Daily life

Rebirth of UR MOVING WHERE!

The decision has been made. The commitment is real. We're back and blogging again about our lives in South America! Check out this short video about our plans: httpvh://youtu.be/YrX5ahqHKTc

We're in Cordoba, Argentina and absolutely love it here. In the coming weeks and months, we'll tell you about:

  • Renting a house as foreigners
  • Banking and exchange rates- some great tricks
  • Travel with kids
  • Location Independent lifestyle/Location Independent Parenting
  • Renting a car (or "You Better Be Able To Drive A Stick")
  • Places to visit in and around Cordoba Capital
  • The Medical System and Health Insurance
  • Looking back at our time in Montevideo, Uruguay and Bariloche, Argentina

Thanks for following our adventures and we look forward to hearing from you!

Living the Life, Bariloche Style

We made it into San Carlos de Bariloche late last night after a long day of travel. Our non-stop flights were booked months ago with Pluna but we learned two weeks ago that the Pluna permit was pulled by the Argentine government and Pluna was no longer allowed to fly into Bariloche. Luckily, the airline re-accommodated us on other airlines and we ended up flying Pluna to Buenos Aires and LAN from BA to Bariloche - after a 5 hour layover in Buenos Aires. It was late when we finally arrived in Bariloche and even later after we claimed all of our bags and the dogs, but we made it. Many thanks to our new landlord Jamie, who picked us up from the airport in his truck. We all just barely fit.

The house we are renting is exceeding our expectations and we even had a bottle of wine, a box of handmade Bariloche chocolates and a budín to greet us upon arrival. Fabulous! We are exploring every inch of the space and getting unpacked. The dogs already love having a fenced-in yard for the first time in their lives and the many plants and birds have been a huge source of entertainment already for our daughter.

The most spectacular aspect of the house is not the inside, but the view to the outside. We'd seen photos of this view before we got here, but it is even more breathtaking in person. It looks like a painted set in a play and it's hard to believe it is real and we can gaze onto this very landscape every day we are here.

I think we're going to enjoy being in San Carlos de Bariloche. We have a lot to do to set up our (temporary) lives here but we can't wait to get out and explore.

A Steady Yoga Practice

I am happy to say that my yoga practice is back on track.

After practicing on and off for 5 years and then trying a few different classes here in Montevideo, I have found an instructor and class format that I really love.

Twice a week (I would love to do more) I am waking before my family to spend an hour and a half on my physical and spiritual connection through an incredibly supportive, nurturing yoga environment. In turn, I have gotten physically stronger, my practice has advanced in ways that I would have never previously imagined and I have an unquenchable thirst for more yoga knowledge. Not only a physical practice, I am inspired by the yogis I have met and read about. Of course, I have a long way to go on this yoga journey and I am, in fact just a beginner.

Brad also appreciates the time I devote to my yoga practice as I'm much more grounded and centered after I practice and in fact, I feel like I can be a better wife and mother as a result.

Another wonderful addition to the yoga practice is my increased knowledge of Spanish. I have learned Spanish words and phrases that I never would have ordinarily experienced without taking a class exclusively in Spanish. Between that and increased sanscrit knowledge, it is a language lesson as much as a yoga practice!

I look forward to yoga in Bariloche nearly as much as I do day-to-day life there. With the naturally beautiful environment comes and energy and a force that is perfectly paired with yoga.  As I imagine myself living in such a place, I cannot help but integrate my practice into the equation. T-2 weeks and we will be moving out of our house in Montevideo, with our flight out a few days thereafter. You can guess I'll have my yoga mat in hand.

If anyone wants the contact information for my fabulous current yoga instructor, Cecilia, please email me. The morning studio is very small (with a class max of 4 people) but she also teaches higher capacity evening classes at a nearby gym.

Our Next Adventure

Bariloche, Buenos Aires, Uruguay MapUruguay has been our home for the past 16 months and we love it. Through the ups and downs of adjusting to life in a different culture, we have been truly fortunate to find ourselves in such a place. We are ready for a new adventure, most likely temporary but we don't know. All signs are pointing us toward San Carlos de Bariloche,  Argentina. We plan to be there for the low season of October through December. If you don't know Bariloche, it is a very different type of place from Montevideo. Located in the mountainous area of northern Patagonia, spring is the low season there with skiing being the main draw in winter and hiking/water sports in the summer.  Since we have never lived in the mountains but would like to, this area really appeals to us.  There are other towns nearby such as San Martín de los Andes and El Bolsón that we plan to explore and the variety of outdoor activities in this mountain/lakes region is incredible.

One challenge with our plan is how to live in a more rural area without a car.  The Bariloche area has a great bus system that runs a loop from downtown to the main roads, with other buses running long distances from Bariloche. While we explored living within the city proper, we were told in no uncertain terms that while the city has all the modern conveniences, the city is not why people come to live in Bariloche. Now we are researching temporary rentals on the main bus loop or within a decent walking distance to the city center.

