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Monday, January 30, 2012

Sold Out

Well, after almost 3 years of blogging, we have put ads in the side panel of the blog. I slightly rearranged the elements, to allow space. Supposedly, if any of our readers click the ads, some pennies will flow into our "ad sense" account, and when it reaches the grand sum of $10, they will issue a check. We will see.

Giving a generous estimate of possible earnings, it may give us $10 a year (or less), not enough to retire to some South American country and live near the beach......  Wait, we already have that.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Montevideo On The Cheap!

Montevideo is only an hour away from us by a city bus ride costing 35 pesos each. Wally hates driving in that city's traffic so we bus it instead. Still, these days we tend not to go into that town unless business  or paperwork calls on us to do so. I guess basically we are either too lazy or just too comfortable in our little beach community to want to go into the "big city" unless we have to. Well, paperwork called and we had to go. Next month, I'll post about renewing our cedula. It's been 3 years since we have moved here to Uruguay and it's time to renew our residency for another 3 years. So, I'll post on that when the process has been completed.

Since we had to go into Montevideo anyway I wanted to make the best of it. After completing some paperwork I dragged Wally around the city trying out my new camera that he brought back from the States as a gift. I had done a post last year on a friend's Quincho house and I liked the "Cannon SureShot" camera that Wayne (the house's owner) had so much, that I  mentioned it to Wally over the telephone (using Skype). I don't get that excited over stuff so he knew I really wanted one by my tone.

People often say that the Capital city of Montevideo has a slight European quality and amidst the elegant decay that is somewhat true. You won't find Southwest style adobe huts for instance.

I am a visual type of person so with my new camera in hand I looked around Montevideo yesterday with a  "new" photographer's eye. I love architecture so the above photo of an ornate building was a given, that photo was a definite subject to take. Still, I'm a bit quirky, so I looked round for some off the wall or more unusual subject themes to shoot. How about an old cannon embedded on a street corner?

I found this young construction worker interesting. I probably noticed him because I was also hungry. It was lunch time and I started to smell the aroma of the construction worker's lunch being cooked. This being "the land of meat", no ordinary brown bag sack lunch would do for these workers but rather a full-on lunch time Asado/BBQ was being prepared in the street (see the meat, chicken and chorizos and etc.. piled on the BBQ drum on the right?). When the workers saw I was taking this young man's photo they surprised him by dumping cold water (as a joke) down on him from above. Since I was with my husband at the time, I thought it best not to take too many photos of him peeling off his skirt! Remind me, to try coming into the city by myself, next time (smile). 

The sidewalks are treacherous in Montevideo, broken and uneven from the passage of time and lack of repair. Even the relatively larger granite slab sections are dipping down from each other. You could easily break a leg or at least trip and fall flat out on the ground (Medir el suelo). Unlike in the USA if you were to fall, there is no "suing" the city. Here in this country, they feel if you are too stupid to watch your step, then that is your fault, not theirs! So keeping one eye on the ground for safety sake lead me to this interesting discovery.

On several different streets, I saw these little personal attempts or statements (?) at repairing the sidewalks. I don't know what they mean but a little mosaic tile square can be found in almost every neighborhood block. That would be an interesting scavenger hunt, photographing and finding the various tiles!

Since Wally and I are not only retired but rather poor, I try and find Cheap or preferably free things to do when we go out. Montevideo has many things to see and do that won't put a strain on your finances.

I plan to occasionally mention such things to see and do in some future posts. So here's a preview to my "On the Cheap" info.

The plaza Fabini, is a beautiful plaza with an intricate fountain featuring horses and people. The plaza is located in downtown Montevideo between the streets of the 18th of Julio and Colonia.
Usually it is filled with book sellers and people eating outside under umbrellas set out by the restaurant located there. Park benches and nice music played on large speakers can be enjoyed. The park is surrounded by some beautiful buildings that make for some nice photos.

Besides just being a lovely park to hangout in, it also has an underground artist gallery.
"The Subte" meaning underground, isn't a subway station but instead features an ever changing artist exposition. It's free! Just go down the stairs located in the park. There is also a bathroom downstairs in the gallery, that's always an important fact to know and it's free to use as well.

Here is what the entrance looks like and a picture of Wally going down the stairs.

