Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Golden Lotus #1

hello all!

how's it? as theyd say in the islands. anyways, sorry its taken me a while to log on and talk about my experiences in Uruguay. so some stuff might be a repeat from fubarrio (hehe).

okay here we go.

people here are very friendly, if you show respect for their culture and show and interest in their language, for the most part people will welcome you with open arms. i actually me a local during the hellish flight issue in d.c. and has become a rather good friend of ours here. and then from their own we met more and more people always end the conversation with "if you ever need anything at all call me." dont get that from other places even the states sorry to say. even the local grocery dude is like if you need anything please call me i am serious. totally friendly people.

you all know how much of a foodie i am and how i love to cook. so, its like really hard to find the stuff i am familiar with everything is in spanish ( i thought i could speak spanish, but apparently not). i've had to special order tofu (being vegetarian and all) from this japanese - uruguayian old lady (cool huh) that prepares all the meals for the japanese consulet. it was like a dollar for 250 grams. it will arrive tomorrow (wednesday) as well as soy sauce. we will see how it works out.

our realastate agent (sra. lucia del castillo) nicest lady ever! like a really sweet aunt! anyways, she is totally connected to everybody here, her family is old uruguary her great grandpa is on one of the dollar bills and her husband is some sort of opera singer. anways, she is a doll very sweet and so compasionate. she has helped us out allot. i really like her, i cant wait to introduce her to you J.B.R. what was i talking about?

ah yes, the food, i finally got FB to eat fish, it was difficil but i did it, it was during our lunch with sra. lucia. a local fish monger (i think thats how you spell it) opened a little eattery that turned into this awsome outdoor resturaunt. we had the bestest freshed fish and chips every (you all know how much of a food critic i am, quality and all)!!! the service was pretty poor though it took forever to get our food, but that is the way they do things around here, slow slow slow lingere lingere lingere. anyhoo, that place delivers fresh fish to your home so i think i am going to do that from now on if the tofu sucks. can you believe they even deliver groceries? yeah, i have to set that up but soon i wont have to carry such heavy bags (those of you who know me, i am suppose to be making a joke).

the best part, i always dreamed of walking a block or so and finding a fresh local farmmer's market with all sorts of beautiful colored verduras (veggies) and frutas (duh?) on a nice warm day. and boy did this place make my dreams come true. we live a block or so away from a tuesday farmmers market. not so big but big enough for me. as soon as FB and i walked to the triangle we were surrounded but sights of brightly colored eggplants, carrots, spinach, tomatoes, letucce, broccilli and so much more. there stands after stands of fresh locally grown produce. the sights were amazing! to touch a head of fresh crips locally grown organic spinach was to die for, the bright green leaves were crispy it was just freshly picked that morning. the plump tangerine was soft like a squeezey ball and the local market dude let us sample some and we were sold! the tastes, humm, fresh like it was just picked from the tree perfectly sweet and tangy at the same time. yumm!!! the people were all very nice and helped me pronounce words. lets see, i usually shop an wholefoods in california, so i spend around $60-80 on verduras alone (to last a week) and we spend about $18 here for not only verduras but three types of cheeses and amazing locally made honey (to die for) (sweet and melts in your mouth oh so yummy honey). so pretty inexpensive.

my hands are getting tired till next time

ciao ciao

golden lotus

Shopping at the vegetable market

(note: i accidentally didn't wait for this to publish after the first time i typed it, so this is a retype. therefore forgive me if i miss some details)

Everyday in Montevideo there is a vegetable market in one of the neighborhoods....on the street...."old school" style.

On Tuesdays they come to our little (fu)barrio. It's about a block away, so we went. There are a number vendors....many are selling identical-ish products of varying quality, so you can shop around and it tends to keep the prices down (and honest). Haggling is not expected and I didn't see anyone doing it. If you did, they'd probably give u a "look"...dunno.

Most all items are clearly marked in chalk on tiny chalkboards and the scales, i'm sure are relatively honest....there is lots of competition for the same customers....so if they were purposely off i'm sure they'd be run out of business by their competitors.

