Learning Uruguay

Every day brings ????

Birthday trip to Buenos Aires

Posted by urufish on May 22, 2009


Last week was my wife’s birthday.  

Sometime ago, it seems like another lifetime,  I wrote about the difficulties of facing my first wife’s birthday in Uruguay.  Up north, I knew where to buy cards, get her a birthday present and set up a nice quiet dinner at some cosy restuarant.   Here, I couldn’t find one or when I did find one, I couldn’t understand what the birthday card said.   I always used to buy her something small and unique up north.  Small you will find here but unique, you wont.  There are tons of cosy restaurants but I didn’t know where they were.  It’s really great to have friends when that happens.  

This birthday, having 2 years under my belt, was totally under control.  Birthday cards are no longer a problem because I buy a year’s supply of cards for each occasion when we’re up north in July.  My wife’s anniversary card sits in front of me in preparation for this weekend.  May is just a blur for me.  Mothers day, birthday and anniversary all rolled into one.  I took care of the present and the cosy restaurant in one fell swoop–a trip to Buenos Aires.  

Those of you know who know my wife know she’s only interested in two things.  Shoes and sunglasses.  All joking aside, having been to NYC, LA, Paris and the isle of Capri, I honestly believe Buenos Aires is the women’s shoe capital of the world (style, selection and price).  She was in heaven.  Sunglasses weren’t so bad either.   Betweeen Florida and Santa Fe, we must have checked out a dozen places.  Not only did she find a great pair to add to her closet of sunglasses we brought down from up north, but she found a great pair of Reef frames for reading glasses.  As you know, this country runs on text messages and I think she finally figured out she couldnt keep texting if she couldn’t read the incoming messages.  

As for a cosy restaurant, that took a slight twist to a ‘very nice restaurant’.  Buenos Aires has some great restaurants, even in the shopping district.  

To make it a really great trip, we flew instead of boating over.  Pluna must have known it was my wife’s birthday because both flights were on time.  I’ve never experienced that before.  This was the first time she used her Santander Van Gogh card to beat the immigration lines at the airport.  There’s a special line and there’s never anyone there.  We literally came in non stop and surprisingly enough, the luggage was already on the belt.  And to top it all off, customs had gone home for the evening so we just walked out of baggage right to our car.  Weird but true.

In the past, we used to stay with friends in Buenos Aires–the sister of my wife’s best friend.  But she moved to Mendoza so we had to seek commercial lodging.  After looking at a dozen different internet hotels and for each of them, reading at least one customer’s unhappy experience, I decided to fall back on the Marriott chain.   I always used to stay in Marriotts up north when travelling on business.  In 10 years, I never had a truly bad experience so I was hoping and praying that Marriott, Buenos Aires would be similar.  For some reason, they had executive suites on sale that weekend so we took a one bedroom on the top floor.  For us, we really liked the place.  It’s not a modern building.  Supposedly, 2009 was its 100th anniversary.  But it was well kept and there’s no substitute for old architecture.  I’d take peeling paint and cracked walls any day over sterile steel and glass.  The staff were friendly.  We had no problem checking in.  Breakfast was included and it was very nice.  The hot water was hot and plentiful.  The bottled water at 21 pesos seemed a little too Mariottish for our tastes but the refrigerator had lots of room for bottled water purchased around the corner.  

Getting the one bedroom paid off because my wife’s friend decided to come to BA to visit her for her birthday and the couch worked out just great.  She even had her own bathroom.  

I know that women’s clothing is a bigger money maker than men’s so it came as no surprise that most of the stores we passed held little interest for me.  Oh well.  It was her birthday and I was preoccupied with ways to pay off the credit card when we got back.  I did end up buying a sweater in a fabulous sweater store that it turns out I have bought sweaters in twice before when we visited Buenos Aires when I was here on holidays years ago.  I must have a thing for their style.  

For men, they do have have fantastically stylish suits and shoes.  But I’m a shleppy kind of guy, most happy in jeans and a polar (my newly adopted Uruguayan covering of choice).  If I ever need to find a pair of shoes to wear with a suit, if I ever wear one again, this would be where I’d go.  The prices are reasonable when compared with the quality and style.  As always, Buenos Aireas has phenomenal leathers of all kinds.  I have this dream of findig the right suitcase but I never have.  But I keep looking.  

No birthday trip to Buenos Aires can be complete without going to a live theatre.  In this respect, BA is very much like NYC.  Very much unlike my hometown of Toronto.  People love live theatre.  Prices are reasonable and some of these theatres are absolutely mangnificent.  I forget the name of the one we went to but there were about 200 people in the audience.  We had good seats.  I think there were 70 pesos (about USD20) a seat.  The show was a series of skits with scantily clad, curvaceous ladies.  My language skills are fair or worse but I found I enjoyed myself.  My wife and her friend were able to appreciate the jokes, of which there were many.

We went to the new mall that’s billed as 6 floors–4 up and 2 down.  Once you’ve been to a mall in BA, they all look the same to me.  Same stores with the same merchandise.  But this one had something I hadn’t seen before down here–an honest to goodness WalMart.  It turned out it was a WalMart in name if you’re American.  The stock resembled nothing we’re used to.  In fact, I kept telling my wife I felt we were in a bigger Tienda Inglesa.  First place I went was to the food section looking for Skippy peanut butter.   Nope.  No Kosher dill pickles either.  No original Kraft dinner.  No real choice of salad dressing but it did have a good selection of Newman’s own albeit in small size bottles.  

I have two memories from that trip that stand out the most.

First was what I thought was an incredibly built young lady standing on the street behing held back by 3 cops while some guy was yelling at her being held back by another 2 cops.  Turns out the she was a he.  

The 2nd memory was a young couple making out in the stairway of the Walmart mall, obvlivious to the world next to the elevator we were waiting for.  Just before I got on the elevator I took anothe quick look and like above, the he turned out to be a she.  They say Montevideo is very liberal in these kinds of things but in my 48 hours in BA, I saw more liberalism than I’ve seen in my 3 years in Montevideo.  

