Monthly Archives: March 2007

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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Ricky Martin, Brian Adams or Recycleman

Sometimes you’ve gotta make a choice. This weekend the choice was between Ricky Martin playing in Punta del Este, Brian Adams (remember him?) playing in Montevideo or… DJ Recycleman a.k.a. George Michael a.k.a. Gary a.k.a. the husband of Iliana a.k.a. the husband of Madonna:

The Hosts

Yes. That is eyeshadow. Yes. On both of them.

9:15 – We arrive, 15 minutes ‘late’
10:15 – The first other guests arrive
11:00 – Dancing – all 80’s, all fast tunes spun by the expert DJ Recycleman
1:00 – Slow dancing
2:00 – Talking
3:00 – Philosophizing
4:00 – Cake and philosophy including the philosophy of cake
4:30 – Sleep

jili
Tiffany and Madonna

mhair
Robert Smith on a good hair day

shhh
Gus, Vale. Featuring Vale shushing Gus.

jandm
Little umbrellas in frozen beverage

breakitdown
There were lights of many colors

You may click any of the above images to enlarge them if you so desire.

Uruguayans can party.

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La Morfi is Easy to Obtain in Uruguay

Morfi: Slang for food, grub.

I dislike grocery shopping. That really has nothing to do with this entry but I wanted to get that out in the clear before continuing.

We just returned from Tienda Inglesa, one of the major grocery store chains (along with Devoto and the one-hit-wonder French-Wal-Mart-Clone-Biggest-Store-In-Uruguay Géant). Grocery shopping here is nothing special to be honest. That having been said it is a little different from shopping in the US. Here’s the bulleted list as they come to my mind:

  • Friday night the grocery stores are packed. For some reason though we always find ourselves in a grocery store early Friday evening.
  • In the macro sense, things look pretty normal… the aisles are quite a bit closer together and the parking is a lot tighter (everything in Uruguay is smaller and closer together).
  • In the micro sense you’ll find there is generally a lot less variety. Here are a few staples, namely:
    • Dulce de leche – Basically sweetened condensed milk. It’s in everything sweet. It’s not bad but I think it’s overdone and overrated.
    • Ham. Lots of ham, no turkey. The ham is really good though so I’m not complaining.
    • Muzarela cheese, not mozzarella but similar. I love it.
    • Yerba Mate, expect at least a full aisle dedicated to it
    • Crackers. There are a few types, maybe three, and a lot of different brands of those three types but not much beyond that.
  • You won’t find peanut butter, non-sweet cereal (apart from Corn Flakes, I recommend the German brand, Hahne I think it is) or Soft Batch cookies.
  • That’s about it. I could go on but it really is just not my favorite topic (sorry for sounding so grouchy :)).

Leaving bulleted list mode I have to give some praise here to Jenny who is excellent at putting up with my non-shopping tendencies. Enough about groceries, it’s time to go put on some 80’s garb and go party.

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There is Good Meat In Uruguay

Do you think I’m skinny Max? “Yesh and mommy’s freckly and I’m just bug-bitey.”

Meat is not only abundant and inexpensive in Uruguay, if you know where to look it’s also tastier. Consider:

In the US most cows are kept on CAFOs where they’re fattened up in small pens with corn. In Uruguay they’re free-roaming and grass fed. Most of this meat gets sent out of the country but if you can get a hold of some meat that’s meant for export, the taste is unbelievable. Such meat can be found at La Otra en Enero, a restaurant in barrio Pocitos.

Parilla

Last night at La Otra there was a gathering of several Americans, an Australian, a Serbian and several Uruguayans where we enjoyed some meat and talk.

8:20 – The first 3 or 4 of us arrive. You seat yourself.
8:40 – The waiter asks us what we’d like to start with.
9:00 – A few others arrive
9:10 – Appetizers/drinks arrive
10:00 – We order the main course (a.k.a. the slabs of meat cooked to perfection and thrown unceremoniously and without garnish on plain white plates)
11:30 – We ask for the check
11:40 – I’m the first to take off for home. What can I say, I’m not a party animal 🙂

It’s interesting how La Otra has become more or less the de facto meat restaurant for foreigners. It seems like everyone has made the rounds and ended up settling on this one unassuming restaurant. It has the perfect mix of atmosphere (casual) with food (excellent) and price (also excellent–their most expensive steak is about 11 dollars.)

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I Live in Uruguay

The title says it all. I’m an American living in Uruguay and at the prodding of a particularly curious friend I’ve decided to chronicle some of my experiences of life here. I will focus on the micro–what’s different in day to day life rather than the larger things you can find out by going to a newspaper or any other site.

Starting with the following highly interesting tidbits.

Today there was a strange rainstorm. There were 3 thunderbolts. They were loud and sudden and suddenly stopped without the rolling thunder for that traditionally precedes and follows such heavenly manifestations. The wind was something fierce.

The results of this brief but torrential downpour were the following:
1. My internet died for 30 seconds.
2. Our cable died and is currently still dead.

The curiosities here are twofold:
1. The cable company only has one tech support number and it’s busy. Apparently here they don’t have PBX systems to put people on hold indefinitely when the cable dies. This isn’t such a bad idea. I feel much less frustrated just getting a busy signal than the traditional American experience of being on hold for an hour or so to find out that everyone’s cable went out and they’re working on it.

2. Well, this has nothing to do with it but you can get a dang good cable package for 30 bucks a month here. MonteCable is the company.

Tonight the plan is steak. Later I will elaborate on steak but suffice it to say I am happy with tonights plans.

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