Anyways, as you'll see shortly, if you're used to North American prices then haggling may seem a little silly anyhow. I wrote down a number of prices of things that were all in pesos/kg. For simplicity sake I'll instead describe what we bought, and how much it all cost in dollars, units, ounces, and pounds.

The total bill for the four vendors we patronized was 437 pesos, or $18.20

items purchased:

18 oz. jar of "organic" honey
1/2 pound "hard" upscale cheese
1/2 pound ricotta
1/2 pound of yellow cheese with holes in it (don't remember the name)
7 bananas
3 potatoes (quayle)
2 lemons
2 juicy red tomatos (best/most expensive we found)
20 cherry tomatos
1 onion
3 carrots
4 celery stalks
2 papayas (brazilian -- probably overpriced -- more on this later)
4 kiwis
1 pineapple
30 big snow peas
1 head of lettuce
1 bunch of spinach
6 REALLY good mandarin oranges
20 strawberries (about a box worth)
1 head of brocolli

so, as u can see it's pretty reasonably priced.

interestingly, the last place we went is where golden lotus bought the papayas...this guy was relatively expensive. he must be going for the highend/imported market. :)

Golden lotus tried to buy some asparagus (a bunch wrapped by a rubber band). he wanted 3 bucks for it....they were the small/tender kind. the kind i like (as far as asparagus goes) -- more surface area/volume for carrying olive oil, salt, spices, cheese...anything to override the taste of asparagus! :)

3 bucks? remember, the 18 oz of organic honey was less than $2. So, i asked him about the less desirable biggger asparagus (same size bunch)...he said $4.


He pointed to a label that was wrapped around it that proclaimed it a product of Argentina.

Argentina? Isn't that across the river?!?! :) Like someone in Longview telling you it's "imported" from Portland -- well not *exactly* but u get the point.

I gave him a look that was like, "uh...yeah...and?" We agreed to disagree on the value of the asparagus :)

In summary, the food is remarkably similar to what we can get in the states... The quality is equivalent or better from what I've seen (the price is no comparison, obviously). This is important...more important than one might think...unless you've ever tried to buy lettuce, or a good cheese, or tomatos in parts of Asia or the Pacific Islands and know what i'm talking about. While available (kind of) in the major western hotels, it's imported and expensive, and can be rare and difficult to come by.

All for now. it's ciao(chow)time.


Monday, August 28, 2006

Getting to Montevideo

So, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the cost of actually *getting to* Montevideo, and since the "visiting lamp is lit" there may be some of you who are actually toying with the idea.

Unfortunately, in this regard, you have to be a pretty committed! --- or rich in cash, frequent flyer miles, or have ridealong priveledges with the merchant marines....

United seems to hub out of D.C. for west coast U.S. flights to Argentina....Delta, ATL of course, Continental (they're still in biz??) Houston.

I've found some search engines that will publish every listed fare for a given couple of cities, but the best fare I found wasn't "published". It was on gatewaylax.com and it was one of their fares for resale.

sample fares for seatac to buenos aires (eze). a small hop < 100 or a ferry would be necessary both ways for roundtrip travel to montevideo:

northwest and united r/t oct 15-27th:
Adult: $653.00 + tax + service fee (Published Fare)

air canada roundtrip nov 15th-27th:
Adult: $800.00 + tax (Gateway Exclusive Fare)

air canada roundtrip dec 15th - 27th:
Adult: $895.00 + tax (Gateway Exclusive Fare)

air canada r/t jan15th -27th:
Adult: $825.00 + tax (Gateway Exclusive Fare)

i didnt bother jiggering with dates to avoid expensive days....in general the prices get steeper as the weather gets nicer down here.

all for now.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Cost of Living in Montevideo


if u are one of the few who don't have to worry about things as pedestrian as money, feel free to skip over this post.

Why do you want to live/come/go to Montevideo???