Our flight is booked for September 25th, our current landlord is notified of our lease termination and we are starting the purging process all over again.  There is no turning back now!

Our list of things to sell will be coming shortly. It is amazing how much you can acquire even when you live in a furnished  rental and never really purchased much.  Alas, we have plenty of housewares, toys, clothes, books and cloth diaper supplies that we will be selling.  The plan is to come back to Montevideo during/after high season 2011 but we don't want to store all our extra stuff, so away it goes.

Wish us luck!  This extended vacation will hopefully be just the thing we're looking for.  New things to learn and explore within a beautiful, restorative environment.  You can't forget the great German architecture, handmade chocolates and artisan beers produced in the Bariloche region!  Sounds like my kind of place!!

It's Here!

Today it’s here.  Autumn in Montevideo.  Cold, rainy and windy as all hell. I knew it would be on it’s way, but not quite so soon. Last year this time was still warm and mild, a late summer after we’d first arrived here.  It was glorious.

Today, after two full days of rain, the winds really picked up.  I do love the leaves blowing about and the amazing pink-flowering trees that have been all aglow in blossoms.  I’ve intended to get photos- but alas, the high winds today have probably stolen my opportunity.  Much the same thing happened with some glorious purple-flowering trees last spring. We shall see them again, I am sure.

I really look forward to this winter with roaring fires in our fireplace (note to self: order more firewood), knitting in earnest again, crisp sunny days when I walk G to the jardín, and a plethora of warm beverages. After a year here, I am finally ready to take up the habit of drinking mate.  It makes complete sense to me now. Cool, damp, blustery days were made for mate.  Just to refresh your memories: Mate is the drink typical of Uruguay and Argentina that is served in a hollowed out gourd and carried with a thermos of hot water, ready for the refill.  It is a perfect way to maintain a toasty drink at the ready all day long and with minimal effort.  I’ve got a feeling that my winter will be much more comfortable!

Looking back on it, I am so thankful for our amazing getaway on one of the last perfect beach weekends this summer. Yes, I know, I still have two more parts to write about that saga, but hey, now that it’s cold, I’ll definitely spend more time indoors writing.  There’s just so much LIVING to do, it’s hard for me to sit and journal everything.

It all boils down to this: Another season, another change, another side of Montevideo.  We learned from last year.  We'll do a few things differently this fall and winter.  Just try to avoid falling branches in this wind...

One Year Ago Today

We arrived in Montevideo on March 26, 2009. What a year!! We've had the opportunity to explore so many corners of this great city.  We've learned more Spanish and met lots of wonderful people- both Uruguayos and extranjeros.  As many Uruguayos don't seem to understand, we like it here.  We have chosen to come here.  It was not a mandated move due to work or education, we chose Uruguay as our home and we really love this little country.

We've grown as a family over this past year and while we don't have a baby on our hands anymore, she has grown into a very capable toddler. We still adore Jardín Caminito, our daycare, and how loving and supportive they have been for us.

The lease in our current house has been extended for another few months (was set to expire on April 20th).  So it is another winter in our cute but drafty home!  This time we won't be so thrifty (jaja!) and we'll be using our grocery store loyalty points to get a space heater.  This is a supplement the fireplace and bedroom electric units.

Come spring, who knows what we will do.  It'll be a perfect time to travel a bit without the expense of an empty house. Maybe an extended stay travel with 3-6 months somewhere?  Maybe Bariloche, Argentina?  The world is our oyster and we are going to treasure every moment here!!

Artwork by Uruguayo Joaquin Torres-Garcia; Upside Down Map (1943).  Uruguay is located at the coordinates, near the top line.

Expat Turnover

We have learned that not one, not two, but 7 families that we know in Montevideo will be leaving within the next 5 months.  Nearly all are leaving for work or educational opportunities, but some for a new adventure or economic reasons. Truth is, with inflation and the falling exchange rate of the dollar, it has become more expensive to live in Uruguay than it was when we arrived here 10 months ago and certainly when others arrived a few years previously.  Oh, why does the UY economy have to be so stable ?? (Unlike the Argentinian economy, which remains less stable  and as a result- a more favorable exchange rate from the US dollar). Great for Uruguay, not so favorable for expats!

We had been warned about the very common Expat Turnover and how it can go in waves.  We were just not prepared for quite the rush of people we know leaving Montevideo within such a short time.

We are very excited for the new friends arriving here on a regular basis, and more are sure to follow.  While it's hard to build relationships and then have people scatter to all ends of the world, (or rather Toronto which is strangely where many are going, but also to Thailand and the USA) we look forward to welcoming the new people coming to Uruguay, and staying in touch with those friends leaving.

