Uruguay

Mandatory: Exploratory Trip(s)

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When we were considering the realities of a move abroad in 2008, we traveled with daughter #1, who was 3 months old at that time to Montevideo, Uruguay and Buenos Aires, Argentina. If we hadn't explored our potential move cities in advance, we probably would not have made the move abroad.

We CANNOT imagine and DO NOT recommend moving abroad, especially with children, without scoping out the location(s) in person first.

It took us a year after that first exploratory trip to put our ducks in a row and plan our move to South America. We moved in March 2009. This was not a quick decision and we'd been contemplating our options for years before.

Like many of our readers, we had completed a ton of online research to even narrow the locations down to Uruguay or Argentina in the first place. Then, traveling with an infant during our scouting trip was simple (at least compared to traveling with a toddler or preschooler!) We wandered and walked for hours, checking out neighborhoods, talking to people, gathering info and heading out at all hours of the day and night. Late night South American dinners are easy-peasy with a sleeping baby at your side!

We receive so many questions about the places where we have lived and we are happy to help, but we can't make the decision for you and you shouldn't rely on ANYONE - let alone a stranger- to sway your decision. You need to see a place in person to really know if that location is right for you.

We recently learned of a young family who had moved to Montevideo sight unseen only to find that they hated it and left after the first week. They are now very comfortably settled in a gorgeous coastal town in Argentina. Their initial experience sounded quite traumatic and although all signs pointed to Uruguay being the perfect fit for them, it was not.

The day-to-day realities of a city could me much, much different for you based on any number of factors: ability to blend in, language skills, your cultural background, expectations, socio-economic level, etc..

Please consider a scouting trip (or two) to any foreign location you may consider living. Your scouting trip, along with all the online information and contacts that you can gather will help you form an accurate picture of a place. Don't forgo this crucial step in the planning process.

To learn more of the specific steps in planning a scouting trip, check out this very informative post on Moving Abroad With Children.

 

 

Pros and Cons of Uruguay

Uruguay list graphic by Lisa
Uruguay list graphic by Lisa

We get a lot of questions about Uruguay. Fair enough- we lived there for 18 months and wrote a lot about it while there. We've been in Argentina now for two years and to tell you the truth, we much prefer Argentina. There is no perfect place and not everyone will agree with the following, but here's our take on Uruguay.

CONS:

  • Uruguay Is Not Cheap. Maybe it was 5+ years ago and maybe it is for those coming from New York or LA, but prices in Uruguay, from housing, to electricity, to personal and kids items, were astonishingly high- even when we got there in March 2009.
  • Humid & Rainy. Much more than I ever thought, Montevideo weather was brutal. Its coastal location means hot and humid in the summers and damp, dreary winters.  Those damp winters created indoor mold and bone-chilling cold.
  • Everyone Was Sick. Expats seem to be sick more often the first year as they are exposed to different 'bugs'. In Montevideo, it seemed like everyone was sick, all the time. Maybe it was the climate, the indoor mold potential and/or the fact that everyone shares mate (pronounced mah-tay, it is a traditional tea-drink that is shared in social settings). People always seemed sick with one cold or another.
  • Residency Process Is Not Fast. We have friends who just got their UY residency after 2.5 years of paperwork and waiting. This used to be a much faster process (6-9 months) but we gave up waiting for ours after a year. The exception to this still seems to be with the purchase of property in UY, you can get residency much faster.
  • Friendly But Not Welcoming. We met lots of nice locals, but those people were not as welcoming into their homes and social circles like we have found in Argentina.
  • Hi-rise Jungle.  Particularly Pocitos and surrounding areas are losing much of the gorgeous traditional Architecture to make way for more high-rise apartment/condo buildings. This is really a shame and I remember crying over at least one demolition of a beautiful home that was tucked between highrises surrounding a park.
  • Goods & Materials. There were many Uruguay-made items, and imports from Brazil were prevalent, but if you are really interested in the same items that you are used to in the USA (or other country) you may be hard pressed to find them. The larger upscale grocery stores had import food items but there were not many.

