus the word Rolos for the cut log type of wood. I always get the person to write out the price we have settled on, on a piece of paper. It helps get clearly in my head and theirs what the price was in the midst of delivery day.

Since Eduardo remembered last year's routine he remarked how quick the delivery and stacking went this year. Still in looking back over last year's post the cost went up $200 Pesos. I paid Eduardo $2500 per ton last year. As we pay our bills this month we hope to have some more money left over for a second wood order. A better exchange rate would have changed the wording "we hope to" in that sentence to "we will".

We have space now to store 3 tons of wood covered. I added the 3rd storage area while Wally was in California. We use no more than 5 tons per winter and we had about 3/4 of a ton left over from winter.

 I've said it before, Uruguay is not a cheap place to live in and the prices keep going up! My health insurance went up from $1494 Pesos in June of 2011 to $1587 Pesos in the month of January, 2012. I don't know if it will be more this month. I'll have to wait for her knock. Still, richness and beauty in life can be found if you keep an eye out for it and are willing to say yes to it's delivery.