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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 »

Motorcycles and Montevideo

Posted by urufish on December 3, 2007

winnermoto.jpg  The new Winner $450 moto from Motociclo

The title is a bit misleading.  It should read 2 wheeled motorized vehicles and Uruguay but it’s not as snappy. 

Since I started reading blogs about Uruguay (and writing in my own), there have been many motorcycle stories.  Southron.net has tons of discussions on the subject.  The long and the short of it is that most of us agree that driving motos around here is a high risk activity. 

I think I’m up to 5 fatalities now, (and several PI’s).   That includes one in Piriapolis last year but does not include my wife’s run in with a moto a few years back because that was before we moved here permanently. 

If I include the years when we just vacationed here, there are 2 of my own, (I still cant scratch my back with my right hand), and at least a dozen to the credit of close friends and family.  Fortunately, none off them were fatal… but close.. oh yes.. 

Anyway, I thougtht I’d seen it all.  Crashes at intersections, crashes into walls, culverts, other stationary cars, buses, even one police car.  But Sunday morning’s was definitely the best so far.   Our ‘handy-man’ and friend Leo was coming to our house on Sunday morning to drive with us to Piriapolis where he was going to wash the walls with chloric acid (removes the algae that accumulates on the white walls in the winter).  Around 8:15am, we got a text message from Leo.   He said he’d been in an accident with a horse and he was waiting in emergency.  He’d let us know later on. 

Leo lives in Montevideo as do we.  The idea of him driving into a horse at 8:00 am on a Sunday in Montevideo was so bizarre, but Leo doesn’t exaggerate…  So we drove out to Piria, (and met Steve and his other half Chris), met the family and did some chores.  On the way home, Leo sent us a more detailed text message.  Turns out he was driving along a street and as he was going by a horse-cart, the horse decides to turn to the left–into him.  He says he separated his shoulder but he should be good as new in a couple of days.

So when someone tells you that Montevideo is not a safe place to drive motorcycles, they aren’t kidding.  Even the horses pull in front of motos. 

Posted in Driving | 4 Comments »

Trying to get a Maldonado Driver’s License

Posted by urufish on June 14, 2007


Got up bright and early this morning to get everything ready to take to the driver’s license office in Maldonado.  Deadline was today because my wife’s Ontario driver’s license expired on May 15.  We thought you have to renew before 30 days after expiry.  We found out that’s not true.. plus a lot of other things we wish we hadn’t.  

Photocopied our cedulas (2 copies) and my passport (2 copies) just to be safe.  Photocopied (2 copies) of a legal document we have from when I started the immigration process, that proves we are married to each other.  Why do I need that?  Because my wife is Uruguayan and her cedula is from near birth (she got it at 6 months old) and it carries her maiden name.  She never changed it.  Here, when a woman marries a man, she adds the man’s last name to the end of her name.  There’s no connection between her name and mine.  So why does that matter?  Well, you have to prove where you live when you apply for a driver’s license.  Just like back home.  You need an address in the state you apply for a license in. 

Uruguayans require proof of address for many things.  For instance, if you want a cellphone on contract, you need to show your Antel bill – in your name.  If it’s in the other spouse’s name, the other spouse has to sign the contract.  Most Urugyans carry a utility bill, like an UTE, OSE or Antel bill with them at all times.  The driver’s license office will want to see your name and your address and then they believe you live where you say you live.  Maldonado is where our house in Piriapolis is so we’re cool getting a license there but when we got our utilities, many suns ago, it was all in my wife’s name.  She’s the one who can prove she lives there.  Me, I’m a gypsy, a hobo, a person with no fixed address as far as they’re concerned.  That all changes if I can prove I’m her husband…  I’m supposed to live with her.  So I can get my license in Maldonado if she shows a utility bill in her name and I prove I’m married to her.  Simple enough? 

After I got everything prepared, we left for the 90 minute trip to the Maldonado driver’s license office.  We didn’t know where it was and we didn’t feel like playing pilot/navigator, so we drove to her brother’s house in Maldonado (town of), and picked him up to guide us in.  That’s when I realized I left the driver’s license translations back in Montevideo… Yo burro.

Well, this is Uruguay and sometimes knowing someone gets you around obstacles.  My nephew knows the girl in the license office so we figured we’ll go there, do all the paperwork and courier the translations to her tomorrow.  It was a good plan.  Heck, anything was better than turning around and heading back.  And even if it didn’t work, at least we’d get a bit further in the process.