URUGUAY PROS:

  • Strong Expat Community. Depending on your perspective, this could be either a pro or con. When we were there, it was a definite pro. We made some incredible friends who are now at all corners of the globe. They helped ease our transition and for that we will be forever grateful.
  • Easy To Get Around. We walked, took public transportation and the occasional taxi all through the city and surrounding areas. We took the bus to Piriapolis and to Colonia. Once we rented a car, but transportation was easy without a car of our own.
  • Ferias. Oh, the wonderful ferias, how we miss them! Montevideo had the best open-air markets that set up in the neighborhoods on select mornings. Our neighborhood had a feria on Sunday mornings where we bought all of our fruits, veggies, eggs, cheese and the occasional fish or cleaning products. There is a little of everything. It was amazing!
  • Governmental Stability. Uruguay is known to be a stable government and the current president, Pepe Mujica is a breath of fresh air. Even if you don't like his policy, you have to agree that he is a president like no other.
  • Green Energy Initiatives. Uruguay is making huge strides to add wind energy as a source for electricity. To read more, see this recent article.
  • The Best Daycare/Jardin. We still rank Caminito as the best daycare/jardin experience that we have found. Hands down. It was perfect for us and it was completely worth the 20 minute walk each way from our house in Pocitos. I wish we could find something as good in Cordoba for our second daughter.
  • Grass-Fed Beef. Uruguay and Argentina compete for which country consumes the most beef per capita. In Uruguay, the majority of the beef is grass-fed and it is not all allocated for export, like it is in Argentina. You can see fields of grazing cows if you drive east towards the coast from Montevideo.
  • The East Coast. Upon visiting, I fell in love with the wild coastal villages of Punta del Diablo and Cabo Polonio. Both very different, they were fascinating, lovely and a complete, welcome change from life in the city. I can't wait to go back for a longer visit.

So, those are a few of the pros and cons from our perspective- in no particular order. Montevideo was an excellent jumping off point for us and we liked many aspects of it but as a place to live, we have been much happier with Cordoba Argentina, which has exceeded our expectations in nearly every way. More on that in our next post, the pros and cons of Argentina. We'll see how they stack up!

Hurry Up and Wait

One of our goals in coming to Uruguay was to slow down.

Getting out of the business rat race of the United States would allow us to take life at a slower pace and enjoy each other and our everyday world more, right? Well, a lot has been written about the pace of life in South America and how the siesta culture allows you to slow down. Many smaller stores are closed between 12-2 or 2-4 in the afternoon. !Manaña, manaña! is also a common thought meaning, it'll get done tomorrow. There are no consequences for being late and dinnertime is normally at 9 PM or later.

I've come to the conclusion that patience and the ability to wait is not necessarily inherent in the people here, it is the pace of outside factors that has made the people relax and well...wait.  

Everything takes longer, from the laundry drying on the line, to waiting in a queue at the bank, to taking a number everywhere you go.  People seem fine by this. I on the other hand, am still an antsy North American who has not learned the art of waiting.

Wait and wait. Then wait some more. 

This week I was at a doctors appointment.  Scheduled for 5:20 PM, I got in to see the doctor at almost 7PM. I had things to do. I was playing games on my phone, writing notes for the things to discuss with my doctor and texting my other half, who was wondering where the hell I was..

As I glanced around the waiting room around me, people were just sitting. Patiently. Many not doing anything for an hour and a half. They were not looking at their phones, not reading a book or magazine. They were doing NOTHING but sitting there. I was going insane and must have looked like I had ants in my pants with how much I was squirming and stretching.

When I actually got in to see my Dr., she took more than 20 minutes with me to discuss some changes in prescriptions and I got her personal cell phone number in case I have any questions. I never felt rushed like I have so many times in the USA. I felt cared for.

This is just the pace of life.

I've also noticed that you rarely see people eating or drinking (other than the traditional mate, which is an herbal, bitter green tea that is consumed so much in Uruguay and Argentina that people carry it along with them in a gourd cup with metal straw) while walking or on the bus. Fast food is not extremely common and even at McDonald's, people more frequently eat inside or take it back to their home or office to eat with others.

After 18 months here in Uruguay, I' ve learned that I do not have patience.

Is this something that can be learned? It does not seemed to be ingrained since birth with Uruguayos. Are they just resigned to the fact that every  tramite (official appointment) takes a ton of time?   I do not know. All I know is that life is not necessarily slower in Uruguay, drivers are still fast and impatient, people still have lots of things to do, but in many ways life is more deliberate. Personal interactions are valued more and people are willing to wait for the important things.