To sum it up, Buenos Aires will be my standard ‘birthday package’ for at least the next year or two.  That is unless my credit card bill comes in and reality smacks me in the head.

Posted in Daily life, Shopping | 2 Comments »

Small bills

Posted by urufish on January 23, 2009


We’ve been here just over 3 years and I still haven’t figured out why I’m always running out of small bills. 

We’ve tried several strategies to keep ahead of not having enough small bills to pay for something.  We would go to Macdonalds and use $1000 bills for food.  We would pay with $1000 bills at the Costa Azul across the street but they got wise to use a few weeks into the program and said sorry, they had no change but they’d be happy to take our credit card.   Not what we wanted to hear. 

Last year, at the beginning of the summer, we got a great idea.  Every weekend we’d go to Piriapolis and we’d pay the tolls with $1000 bills.  By the end of the fall, we had oodles of small bills.  We thought they’d last forever.  But alas, we used up our supply last week. 

Today, it finally came to me what had to be done.  Do the same thing we used to do up north in retail.  Go to the bank and get stacks of small bills.  I must have avoided this early on in Uruguay because my Spanish wasn’t up to the task.  But today, I bit down, went into the bank and did my best to make myself understood.  Amazingly enough, my teller (I say ‘my’ because he knows for 3 years), just smiled, winked at me and produced stacks of small bills neatly wrapped in elastic bands. 

Problem is now solved.  Every time we run low, it’s off to the bank for change.

Posted in Banking, Daily life | 5 Comments »

Admission and operation at Espanola

Posted by urufish on January 10, 2009


The operation was scheduled for Jan 6.  We were told to go to Admissions at 9am.  We picked up our blood donor (see previous post) at  Tres Cruces at 8:30 and took her to the blood donation section at 8:45.    We went to admissions to check in.   When my wife didn’t know what blood type she was, they sent us to the blood donation section to get typed.  As we walked in, our donor was just finishing up.  By the time they took my wife’s blood and typed her, the card for our donor was finished and we took everything back to admissions. 

Admissions asked the regular questions, checked her anti-tetanus card and the blood donor card and took us up to the room.  We didn’t see any ‘wards’ (4 or more persons in a room) on the floor we were taken to.  We only saw private and semi-private rooms (2 in a room).  As mentioned earlier, we signed up for a private room.   The pictures immediately below are from that room. 

Unlike the rooms I’m used to from up north, these rooms aren’t sterile looking.  They used a lot of wood to give the room warmth.  The ante-room at the entrance was a nice touch.  When there were more than 2 people in the room, it gave us a place to go and talk without disturbing my wife. 

Since we were given the room at 9am and the procedure wasn’t scheduled until 2pm, I took the time to check out all the room’s toys and my wife watched some TV and talked to friends. The room includes a TV with 80 channels, a frigo-bar, telephone, air conditioning, mood lighting, a modern hospital bed with all the toys and a complete, spotless private washroom.  I tested everything and it all worked. Very impressive. 

The operation was delayed an hour because earlier patients had some unexpected difficulties.  When the nurses showed up to take her to surgery, they also took us to the surgical waiting room.  It was a sparse place but comfortable.  The procedure took about an hour and a half.  The doctor came out and told us everything went well and we’d be able to go up to the room in 20 minutes. 

She was out of anaesthetic when we got up there and was hooked up with all the stuff we come to expect up north.  I took the first shift, staying with her from 5pm until 8am the next day.  The night nurse came in and showed me how to turn the chair into a bed, gave me a blanket, some food and told me how to reach her if my wife needed anything that evening.  She didn’t.  But every 2 hours, a team of nurses came in and did a bunch of things, trying not disturb me, not that I could sleep anyway.  Turns out that it’s hospital procedure to have patients have an ‘accompaniente’ with them 24/7.  It’s a little tighter in a semi private room, but the same basics apply.

The next morning, I was relieved by my wife’s cousin and went home to work and get some sleep.   Her other doctors came to visit her that day, while they were there working.  She had a lot of calls from friends here and in Canada.  By the end of the day, her doctor said things went better than he expected and she could go home the next day. 

I did the 4pm to 8am shift again that evening.  Came to pick her up at 1pm and took her home.  She’s doing very well.   Our overall exeprience with the Espanola’s hospital facilities is extremely positive.  We can honestly say we were never treated this well in the Toronto area’s hospitals. 

 Note:  The room (pictures below) is in the old section.  The new section is more modern. 





Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Preparing for an operation at the Espanola in Uruguay

Posted by urufish on January 5, 2009



Last month, my wife was told she needed some surgery done.   Our medical provider is Espanola.  She started the process in early December.  Last week, she was given a surgery date of January 7.  Here are the things we learned about this process.

Like Canada, the patient visits a few doctors before the surgery can be booked.   If you have any cardio condition like HBP, you need clearnace from a cardiologist.  Then you get to go back to your specialist.  He approves the surgery and you get to meet with the anaesthesiologist.  Assuming he approves, you go the hospital and they give you a date.

It turns out, my wife signed us up for ward coverage.  We’ve always had semi-private in Canada so we went to Espanola to upgrade.   Because a family member is usually present 24/7 when someone is incapable of looking after themselves, we decided to pay for a private room so I could stay with her.  Up north, we can pay for a surcharge for a private room.   Here, it works a little different.  The ‘private room’ surcharge is equivalent to the yearly fee for the option, plus any months remaining in the current year.   The cost at Espanola is UYU12,034  for one year of the private option.  Plus we signed up for autodebit of UYU1,003 per month so she would maintain the priviledge now that I know what’s involved.

The hospital asked her for her antitetanus vaccination.   Being a Uruguayan, she didn’t have to go through the vaccination when we moved here and frankly, she couldn’t remember the last time she ever got a shot.  So they treated her like a newbie, gave her a shot and told her to come back in a month for #2. 