To those of you leaving: We love you all and will miss you terribly. We'll keep up on facebook! Thank you for all the fun times, the support when we needed it and for helping us feel at home here in Uruguay.

With our Expat friends in UY, we have experienced: Piriapolis, numerous asados and pizza parties, birthdays, Friday lunches, Expo Prado, yoga, the beach and pool parties, zoos, movies, fubol matches, the parks, many exchanged notes, stories and recipes and so many other wonderful memories.  Thank you!

(Please note: While one rarely hears the word "Adios" here in Uruguay, it is universally understood, and well, I didn't have a photo of "Chau" written in the sand!)

"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

Expat Travel Technology: Watch Hulu, Sports, Movies, Live Streams Abroad

Missing some of your favorite shows back in your home country? We’re not huge TV fanatics (we didn’t get cable or DirecTV hooked up the moment we landed in Uruguay, but I sprung for rabbit ears at the grocery store US$3) however we like to watch a few things like 30 Rock, House and an occasional sporting event in the States and elsewhere. The best access to these shows and many others is video stream via your computer. To access most video streams you have to be in the country where the program airs. Hulu, NBC.com, Fancast, CBS.com, and NFL.com all require that you live in the US to watch their broadcasts. Shows are typically available within 24 hours of their original air date. The problem is their websites know where you live; they will pick up your computer's IP address and say “Hey, wait a second, you don’t live in America. You don’t help pay the bills through buying from our advertisers.” I argue the contrary, but it will deny you access. What you need is a solution to convince Hulu and others that you are in the US or UK, Canada, even if you're in South America, Europe, Asia or Timbuktu.

StrongVPN

The solution is StrongVPN. Love it! I can establish a virtual connection to the States, in our case. Currently, we’re "in" Washington D.C. I’ve found that it has the best/fastest connection for the best video streams. After following a quick step by step tutorial from StrongVPN you will automatically be able to connect with one click any time you want to stream video. It will slow down your connection a little bit but generally it's fantastic.

The plan I recommend for most users is the 3 City Special PPTP US$55/year plan. It gives you access to San Francisco, New York & UK. I use the Lite Open and PPTP plan. It’s US$90 per year. It just gives me access to more cities and connection options. If you have a connection that’s not particularly fast one day to can switch to another. You’re allowed to change cities/servers 3 to 5 times per month without charge. You can also upgrade and downgrade without extra setup fees.

I have watched: various TV shows, NFL games (just caught the Giants/Dallas game) US Open Golf (it was a perfect Live stream in near Hi Def quality) The British and US Tennis Opens and many more.

Connect to StrongVPN and go to Hulu.com, NBC.com or where ever your program is available. Most of the video sites look like Tivo or YouTube. Use Firefox 3 as your browser. I’ve tried with Google’s Chrome and Internet Explorer 8, but Firefox is the best. Once you queue up your show, let it buffer for a little bit. Definition: Give the “Internets” a little time to load the show into the viewer. For Hulu, you will see a buffer gauge of one to five bars just like your mobile phone. The more bars the better. Once it gets to about 3 or 4 bars you’re usually safe to hit play. Sometimes you need to wait to 5 bars to get a good uninterrupted quality video stream. Hulu, Fancast, etc. usually run a 15-30 second ad every 10 minutes or so--a lot fewer commercials than you find on TV. The commercials are almost worth watching, since the advertisers don't have the FCC breathing down their neck on the Internet. The ads might screw up the buffer, so you may need to pause the show for a minute. Once you’re buffered up again, you're ready for your TV enjoying experience.

Quick Recap of what you need:

  • A computer with XP, Vista or Mac (Sorry don’t know about Linux)
  • Good internet connection. (i.e. not dial-up)
  • A web browser. Firefox 3 has worked best for me.
  • StrongVPN, Pick your plan.
  • Hulu, Fancast, or other site that is otherwise blocked for foreign users.
  • Enjoy!

StrongVPN: Other Cool Stuff

Pandora

Get Your Music Fix. Another little bonus is streaming music from Pandora.com. It's closed outside the US, but thanks to my US IP address; I'm able to listen to 30 hours free per month. There is an alternative, Last.fm. It's US$3/month to stream music without a US IP address. Although very much like Pandora--Pandora has a better mix of songs in my opinion. There are also some radio stations for both talk and music that are only available to US listeners. The stream quality of music is excellent and there is no notable difference compared to my experience in the States.

US Website Access

The reason I first looked into StrongVPN was to convince regular websites that I’m in the States. Since I operate a travel company, I need to shop the competition. I can’t have Expedia or Priceline thinking that I’m in Uruguay when I want them to believe I’m in the US. The sites are different abroad and you can’t always select a US version. I’ve also heard reports from Expats of rejected transactions by Amazon, PayPal , etc. even though their billing address is in the US provided through Earth Class Mail, family, or other residence. By using StrongVPN these sites always assume I’m in the US. It’s been great and is a small cost of doing business.