Our Weekend on The Coast

We had the most amazing time last weekend exploring the eastern coast of Uruguay. On Friday evening, we rented a car from Thrifty.  When considering the name, ironically, it was the most expensive portion of our road trip.  Vital, though, as you can't really have a road trip without a car.  It was a Hundai Sonata-type which was new, but without some of the features that I would consider standard- like airbags. Eeeek!  It did have a great Pioneer stereo system, though…

We took off early on Saturday morning. Our daughter was thrilled to get the chance to sit in her car seat, so luckily we had a very eager traveler (She doesn’t get much of a chance to ride in her car seat here in UY since we have no car.)  After a quick stop at Montevideo Shopping’s McDonalds to get coffee and medialunas, we were on the open road

Atlántida beach
Atlántida beach

Without a set plan, but a few key places we wanted to see, we drove east along la Rambla to find where it would take us. Saturday was a beautiful, sunny morning and we felt a great sense of adventure for what was our first tip into rural Uruguay since August.

La Rambla turned into Route 1, which brought us to Atlántida and we couldn’t pass it by without at least driving though. What a sweet little beach town, and only about 30 minutes from Montevideo! It was obvious to me why this relaxed but upper-end town is a popular vacation spot for both Montevideo-ans as well as Argentines.  It was well groomed, cute houses and hotels, a nice mix of city and beach amenities and beautiful sandy beaches with rolling dunes.

We continued to drive for as long as we could along the coast while dodging dunes that had blown into the road.  It was becoming more rural as we drove and a we had a fantastic peek into these beach towns at the very end of summer, while the weather was still warm, but the crowds had already gone back home.

Atlántida fishermen
Atlántida fishermen

The road eventually brought us back to Highway 9, just outside or Pan de Azucar. We’d been to nearby Piriápolis twice, so we decided to stay on 9 and keep driving past Piriápolis.

Next on our list of things to do was a visit to a very under-appreciated beach with a unique claim to fame in UY, called Playa Chihuahua.  More on that in a later post.

Since we were on the road to Punta del Este, and we were craving Thai food, we drove into town to see what we could find. Our wireless modem was giving us a few options for food, so we drove but unfortunately found nothing. Punta was still surprisingly busy and was slow driving through the main shopping streets. I can’t imagine what it is like in January!

Back to the ocean drive, this time on Route 10 to La Barra.  I thought la Barra was a very cute little town, with a bit of the glitz and glamour of the upscale shops of Punta, with a beachy, small town feel.  It reminded me a lot of Santa Barbara and Montecito, CA.

Still driving and getting increasingly more hungry, we decided to stop for a late lunch in Jose Ignacio.  This was a very beach oriented city with very few restaurants or services.  A beautiful setting, as the whole town in on a hill away from the coast, it felt like the type of place you went to escape and be at the beach… with very few interruptions. But Jose Ignacio still had some inklings of Punta del Este, and not nearly as bohemian as day 2 of our adventures.

We found a good-sized restaurant that was open at 3 in the afternoon and had a great combination of a Waldorf Salad (Brad) an Chicken sandwich (me) and milk/random condiments for our two-year-old.  Being very much a toddler, she decided that she didn’t want what we ordered for her so she ate the ketchup and mayonnaise.  The kid likes condiments.

On the road again with full bellies and somewhat happy to be leaving the beaten path a bit, we drove on.  We detoured into Rocha and after an initially poor view of the cemetery coming into town, we found a few cute tree-lined squares, beautiful cobble stone streets and some charming traditional Spanish-colonial architecture. We decided to press on and spend the night in la Paloma.

Sunset in La Paloma
Sunset in La Paloma

We stayed at a nearly empty hotel in La Paloma called Hotel Trocadero.  The hotel was nothing special but comfortable, two blocks from the beach and for UY$900/night, including breakfast, we couldn't complain.  La Paloma is on a peninsula, so it’s very easy to find beach there.  Also due to its location, it has some AMAZING sunsets over the water. We just can’t get that in Montevideo, at least not on our side of the city where the sun slips behind the buildings and you can never see it hit water.