This is one of the most frequently asked questions we get. I'll attempt to list some of the reasons below:

-Climate which is opposes the Northern hemisphere, which means we can "snowbird" a bit.
-Outside of the tropics, so avoiding a lot of the disease/bugs/smells/crazy rainy seasons, etc. that accompany the tropics.
-Urban, pedestrian friendly atmosphere with liberal use of open space and trees.
-Interesting, old colonial architecture.
-Low elevation (lots of oxygen :) )
-Close to river and ocean (temperature moderating and good for import/export)
-Close to Brazil (beaches!)
-Close to Buenas Aires ("paris of south america")
-Liberal property ownership for foreigners - good banking privacy laws
-Relatively safe
-Access to fresh dairy and a diet not TOO unlike ours (although there is a regional obsession with grilled meat -- hard to stay a vegetarian :) )
-Good internet connectivity
-Proximity to Argentina, and their currency crisis a few years ago made it relatively affordable to live (even in a falling dollar environment)

Truly "cost of living" was one of our primary concerns, and it was the first filter I used in determining where we would move.

It was the easiest, since it immediately took a few places off our list of possibilities, including the San Francisco bay area (where we were living previously).

So, what does it cost to live in Montevideo ???

I'll use this post as a repository of the cost of things -- from the everyday to the more obscure.

These costs are being entered at a time when there are about 24 pesos to the US dollar.

This exchange rate can and will fluctuate so take that into account.

These fluctuate widely. We're paying 950/mo for a furnished 3 bd/2 bath in a really good/urban setting. Our place was built around 1930 with updated (large for montevideo) kitchen and baths, very high ceilings, and terrace (outside) sitting space. My kinda place. They were asking 1200/mo., so I imagine there is room to negotiate other rental prices here.

We also saw apts for rent for as little as 250/mo in the city. We looked at a couple for around 700/mo *on the beach* in "Pocitos". These were for the most part top floor (12th) apts, that are supposed to be nice here. To me, they seemed more like burnout miami beach late 50's condos circa 1991 -- right before it started to get nice again :) To each his/her own.

In addition, there are lots of multi-bedroom apts in nice areas near or overlooking parks, etc for under 500 if you don't need one that is furnished...and if you aren't too picky or worried about the size of your kitchen....there are lots more.

Obviously, Montevideo has a lot of the economic opportunity. If you don't need to live in the city (or don't want to) u can get things a lot cheaper (outside of the big tourist stops of Colonia de Sacramento and Punta del Este).

Everyday stuff - lots of things here seem to have a 23% sales tax (that will be included in these prices):


512Mb/s DSL - $55/mo
cellphone calls - .25/min (ouch)
landline - around .025/min (i think)

calls to land/cell from hotels are OUTRAGEOUS -- watch this if u come for a visit -- something like $1.00/min to a local cellphone.


Dunno 'bout cars. To own, most are cheapo "fiats" and the like. A used one will run u about 2500-3500 prob. I don't plan on owning, so that is just what I "heard"

Taxi: 2.50-5 bucks pretty much anywhere in town
Taxi from a/p: 20-25 to center of town (lots of tarrifs on the a/p trip)

Flight to buenos aires: about $75-80 on day of flight
Ferry to buenos aires: about $50 -- but i need to get an updated price on this


Upscale dinner for two $30-$40ish for dinner for two (u can pay alot less too, or a little more)

Really nice south american Cab, or Tannat, or Pinot 2002, 2003 $5-10....it's so cheap compared to the states i haven't even bothered trying the cheaper wines.

small-ish frootloops box - $2.00
baguette - $.40
lays (pringles knockoffs - $2.25
12 "ecologic" eggs - $1.50
2.2 lbs of ecuadorian bananas - $1.00
2 chilean kiwis - $.75
fresh parmesan - $3.8/lb
butter - $1.8/lb
small non fat milk - $.50

(disclaimer: did a "kentucky windage" on the prices from pesos/kg to dollars/lb in my head : ))

It seems the dairy stuff is pretty damn cheap. It's all local and there is no shortage of grazing land. Whether it is subsidized -- i'm not sure...but i notice that none of the dairy stuff is taxed at the 23% rate...the milk has no tax. I suspect (but don't know) that the beef is probably very cheap too....

Like (almost) always...I think the lesso n here is if you can buy local (other than telephone service) do so.