This month's exhibit was a mix of photos, drawings and the featured expo was of several short films projected on the wall. The subject material was, of course, odd and artsy. All films played continuously and simultaneously so you could walk around the room and sit in front of what you wanted to see.

 One film was a slightly disturbing one, featuring a blind man carrying around a woman with no legs. She directed him and he walked the city streets carrying her. That was the whole film, showing him carrying her and wandering around. Only a few times did he brush up against any walls so they made a good team. Wally and I watched the film for quite some time waiting for them to reach some kind of destination or for a point to be made but they never did arrive anywhere. We finally got up and went to another film. We talked about the first film and our conclusion was that it showed the endlessness of their situation. Although, I must admit , I tend not to be overly emotional and so I couldn't help but question why she just didn't get a wheel chair and him a cane or guide dog and hang out together that way! Still the film made you discuss why it was made!

The next short was called, "The Great North" and showed several non-smiling women working in an Ice factory in a snow bound place. They didn't talk  either but just turned some large wooden handles and mills extracting cylinder shaped ice. There was also a "live feed" of a blue wall and window somewhere in the city and sometimes a car would drive by the window or people would peek out of it. I caught an old lady looking through it but missed taking a picture of 2 kids peeking out. So they were living art.

In a back room were some photos of trees that have become part of buildings and walls. This is either because the buildings have been built around them or they have grown through and been kept as is.

These photos have inspired me to be on the lookout for other such incidents of "tree impactions" that I might come across in the future. So, on leaving the art gallery, I took a picture of a tree breaking up the sidewalk.You can see it in the third picture above. I know it's kind of lame, but maybe, it's a start to me joining such an exposition one day. Maybe, I'll try and find more mosaic tiles embedded in the walkways and have an expo called the sidewalks of MVD!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Grumpy Old Man Showed Up At My Door

This would probably be the title of Denise's post about my return home. I had planned on arriving back home on Thursday. I didn't actually return home until today, Sunday. On Thursday, however, a grumpy old man showed up at Denise's door. Tired and frustrated from the return trip home, I was no picnic. Having lugged around way too much baggage, through San Francisco, Dallas, Buenos Aires, Buquebus terminal, Colonia and finally Atlántida, where I found a taxi home- I arrived far less like myself than I have ever been.

After a brief greeting and hugs and kisses (way too brief), I proceeded to unpack all of my goodies. I had dropped the new Macintosh laptop on the tile in the Buquebus terminal in Argentina. Upon powering it up, I found that the charger no longer worked. then I hooked up my new Yamaha electric keyboard to my virtually new Fender amplifier, only to find that the amplifier was busted. Needless to say, the grumpy old man quickly turned into a certifiable idiot.

What should have been a wonderful happy occasion turned into an unpleasant side note.

The next morning I awoke and was faced with 9 months of maintenance issue with the house. First I went to charge the battery of the car with my brand new battery charger, only to find that the battery charger didn't work. Ah well........  So I took it apart, reconnected some wires and got it charging. I decided to back up both of our old computers and then completely reinstall new systems, to speed things up. ABI (a bad idea)! The next 8 hours was spent figuring out how to get things working again and wondering why I always seem to want to improve on things that work. After a nice cup of coffee and talk with Denise, I calmed down some. She pointed out how my return had fallen far short of her expectations. Hey... they had fallen far short of mine. Friday was a better day.

Saturday, I got the car running, the computers back to operating condition, mourned briefly the passing of my "new" laptop and we settled in for a nice relaxing day.

This morning, Sunday, I woke up next to my loving wife, the birds were chirping, the sun was peeking through the window and a cool breeze was coming in. As I lay there, completely contented (and Denise was also), I had finally come home. It had taken several days, but I was home.

By the way- if you ever see that grumpy old man around the neighborhood- kick him in the ass for me!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Punta del Diablo!

Well, I thought that my first blog post for this New Year would be of welcoming Wally back home here in Uruguay but I have had such a busy first month that I thought I'd better start posting a few items instead. Don't worry though, Wally, is in fact, due back, THIS WEEK, Yeah!

As promised, this new year started out with a bang! The neighborhood really out did themselves this year and I got to watch a great display of huge, colorful and loud showy rockets from the privacy of my own back yard. No need to go anywhere but stay home to see them.