Email:

My email messages are less likely to go to spam folders when sent from a US IP address. It's kind of important that my clients receive my emails. ¿No?

Poor man's solution:

I do have a workaround, which is particularly helpful for live events that are not available online. I like to watch the Vikings. I can't find a free stream online, so I've had my Dad fix his webcam on a TV in his office where we usually Skype. We start a Skype Video call and I am able to watch the whole game. The quality isn’t perfect, but last week I was able to watch Brett Favre rip his old team the Packers on Monday Night Football. It was glorious.

I’ve tried several solutions and StrongVPN has been the best and serves the purpose of both business and pleasure. I’d love to hear any other solutions people have for watching their favorite shows while living or traveling abroad. Please add your comments.

A Week (and a half) in Review

Spring in Montevideo is coming in fits and starts this year. Cold and rainy one day, 70 degrees the next. I'm amazed at how quickly time here is passing and we're keeping busy with lots of different activities. Dia del Patrimonio was a great family day. We went to Ciudad Vieja's Plaza Matriz and toured Club Uruguayo (Uruguay's most prestigious private social club, founded in 1878), the Cathedral of Montevideo and the Spanish Embassy on Sunday. All were very beautiful old buildings, with the Embassy being an eclectic mix of traditional and austere contemporary architecture. We wanted to get out and see more places on Saturday, but we had a spring festival on the farm with the preschool class, so we were otherwise occupied with kids, animals and lots of food. Saturday was the nicer of the two days so I was happy that was our day outside. Sunday was cold and rainy and a perfect day to dash from one building to another, which is exactly what we did.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9pXFN_MTVQ

We're busy planing our trip back to the USA in December and all of the festivities there. Early December brings us our little girl's second birthday and a baby shower for my sister-in-law and first niece. Later in the month we celebrate Christmas with multiple families and try to equally split our time, which is not always easy. We fly back to MVD on the 28th, which happens to be on the same flight as another family we know who is moving here!  We are so excited and can't wait to have them join us in this fair city.

This past Saturday we went to our first wedding in Uruguay!! It was a beautiful church ceremony- very formal and very late. The invitation stated a start time of 8:30 PM. We were advised not to get there before 9 PM, and the ceremony started at about 9:15. A few differences: there were no attendants, no ushers, no programs. We also learned that it's customary for there to be two or even three sets of invitations sent out: one to the ceremony only, one to the reception and sometimes one to the after-reception. Receptions usually last until dawn or later. We went to the ceremony only- but had a great dinner out afterwards by ourselves at a funky little restaurant/interior design studio called Innove.

Wedding

As if we don't have enough going on, we've been in our house for 6 months and are already thinking of the lease end. A unique opportunity has presented itself and we are weighing our options. A family that we know and love is moving to the USA for a year, and renting out their house here in Montevideo. It's in the Cordon neighborhood, and is close to the jardín, hospital we belong to and many other services. This is an area we have been considering for our next house here, but since it is not the "normal" expat/tourist areas of Pocitos or Punta Carretas, the furnished rentals are very limited. This house is furnished and quite a bit larger than our current house for hopefully about the same monthly rent. Brad and I could each have private offices within the house! The lease terms don't quite match up so we all need to talk more- but it's an exciting prospect!

I'm definitely feeling some of the ups and downs of life in Uruguay. The longer we are here and the more we learn, the more we like some aspects of life here and dislike others. That's true with any place I suppose.  Some days I am really homesick (mostly for how "easy" it is to exist in a place you know well) but I do like Montevideo. This is a unique place with unique people that can't seem to understand why we would want to come to tiny Uruguay "just because".

Thanks to Our Readers!

Thanks to all of you who have been sending us email, commenting on our posts and 'voting' in the polls! We've been working to get back to everyone and we're excited that we have so many readers.  I'm nearly caught up on responses.  We also LOVE comments on our blog posts- new or old. Don't be shy! Of course I have a list of potential posts that I need to write, including a new series that is in the works.  I've also been editing some of our previous posts with updated information.  Life in a new country is a constant learning experience! If you haven't looked back in our archives for a while,  now is the time to do it. Check out our information, observations and rantings.

We're excited to see spring right around the corner in our part of the southern hemisphere. Energy is high and we can't wait to get out to the beaches in another month or two. October and November are going to be great months here and I already know of a few families planning to arrive then. When are YOU going to join us in Uruguay???