These goods were purchased in a relatively upscale "supermarket". There is also a street market with fruits and vegetables that is in different locations throughout the city daily where outstanding prices can be had for very fresh/delicious fruits and vegetables, but i don't have a receipt to remember the exact prices....I'll try to add them next week.


"The visiting lamp is lit"

....or is it "lighted"?

We're moved into the "flat" that will hold us over until the end of the year.

On the "con" side: The lease is a little short and a little expensive....in addition, the short term nature of it means that getting high speed internet installed (a must) will be a little more troublesome and expensive than ordinarily, but all in all we're pretty pleased.

On the "pro" side: it is a three bdrm/two bath in a very nice neighborhood. it is furnished. it has a balcony in the front, and terrace in the back....and a good sized kitchen (for uruguay). While it doesn't have a view of the water (or much of anything for that matter), very near commercial shopping, and set in a neighborhood with a wealth of shops, tiendas, restaurants, bars, etc. it's walking distance to the coast, and the high end golf club. and, right now the windows are open, the sun is shining and birds are chirping --- pretty good for this time of the year (down here).

The first floor of the two floor duplex is occupied by a critical systems IT company. Very cool bunch. They hooked me up with the wireless connection that I'm using right now and gave me a ride out to the DSL folks to get my contract into them and get them cracking on my own installation next week (hopefully). Good thing, because today is independence day here and none of the inet cafes were open it seems.

So, in summary, like i said in a previous post we've got two empty bedrooms and one unused bath for visitors, but *only until the end of the year*. While we may renew the lease after the spanish owners stop using it at the beginning of March, I'm not totally sure if we'll be here or somewhere else.

One of the reasons the short term lease was attractive was that we could use the time to search for our own place without the pressure/expense of being in a hotel while doing it.

The owners' brother, Antonio, also has a "country house" on the coast between montevideo and punta del este we may be checking out as the weather starts to turn.

More local flavor in my next post --- hasta.


Monday, August 21, 2006

Big First Week Part 0.5

Not sure if it would be seen if i just edited the original entry, but here is a snippet from it:

"Our first stop was "arman suites" on a popular road for shopping, eating, (and also apparently construction, demolition, sawing down trees, accidents, beeping horns, loud diesel engines, etc. :) "

What I didn't get a chance to flush out was the, "etc."

One of the more charming things in the country are the garbage collectors. The garbage collectors are horse drawn carriages -- well, ok -- not carriages -- crap wagons, is more apt.

However, late into the night the silence on the street would be broken by the "clip clop, clip clop" of a horses shoed hooves on pavement. These guys are everywhere. If/when u come, u won't have to go more than 10 or 15 minutes before spying one.

Pretty cool.


First Big Week - Part "Dos"

...So, as a continuation of my intial impressions.....

This time of year the weather can be gloriously sunny and crisp. But, it can also be a little windy and downright cold.

The buses, not blessed/cursed with the same emissions requirements can belch out diesel exhaust at an alarming rate. My travel partner (forever more referenced as "Golden Lotus" or "GL" for short) is finally over having a spontaneous asthma attack each time she sees one of these on the street.

The people here REALLY love their dogs. REALLY love them. In that regard, again, very euro. However, for some reason or another they can't quite lower themselves to being responsible for picking up after them.

The main streets get some doo-doo traffic, but the side streets....charming, tree lined, quite, cobblestoned, scenic walks, are made a little less picture postcard by the bomblets strewn seemingly everywhere on the sidewalk.

Here and there i see people sweeping in front of their homes and I get the feeling that short of homeowners, there is no service (save a VERY strong rain) that can/will clean up after these pooches.

GL and I, (here after known as "FuBarrio" or "FB" for short when referred to by her) took a trip to the old city, "ciudad vieja". Wow. Have I blogged about this yet?

Anyways, old colonial style architecture has always REALLY struck a chord with me. Almost the more decrepid, the more interesting, I'm very sorry to say....It must be my love of pouring money down endless ratholes (?) Because ciudad vieja has some of the most incredible buildings in the most hit-and-miss state of disrepair I've every seen....Aw heck...it's the hands down winner.