The year didn't start out very promising (in a good way). Normally, I have to admit to sleeping in, as I'm NOT a morning person but for some reason it was so clear and bright that new year's morn that I was up and outside at 7 o'clock in the morning unlocking my shutters,  My cat got out, when I opened the door. He normally stays by my side because of past mishaps! Well, I got distracted smelling my Gardenias, which was not hard to do, as they were in full bloom and the next thing I knew I heard and saw 2 dogs (not mine) barking and running down my drive way. I could hear their paws thumping and pounding the pavement and I saw a grey and white blur being chased up my street and into a neighbor's yard, several houses away. Well, I went running after the group, up the street in my PJ's (pajamas) shouting NO, NO, NO! realizing that in Spanish NO! means the same thing, as in English. I could see no red, on that blur of a cat up ahead and I saw that he was well ahead of the gang but still, I was thinking, Why? "Why, did I have to get up this morning?"Why couldn't I have just slept in as usual?" Long story short, I tried not to worry, my new resolve and by 11 o'clock PM, Nathan came home unscathed! Whew! So at midnight, an hour later, I happily watched the new year's fireworks (with Nathan locked in the hallway) much relieved and glad that my fortunes had changed for the better! Maybe, this new year wouldn't be so bad after all!

I finally got to see Punta del Diablo! I went with Melva and Steve, They're a couple who live in Montana  and they came back to Uruguay on another scouting trip to see about retiring here. You have never heard about them before because when they first came here in June, 2011, their trip didn't go so well! In fact, they last wrote me that they were going to check out Mexico instead, over the December/ January vacation holidays.

Here's what happened to them the first time they visited Uruguay. By the way, they are an unconventional couple, she is 70 years old and he is 53? She says, she feels more like 49!

Often people write to Wally or I asking us questions (privately) through our email address when they are seriously considering moving here to live. We are happy to tell them both the pro's and the con's of living here, that they as foreigners will meet.

Steve and Melva, wanted to come to Uruguay for a first-time visit specifically in winter to see what the country was like realistically and not when it was in tourist mode. So I thought, that was sensible of them. I told them that despite their being from Montana (snow country) that they should dress really warmly since hotels, houses and even businesses aren't insulated according to US standards. I have lived in New York City before and Germany and I have lived through some rough, cold winters. One time in Germany, I hung some clothes up, to dry on a clothesline. Since it was in wintertime, the clothes were strung up, inside my house, in front of a lit wood stove. When we were late in returning home that night the fire had gone out and my clothes had become frozen solid in my living room on that line! Stiff and hard, like plastic toy clothes! I just thought you should know, I know about cold winters! I told Melva to bring knit hats, gloves, scarves and socks and a heavy robe and that she would probably have to sleep in them, to feel  and stay warm. I said that even-though the temperature might read 40 to 50 degrees farehneit (in 50 degree weather, Seattleitjs wear shorts and bathing suits!)You'll be cold!  The reason you are so cold here, is that you never recoup your heat loss. So the trick is never to lose your warm body temperature in the first place! I stressed this weekly, as the days for their arrival drew near!

She promptly got a chest cold upon arrival!

I repeated over and over again, that since the plane trip was so long, that they should relax for a few days in their Montevideo hotel sightseeing and enjoying that city. This way, they could get rested up and get acclimated to the weather. Besides, they should see old town and enjoy eating in the Puerto Mercado.

They said they would drive up to see me, the next day instead! As I live up the coast, they wanted to get started on seeing what properties looked like, outside, of the city, They're not "big city type" of folks. They saw me for all of 15 mins. She gave me a compliment, that she knew I would be a clean house type of person. Thank God, for advance notices! Then they drove on up the coast toward Punta del Este.

At the end of their trip, when I asked why, they would not come back to Uruguay again but were now going to checkout Mexico instead, They said they wouldn't come back to Uruguay again because nothing was open for breakfast! That wouldn't have been a problem in Montevideo!

To be honest, things started out badly for them on that first visit.  Kinda like, the same way it started out for me this January (referring to Nat, the cat). June, 2011 saw another volcanic eruption in Chili. So from the start, their trip was effected when their plane was rerouted to Brazil, since planes weren't able to fly over Chili due to the volcanic ash. Brazil does not allow any US citizen to enter that country without a visa obtained well in advance and obtained from outside of the country! So the plane's passengers were met by the military and escorted off the plane. Kinda scary for newcomers, Huh?.