The municipal offices in Maldonado are impressive.  Mucho dinero went into that place.  You can see the Argentino, Euro and American property taxes  being well spent.  Everyone is smiling there.   What hit me the most when I walked in was the smell.  There’s no musk.. kind of like a very light, more or less, pleasant odour of mould that I expected from other municipal offices.  I guess that’s what happens when you can build new offices with expensive materials.  I wonder if the place is insulated???

We went down to the driver’s license office and of course, took a number.  It was around 1pm.  There was a note on the door that said Medico 15-6-07, 12pm.  I believe that means the doctor leaves at noon tomorrow.  The place is open to 14:45.  We had plenty of time.  Our number was 37.  36 was on the LED screen.  Good news.  But unfortunately, that was the end of the good news.  It was all downhill from there…  but read on… good stuff here for everyone..

There was one person working on the desk.  She knew my nephew  and was very, very nice to all of us.  We told her we didn’t have the translations and she said that was a problem.  She had to follow the rules and the rules clearly state you need those translations.

Time out for a tangent…  There’s a sign at the front that details requirements for licenses in a more thorough way than those I could find on the internet.  There is a specific point that states if you’re from another pais (country), you need to show your driver’s license.  It doesn’t state you need official translations, but that’s pretty much common sense.   How could a Uruguayan clerk know how to read a Chinese or Russian driver’s license.  If it isn’t in Spanish, they’ll need an official translation and photocopies, stamped officially.  But the good news is that they state right up front they’ll accept foreign licenses.  But dont get your hopes up.  Accepting them and good news are two different things.. unless you’re a hair splitter.. Read on…

Back to the girl in the office.  She says she must have translations so let’s go upstairs to the information desk and ask them if there’s an official translator of English to Spanish close by and free (in the temporal sense of the word).  We find an official translator in PDE who will charge $800 per driver’s license.  But time to get there and back will be over an hour and the doctor will be gone by then.  Oh well, sigh.. see you tomorrow…  But that’s not the end of it. It gets much better.

We dejectedly walk out of the office and as we reach the stairs, the nice lady rushes out after us with the ‘Manual del Conductor’ in her hand.  She says to make sure we study this before we come back tomorrow.  WHAT!!!!  Yesterday, we were told that all we had to do was show our driver’s licenses, pass the medical and we got our Maldonado license.  NO!!!  You have to write the theory and take the road test.  So why do we need to show our foreign driver’s license?  Well, that ‘may’ save us from having to take the 90 minute safety seminar/tape/whatever.  But more importantly, our license will be good for 5 years (or was that 10–I was kind of zoned out at the point).  Without showing a previous license, the Maldonado license would be for only 2 years.

Oh, and one more twist.  If you come more than 10 days before your birthday, the license you get (assuming you pass the tests), is only good until your date of expiry.  My birthdate is in November.  Even though my foreign license is good until 2008, my new, Maldonado license would expire this November.

Monday, we are going to the Montevideo driver’s license office and see what the deal is there.  Who knows, maybe we can talk someone there into bypassing the theory and written.  If that fails, we go to Canelones.  We own a small house there too, (my wife bought for her mother years ago). We dont have utility bills but by jove… we have the titulo WHICH IS IN BOTH OF OUR NAMES. 

Trivia… the driver’s handbook that Brazzie posted in the comments section of http://uruguaydreaming.com/2007/06/11/car-and-driving-glossary/#more-190 is apparently used by all the municipaliteis that belong to ‘el Congreso Nacional de Intendentes’, which in a small country like Uruguay is probably all of them.  The signs in the manual appear to be a subset of the signs provided to us in Maldonado, so it’s possible you may have to memorize your local signs if you take your test elsewhere.  One other point about signs, the stop (Pare) and yield (ceda el paso) appear on the test as OUTLINES only.  I guess that’s because if they showed the text, you’d know the answer 🙂

Unlike Ontario, where we provide theory test in every language on the planet, (hmmmm.. I’m still doing ‘we’..hmm), here they do it differently.  Maldonado will let you have a translator with you.  Going to find out if Montevideo and/or Canelones does that too. 

Wish us luck on Monday…  this is not the quest for the Golden Fleece, but it’s taking on some of the attributes. 

Posted in Driving | 3 Comments »

Another day in Montevideo

Posted by urufish on June 13, 2007


Today began early for me.   In this new life, I dont usually get out of bed until just before nine.. But today my daughter and I had an appointment with the dentist at 10am..  That meant an 8am shower for me, and pleading and begging and finally, a more than gentle nudge to get my 19 year old functioning. 