After getting ice cream, and before dinner, we walked down Av. N. Solari, which is the main road in La Paloma, directly to the rocky beach to see the sun go down.  There were others gathered, standing, in lawn chairs and even in their cars on the hills. We found a place to sit on a rock outcropping facing directly west with an excellent assortment of shells at our feet.  The sunset was an incredible display of red and orange and was worthy of applause by our fellow viewers when it finally slipped below the horizon.

The sunset was definitely the high point of our visit to La Paloma. After a disappointing seafood dinner and some window shopping ("What? That skirt is UY$ 2200??"), we returned to the modest hotel to get some sleep.

The next morning, we ate a beautiful, albeit bready, breakfast at the hotel, took a quick walk on Bahia Chica, the beach on the eastern side of the peninsula and packed the car for another day of adventure….

More to follow about day 2 in Cabo Polonio and Punta Del Diablo, along with our day 1 adventure at Playa Chihuahua.

"Going to the Zoo, Zoo, Zoo...."

(click to hear "Going To The Zoo" song by Raffi)We visited the Zoo in Montevideo in June (and again last weekend) and the Zoo in Piriápolis in August.  Both are great options but I highly advise that you visit now that we are in the warmer months!

In Montevideo, the Zoo Villa Dolores has a great location, close to the heart of the city. Many of the animals were in hiding when we first visited on a cold Sunday morning- but were out enjoying the sun on our second visit. The displays and animal enclosures were actually quite nice compared to what I remember in the USA as a kid.  Zoo Villa Dolores has all the usual suspects: elephant,  hippo,  lion, giraffe, zebra, along with tons of monkeys,  birds (including flamingo and peacock), goats and sheep.  There was a separate reptile/spider building, a kid's play area and plenty of other diversions in the park.  We had a lot of fun with the standing scenes that you put your head through... whatever they are called...

Location: Avenida Gral. Rivera 3245

Hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 9 AM- 7 PM

Cost: $20 pesos.  Free for under 12 and over 70.

Free for everyone on Wednesdays.

Giraffe- Zoo Villa Dolores Montevideo
Giraffe- Zoo Villa Dolores Montevideo
Peacock- Zoo Villa Dolores
Peacock- Zoo Villa Dolores

The Zoo in Piriápolis is in a different league completely.  It is relatively new and I have heard that it is partially a zoo and partially a local fauna breeding center.  It's built into the hillside of Pan de Azúcar (Sugar Loaf Mountain), a  400 meter high granite hill with a 35 meter high cross on top that you can climb up into the arms (after another 100 steps). All of the animals at this zoo are housed in "natural" settings and it is a fun maze to wind though to find the animal enclosures among the trees and flora.

This zoo was free to enter and had some beautiful and unusual animals, mostly on the small side and many native to this region of South America.  The largest of the animals was a single tiger who was maybe a bit too vocal, and in fact, a little scary.  There was also a reptile/spider building here and a true variety of settings as you walked from lake/marshland to heavy tree cover, to prairie setting. It was beautiful.  My favorite, the capybara.  There is a restaurant nearby and a huge play area and park for picnics.  Pack a lunch, as our wonderful friends did for us, and take a hike up the Sugar Loaf "mountain" when you're done.  The path leads up from the zoo.

Location: 6 km north of Piriápolis on Route 37, at the foothill of Pan de Azúcar

Hours: Daylight

Cost: Free

Pan de Azúcar Capybara
Pan de Azúcar Capybara
Pan de Azúcar park
Pan de Azúcar park

Expo Prado 2009

September 12 Prada
September 12 Prada

Another day in Uruguay- another adventure. Yesterday we went to Expo Prado 2009 for their "Day of the United States'.

We hopped the 522 bus on 21 se Setiembre for 16 pesos each, which dropped us off at the edge of Parque Prado in half an hour. Thank you montevideobus for helping plan our adventure!

Expo Prado 2009 is a fair celebrating Uruguay, it's rural culture (fitting, because 'prado' means 'meadow' in English) and showcasing artisans, manufacturers and even exhibits of other countries. This is the 104th year of the Expo and it has been held in the Parque Prado since 1913. It almost like a state fair in the USA- except at a state fair you don't have buildings featuring Argentina, Brasil and Mexico. Since it was the Day of the United States,  the US Embassy had an area selling some products that we can't normally purchase here, like donuts, Dr.Pepper and Starbucks coffee. Is that what the USA is all about?

