Parking in Downtown Montevideo

Yesterday we went downtown to pick up a package that the post office held because “the weight of arrival didn’t match the weight when it was sent” and “the package looks wet.” Ok… so because of that I have to come all the way downtown to pick it up? For the record, the package was fine, it was a lovely purse from Target, peanut butter graham cracker cookies and other items of interest to a woman from the US living in UY. I digress.

In the 3 minutes I was illegally parked on Calle Misiones in front of the post office a meter maid was onto us. I could have taken this for a coincidence and moved on–after all, I was illegally parked and they were just doing their jobs. So, I moved the car a few blocks away where a kid offers to help me with the parking situation.

Turns out he wasn’t much help.

We came back to our car after a short trip back up the street to the post office where there were 2 cops arguing vociferously with a man who has gone to pay for parking and in the meantime has been ticketed and has had his wheel clamped. I owe a few pesos to this man because he was parked behind me and his arguing held off the cops long enough to let me get out of there before they stamped a giant yellow wheel lock on my car too.

I raced to gather the family and we jumped into the car and zoom off while the kid who was supposed to help us looked on guiltily (fortunately we hadn’t paid him anything yet) and the cops stare at the back of our vehicle waving their fists in the air shouting “I’l get you next time!!” (Ok, that last part is an exaggeration)

Apparently to legally park:

  1. You find a spot to park.
  2. Make sure it has a long enough time limit. This is indicated by letters. You should be able to intuit that an A means 2 hours, B means 5 etc.
  3. Make sure it’s within the hours you can park there (and that you’re not in a free parking time of day)
  4. Make sure it’s not the one day of the month (which is different each month) where parking is free downtown
  5. Buy a “Ficha” from randomly dispersed, apparently hidden locations around town. Fichas cost–from my admittedly unreliable source of information–about 25 pesos each.
  6. You insert the ficha into a parking meter–these are also unreliably dispersed around city blocks. A ficha gives you some undetermined amount of time to park. I think it’s usually 1/2 hour.
  7. You take the ticket from the parking meter (which is huge, unlike US parking meters) and stick it inside your car window.
  8. Make sure you’re back in before the time limit for the space and the meter expire.

In reality it seems to be that most people hope there’s a “parking guy” there with fichas in hand who you give 100 pesos to, leave your window cracked and let him feed the meter for you while you’re gone, hoping that he actually does this and is around to give you change when you get back. My advice? Take a taxi🙂

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Semana Criolla; Gauchos.

This is Semana Santa, officially dubbed Semana de Turismo by the government and also, Semana Criolla.

Semana Criolla is (among other things I suppose) where people from the Interior (everywhere outside Montevideo) come in to show their lifestyle to the city folk, sell their wares, cook meat and rodeo. It’s a great event.

Gauchos are Uruguay’s cowboys and are, in my opinion, Real Men. An elaboration:

  1. They wear cool wide belts apparently for the sole purpose of toting useful tools.
  2. Said belts are adorned by large and elaborate buckles that I find more impressive than any other style of buckle that I have heretofore seen.
  3. Said belts also serve the primary purpose of being a place in whence to store a large, ornate knife used for all manner of cutting.
  4. They wear sweet leather boots. With pants tucked in so everyone knows they are wearing sweet boots.
  5. Their hats have ornate metal straps.
  6. Gauchos can make even berets look tough.

Note, so far we have only dealt with their clothing. There is more.

  1. They ride horses. Well.
  2. They raise delicious beef, and not in CAFO‘s.
  3. They live in the real country.
  4. They drink large quantities of mate.
  5. Did I mention that they carry large ornate knives everywhere they go?

I could go on, but suffice it to say that being around gauchos makes me want to swear off computers, move to the country and become a Real Man.

Photos to elucidate (click to enlarge):
spur

men

hands

carry

horse

Finally, a video to further illustrate:

And, if you’re still reading, you might be interested in “Nay, a tumblelog” where occasionally I tumble Uruguay related bits.

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Phone Etiquette in Uruguay

phone - by jenny
Answering the phone here is simple:

Hola.

Putting someone hold is a little different, but simple:

¿Me esperas un momento? No me cortes por favor. (Will you wait a moment, don’t hang up please!)