All Our Best,

Lisa, Brad and G

Lightbulbs by Suki Davis

While we've focused on retelling our experiences in Uruguay, there are some times when something is written so beautifully and thoroughly that it shouldn't be paraphrased. A wonderful friend of ours wrote the following article about the daily realities of life in Montevideo. Hope you enjoy. Lightbulbs by Suki Davis

I want to tell you about light bulbs, not that I have an inherent interest in the things themselves. As you may know, we have had a few spontaneous power outages in the past weeks and several of our bulbs had blown as a result.

While I was in the shops, I thought of my English student that evening and decided that we could not work in the half light. I went to the hardware aisle to pick up a couple. Dumbfounded I was, looking at the choices and styles. I read all the labels. Did I need a large base or small one? Did I need the conventional 60 watt or the fluorescent 11 watt that was equal to the 60 or the 7 watt one that was actually 45 but lasted eight times longer? Did I want the Germany trade mark brand or the Chinese made generic brand? Electricity here is very expensive. I looked and I left the store without new light bulbs.

At home, I removed light bulbs, scrutinized them, investigated the different types, even talked with a neighbour. Then, I could return to the store to buy the best bulbs.

--------

Life in this new country is the step by step, sometimes painful, often funny, configuration of an ever changing puzzle. The bulbs are just one piece. The electricity bill is another. Bus lines, bank lines, bargains and swindles, little bits of things are always poking up their heads and laughingly saying, "Just when you thought you knew something..."

And I guess I am learning something. In the same way that once you have heard a particularly good story, you are forever changed by it and with that knowing, you can never go back. I think once you move to another country, you are changed right down to the core. Even though I sometimes miss my home country terribly, I realize that if we returned tomorrow, I would also miss Uruguay.

I would miss the rich smell of asado cooking, the sweet smell of jasmine, the open markets where I buy vegetables so fresh that they surprise me, where the vendors sing out the praises of their wares, "Ripe ready tomatoes, 15 pesos a kilo," of the warmth of people here, the constant kisses of greeting and of adios, how easy it is to spend time together, how families are close and caring. And also, I have encountered the other life that lives parallel to us. We just don't sense it with such ferocity in the first world.

We live in a middle class neighbourhood. It is not ritzy. Garbage is collected from our dumpsters at night by a big truck that dumps each bin into its hold and through the day, people come by on horse drawn carts to glean whatever recyclables and useful items they can find. I love the clip clop sound of the hooves and I used to tell our kids, "Oh, that man got quite a score," when we saw a man emerging from a bin with a handful of plastic bottles. I wanted them to identify with this guy, that he was working, that he was a hunter gatherer, that he was just like us.

RecyclersAnd more and more, since our first visit in 2002, there are carts that now are pulled by a man or woman, maybe they have a bike and maybe they have a kid or two with them. There is even a group of people that have no carts at all but they roam the streets with patched up knapsacks and sticks to prop up the lid of the dumpster.

And I want to recognize the dignity of the work, as their other option could be crime, or violence, or giving in. I hang bags of bottles and recyclables outside the bin so they are easy to get at. I set out left-overs. I might even think I am doing my part.

And then, the other day, I was dropping our daughter off at her school and a little girl who usually begs from cars at the nearby stop light was looking in the window of the kindergarten class. The teacher came to close the curtain but the little girl stayed, peaking through a crack, until her mother called her back to her responsibilities. She left, her white public school uniform stained and her hair wild.

I walked home and saw a little boy, maybe 3, standing outside of a dumpster, chewing on a bit of bread. The lid of the dumpster cracked open a little wider and his father handed him out another something to eat. The kid's eyes were wide and wild.

Here, a friend of mine told me that when she said to her mother, "I am hungry", her mother responded, "You don't know what hunger is." And the other day, I went a massage therapist (and to me, everything is a Spanish lesson,) and we talked and she felt pride that our poverty here is nothing like that of Bolivia, Columbia, Peru. We have literacy. We have school lunch programs. We have a new government.

Here in this country where cheese is taxed 22% and tobacco is hardly taxed at all, I am being changed from the inside out. I feel like I am hearing the story up close and I can never go back.

Géant

We'd been hearing about this superstore in Uruguay called Géant Hipermercado (pronounced sheee-awnt, we believe), which was located just past the Carrasco area and wanted to check it out.  Géant was described to us as a something like Super Target or Walmart. There is only one location in Uruguay and because of the distance from our home in Pocitos, it was a whole afternoon event.

Geant outside

The DM1 bus run by Cutsca is the easiest and least expensive way to get to Géant. There is a full schedule available online. This bus stops at all the major malls: Punta Carretas, Montevideo Shopping, Portones, then Géant and finally out to Zona América (the tax-free business zone outside of the city).  There are a few stops in between all the malls and we caught it on the corner of Ellauri and 21 de Setiembre, right outside of McDonalds.  It is 24 pesos per adult and the bus was a comfortable coach-type with large reclining seats. With the limited stops, it took about a half an hour to get to Géant and it was fun to see parts of the city without having to drive ourselves.  The bus stops are very fast, so you need to be standing and prepared to exit the bus from the back when it stops.