They waited for several hours, then were told that the airport would pay for a hotel overnight stay in Brazil with military escort only. Right when everyone was about to board the hotel bus, an announcement was made that planes could now fly out. Everyone rushed back, barely in time to re-board the plane. Of course, this meant that they missed their checkin time in the Montevideo hotel and the car rental place at the airport where their rental car was, was closed!  So, they had no known place to stay that first late night and no car to find another. However, a very kindly Uruguayan woman, also on board the plane, invited them to stay that late night with her family! A big plus for Uruguay, that they would later look back on. They keep in touch with this woman.

They finally checked into a second hotel, slept a few hours then came to see me as promised. Not knowing how far it was to Punta del Este they left my house in a hurry in order to drive to that night's hotel. Can you see why that first trip left a bad taste in their mouths?

They checked out the various coastal towns (not serving breakfast) then made it up to Rocha and Punta del Diablo. Then their short trip ended and they left not wanting to come back. Until months later that is, when upon feeling better, Melva looked at her photos of their trip! They saw how beautiful Uruguay really is. They recalled the extra ordinary kindness of the Uruguayan people here. Not only of that woman but of most everyone they met here. Kind, encouraging people willing to help them . They recalled that they went to Punta del Diablo twice! That how by the end of the short trip, they finally started to wind down and relax.

They wrote me that they were not going to go to Mexico after all (in December/January) but were coming back here to Uruguay! They want to live in Rocha! They loved it so! I warned them it's isolated and few live there full-time in winter but they want slow and far away!

This time they came back and spent several days unwinding in Montevideo first. Then they wanted to have me join them and visit the Santa Teresa Fort in Rocha. They liked my post on it. By the way, I now know that the fort is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and doesn't open until 1:00 Pm (1300 hours)! I think the guard said in a few weeks it would be open for those days due to the high high season but the sign says different! So we toured outside the fort. Then I mentioned, I hadn't seen Punta del Diablo yet so we went there to check out the town and some lots for sale since they want to buy and build a house there.

Here I am standing in the middle of the town of Punta del Diablo (Devil's point).  The town is a fishing village. A very 60 hippy type of vibe exists there. The reason they liked it and I see why certain other people do, is because it seems to be the most foreign type of place in Uruguay. When people say they are going to, Ooh, South America, this is the idea of what a non-USA town should be like. Similar to a Mexican Beach town. On traveling here most people find Uruguay rather white bread/ European. "Meat and potatoes" versus Hot and Spicy "beans and rice", similar to places in the Caribbean or Mexico. So, In Punta del Diablo you feel a little more like a key west , flip flop wearing, Margaritaville singing, "JImmy Buffet"  Parrothead, type of person rather than a cardigan, zipper sweater wearing, "Won't you be my neighbor" singing, "Mr. Rogers". ( a little nostalgia trip on my part, sorry!)

The above sign post reads "Avenue of the fishermen". In the second photo, you can see a working wrench that is used to pull fishing boats ashore. The third photo shows some people pulling their boat ashore. Can you see how blue the water is (versus, my town's brown water)? That's because this town sits on the true Atlantic Ocean,  my town for example, is really bordering on the last river-water from the Rio de la Plata.

Looking up and down the main drag of one of the two streets of the "downtown central" area, you can see how "funky" this town is!

Since I'm such a visual person, I'm adding several photos to give you an idea of what I saw (and felt ) upon looking around.  Since coming to Uruguay this was the first time I felt I was in a "Latin American"  type of place (meaning foreign 3rd world). I could see the appeal.! I felt like I was on a tropical island rather than on the mainland. As a side note, I have also lived in Hawaii (Maui), lived in Guam and visited Jamaica so I know an island "type of feel" atmosphere.

People watching is always interesting no matter where you go. In the first photo above this colorful character seemed content to just sit and stare out to sea. The area behind him was called the town's feria (market stalls). Someone, down the center boardwalk, at the very last stall had quite an enterprising scheme. They held the keys for the area's public toilet. They charged 10 pesos a person (or, a head; a bad pun). Everyone pointed me further down to her stall.  She walks you to the bathroom, holding on tightly to "the key". I always, have to go, so I'm used to asking "¿Dónde está su baño?" or "Where is your bathroom?" Necessity, often forces you to be quite bold!