We entered the Expo for a mere 95 pesos each (adults) and wandered through the exhibits and buildings for 4 hours.

The most fun we had was seeing the animals. Since beef is a huge industry here, the cow was well represented, with some gorgeous Angus cattle and many other varieties, housed in three buildings. The many cows, horses and sheep that we saw were all impeccably groomed, both for judging and for sale. Uruguayos love their pork as well, but funny that there were no pigs, except the ones seen cooking...

Pork Roasting
Pork Roasting

There was a rodeo with steer-roping demonstration, an American football 'game' being played poorly, lots of farm equipment on display and plenty of food (unfortunately not on a stick).  It was a great time and so easy to get there and navigate the park.

The great thing about taking the bus and exploring some new areas of town is that you are free to look around and dream. The route to Parque Prado wandered through Centro and then headed north. The neighborhoods immediately surrounding the park are amazing, with gigantic homes built in the early 20th century. Many have fallen into disrepair, but are still really beautiful examples of the boom in Montevideo between 1900-1940. At that time, there was plenty of affluence and money and Prado was the place to be. I hear that the Uruguayan President's home is also in the Prado area although we didn't see it.

Even if you miss the Expo for this year, still wander through Parque Prado and the surrounding neighborhoods. I can't wait to go back and explore.  The expo takes up only a portion of the park- so it'll be great to see the rest.

Expo Prado 2009

September 9th-20th

9 AM-9 PM

U$95 adults

U$50 kids 6-12 and adults over 65

Free for kids under 6

Cattle Barns
Cattle Barns
Prado Central
Prado Central

SUAT Emergency Service

We signed Geneva up for SUAT Emergencia Móvil service yesterday. She had pinkeye again and I also wanted to get her ears checked since she had an ear infection last month.  We did not like the idea of spending another 4 hours and U$S 120 at the Hospital Britanico, so we started looking into the alternative - one of the many Emergency/Urgent care services in Montevideo.

SUAT Policlínica Pocitos
SUAT Policlínica Pocitos

These companies offer Policlínicas (urgent care clinics) as well as ambulance service and in-home doctor care.  It is essentially a Minute-Clinic with actual doctors on staff who also make house calls and can bring you to the hospital if needed.

We were thrilled with the service at the SUAT Policlínica just a few blocks from our house. Within 10 minutes of arrival, we were done with the sign-up paperwork, paid and in an exam room seeing a doctor.  We had a quick exam and we were out again in about 30 minutes total, prescription in hand. Brad ran down the block in the other direction to the pharmacy, stopped to get some empanadas and was back with the eye drops and lunch in hand after only 10 more minutes (he claims it was only 6 minutes, but I digress...)

The amazing thing is the cost: about U$S 10.50/month for full-service membership. Yes, that is about $125 per year for emergency and urgent care.  We got in a 6-month promo, which is only approx $5.30 per month ($ 127 pesos).

Many families that we've talked to here have this type emergency service membership for the entire family, in addition to their hospital or mutualista membership. Others have the additional emergency service just for the kids - for those unexpected "kid" incidents.

We'll probably just keep it for Geneva right now.  It's the peace of mind knowing that we can call in the middle of the night and a doctor will come over, all paid with our monthly membership.

A few of the most popular Emergency service providers are SUATSEMM, and UCM.

*We did learn at the SUAT Policlínica that we did not need a prescription for Geneva's eye drops, but with a prescription, we can get a discount at the pharmacy.  We may need to check that out because unfortunately, now I have pinkeye as well ;(

This has nothing to do with Uruguay...

Except that my redheaded friend Danny traveled throughout UY and Patagonia about 6 months ago. He's the first guy you see coming down the aisle in this fantastic video. You have to watch it! It will just make you feel good. :)

UPDATE: This video JK Wedding Entrance Dance had about 2000 views on YouTube when we posted it to our blog yesterday. It's now at about 200,000 and we're sure it will hit 1 million very soon. The bride and groom will be on Good Morning America and the Today Show on July 24th and 25th.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-94JhLEiN0