Géant was a whole different world than what we've seen in the small grocery stores or malls around Pocitos/PuntaCarretas.  Géant was the anchor in a huge complex with a mall and casino around it.  The bus lets you off across the street, but it's only a short walk through the parking lot to the main doors.

Géant is owned by the Disco chain of stores (using the same 'Más' loyalty card) and it has many of the same items.  The store is huge, with 64 check out lanes and more selection than we've seen before in Uruguay, in nearly every category. There are appliances, home electronics, full grocery store, clothing, toys, housewares, books and some furniture.  We also noticed some larger "bulk" sizes in the food and toiletry areas.

Geant-inside

The selection of baby and child items here was better than I have seen at any one store before: clothes, diapers, carseats, highchairs, baby proofing items, diapers and tons of toys. Prices for these items still weren't cheap by any means (Geneva's 48 pack of XG Babysec diapers were 312 pesos and a pair of toddler fleece pants were 299 pesos) but the selection was good.

Do not walk into Géant expecting North American quality products though.  There is a different standard of quality in Uruguay.  Many items are made in China and are just different than what we have learned to expect.  I know that Uruguayos don't like these cheap products either, but it's all that's available.  I never thought I would miss my neighborhood Target store!

We walked out of there with a few random items that caught our eye, but nothing big. We stopped for a moment at the food court to grab a snack and off across the parking lot to the bus stop again.  You can bring your cart right up to the bus stop if needed. The DM1 bus took us back to our stop at Ellauri and 21 de Setiembre for another 24 pesos per adult and we had a short walk back to our house.

Géant also delivers for those living in Carrasco, Punta Gorda and surrounding areas. See their site for more details.

Hipermercado Géant

Av. Ing. Giannattasio y Av. A la Playa Tel.: 601 53 53

Hours 8:30 AM-10 PM everyday

Gimme Some Sugar!

In a land where 'dulce de leche' rules supreme, one can expect that sugary sweets are a mainstay of the local diet.

As a person with Type 1 Diabetes though, I have an unusual relationship with sugar (and all carbohydrates for that matter). Contrary to popular belief, I can eat sugar, I just have to be diligent and count exactly how much I am consuming, then give myself the proper corresponding amount of insulin. Alternatively, I'm not a fan of aspartame and lean towards sucralose if I do need an artificial sweetener.

I was not prepared for sugar popping up in all sorts of unusual places in Uruguay.

Ground Coffee. While not a coffee connoisseur, I like the stuff enough to drink every day. Since arriving in Uruguay, I have purchased a variety of ground coffees from the grocery store. Never in my wildest dreams did I think to look at the contents of a bag of ground coffee. If you see the word "Glaseado" on the label, sugar is the #2 ingredient. I found one brand of 'cafe natural' that advertised no sugar. I was thrilled but unfortunately I find the coffee somewhat bitter. The Mellita brand also has unsweetened ground coffee.  Pay attention to the name because there is also a Melita (one 'L') that has sugar.  

Fruit Juice. It was brought to my attention a few weeks ago that the fruit juices here contain added sugar. While doing some investigation, it appears to be a variety of sweeteners in juice: sugar, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame or sucralose. Not extremely unusual, I guess, but I would hope for at least a few unsweetened options.

Correction: I have found a few of the Dairyco brand juices in the refrigerator section do not have added sugar (or other sweeteners).  The Naranja y Manzana (Orange & Apple) juice is really nice.

Tomato Sauce. I just want plain tomato sauce or tomato paste.  No salt, no sugar, no luck.

Yogurt. There is one giant jar of plain, unsweetened yogurt of the 'Claldy' brand. Everything else is one of the sugar/aspartame/sucralose trifecta.

There are also plenty of items in Uruguay that have high fructose corn syrup.  Coca Cola here is unusual in that it is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup in the USA and sugar here.  In this case, I'd take the sugar.  This is the reason that people in the USA seem to like the taste of  'Mexican' Coke.  It's that wonderful sugar...

The whole point is, lots of things in UY are 'dulce'.  Fortunately most of the grocery products list their ingredients. Spend some time and read the labels.  You may just be surprised at what is in the food that you eat.

*When needing to add a sweetener to food, there is a natural alternative available in Uruguay. Stevia is an extract of a plant grown in Paraguay. It is available at the larger grocery stores. Thanks Franklin for reminding me of this!  I also love Agave nectar, but so far I have not been able to find this in Uruguay. If anyone knows of Agave in UY, PLEASE send a note!!