It seems obvious to me from the activity that it is undergoing a period of revival, but there are SO MANY buildings, that it could be another 30 years, or two or three RE cycles before it really begins to "wow" normal people -- "normal" people being people that see broken windows on main street buildings and cringe in horror....."abnormal" being like me, who say, "gee, i bet i could fix that up really nice" :)

We took some great pics. There is a street market in a section that is cordoned off for just foot traffic, lots of cafes, bars, etc. There are WONDERFUL little urban parks strewn throughout old town and it is also home to the "mercado del puerto". As soon as we get a cord to download our pics to the pc, i'll post some. in the meantime, i'll find some stock photos online so you all can get a drift of what i'm talking about....just keep in mind that the architectural detail tha you'll see in the pics, though in various states of decline/repair, are THROUGHOUT. It's not just a building or two here or there, so it's hard for me to capture just how many interesting buildings there are without u actually coming and visiting....which brings me to my next bit of news:

We have secured a three bedroom, two bath, duplex on a busy street, however immediately next to a charming little "walkabout" neighborhood....the best/safeest of its kind in the city. our home is directly opposite of the Italian consulate, and they run this town it seems like (the italians).

Two spare bedrooms, plus your own bath and the whole thing is furnished. The visiting lamp is now lit....might want to wait for more favorable weather conditions (late sep, early october and on), but we'll be waiting to hear from each of you! :)

--It dawns on me after finding a pretty good photo bank for ciudad vieja with the link to the right that it isn't really representative of the THRASHED sections of town.

Before u sell everything and move here thinking it's Madrid at 1/5th the cost, I'll try and find some pics that represent ciudad vieja's "handyman specials" & "needs a little TLC" (which are rampant)! Of course, the perverse me, I look at these as opportunities in disguise! :)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Big First Week

Well, we're here. The start of a big/long (hopefully) adventure.

Although the majority of our "adventure" so far has been because of an untimely departure on the 10th of Aug with some very heavy bags, tons of skincare/makeup/cosmetics, and things generally considered dangerously liquidy, I'll refrain from too many boring details and confine most of the anecdotes to what we've found in South America.

Our first stop was "arman suites" on a popular road for shopping, eating, (and also apparently construction, demolition, sawing down trees, accidents, beeping horns, loud diesel engines, etc. :)

Our room was on the "2nd" floor (3rd to you and me).

They don't include the "base floor" in the counting mechanism. Our room unfortunately, fronted the hotel and we were treated to quite a bit of noise the first couple of nights (weekend).

The room, I would give a rough equivalence of a Courtyard Marriott, with a decidedly more urban setting, so there was more of a premium on space in the Armon Suites. The suites were outfitted with kitchenettes, which we barely used....the reason you may ask....We found "Chez Pineiro" at our first meal.

Anyone who knows my travel partner, knows that she is a pizza connoseur. I ordered the pizza americana "capri". The capri includes a thin crust, tomato slices under the cheeze, fresh mozzarella, and black and green olive chunks in the cheese. It cooked in about 30 seconds in a wood oven slightly cooler than the surface of the sun.

My partner instantly declared it "the best pizza" she'd ever had.....I secretly concurred (before she ever tasted it) but i wanted to hear her unbiased opinion first.

Now, I know what you're thinking....end of a long flight, unfamiliar surroundings, we could be impressionable....we returned the next night and had the same experience with the pizza....8 ish bucks. Service was great, but not all the waiters could help if you only spoke English...."Juan" was a really cool waiter that we had the second day (we've been back alot! :) ) and he can help out if you get stuck on what some food on the menu is.

While a fine cafe, I can't recommend anything else on the menu since we are still going "vegetarian" and I didn't try any of the many many many meat dishes....all of which are cooked on an open bbq-like pit. This style of cooking all manner of meat is about as common as starbucks, 7-11's, and gas stations combined.....basically every corner and then some in certain parts of the city.

It turns out there is a big Italian population in the country. REALLY big. Like 1/2 of the people here are of italian descent. The other half look spanish.

I'm consistently mistaken for a Uruguayan on the street and people look at my travel partner as if she just came from the moon! :)....ok...she's back from a shopping trip. more later.