The fishermen really do bring their daily catch into town. So since we were hungry, we went to the town's other "downtown" street and sat down at one of the many outside stalls to eat. We wanted some fish. I had Paella. Melva ordered me a rum and coke, much obliged since it was their treat. I think, on my own, I would have ordered a Mojita as I've never had one not made by Wally. I would like to know if he ever really got the recipe down right, taste wise. But hey, free is free, right? Believe it or not, they had a Mexican restaurant with tacos and Frijoles also in this town! So I will bring Wally back here for some tacos as well! This is a new phenomenon growing here in restaurants, Mexican food, It's still very rare!

I wish I had taken a picture of the Churro stand. It smelled so good I bought my own! It cost 25 pesos. They were extruded fresh out of the mill, where they then dropped into the hot oil waiting below. They were fried before your very eyes, talk about fresh! Also, they were filled with your choice of a filling. I got a cream akin to a napoleon, but they had Dulce de leche (of course) and an apple filling, a cheese filling (probably like a blintz) and I think at least 5 or six types in total. It was rolled in your choice of sugar! All for 25 pesos! Yummy!!!

Okay, I digressed! We went to see some lots (more like sand dunes to me!) A lot of building is going on here. It's been "discovered" Still it's somewhat far away. So I'm thinking it's more like a second home kinda place.

 Have you noticed? Kinda seems to be my word of choice for this post. I think it's because as I write this a few weeks later I find that it's terribly hot today and that my brain is melting. Today, was a whopping 97 degrees Fahrenheit! It's not usually this hot here in Uruguay, at least, in my neighborhood!

So we left the funky downtown area and went out to where the building is taking place. Higher quality homes are starting to be built among the more bohemian places and the lot prices are going up! Now it's like 50 thousand US dollars ($50,000) to 80 thousand ($80,000) for a 500 square foot lot! Eighty grand, will get you a lot size of about, a 1000 sq. ft.  I'm talking about a block from the water. The farther back you go, the cheaper the lots become.You had better get a high elevation lot, as I hear that in the months of September through November, some lower streets and lots are flooded. However, I saw giant coverts being put in along the roads as some of the parcels are being developed. I saw and toured a house "for sale" that was $270,000 US!

Taking about some bohemian houses, there really isn't a design code in place. So build what you want it to look like! As evidenced, in the photos below!

The second photo's house looked like it was inspired by a boat! If you look closely at the third photo of an apartment building, you'll see green glass bottles lining the outside wall! (They looked like wine bottles to me). Behind that building, (not seen) is a second building, exactly like the first, with more green wine bottles! The forth photo shows a building made out of industrial sheet metal (tin).

Steve and Melva want a higher elevation lot, both for the view and the flooding issues. I've mentioned that being just off the water's edge and sand, can make a great difference in weather related problems, like extreme wind and sand intrusion. So they agreed and looked at just off the water lots. That's why a view is so important to them. Notice, the forth picture in the series below. I think that in the states that little knoll would be 'bull dozed' down to ground level but that's an example of an elevated lot in Punta del Diablo. A house, will be built on top of that lot! We hiked to the top of several little knolls.

I know, that some people would be disappointed upon seeing Punta del Diablo in person after reading so many different articles about the place. Being hyped up too-much about anything can lead to disappointment. I just found the place to be exactly what it is. A little bit funky, a little bit bohemian with a beach shack feel. Also, a little up and coming and pricey! However, Melva and Steve loved it there. They have already talked to an architect who lives there. It was hilarious that they had me translate for them on what they wanted to be shown, lot wise but I did okay conveying the basics. (Ever remember the movie, "Little Big Man" with Dustin Hoffman?, I was like that).

They will have professional help with any house being built and are in contact with them already. They're hoping that by next year they can start to move here. The architect says that the 1800 sq.ft home they want to build will take at least 10 months to build using a local  crew and that buildings are very "rustic" In Punta del Diablo. Most homes have stone floors to prevent the cracking that building on sand can cause to tiles.

So if you ever want a little less tame feel, come and visit Punta del Diablo. Get a "churro" while there. You won't regret it! Maybe you'll see Steve and Melva there in the future when they come back!