The last hurdle was the blood donation.  At Espanola, if you go for surgery, you or someone else must make a donation in your name or you do NOT get the operation.  You must prove this the day you are admitted.  I found this out last Friday, so today I presented myself as her donor.  But guess what?  They refused me because I wasn’t fluent in Spanish.  They said unless I was fluent, I couldn’t answer the questionaire accurately.  My wife offered to translate, but they said it was a privacy issue and she could not translate for me.  They gave us a form that said I was refused which allows her to book the surgery Wednesday, but we were warned if she came back Wednesday morning without a certificate saying blood was donated in her name, she’d be refused entry. 

We thought this was a minor issue since she has a large family and several of them had volunteered to give blood when they found out she was going to have the surgery.  We came home and called around the family but one after the other couldn’t qualify.  Both of her nephews recently had tattoo’s.  You must wait 6 months after a tattoo before you can give blood.  Another family member was just diagnosed with anemia.  Finally, one of her nieces came to the rescue.  She lives in Maldonado, but she said she’d take the bus into Montevideo tomorrow morning.  But guess what?  Tomorrow is King’s day.  Espanola blood donation isn’t open tomorrow. 

So now it’s down to the wire.  The niece has to arrive here in Montevideo at 9am to give blood so my wife can be admitted at 10am. 

In fairness to Espanola, when they discovered I wasn’t qualified, they told my wife to go to any police or fire station and ask for a volunteer.  If a member of the public service donates blood for someone, they get a paid day off.  Apparently, it’s very common to do this. 

Let’s hope the buses dont go on strike Wednesday morning (or the doctors for that matter).

Posted in Medical | 2 Comments »

Moto Montevideo

Posted by urufish on October 29, 2008


With the spring comes hordes of motos flooding the streets of Montevideo.  In the winter, you still see a lot of motos on the road but when it warms up, you see more.. many more. 

This year I decided to buy one myself to get around those days when my wife has the car and I need to go somewhere in town.  Up north, I drove 350-500cc scooters because I did a lot of highway commuting and I long ago tired of gear shifting.  I haven’t seen the fun in it for years.  Here, it’s all city so something smaller works out better.  I settled on a 200-300 size range scooter.  With all the stop signs, one way streets and traffic, a manual transmission would have been masochistic.   

I first checked for used bikes.  Unfortunately, used bikes in Montevideo are ‘really’ used.  On top of that, the depreciation is minimal so I switched to new bikes.  Spent a few weeks reading through the Gallito then I went around to several motorcycle stores, windowshopping.  Finally, I got to the tire kicking stage. 

Bikes in Uruguay come in 2 basic flavours.  The traditional Japanese bikes like Suzuki, Honda, Yamaha, etc. and the Chinese bikes.  These are the newcomers at half or less the price than the Japanese bikes.  For a new 250 in Montevideo, you will pay over USD2K for a Chinese bike.  Within the Chinese community, there are a couple of brands that are known for good quality.  Keeway is the best out of mainland China.  Kymco is the best out of Taiwan. 

In the last week of shopping I looked at a Suzuki Burgman 400; a 250 Chinese knockoff of the Burgman, a Keeway 125 scooter, a Kymco 250 scooter and lastly, a Yasuki ‘Ring’ 150 scooter. 

I had a Burgman 400 in Toronto.  On the pro side, I loved everything about that scooter in Toronto.  On the con side, it’s very expensive here in Uruguay, but even more important, it really is too big for inner city driving–which is where i spend most of my time. 

The chinese knockoff of the Burgman was a non starter.  I took it out for a test drive and every pothole I hit resulted in a clanging sound of metal on metal.  The dealer said that’s how they’re made.  Sayanora knockoff. 

The Keeyway 125 was very nice.  A little too sporty for my tastes but it had good pickup.  The knockout was the size and feel.  You sit up close to the handlebars.   I like a bike you are further back with.  Gives you better balance.  I felt I was going to go over the handlebars on tight turns and quick stops. 

The Yasuki Ring, even though it was a 150, didn’t have any more power than the Keeway125.  Probably that’s because Keeway is a better make.. higher quality.. better engineering.   The knockout for the Ring was quality.  You could literally hear everything rattel on bumpy roads.  That’s why it’s so cheap.  It’s made cheap.  It also had the same problem as the Keeway.  It’s a small frame bike.  You sit almost on top of the handlebars. 

I ended up buying the Kymco250.  I did some research on Kymco first.  Kymco is the leading brand in Taiwan. It’s sold in the US.  It has a good service record.  Taiwan chinese are picky when it comes to their bikes.  So I went to the distributor and checked it out. 

The distributor for Kymco in Montevideo is the Harley Davidson importer.  That says something about the quality of Kymco w.r.t. service.  They’re not used to servicing bikes for silly problems.  The same company is also the rep for Citroen in Uruguay.  The scooter comes with a 2 year guarantee.  That’s something relatively new in Uruguay.  

The bike is finished as good as any Japanese bike I’ve seen.  Probably because Kymco made bikes for Honda for years.  The bike was well thought out.  Underseat storage was big enough for a full face helmet and rain gear.  It has discs front and back.  It has an ‘assisted’ braking system.. 60% on the rear–40% up front.  That way you can brake all the time with your left hand and not ‘dive’.  In an emergency, gripping the left brake tightly, you have a lot more rubber on the ground to stop you. 

It’s also got a few high end toys.  Electric retracting side view mirrors and a cell phone charger subsystem under the seat for very long talking periods in rainy weather.  I thought the retracting mirrors were a useless trinket until today.  I had to park the bike in a space for motos that was packed tightly.  By retracting the mirrors, there’s less chance of damage to them or a neighbour’s bike.  As for the cell phone charger, it is nice to have someplace to charge your phone if you forget to do it at home. 