It’s at the time to say goodbye when things get interesting. Rather than the typical “bye bye” (adios) you try to sneak in a few of the following at the moment of hanging up:

  • chau – ciao.
  • chau chau – because two ciaos are better than one
  • dale – roughly “alrighty”
  • dale bueno – “alrighty, good”
  • nos vemos – see you later
  • hasta luego – a more formal see you later
  • adios – bye
  • besos – kisses (commonly used among anyone, including men and married women, men among themselves, children etc.)
  • abrazos – hugs (also used among any two people)
  • saludos a la familia – greetings to your family
  • me saludas la familia – give your family my greetings
  • que la pases bien – have a good evening/morning etc.
  • buenas noches / buen dia / buenos dias etc. – good night, good day, good morning etc.
  • igualmente (you too–said in response to the greetings of your caller)

The more you string together in succession and the faster, the better! I have a sneaky suspicion that there is a secret competition that goes on each time you hang up in which both parties try to best the other by inserting more and better greetings before the phones click.

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Carnaval is great, especially the Murgas

Carnaval in Uruguay is long. I’m not sure how long but more than a month. Basically it consists of groups of (mostly men) performing short (aprox 45 minutes) plays on stages in neighborhoods throughout the city and ending in a final competition in the main theater – Teatro de Verano.

The plays fall into 3 categories–Comedy, Parody and Murga. Murgas are the most traditional and seem to be the most popular. They’ve been doing them since the early 20th century. Mostly they are politically themed and consist of three parts – the greeting, the… middle… and the ending or ‘despedida.’ The beginning and end are the most important parts, the middle seems to often be a mixture of spoken word and singing.

Murga groups are about 15 men. They sing loudly and vary their voices in a sort of falsetto harmony. Hearing it live is impressive. It’s the kind of thing that gives you goosebumps. Costumes are elaborate. Extremely elaborate. Competition is stiff.

I went to the last night of Carnaval and though I didn’t understand a lot of what they were singing about I really enjoyed it.

Ok, this is turning into a Wikipedia entry. Let me stop by linking there and putting in a video of a Murga so you can get the feel for it and… there you go. Don’t miss Carnaval. I’ve never seen anything like it.

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Driving in Uruguay Demystified

Interior design

For the first couple months we were here I felt like I lacked the Rosetta stone of driving. Tonight I realized that somewhere along the way I’d picked it up. Allow me to expound upon the unwritten rules of driving in Uruguay and hope with me that this isn’t just the pride before the fall.

Most neighborhood intersections have no signs. The safe rule is this–consider it a 4 way yield. Avoid the temptation of thinking that since you’re on the bigger street the other cars will stop for you. Taxis and busses are the only ones who can get away with that. Here it is again, condensed–no sign, yield.

If you have a yield sign it’s probably because people before you have suffered greatly at that intersection. Take the yield sign to mean “yield with emphasis.”

A stop sign must always be obeyed. They are rare but when you see them, they are mandatory. A stop sign means “there’s a bus coming.” One thing to consider is that in Uruguay stop is not “ALTO” like in other parts of Latin America, it’s “PARA.”

Don’t run the red. If it’s yellow, just stop. Everyone jumps the green so a car in the intersection a split second after a light turns red stands a good chance of being forcibly moved out of the intersection. On the other hand, it’s okay to ‘anticipate’ the green a bit.

At times, especially on the Rambla, there are pedestrian crossings that are not very well marked. You have to learn where they are and keep a close eye out for the white lines in the road because people step out into them without warning. It is considered very bad manners to not stop for a pedestrian in the road.

Drive slowly downtown. This is a rule in any city I suppose and even though pedestrians in Uruguay seem to have instilled in them a little more fear of vehicles than do people in other big cities, there are lots of pedestrians and again, it’s bad manners to ignore a pedestrian when you’re in a vehicle.

Lanes are optional but not as optional as it seems. Lanes are pretty fixed in normal traffic and only become optional at stop lights. When everyone arrives to a red light they all kind of bunch up wherever they fit but then things just get sorted out into the proper amount of lanes soon afterwards. It is wise to signal if you’re changing lanes, many Uruguayans don’t, but I would recommend using your directional indicators.

The right lane is often blocked by stopped trucks, taxis, people etc. If you’re in the right lane take extra precautions and be prepared to stop at any moment since there is a high likelihood of an obstacle in your way.

Motorcycles are slow here. It may look big but don’t worry, it’s slow. Generally motorcycles and mopeds stick to the sides of the road (both the curb side and middle) so cars can pass them. It’s polite to leave a little room for them to all bunch up beside you at a stoplight only for you to blow by them all when the light turns green. You really have to keep an eye out for them though–often their headlights are very dim and they aren’t always the best drivers. I’d say motorcycles and mopeds are the biggest driving hazard here.