Jardín Caminito- A Perfect Choice for Us

We love the jardín that Geneva attends.  Thank you a million times over to Suki for recommending it. There are so many things that I appreciate about Jardín Caminito: the atmosphere is extremely warm and open, the play is creative and inventive, family events are fun and frequent. The thing that I love most about Caminito, though, is the quality and quantity of communication between the jardín and the parents.

Caminito class

Information to the parents is spread quickly and readily via email, printed and handwritten notes.  We receive email messages frequently with news about meetings or recent happenings in the jardín. Even with Geneva's day-to-day activities, the communication has been incredible.  When we first started attending Jardín Caminito, we received three "books" that had been created for her:

  • One small book to travel back and forth that contains daily handwritten communication and questions.
  • One large book that mainly lives at Caminito but travels back and forth as well.  This binder contains printed song lyrics and other printed communication regarding materials that they need or specific activities that they are working on.
  • One large book lives at home where we can collect all of her artwork in a binder format.

All the parents of Jardín Caminito have access to an online photo album that is updated every month. Last week we received a CD of songs that they sing in Geneva's class, along with lyrics. There is even a rotating library of children's books and we receive a new book to borrow each weekend.  It is so much fun to read these sweet kids books in Spanish and it's as much of an education for us as it is for Geneva.

Last week Brad and I attended the "Reunión de Padres sala 1".  Nearly all of the parents of the year 1 class attended, along with the administrators and all the teachers (not just our grade).  We learned in detail what they are working on in the year 1 class and there was a forum where parents could ask questions about both the jardín and the children. The instructors knew that the spoken information in Spanish was fast and we may not understand all of it, so we were given a printed copy of the main curriculum discussion to read.  We also wrote private letters to our children as if they were reading them when they are 20 years old.  There were few dry eyes in the building after that exercise.

A few of the parents and instructors at the Jardín speak English and they are all very concerned that we understand all of the information and our questions answered.  I cannot express how wonderful this is when we do have questions. Although 95% of our communication with the jardín is in Spanish, it is great to know that we have people to turn to if we need clarification.

Several times both that night and previously, Brad and I have commented to each other  how we wouldn't get this level of hands-on attention in the USA. To the best of our knowledge, most US daycares do not have 2.5 hour long meetings like this to discuss our kids, their growth and progress.  Our daughter would not get kisses from all of the teachers and many of the kids, as we are walking into and out of the school each day. (So she get's a few extra colds along the way, you take the good with the bad!) She would not have an opportunity to go to a farm once a month in the USA, or have "classmates" that she could potentially stay with throughout her preschool years.

geneva-face-painting

Geneva frequently comes home with evidence of face painting or coloring.  They sing songs with various musicians coming to visit and they learn about  the world around them through daily exploration activities.  It seems that she loves the other kids as much as the activities and her teachers say that Geneva's comprehension of Spanish is great.  We are excited that she has an opportunity to be immersed in the Uruguayan culture and language for 20 hours a week and that she is thriving here.

Brad and I are making many new friends and receiving an education of our own through this experience. With all of the meetings and correspondence in Spanish, our comprehension is improving and we're learning much through the process of becoming integrated in a new culture.

Brad is attending a "Dia del Padre" this afternoon with Geneva at Caminito and I can't wait to hear all about it.  :)

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 ;(

Yoga in Montevideo

There are many Yoga centers in Montevideo, Uruguay.  In fact, there are three yoga centers that I know of within a few blocks of our home in Pocitos. Since my Spanish is not great yet, I felt intimidated just walking into one of those locations and taking a class... I found the perfect solution: Yoga in English with instructor Charla Cooper.

Charla teaches an excellent yoga class that I have been attending for the past 6 weeks. The class is small so you can get a lot of individual attention, the location is great, and it is a fabulous mix of yoga styles with Kundalini, Ashtanga and Iyengar. I had never practiced Kundalini yoga before this class and while it took a little getting used to, now it's a part of class that I really love.

Cost is UY$ 150 per class or UY$ 1000 for a month pass.

Please see the Yoga in English website for more details and any updated class information. You can also email ccooper495@gmail.com for more specific questions. Hope you can join us!

The Art of Fire: Our Wood-Burning Fireplace

We left our native Minneapolis, MN in March with snow on the ground and arrived here in Montevideo, to gorgeous summer weather. That summer weather lasted about 8 weeks and now we are enjoying the cool, crisp winter days with chilly nights. It's still beautiful here...many clear, sunny days with the smell of burning fire wood heavy in the air. It seems so strange to have winter in mid-July. Opposite seasons in the southern hemisphere will seem surreal for a while.