Starting is instant and the throttle holds the bike on its own until the engine warms up.   It’s a little rough at idle because there’s no fule injection.  You have to go to the 500cc (and up) to get that.  The weight is perfect for intown driving.  Today, I had to park downhill.  I had to back out uphill when I left.  Try that with a Burgman 650 or even a 350.  Piece of cake with the 250.    Montevideo allows you to make your own lane and weave in and out of traffic as you please.  That’s a double edged sword.  Great for making time but I’m sure it contributes to a good % of accidents.  The 250 is small and nimble enough to be able to bob and weave in the tightest places. 

Acceleration is very good and smooth.  Top end isn’t really suited for highway IMHO.  Firstly, they tell you not to go over 70kmh for the first 1000km.   I’m lucky to get 50km on the bike a week.  That means a year at least before I can go on the highway????  But more importantly, it labours at 100kph.   Haven’t tried to go any higher than that for fear of damaging something at <100km on the scooter.  I figure I’ll cross the 100km mark tomorrow. 

The passenger’s seat is more like a throne.  Very wide.  Very comfortable and a little too high for my tastes, but the rider loves the view.  He/she’s high enough to see over your head.  Both of you shares bugs in the teeth.  A very liberal scooter.  The downside to having your passenger that high is balance.  Several times I’ve been waiting for the light to change and all of a sudden, find myself struggling to keep the bike upright.  My passenger has decided to lean over for some reason, taking me and the bike with them.  While underway, this presents no problems at all, unless your passenger has some kind of death wish.  

I dont much like the dashboard.  It’s 100% LCD.  As a computer geek, you’d think I like this kind of stuff, but I’m more practical than geeky, given a choice.   I’m sure they did for one (or maybe both) of two reasons.  It impresses a lot of purchasers.  It’s cheaper to make.  Call me old fashioned, but I prefer analog gauges or at least numbers.  I think it’s dumb to count black boxes and divide.  Eg.  a warm engine has 3 boxes..

Today, I decided it was time to get my local license.  I’d been driving around on my Ontario license for the past 2.5 years.  Legally, I was supposed to get my local license when I received my residenty.  Definitely because I’m here for periods longer than 90 days.  I avoided it because it seemed complicated and my spanish wasn’t (still isn’t) very good.  The last time  I went for the license, it was to Maldonado and it was a disaster.  The whole story is in another post. 

Today, I had made all the preparations.  I talked with several people who said it would be easy.  My wife called a few days ago to make sure we had everything we needed.  But this is Uruguay, so expect surprises. 

We decided to get our licenses in Montevideo.  I hear it’s easier in Canelones, but hey, no pain.. no gain.  So we showed up with all our documents and were told we didn’t have the right medical certs.  We had to go around the corner and spend another forty bucks to get the right ones.  The doctor who interviewed us said that since we had current licenses from Canada, he didn’t need to test us for anything.  So he just signed the form and we went back with it. 

The clerk at the intendencia took all our documents and gave us another form we had to take to the cashier and pay.  The license fee to use your foreign license to get a local license is 800 pesos.  About $40.  We paid.  We took the paperwork to another counter and within 15 minutes, we had our new license.  That was the easy part.  Those licenses allow you to drive a car.  Not a motorcycle.

I had to repeat the process for my motorcycle license.  It’s separate from your car driver’s license here.  They said I had to take a practical test at a different location at another date.   During the process of making those arrangements, they told me that I couldn’t drive the motorcycle to the test because I wasn’t licensed for a 250cc motorcycle.  I said I’d been driving one for weeks on my Ontario license.  They said that now that I have a Uruguayan license, I shouldn’t be using my Ontario license any more.  They said that from now on, I couldn’t drive the motorcycle at all until I passed the practical test.  I got a little upset at that point, but the best was yet to come.  Motorcycle licenses here are graduated.  You have to drive a motorcycle under 200cc’s here for 2 years before you can drive one over 200cc’s.  The girl wasn’t entirely certain but she believed that once I got my Uruguayan motorcycle license, I’d need to drive a smaller bike for 2 years before I could drive my Kymco.  At that point I lost it.

So I went back to plan A.  To find a way to use my motorcycle qualification from Ontario to get an equivalent license in Montevideo.  After talking to a few ‘chiefs’, the reason I had to take the practical test (the most obvious reason) was because the document I got from the Canadian embassy only said that I was ‘qualified to drive motorcycles’.  It didn’t state what size engine.  That’s because in Ontario, if it doesn’t state you are limited to a certain size, it means you can drive any size.  Not so here.  It must clearly state you can drive motorcycles of a specific size, or for the G3 license, motorcycles with any size cylinder(s).

The ‘chiefs’ said if I came back with a document that had the same verbage as their G3 license in Uruguay, it was ‘likely’ that I wouldn’t have to take the practical.  I went to the Canadian embassy and explained this to the clerk there.  She said to come back the next day.  I did.  The next day I took it to IMM again. 
The new form states that the M2 rating (as requested by IMM) has no limit for cc’s or motorcycle size. The consul threw in the last one just in case. But alas. The IMM said this document wasn’t sufficient because it failed to specify me in the document. Of course, I did have that document, stapled to the previous motorcycle document, but IMM took it away when they gave me the automobile driver’s license.

At that point, my wife came up with a great line. She said we were new to the country and didn’t know anyone who could drive my motorcycle to the stadium so I could take the test. On that item, the moto-matriarchy (that’s what I call licensing because it’s all women in charge), relented on the practical test but insisted on the medical. Perhaps I was looking a little fragile and disoriented this morning.

Medical for motos involves copying various objects from flashcards to paper. I guess the better you are at art, the likelier you are to pass as you get older. They let my wife translate the explanation but then she had to leave before I could doodle. Having passed that, next stop was the dentist. He counted all my teeth, said they were all there and sent me to the ‘reaction’ doctor. She said she spoke english so my wife didn’t have to come in and translate. But as soon as I answered her in Spanglish, she switched to Spanish and never looked back.