The parking guys aren’t there to help you park. Sure, they perform that function but their main purpose is to keep an eye on your car while you’re doing whatever you’re doing. Tipping them is polite and expected. It can be anywhere between 2 pesos and 10 pesos. At a soccer game or other event 20 to 40 pesos is more appropriate.

Most intersections with traffic lights feature someone performing or selling something. It’s handy to keep some change around to give out if you feel comfortable doing so. Almost all of these performers and salespeople are extremely friendly and good natured.

Take precautions late at night when stopping at intersections. Though Montevideo is generally a very peaceful city it is not unheard of for people to be robbed of things sitting on seats beside them while sitting at a traffic light.

Traffic police are rare. If you get a traffic ticket it almost certainly won’t be because the cop behind you pulls you over. You might get stopped by an officer on foot in a speed trap on the side of the road or perhaps even more likely, get a letter in the mail with a picture of you doing something you weren’t supposed to and a fine attached. That having been said, I’ve only seen one speed trap and have never personally known anyone to get a ticket in the 4 months I’ve been here.

Insurance is optional. This means that if you like your car you’d probably better get it since the chances are if some hits you they won’t have it.

Finally, even though it will feel like everyone is flying along at breakneck speeds when you first arrive, really things are fairly ordered and you should feel free to drive as slowly as you need to as long as you stick to the right hand lane. What seems to be chaos actually just a different type of order and you’ll get used to it quickly.

Jenny describes driving here as ‘libertarian.’ People know that if they obey the unwritten rules that things work out for the best for everyone. It’s not a bad system once you get used to it. It requires more concentration than driving elsewhere but after the initial shock, I think it’s more fun.

Blue bug

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Lawn Care in Uruguay

Jardinero

Our gardener is a character.

Me: “Thanks, the lawn looks great”
He: “Perfect, as usual.”

He’s right, what can I say?

I’d like to post more of our conversation but being the outspoken gardener type he is, it’s just too politically incorrect for general consumption so I’ll continue with some notes on lawn maintenance in Uruguay:

  • In Uruguay it’s not rare to actually have a bit of lawn. This is in contrast with other South/Central American countries.
  • Uruguayan grass is invincible. It looks great and withstands a total lack of maintenance (apart from the bi-weekly mow) extremely well.
  • Grass is kept very short here, golf course style.
  • Sprinklers are rare.
  • Lawn mowers are very small and generally electric.
  • Rhinoceros beetles are common pests. The gardener has given me a personal demonstration on efficient methods for rhino beetle destruction. I consider myself an expert on the subject now.

He’s a rare breed and we’re lucky to have him.

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Parque Rodó for Fun and Relaxation

Let me start giving some well deserved credit. If you’re reading this blog it is safe to assume that any decent picture posted here was taken by Jenny.

Yesterday we drove down to the park close to downtown Montevideo – Parque Rodó. The park is a cornucopia of fun and diversions–there are (dangerous and unofficial) rock climbing walls, a contemporary art museum, a huge sandbox and children’s park, paddle boats around a small lake, a bigger lake with a small island etc.

Various facts about Rodó in my favorite format (the bulleted list, of course):

  • Our good friend Tori (age 11ish), daughter of our good friends Aaron and Emily fell about 20 feet from the rock wall and miraculously sustained almost no injury.
  • You can get a good meal for 3 (burgers, drinks and fries) for about 6.50 at the little restaurant where you rent the paddle boats.
  • There is a Picasso exhibit in the contemporary art museum this month.

After Rodó we went downtown to Plaza Independencía, the main plaza in the city and took a walk down the touristy pedestrian only offshoot street where Jenny was in heaven looking at and purchasing things for her hand-made jewelry business. It’s nice how the proprietors of the artisan and antique stands here are so friendly and low-key. You’ll very rarely find a pushy salesperson or someone who’s not willing to shoot the breeze for a few minutes while you’re looking at their wares–totally different from my experience in the ferias in Mexico.

This is the point where I insert photos:

Ooooh?
The birds in Uruguay are at times strange and curious.

Fitito, Omnibus
Recipe for disaster.


I do not recommend trying this if you are above the age of four.

Wide Eyed
You’d think I was a bad driver.

Jenny and a very small boat
A beautiful woman.


It was a family outing.

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