During breakfast, our cleaning lady came in (Mon-Wed-Fri), and then a friend called my wife to say they spoke with the Maldonado driver’s license office and we could go to there tomorrow to get our drivers licenses.  I hope to get mine too.   Here’s what an official translation of a driver’s license looks like. 

 drivers-license-xlation-medium.jpg drivers-license-photocopy-medium.jpg

Notice the stamp at the bottom.  Without that stamp, the document is not official and no government agency will accept it.  Cost for each document was just over $700, plus the stamp $70, plus IVA 23%.    I’m not sure if that was an opportunistic fee because we needed it done right away.  Perhaps that’s the fee for ‘urgent’ transcripts.  Total fees, just under $2000

The dentist checked out the two of us and sent me for x-rays because I was a new patient.  A full set of dental x-rays cost $500.   The dentist doesn’t charge for the first, exploratory visit.  While at the radiologist, people were talking about the ‘cyclone’ coming on Friday.  Read all about this at http://uruguaydreaming.com/2007/06/13/wind-and-rain/.    Our house sits on top of San Antonio in Piriapolis, in Maldonado which is supposed to get the worst of it.  Tomorrow, on our way to the driver license office, we’ll stop by the house and batten the hatches.  There was some terrible destruction in Piriapolis last time we had a freak windstorm.  No one is looking forward to a repeat performance. 

Looks like tomorrow will be an over-budget day too. 

Posted in Dental, Driving | 4 Comments »

Driving (part II)

Posted by urufish on May 12, 2007

Recently, our daughter took ill and is being treated about 20 minutes away from where we live.  As a result, we’re putting on double the mileage we were driving before, and we’re going north at 17:00 and coming back at 18:30.  Well, we discovered Montevideo has a rush hour(s)..  just like back home.  Funny thing though is that until a few days ago, it was just busy.  For the last 3 days, (not so much Saturday), it’s down gridlock in 2 or 3 sections of the drive.  Before this, we rarely drove at that time of the day and we found traffic to be refreshingly light, albeit somewhat lawless compared to back home. 

With all this new experience, of congested driving, we’ve learned a few more things about driving here.  First, and foremost, when approaching a busy intersection stay to the side of the road where the cross street traffic is entering.  Most streets here are one way… So if the traffic is coming right to left at the next intersection, get into the right lane.  Hey, now I know why drivers here straddle the lines… They need to decide quickly which side of the road they want to be caught on at a red.  The reason for this is simple.  When the light for the cross traffic switches to red, about 60-75% of the intersection is plugged.  If you’re in the right side of the road, you can proceed.  If not, you’re going to have to push your into that lane, which takes more time :-).

Also, we learned a lot more about the ‘lanelessness’ of Montevideo drivers.  We learned there is no discernable logic or pattern.  It appears more and more to us that it’s simply random.  Drivers just dont care if they’re on or between lines.  Anyone else got a better theory? 

What else did we discover?  Well, motos are darned near impossible to see at night.. double that in the rain.  Drivers aren’t nearly as aggressive as we’ve been told.  Drivers always stop at reds… Drivers frequently take off before the green.  Buses straddle even more often than cars.  There a millions of buses on the road during rush hour(s).  We see a lot more bicycles at rush hour than at other times of the days…  Seems bicycling is more business than pleasure in the city. 

Posted in Driving | 2 Comments »

I gave at the office

Posted by urufish on May 2, 2007

Today was a busy day for yours truly.  Seems I drove forever.  Out to the dentist, then to the airport then to the freezone.  Back to Pocitos.  Then off again to mid city.  Then to Punta Carretas shopping mall…. and finally… home… whew….  wonder that would have cost in cabs?!?   But that’s not the point of the post.  The point is charity…

Today it seemed that every light I stopped at had a juggler, clown, squeegie guy (window washer), gymnast and/or contortionist.  One stop was memorable.. it had two guys throwing bowling pins back and forth across the road.  I think they had 4 in the air, but after a year of sitting on my rear, I’m not sure I can count that high. 

A northerner like me, still hasn’t developed the skin to say no.  So I give to everyone.  Even the guys (most) who are clearly members of the ‘paste basta’ society.  But today, by the time I neared home, I was tapped out.  No coin.  Broke.  Nothing left.  So I had to shrug my shoulders and open my hands in the ‘I dont have anything to give’ way.  But he didn’t seem to get the message.  Then my wife tells me that’s not the way you say no in sign language here.  You wag your finger as if it were a windshield wiper.  Well, I did that and it worked. 

Something new to learn.  Play windshield washer and save your change. 

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Drivers license

Posted by urufish on May 2, 2007

Going to try something new with this post.  Make it a work in progress.  In the past, I’ve always waited for something to be finished before I wrote it.  But in this case, I’d like to try the day by day, trepidations included, approach. 

A few weeks back, somone asked me if I had my drivers license.  I said no.  Then my wife reminded me that hers expires on May 15 and she should go back to Canada to visit and renew it at the same time.  I told her I used to drive for months after mine was expired back home and it was no big deal.  Of course, I’m a much more adventurous soul than she is.  That didn’t sit well.  So I suggested she finally get off her but and get a local drivers license.  That way she can delay the trip back home until summer and have a valid drivers license just in case she has an accident. 

Well today, she chickened out and I had to promise her I would go with her and get mine at the same time… even though my spoken spanish is crummy and my reading/writing even worse.  If I can go there without the language, she has no excuse for chickening out. 

Tonight, Iwill ask my friend what I need to know and what kind of test is it and how I am going to answer a written exam if I dont understand the questions…  Should be fun.  Will keep you posted. 

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Driving and automobiles in general

Posted by urufish on April 28, 2007

Somewhere, on one of the other wonderful blogs about Uruguay, there was a great article on one person’s take on driving here.  I think it was a ‘her’ and I think this was a ‘0 to 100’ observation, (she’s talking about her experience from the viewpoint of someone brand new to Uruguay).  

My wife and I have been driving her for over 20 years, albeit for a few weeks a year, (on my part) until recently.  So our observations will be slightly different, perhaps a little more conservative. 

First of all, there is nothing threating or dangerous about driving in Uruguay.  Neither of us is aware of any place in Montevideo, (the biggest city), where driving could result in anything serious happening to you that couldn’t happen to you wherever you drive now.  There is no ‘really bad’ part of town you could wander into and come out less than whole.  There is no really insane traffic circle or otherwise impossible to understand and chaotic place to find yourself.  The worst that could happen to you is you will become disoriented and/or lost and that simply requires patience until you find yourself somewhere near a landmark you can fix your position from.  It may sound a little sick, but the few times that has happened to me, (never to my wife), it’s quite nice.  Adds a little excitement to an otherwise, calm to the point of boring, (we love boring), life. 

Like many other countries, Uruguayan drivers are aware of the rules of the road, but dont pay a lot of attention to them.  The main rule is if you have a relatively dent free car, make it a priority to keep it that way.  Since most cars here are not relatively dent free, and perhaps yours is, you need to be the one avoiding being kissed, as the locals call it.  When I’m driving (like a local), and creating a lane where there really isn’t one, and a ‘not so nice’ car gets near us, my wife always alerts me, fully knowing we’re the ones with something to lose.   Also… never challenge buses or taxis.  Regardless, you lose.  Some years ago, bus drivers started getting bonuses if they went accident free for a year.  Not because of repair or litigation costs to buses… but to make the public feel safer.  The could literally hit you or cause you to hit someone else with impunity. 

In all the time we lived in Toronto, we had 3 small accidents between the 2 of us.  In the past year, we’ve had 3, (all mine :-), and they were a real learning experience.  In one, I scraped the side of a car in a parking lot trying to squeeze by him, with a dozen cars honking behind me.  How I managed to that, to this day I still dont know.  Sometimes I think he backed up while we were going by him.  It was raining.  My wife refereed the dispute.  My spanish isn’t up to it..  Besides that, a gringo will always pay and pay more.  In the end, we took our car to a family friend who runs a body shop.  A scrape to the entire side of a new Peugeot was a whopping USD$200 to repair.  We had him take his car to our guy and he quoted USD$95.00.  He didn’t want to get the repair done we negotiated USD$50.00 cash and he was happy. 

The 2nd mishap was in Punta Carretas Shopping, the outside parking lot.  I hate to pull into tight parking spaces forwards.  Just a habit from home that I cant break.  My wife admonishes me for this, but I hold fast.  A couple of months ago, we were there on a day when there was a space available topside.  It was real tight so I asked my wife and daughter to exit the vehicle and I backed it in.  Everything was going real well, plenty of room on both sides and then a really strange sound, like a box being crushed… and then I realized, it was the rear window of the station wagon that was being crushed.  I stopped and got out and to my horrors, there was a huge fire hose box, protruding into the parking space at least a meter.  I turned to my wife and there was that look in her eye.. the one all husbands get a chill thinking about… ‘you moron’….  Fortunately, we had that window filmed the month before and we were able to drive around for a few days before we could get it fixed.  Same mechanic.  Maybe we should put him on retainer. 

The 3rd, (and most recent and last for a while we hope), occurred at a red light.  We were stopped on a slight incline, first car, waiting for the light to change.  Just as the light changes to green, we hear a crunch from the rear right.  My wife, (always the wife), gets out to survey the damage.  The girl behind us has hit us, (no we didn’t roll back – we have an AUTOMATIC).  Now, being a Canadian, (with extensive US driving experience), I’m feeling pretty confident that she’s in the wrong.  I mean, WHENEVER you’re hit from behind, it’s the person behind at fault – right???  Wrong.  This is Uruguay.  She’s screaming that the light turned green and we should have been long gone.  She even WAITED for the light to TURN green, insinuating we should have gone BEFORE the light turned green.  Well, this isn’t NA… and there’s no point getting insurance or police involved for a smashed rear quarter panel complete with lights.  As she put it, she had more damage than we did so we should be happy.  The next day we went to guess who?  The body shop guy.  Total repair charge?  USD$125.

Insurance here is interesting.  We’ve owned cars here for most of those 20 years.  Mostly Peugeot’s, (family bias – my nephew is a mechanic – but not a body guy – he only fixes things that break by themselves, not the ones we break).  Until we moved, we bought used cars here, worth about $10K.  We never purchased collision.  Only 3rd party, theft and believe it or not, fire.  For that, we pay about the same we paid back home for that and collision.  Want to invest in Uruguay… buy stocks in an insurance company.  The one we deal with, Royal Sun Alliance, left Ontario some time ago complaining they couldn’t make any money.  At the rates they charge here, I can see why. 

The other intersting thing about insurance here is the limit.  In Canada, (I would assume the litigation-happy US is much higher), liability of $1mil and $2mil isn’t unusual – or costly.  Here it’s much, much less.  That’s because awards here are much, much less than back home.  And there’s a tremendous inequality between poor, working class folks and those more financially fortunate in Uruguay.   If you’re not financially blessed and you are injured by someone who is, and he’s clearly in the wrong, good luck getting much out of it.  Even if you hire a lawyer, there’s a good chance your lawyer will find it financially more rewarding to work something under the table with the person who hit you than represent you the way you’d expect in Canada or the US. 

Cars are expensive to buy.  The taxes are horrific.  Many people buy used cars.  A ‘0’ km purchase is an uncommon event.  Car dealers seem to do OK on markups – not volumes.  We went looking for a new Peugeot 307 SW and honestly, we saw all the dealers (and some who weren’t dealers) in Montevideo and with a single exception, they all quoted the same price and there was no negociation.  We ended up buying from a ‘non’ Peugeot dealer who, we found out later, can buy a car from the Peugeot distributor at the same or almost the same price that a Peugeot dealer could .  In fact, when our salesman called the distributor, he was told, ‘so you got my customer did you’.  Turns out, distributors are also car dealers here and we’d been to see him the day before.  Canadians purchasing ‘automatic’ cars in Montevideo sort of stand out–hard to forget. 

While we’re on the subject, it’s interesting the way you buy a car here.  After the ‘negotiation’ (or negotiation-like process) above, you have to give the dealer a deposit.  Then he asks you to go to the duty free compound for you to take a look at it to make sure it’s what you want.  Clearly, honesty and ethics aren’t associated with car dealers’ in the public’s mind.  At least, that’s what I thought.  In fact, that may be true but it’s not really the reason you do that.  You do that because YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR THE CAR IN ADVANCE.  And who in their right (or wrong) mind would pay USD20K-USD100K on a promise you might get a car in a few days – HERE, (in fact, maybe anywhere). 

My wife says I’m a very trusting person, sometimes she even uses a derogatory term to describe that aspect of my character.  But in this case, my line in the sand had been drawn.  We told the dealer that there was no way we’d give him the money in advance.  We’d pay him when he gave us the car.  Well, guess what.  The main reason they do this is because, unlike business in the 1st world, most car dealers (not distributors) here dont have the money to risk to bridge the car until the purchaser pays for it.  

I guess the dealer wanted the sale because he said he has never done this before but he would take it out of duty free and we could do the deal at the showroom.  Turns out he talked the distributor into taking it to their showroom and the salesman met us at their dealership.  We showed up with a certified cheque and gave it to him after we saw the car.  The process was pretty informal at that point, like back home.  They showed you how the windshield wipers worked.  Then they gave you the keys and out you go.   One odd thing that we noticed.  The purchase document shows us buying the car from a person, not a car dealer.  We think it’s the owner of the dealership.  Probably some kind of tax-saving angle.  Perhaps they sell the car personally because there was no personal income tax in Uruguay until this year.   

Insurance had to be arranged the day before.  Fortunately we already had an agent.  We put the car on our existing policy, which because we’d been accident free for 5 years (or something like that), we got a 30% discount.   If you buy a used car, you have to take it to the insurer (they have shops around the city) to note all the damage to it so you cant claim for a dent that came with the car when you bought it.  That requirement is waived for a new car. 

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