In this test, you keep your foot on the accelerator until a red light comes on. Then you put your foot on the brake. What I didn’t understand is that you must immediately put your foot back on the accelerator after you tap the brake. So as I was failing this part, she kept wildly gesturing me to take my foot off the brake. Eventually, for the last 3 red lights, I figured it out and she was satisfied my reaction time was under a few seconds. However, when she went to sign the form, she noticed something amiss where the doodle guy had signed. She sent me back to tell him he had to change something. When I told him that, he told me to tell her to mind her own business. At that point, I decided to go back to the clerk desk with my paperwork and hopefully, I was done. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

She told us to have a seat and wait for the real doctor. At this point, we joined the mainstream of old people (I say old because they’re even older than we are) and waited in line as they hobbled in and out with various infirmities. For a G3, you have to go through this. Whenthey called my name, I had to leave my translator outside. He said I cant have a translator because they would be reading the eye chart-not me!  BTW, I assume calling you is the first test. They call it very low and the room is very noisy. If you dont come to the door, you probably fail that part of the test.   The test is very fast. You read one letter from the last line. They take your blood pressure. How they do that without pumping up the armband, I dont know. Lastly, you look into binoculars and tell them which way the U (which keeps changing position) is facing. I answered in English. I have no idea if he knew what I was saying but he too was happy to get rid of me.

With the last test out of the way, we went back to the clerk who seemed to be taking great pleasure in our discomfort, finding our way through the building, searching out various doctors, in a constant state of confusion. To lighten things up a bit, she asked me if everyone called me ‘Fish’ at school. I said yes. In fact, they still do (eh Gab??)

Unlike the automobile license, you dont get the G3 immediately.   To qualify for the G3, you need a ‘carnet salud’ from IMM.  That’s a photo health card that establishes you’ve passed the physical for a commercial license.  A G3 is considered a commercial license…  So I gave to come back on Wednesday morning between 08:00 and 14:00 with a passport sized photo.  That’s to attach to the health card and laminate it.  With it, I should be able to pay for the G3, take the picutre and get it. 

It will be nice to finally be legal, driving around Montevideo. Now when they stop me for not having the lights on, they can give me a ticket.

Wednesday:  I showed up and the health card was ready.  We had it in about 5 minutes.  With the health card in hand all the forms signed and stamped, we went to Section 2 to get the G3 license.  The guy at the desk offered me a date to take my practical test.  I said I already have a license that’s good for G3 and all I need him to do now is to give me the equivalent from Montevideo.  He spoke with his section chief and she said, nope..  She insisted I take the test.  I was running out of time – and patience.  I didn’t really mind taking the test but the date was when I’m in Toronto and since my Ontario license expires in a couple of weeks, I’d be driving the moto without a proper license until the next test date in January..  I decided I’d renew my Ontario license and simply put aside the Montevideo G3 until I was in a better mood.  Maybe in the winter when I have nothing better to do with my time…

That was all good until I started venting on Monday night to one of our friends.   She’s a lawyer.  I said I provided all the documentation according to the published rules.  There was simply no reason for not giving me the G3 here.  She agreed.   She called her friend in IMM a couple of days and he agreed to.  This morning I went in, paid the UYU800 and picked it up.  I’m glad this is over.

Posted in Driving | 4 Comments »

Piriapolis isn’t so peaceful after all

Posted by urufish on June 22, 2008

This morning, my wife’s friend called to tell us that we made the right move when we decided to stay home this weekend.  Friday night, 2 people were shot to death next door to us on Cerro San Antonio.  My wife asked her how she knew all this and how did she know for sure it was the house next to ours.   She said it’s the HEADLINE in today’s newspaper.  So I went out and bought the paper just to make sure.   Yep, that’s the picture of the neighbour’s house (above). 

The full article below is in Spanish.  In plain English it says that a father and his daughter were shot there.  The father was a retired police officer who sold guns for a living.  His daughter was married with 2 children.  Her husband reported them missing.  Their bodies were found in the trunk of the father’s car which was abandoned in Montevideo.  After police found the bodies, the investigation led them o the top of San Antonio.  They found cartridge casings and bloody clothes in the house. Several people have been arrested from Monvetivdeo, Maldonado and El Pinar.  

Update Nov 13/08.   Just found out that our friend Merlin, bought this house last week..   He’s supposed to be here in a couple of weeks.  Gee..  We would be so happy to have him as a neighbour.   It’s got a terrific view and a great lot.  Just needs some work…   We’re really looking forward to seeing him this summer. 

Un vendedor de armas y su hija ejecutados a balazos
Doble crimen. Muertos en Piriápolis y dejados en Carrasco

La Policía cree que se trató de una ejecución. El móvil del doble crimen es una incógnita. El homicidio se consumó en un chalet de Piriápolis y anoche la Policía buscaba a varios sospechosos para interrogarlos.

Euclides Heber Viera y su hija Natalia Soledad fueron ejecutados en un chalet cerca de la cumbre del cerro San Antonio, en Piriápolis. El sargento primero, jubilado de la Policía, salió el jueves pasado rumbo a ese balneario. Iba a cerrar una transacción comercial y llevaba consigo al menos cuatro armas de fuego que no aparecieron. Quedó registrado su paso por el primer peaje sobre el arroyo Pando. Sin embargo su cuerpo y el de su hija fueron hallados en pleno Carrasco, dentro del baúl del Volkswagen Santana que pertenecía a Viera.

La lista de preguntas aún sin respuestas que tienen los investigadores de la División Homicidios es extensa. Desde la madrugada pasada los equipos de la Dirección de Investigaciones de Montevideo, de la Comisaría 14ª y los criminalistas de Policía Técnica trabajaron en la esquina de Lombardía y Ancona en busca de indicios.

Se debió pedir el apoyo de Bomberos para abrir el baúl del automóvil, donde estaban ocultos los cuerpos de las víctimas, asesinados a tiros.

Un vecino de Carrasco que había visto el automóvil gris con vidrios polarizados estacionado en esa esquina desde la mañana del viernes, fue el que, intrigado por esa presencia, dio aviso a la Policía ya en horas de la noche. Cuando los uniformados de la Comisaría 14ª llegaron frente al 5861 de la calle Lombardía lo primero que constataron fue que la matrícula SAG 2218 pertenecía a un coche requerido por el Departamento de Registro y Búsqueda de Personas Ausentes del Ministerio del Interior. La tapa del baúl estaba ligeramente abierta, apenas por una rendija los policías pudieron ver que dentro había dos cuerpos. Ya era la medianoche; la tranquila esquina de Carrasco comenzó a llenarse de móviles policiales.

DESAPARICIÓN. Euclides Heber Viera (62) se había retirado de la Policía con el grado de sargento primero. Se dedicaba al comercio de armas e insumos, aunque su actividad era fundamentalmente la de gestor de habilitaciones de porte y tenencia de armas para sus clientes.

Fuentes de la investigación señalaron que Viera se disponía a cerrar una transacción comercial en Piriápolis. Viera padecía de diabetes y problemas cardíacos. Como no se había sentido bien en los días previos, le pidió a su hija Natalia (32)-casada y madre de dos niños- que lo acompañara a Maldonado. Eso ocurrió el jueves pasado. La esposa de Viera comenzó a alarmarse cuando con el correr de las horas no tenía noticias de su marido y de su hija. Temiendo lo peor llamó a la Policía. Los mecanismos de averiguación del paradero comienzan a ponerse en marcha recién a las 24 horas de ausencia de una persona. La oficina especializada del Ministerio del Interior lanzó el alerta a todas las unidades policiales del país en la tarde del viernes.

“Nuestra preocupación principal es que, dado el perfil de esta persona, creemos que podía llevar armas consigo, no sólo tenemos una persona desaparecida, además podemos tener armas con un destino desconocido”, comentó una fuente del Ministerio consultada por El País. La peor hipótesis se hizo realidad pocas horas después.

EJECUCIÓN. Los investigadores de Homicidios están seguros de que se trata de una ejecución.

Al caer la tarde los investigadores dieron con el chalet donde fueron muertos padre e hija. Una pequeña y elegante finca ubicada cerca de la cumbre del cerro San Antonio. En el suelo del chalet se hallaron vainas de proyectiles detonados, manchas de sangre y ropas ensangrentadas. Un equipo de criminalistas de Policía Técnica viajó anoche desde Montevideo al chalet. El juez penal Federico Álvarez Petraglia tomó cartas en el caso. Al cierre de esta edición, la Policía buscaba sos- pechosos entre Montevideo y Maldonado. Uno de los procedimientos se llevaba a cabo en los alrededores de El Pinar.

Posted in Daily life | 3 Comments »

Domestic Help – BPS

Posted by urufish on March 22, 2008


When you hire a person to work for you your household, you are supposed to subscribe them into the BPS (Social Insurance) scheme in Uruguay.  The heading for cleaning staff is ‘Servicio Domestico’.

The fees have changed in the past several months–upwards.  Our cleaning lady works for us 3 days a week.   We listed her total monthly income from working for us as UYP5300/month.  We pay her contributions to the BPS.  They’re UYP2600/month – about half of her salary again. 

It’s very important that you do this for 2 reasons.  The first is an ethical one.   These people make very little money, even by Uruguayan standards.  Paying for their BPS entitles them to a better health program (well, it used to before the reform – not sure what it means now), and to a pension when they retire.  Many Uruguyan domestics aren’t enrolled and when they’re old and cant work any more, they wont have this pension.   The 2nd reason is CYA.   If your employee reports you, especially after years of neglect, you’ll be backbilled, with fines.  No matter how wonderful the relationship is with your employee, times change.  In this case, not subscribing an employee really is a fool’s game. 

This is a copy of what the monthly bill looks like, complete with all the various deductions and what they’re for.   Double click to be able to read the details. 


Posted in Business, Taxes | 3 Comments »

The Movistar IQ (Idiot Quotient) Test

Posted by urufish on March 21, 2008


This one’s easy.  Just go to www. movistar.com.uy, click on usuario and try to get anything important done. 

Earlier this week, I had emailed Movistar’s ‘attencion al cliente’ advising them that the credit card they’re using for autodebit had been cancelled.  I had another one and wanted to change it.

I immediately received an email stating that ‘due to large volumes of emails at this time, they would get to me when they could’. 3 days later I got a nice email telling me, among other things, that I could use the web portal.   It said that your user name is the last 6 digits of your phone number.  Your password is your cedula or passport #, whichever applied.

This caused me great joy, (still haven’t learned my lessons about Uruguay).  I now had access to my account on line.  Couldnt wait to try it out.  I went to the site, clicked on ‘usuarios’, after a few attempts figured out it was my wife’s cedula on file and I was in.  This caused me even greater joy, (still haven’t learned my lessons about Uruguay). 

Access gets you to ‘hello Sra Fisher’ screen.  The sub menus are: Telefonia, Internet, Cambio de Clave and Exit.  None of these seemed to apply to what I want to; change my autodebit credit card, so I started my journey by clicking Telefonia.  That takes you to a sub menu with one item.  Consultar Factura.  That wasn’t what I was looking for but since I have online access to view and print my other phone bills, I decided to add Movistar’s bill to my electronic stable.  I clicked it.  This takes you to, ready for this one, another login screen.  Duhhhh.. OK..  Let’s see if I can figure this one out.  It asks for your Cuenta and then your PIN.  We only have one account with Movistar so I pulled last month’s invoice and entered the cuenta (account) number.  That left me with trying to figure out what the PIN was.  The only place I’ve seen PIN used with Movistar is with the phone itself-the chip.  So I looked up the PIN and entered it.  No banana.  So I rooted around for any other possible PIN they could be looking.   Still no banana.  So I tried my wife’s cedula again.  That brought me to the 3 strike rule and you guessed it, I’m barred for life.  This particular service is now bloqueado.   I guess that puts me futher behind than when I had no access at all.

OK.. So much for consulting your phone bill on line..  Let’s try something else.  So I went back and clicked on the Internet option.

There are a lot more options here.  First is that ‘consultar factura’ thing.  No point trying that now is there?  Then there’s Consultar Accessos, Activar Direccion de correo en USA, Paginas Pesonalex, Busquedas Web, Humanizadas, Casilla de Fax, Aviso de Email, Email Adicionales, Consumos IPass, Llenar la encuesta

So I tried Consultar Accessos… This one sounds pretty good.  I always wanted to know the details of my usage but the invoices dont show that.  They just tell you how many minutes you use.  The screen defaults to Marzo (this is March) so I stupidly clicked on that.  Nothing.  That’s becuase no cell provider calculates your usage dynamically, (none I’ve seen anyway).  They put that information up when they calculate your invoice.  So I clicked on Feburary… Still nothing.  That concerned me, so I clicked January, then December.  Nothing.   There’s no construction sign.  I assume that either this thing is going to work someday, is broke now or I have to pay extra for this to work. 

Let’s try Activar Direccion de correo en USA.  Whoah.  That one took me totally by surprise.  It’s an advertisement for Miami Box.  You can subscribe to the service from this web page.  Just what I needed.   Yah right. 

Next stop is Paginas Personales.  It’s also an advertisement.  You can have your web site hosted with Movistar…  How quaint.  In fact, Busquedas Web, and Humanizades are all propaganda for additional services.

Casilla de Fax, Aviso de E-Mail and E-Mail adicionales are services you can add to your account.  This gives you a number people can send faxes to which are then forwarded to you via email.

IPass looks like the old dialup internet service thing.  Had that with Sprint many suns ago.

The last one, Llenar la ncuesta means exactly that.  You go there to rate their services.  I dont feel right doing this because maybe the reason I cant get anything out of the website useful to me is my comprehension of the language.  I dont see anywhere I can click ‘English’🙂

So here we are, no further ahead…. but you never know what can happen in the future.. intentionally or plain, dumb luck. 

 PS… When I emailed Movistar about the change of credit card, I also emailed Primus, my cell provider in Canada.  A Primus customer service rep replied the next morning, asking me for the new credit card info.  I replied.  Later that day I got a confirmation. 

Posted in Technology | 4 Comments »


Posted by urufish on March 2, 2008


I never thought much about food back home.  For breakfast I made my own ham sandwiches.  For lunch, I’d go to a local, fast food restaurant.  Dinner was waiting for me when I got home from work.

Here, things are different.  It’s not that my eating habits have changed much.  It’s the food, or should I say, the freshness of the food that is different.

At home, when my wife shopped, she’d stock up on food.  Meats were frozen.  Bread was same day from the bakery and frozen or refrigerated.  Luncheon meats were put in a refrigerator for 7-10 days.  Here, you shop 2-3 times a week for anything perishable.  It’s not unusual to pick up your vegetables a few hours before you prepare them.  Me, I’m in the habit of buying my bread 15-20 minutes before I eat it.   That’s for dinner.  In the morning, it’s 5-10 minutes. 

I can recall a few times in my life I ate bread, still warm from the oven.  Here, it’s a daily event–and we dont have to bake it ourselves.  

Meats are NEVER, EVER frozen.  You buy what you’re going to eat a day or two before.  When I buy luncheon meats, like bologna, ham, bacon or sliced chicken, it’s always 100g, just enough for a day or two.

Living in this part of Pocitos clearly makes a big difference in how one eats.  With 3 supermarkets within 3 blocks and hot bread baked daily in one of them it makes no sense to do big, northern shoppings.  If we feel like a roast chicken, there’s a rotisserie 2 blocks from the house.  Fresh made pizza is across the street.   One of the best ice cream shops in Montevideo, La Cigal, is one block away.  There must be a half dozen chivito places within 3 blocks.  Marco’s (the most famous in Montevideo) is much farther–at 5 blocks away. 

Good thing I dont eat a lot🙂

Posted in Daily life | 3 Comments »

Live – from atop San Antonio

Posted by urufish on March 1, 2008


This is part 2 of Mobile Inernet in Uruguay (the previous post).  I said I’d write about what happened with our new mobile internet service on Monday.  But guess what?  It worked and here I am, sitting on the terrace (above) writing about how it went last night. 

We chose the USB modem instead of the PCMCIA modem.  We did that because with Mobile Internet, the exact placement of your antenna is critical.  With the USB, you can move it, not your laptop, around to get a good signal.  Personally, I prefer the PCMCIA because it becomes part of the laptop.  You dont have to lug peripherals around, no matter how small they are.  The other reason I preferred PCMCIA is power.  The manual indicated the USB requires 2 connections.  We only have 2 USB ports on our Dell.  That means while you’re using this thing, you can’t connect an external modem or keyboard or HD without adding yet another periphal, a USB hub AND a big, clunky power supply, which is only available here in single voltage, (which means buying another transformer or hub when we’re in Canada/USA.  I haven’t seen an electronic powersupply here that comes with a USB hub.   However, the good news is that (at least on this laptop), it works with a single USB connection only.   Some USB ports put out more power than others.  The modem’s needs exceed some laptop USB port’s power output.  My single ports seem adequate for this modem. 

The modem we got was exactly the same model that was advertised.  I asked the girl if the instructions were in English.  She said yes.  She was partially right.  The cover does say ‘Quick Start’ but that’s as far as the English goes.  I had to download a manual from the internet.  It’s a Huawei E226.  Had no problem finding Huawei’s website, but there was no E226 to be found.  There was an E220 which is identical for all intents and purposes.

When we got into the house last night, I first had to bring in the LCD TV and hook it up to my wife’s J-Win portable DVD player.  Got a chuckle out of that.  The video does work fine with the TV, but the audio is another story.  The volume control on the portable controls the output to the TV.  Even at full volume on the TV, it’s still louder on the portable unit.  Have to troubleshoot that back in the lab in Montevideo.  Dont have all my goodies with me here on the mountain🙂.

After the TV/DVD was done, it was time to try out mobile internet.  I did some Googling before I left Monevideo and all of the posts on the Huawei modem were positive.  One post in particular was great to know.  The poster detailed the entire bootup process.  That’s good for someone like me who would have been freaking out with the real boot process if I hadn’t read that post. 

When you’ve been around computers as long as I have, this process is always met with anxiety prior to starting it.  I long ago gave up having a stiff drink before I did this.  Had I not, I’d be a hopeless alcoholic by now :)   You get burned so many times, you figure the odds are against you and here I am, sitting on top of a hill, without any of my diag equipment.  But my wife was desperate to get to Latinchat, so I just bit down and started. 

The manual says you should turn on your computer first, then plug in the modem.  I read the instructions several times, to make sure I wasn’t missing any nuances.  There were two cables.  One normal cable with mini on one end and regular on the other.  Then there’s another cable with one mini on one end and 2 USB’s on the other end.  The picture and manual talks about the cable with 2 USB ends.  Based on comments from the first post, I’d say the single cable is used with a desktop unit, which has more power available per USB port than a laptop.  The one that I didn’t get the first time around was which of those 2 plugs goes in first.  Dont know if it really matters, but I followed it exactly as printed.  The plug that is part of the main cable goes in first.  I waited a few seconds, then plugged in the 2nd connection.   The sequence was exactly as the other post described it (and as Wilbur confirmed in the previous post’s comments).  The first thing it does is pick up the mass storage device.  That’s because there is a mass storage device built into the modem.  That’s where the software is located that it uses to install the drivers from.  That was kind of a neat thing.  Why have CD’s when you can put your software inside the device itself. 

It then installs a few more devices.  I believe one says it found a CD drive.  It doesn’t matter because it’s all automatic.  You just sit there and watch.  Eventually, it says it’s done, (which it really isn’t but who cares).  You agree to everything and it seems to be finished. 

After a while, this process starts all over again.  This is actually the important part.  This is where the modem itself is installed.  Then the software that runs it fires up.  The name of the software is Mobile Partner.  It’s equivalent to the wireless manager software you can run separately with most wireless cards.  The only difference is that this doubles as that and as your modem drivers.  Turn this thing off and you turn off your connection. 

I find Mobile Partner interesting.  In the image below, you can see most of what it does.  It tells you how fast you’re able to upload, how fast you download, and it tells you how much data you’re moving per session.  It also tells you how much data you’ve used in the calendar month.  I suspect this is how you audit the bills from providers like Movistar, that charge you by how much data you move.  CTI is ‘unlimited’.  I was surprised by the very slow rate it shows for upload.  Something must be wrong with the numbers because I’m writing this post and uploading images, and I see very little difference in the time it takes to upload an image between here and the 128 or 256 upload speeds I have in Montevideo. 


When the modem installation completed, it takes you to a configuration screen.  The first option is language.  It defaulted to English and that was fine with me.  The next option asks you which service you want to connect to.  The options are CTI, CTI Uruguay and CTI Paraguay.  The girl back at CTI told me to choose CTI Uruguay.  She said you can choose CTI Paraguay if you are there and for Argentina, you choose CTI period.  I guess Argentina/Uruguay is like USA/Canada.  The big guys think they’re the centre of the universe, so there is no country distinguished.  The rest of us are foreigners🙂.   After that, the little bubble came up in the bottom right corner (Windows users), that said I now had a 7.2mb Intenet connection.  Dream on dude.  Now I have no doubt that someplace on this planet, this puppy can handle 7.2mb, but not here atop San Antonio.  But that’s neither here nor there.  The important thing was that it got connectvity and it just ‘felt’ OK. 

After that, I punched up IE and away I went.  My wife was drooling on the other side of the table, waiting for me to be finished but I managed to divert her attention by turning on her favourite soap, (Canal 7).  That bought me an hour.  It turns out I needed it because on my computer, Yahoo Messenger wasn’t installed.  I had to download it.  First big test of the speed.  Worked flawlessly.  About 15 minutes later, we were in the Yahoo world.  Then I updated Windows Live Messenger and setup a shortcut for Latinchat.  The soap finished and that was it for me.  I was banned to the bedroom :) 

To sum it up, I’d say that it works as advertised as long as you’ve got a decent signal.  That’s a big if.  RF is always a big ‘if’ and the the greater the distance between the tower and the receiver AND the obstacles inbetween, the bigger the ‘if’.  Adding the experience last night with my experience using this technology in Toronto, I really believe that the key is the placement of the modem.  In Toronto, I had to park my laptop within a foot of the Western wall of my cousin’s apartment to get decent speed.  While I was using, I watched the speeds go up and down like a yoyo.  Reminded me of the early years of the cellular industry.  I will know more about ‘obstacles’ when I try this at home on Monday. 

In my own little piece of this planet, I have no idea if CTI’s tower is atop Pan D’Azucar or 60m behind my house atop San Antonio, but whatever it is, it works fine.  The installation went without a hitch.  They’ve got my UYP1800 by now from my NATIONAL credit card (jajajaja) and I’m sure the autodebit will kick in next month on that credit card.  For UYP500/month, I honestly have to say this is a serious altenative for anyone who is fine with this speed and UYP500/month.  If you’ve got a laptop, travel around Uruguay and want to use your laptop in Colonia, MVD, Atlantida, Solymar, Piria or Maldonado/La Punta, I’d say this was your only option. 

If Arrancopelito ever answers my request from last week, I’d love to take this over to her place and see if it works there.  She’s not close to the Punta tower(s), but she may have line of site and that may just be enough. 

Posted in Technology | 30 Comments »