The Pugs with the best seat in the houseIt is common for many homes in Uruguay to rely on wood burning fireplaces as a source of heat. The cool, damp air is penetrating and like ours, many homes do not have central heating. It is time for us to master the fireplace. Our fireplace is open with no damper and no doors, so the learning curve has been high. There's been adventure with not-so-dry wood from the supermercado and the fireplace not venting. Besides filling the room with smoke a few times and smoke detectors beeping frequently, it's been fun and we are now semi-skilled at the art of fire making.

After getting our fireplace cleaned, purchasing a screen and some tools (all courtesy of our landlord), we were set to order our first load of firewood. We planned to order quite a bit so we'd have some left over after heating season to use in our outdoor parilla. We ordered 1/2 ton of mixed wood for delivery. That is a whopping 500 kilos for the low, low price of $1450 (approx U$S 60) which included an extra $100 pesos to bring it to the back of the house. It was delivered yesterday and neatly stacked for us, but there was a mix-up. The delivery was all large split logs of astilla and none of the other types of wood we had requested. After calling back, we opted to get another 1/2 ton of the additional kinds of wood, and they would still deliver the same day: leña de monte, rolos secos and atados for an additional $1250 pesos (approx U$S 52). Now we know exactly what a ton of wood looks like!

There is something very comforting about not only a real wood fireplace, but the stacks of beautiful wood ready to give us heat in the cold evenings.  We'll continue to hone our fire making skills and hopefully Geneva won't have to say "Beep, beep, beep!" anymore to mimic to the smoke detectors.

Our wood came from La Costanera. They were excellent.  We worked out the mix-up in wood types quickly and they came back the same day with the additional order.  The young delivery guys were very fast and courteous.

Firewood delivery :

La Costanera

tel: 601 4074     lacostanera@hotmail.com

La Costanera delivery truck

Stack of mixed wood at the front of our house

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Email Us With Questions!

We have had a great response to our blog and receive email frequently from people who are interested in moving to Uruguay and are looking for more information. I've been corresponding with a woman from the United States who was looking for info about a possible move here with two kids. I wanted to include a few excerpts from our email conversation regarding the most expat-friendly neighborhoods and costs of goods/services in Uruguay.

Thanks for the note! To address your questions about the Pocitos, Punta Gorda and Carrasco neighborhoods:

We love the Pocitos/Punta Carretas areas. They are considered higher end, safe and very expat friendly areas that are still close to downtown. We live on the border between the two "barrios" listed previously and are within walking distance to just about every service and store that we could want. Cabs and public transportation are excellent, so we have no problems in this area without a car. There are a lot of high rises in this area and nearly all the buildings are attached to each other. While we know of a few people with small yards here, it does not seem to be common. Our house does not have a yard. Instead, we have a small front garden and a back patio.

Carrasco is gorgeous, with big houses and large yards that feel more like any United States suburb. You would definitely need a car in Carrasco it is around a 15-20 minute drive from where we are living (on a good day with no traffic). Punta Gorda is one barrio/neighborhood closer to downtown Montevideo than Carrasco and from what I hear, it has a similar feel to Carrasco.

If you click on Google Map Montevideo, you will see the names of the different neighborhoods (you may have to zoom in) and you can get some perspective to their relationship to one another. The little pin on the map is between Punta Gorda and Carrasco. If you follow the coast to the left you will find Pocitos and next to it at the point near the bottom of the screen, Punta Carretas.

To address your question regarding items that are less or more expensive than the US: Cars and gasoline here are very expensive, as is most technology including computers and home electronics. Kids/baby stuff here is also extremely expensive (2-3x more than what you'd pay in the US). I just looked for a potty seat for my daughter at a local shop and the only decent one I found was a Safety 1st model that is $50 here but only $23 on Amazon.com. On the flip side, food, most services, child care and medical are all much cheaper than what we experienced in the US.

The lifestyle is definitely different in Uruguay. We love it but we also know people here who are having problems adjusting. They expected it to be more like the US or Europe, I guess. With such a small market in Uruguay, many consumer goods are not the quality that you'd get in the US and the imports are insanely expensive due to all the import and sales taxes. Plan trips to Buenos Aires or the US to get anything you can't find here. While you technically could ship anything here, there is a very hefty price tag attached!

Good luck with your decision and feel free to email with any more questions- Lisa

If you have any specific questions and would like to email us directly, please use the 'Contact' link at the top right of the site, or feel free to leave a comment on this or any of our posts. Thanks!

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Feria Vegetables

There's been recent talk in the Uruguay blog community about cost of food and I agree wholeheartedly with everything that has been said. Go to the many the ferias around town for great, inexpensive produce, fish, eggs and cheese.  I might add, go to any of the ferias outside of Pocitos, Punta Carretas or other "upscale areas" of Montevideo for even cheaper prices. I found what I believe to be the ultimate frugal feria score: approx 2 kilos of Soup starter vegetables for just over $1 US.

Feria vegetables for 25 pesos, or just over $1 US

It included: