Archive for February, 2012

Victory again

Posted: February 29, 2012 in Stupidity
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Well, sort of. I still had to pay my fucking property tax. At least here it is more honest and is called “tributo” as in tribute. To your government overlords.

The scene at the office was chaotic, as this is the last day to pay your tribute to Don Uruguayo without penalty (we break ya knees, capish?). Lots of people standing around aimlessly and attempting to form lines to make sense of it, lots of people asking each other, “Is this the line for… (patente, tributos, impuestos, etc)” The numbers in the take-a-number thing were empty. Then after the line became large enough to fill the entire office, a guy came through along the line handing out fresh numbers to everyone in turn and then refilled the machine. I took this photo after the crowd dispersed.

After you go to the counter when your number is called, you tell them the padron number of your property, and then they tell you which cashier to go to. The cashier calls the number you got for your first deskdweller, you pay your pound of flesh, and then they give you some stamped receipts. Then you are done, until next year. This shit only took us 7 days of our time to straighten out. 1/52 of the year. 2%. Far too fucking much in my opinion.

Turned out to be a decent day after that. I got a lot done. The pharmacy had the drugs I was looking for, I found every grocery item on my list at one store, when I got home I got my new Van Halen album, and my phone just received a system update which made it usable again instead of a slow, expensive paperweight. The good karma continues to flow.

WifeBob, ExFedBob, and I went to the Paraguayan consulate again today, in our second attempt at getting tourist visas. We arrived at 9am and were the first ones in. Seeing the requirements posted on the bulletin board in front of the glass window where the South American Bureaucrat Zoo Exhibit is housed, we noticed a few things. Notably the things you need to get a Paraguayan visa in Uruguay as Gringos:

  • a 5x5cm passport photo
  • your passport, valid for at least 6 more months
  • a printout of your flight and hotel reservations, or a copy of your tickets
  • the application for the visa, filled out; the consulate will supply this
  • USD $100 for multiple-entry visa, or $65 for single-entry visa

Having all of the above save for the airline and hotel reservations, which we didn’t have because we didn’t know when exactly we could go because we didn’t know what travails lay ahead in securing a visa, we started talking with the guy behind the zoo glass.

The second thing we did wrong was having forms from the Washington DC consulate. The forms are all exactly the same but the Paraguay/Uruguay one has a different address at the top. But WindowBob said this all in a nice way, gave us new forms, and he even let us submit them in multiple ink colors, so I will forgive him.

WindowBob steps out of the zoo exhibit a few times to hand papers and things back and forth to us. He is actually a large ogre of a man, not unlike myself, and we form a quick and unspoken understanding. Decades of being looked upon with fear and treated with reactionary kneejerk retaliation by lesser Beta males lest we rape their wives in front of them and then show both parents how we rape their children, eat them, then kill said Beta male and introduce his wife to our harem of fleshy playthings who have lost the will to resist. I treat him not with fear but with mutual ogre understanding. We share the Nod of Knowing Alpha Male Ogres. This trip will not be in vain.

“We don’t have the airline or hotel reserved yet, but we have everything else,” we explain.

“I can’t do them without reservations,” he says.

“Give me 10 minutes,” I reply, and haul out my laptop and 3g dongle and start the search for flights and hotels. God bless technology and the Internet.

“No problem, I’ll go ahead and get these started, just come back at 3pm with a printout of your reservations and I’ll have it ready for you.” Frankly I am floored. This guy is WONDERFUL. Two colors of ink, a half-assed application with missing stuff, and he still goes ahead and helps us out! He even smiles!!!

If this happened for something Uruguayan, the first stop would be the fact that one form was in black ink and the other in blue ink. They can’t handle that. Derails their brains. We would have had to come back tomorrow and redo the process from scratch. Then would have been the reservation thing. We would have had to come back another tomorrow for that. And then we would have been scowled at.

Anyways, we get our reservations handled (or so I would think, more to follow) and printed out, and we return to the office at 3pm after having had lunch with EnglishMarriedToUruguayanBob. The first thing we notice is that the office is again open at 3pm, it’s not just a late-in-the-day favor from SmileyWindowBob. The security guard who turned us away the previous day didn’t technically lie to us. He just didn’t tell us the whole truth. If we were even there just to gaze upon the bulletin board with the requirements list, we could have saved ourselves significant pain, and possibly an ugly murder-suicide if not for SmileyWindowBob’s generosity. We assign a few colorful adjectives to the guard.

We go in and hand SmileyWindowBob our papers. He comes back in a little bit and shows us an error; apparently the reservation got botched, and instead of being for next week (the hotel is correct), the flights are reserved for 3 weeks from now. Big oops. This is yet another thing that would have derailed the process had we been dealing with Uruguayan bureaucrats. And at this point they would have locked me up for reeking of Male Superiority.

“No problem,” SmileyWindowBob explains, “Just write here that you will change the dates of the reservations to match up.”

And so we do. It takes SmileyWindowBob an hour to do whatever he does back in the zoo cage, but then he comes out with a big smile on his face and the stack of passports with our visas inside. The visas are not date specific, and start from today. Clearly he got it. Alpha Male Ogre hivemind. Don’t hate what you don’t got.

Thank you, AwesomeSmileyParaguayanWindowOgreBob!

More good karma finally surfaces when I return home to fix the flight reservations, and the lady on the phone cancels them and refunds all the costs, fees, everything so we can start the flight reservation again from scratch. Maybe all the dog shit I stepped in over the years actually has brought me some good luck (yes, the Uruguayos believe this, but my question is always, “where was my luck before the foot made contact?” to which I never receive any response better than a look of puzzlement).

Uruguay has proven that it doesn’t care about your money, it just wants to make everything a complete waste of time and a pain in the ass.

Case in point, the property tax payment process.

Step 1: Find out how much you owe. Sometimes this is as simple as going into an Abitab with your padron numbers and finding the amount. Unless your record is FUBAR, which is the case 99% of the time, in our experience.

Step 2: Go to the Intendencia to find out why and how your record is FUBAR, get the amounts, and get a pile of promises to fix the record which will be lost and forgotten next year. This takes an entire day.

Step 3: Go to the bank to withdraw the amount you need. It only opens at 3pm. By the time you are done waiting in line to withdraw your money, it is too late to do…

Step 4: Go back to the Intendencia to pay for your property taxes.

Best case it takes 2 days, but in our case it has taken 4 and still it is not paid.

No, you can’t write a check, because there is no bill. No, you can’t just take the money out at the ATM because there are daily maximum withdrawal limits. No, there is no way to automate the process and have it debited every year.

The fate of my yard tools

Posted: February 25, 2012 in Life, Stupidity
Tags: , , ,

A short while back I wrote about the synchronized suicide of my lawnmower and weedwhacker. Today I got the call from the garden shop where I took them to be repaired, that they were done. Contained within the call was an apology for not calling last week when they were actually done, which I assumed had happened, but I was curious just how long it would take them to actually call me back, if ever, and I let them simmer. I’m a bastard that way.

The guy in the shop had kept the destroyed parts from both tools, especially the weedwhacker, which was brand new and only used a few hours, which he recognized. He was amazed at the degradation within. The weedwhacker’s fuel intake is a sort of reverse aquarium air stone, which acts as a crud filter. Normally they last for the life of the machine and then some; it’s a part that does not wear out. This one, however, was corroded beyond use. Then were various seals and diaphragms from both the weedwhacker and the lawnmower, which had obviously been melted and warped chemically.

“What did you use for fuel?” he asked, quite sure that I must have put something truly horrible in the machines.

I had bought, specifically for the purpose of fueling my lawn tools, a brand new 5-liter plastic jerrycan, and filled it with 95-octane “Super” gasoline from ANCAP (the general-purpose cheap stuff) and used the proper amount of ANCAP-provided ANCAP brand two-stroke oil for a 50:1 fuel to oil ratio which *should* work in any two-stroke engine no matter what. Notice I said, “should.” I bought this new jerrycan because the cap for the old one had crumbled and decomposed from contact with gasoline in a few months’ time. Yeah.

“Well, something is wrong, because that stuff melted the insides of your carburetors and I know this weedwhacker is brand new and there is no way you could have used it for more than a few days. Are you sure there was no water or other additives in there?”

“Absolutely. I bought it straight from the pump and only had it for a couple of days, and it spent the entire time in my garage, sealed. In fact, now that I see this happening with these tools, my chainsaw stopped working too, and I had just filled it up with the same fuel.”

“When you go home, empty all your tanks and destroy that fuel. They gave you something bad,” he said.

And so I followed his instructions and lo and behold my chainsaw started back up on the second pull and runs like a champ again. Thankfully it hasn’t suffered any noticeable damage. Yet.

Come to think of it, the outboard motor was running kind of crappy with that gas, too, so I drained it and filled it with new stuff, and it too now runs like a champ.

The end result is that either the fuel that ANCAP was pumping contained some kind of chemical cocktail filler to cheapen it, or the two-stroke oil they sold me was mislabeled or another cheap chemical cocktail. The ANCAP station in question is the one just east of Punta Shopping on Av Roosevelt. I will never fuel up there again, and I recommend others reading this avoid it as well.

BPS exposed

Posted: February 25, 2012 in Stupidity
Tags: , , , ,

I bitch so much about things these days that I can’t remember if I have bitched about BPS before or not. I know I did in the last post but you, dear reader, probably have no idea what BPS is. So, let me enlighten you about one of the most mentally retarded tax schemes ever to be heaped upon mankind. I can’t sleep, because I am hopped up on whatever hops you up when you have beat yourself into such severe painful physical exhaustion that all you can do is lay there and stare at the ceiling wishing you could fall asleep… which leads me into the physical labor issues, and the BPS issues. That’s my official excuse for the rambling…

(correction) BPS was written into law in 1967.

BPS stands for Banco de Provision Social, or Social Security Fund/Bank. It is a tax levied on both workers and their employers (and, in the case of the self-employed, the self). BPS goes into a pool to pay for paid vacations (why can’t they save for their own?), sick leave, pensions, and medical insurance. When one is paying a certain minimum amount to BPS, one is covered under the mid-tier medical coverage system. It’s similar to the US Social Security fund, only it is used during the working life of the worker, instead of being stored up (Newspeak for “spent”) until you are geriatric and needing the money which you will probably never get.

When one is doing construction, say, building a house, the builder of the house also pays BPS taxes based on the work provided. BPS has a big list of any given task, how long it takes the average worker to do said task, and how much the tax rate is on that activity. So for Worker A to paint Wall B, you pay amount C. Even if he does the work in 1 hour when the BPS book says he will take 3 hours, you still pay based on the 3 hours. So then there is no incentive for him to do it fast, or efficiently.

Case in point, a clever foreigner who was doing some house renovation (yes, you are forced to pay it for renovation work as well as new construction) decided he would use a machine to spray concrete stucco on the brick walls inside and out, in order to save the time it would take for a team of plaster guys to do it. In a couple of days he accomplished what would have taken weeks the “old” way. However the BPS system has no provision for such genius. He had to pay the tax based on x number of square meters of wall done up in concrete as if they had been done by hand. In order to get the occupancy permit for your finished house, BPS is the one who has to sign off on it. So they see all and know all.

Now you know why people just hire menial morons to do basic work with hand tools when they could be doing it in 1/10 the time with a machine. They get stuck paying for slow moron rates anyways, so why bother? The BPS tax system keeps Uruguay in the stone age.

It probably also has something to do with the fact that none of said machines work in this country; they break or fail, or something else bad happens to them because of some other Uruguayan governmentally-or-culturally-encouraged idiocy (see the next red-eye post for info on the fate of my lawn tools).

Now, here’s the kicker– BPS has inspectors who wander around looking for people doing their own work on buildings. If, for instance, you are painting your own house or repairing your own roof, and they catch you, they will write you up and demand you pay the BPS taxes. Based on what it would take a Uruguayan worker to accomplish it. Meaning: slow progress, a lot of wasted time, work stoppage every 5 minutes to reply to text messages, and extended breaks for bizcochos, mate, and smoking handrolled cigarettes.

Furthermore, BPS has a database of what you have on your property, so if you build a gazebo or other structure that “wasn’t there before,” then you have to pay the taxes based on what they have in their book on how much time it would have taken workers to construct it. Every time a property changes hands, BPS must make an inspection before the final stuff is signed off. If there’s new stuff, watch out! Your paperwork will be in lockdown until you pay the tax on your contraband DIY work!

It also explains why lots of buildings here are going to hell on the outside yet look quite nice on the inside.

We are neurotic every time we do something in the yard, like building massive raised garden beds which will contain the 13 tons of dirt we have been moving into them. We’re always looking over our shoulder in the fear that the BPS nazis will show up and charge us months’ worth of Uruguayo Peon tax rates for stuff we did in a few days with Gringo Rocket Science.

WifeBob and I, with the help of 2 shovels, a wheelbarrow, and our truck, moved the first load of dirt from DirtBob. DirtBob’s dumptruck only holds 4.5 cubic meters, so he had to make two trips. Yesterday, Wifebob told him to come back tomorrow (today) for the second load, and also because she didn’t have any money to pay him. Things like that tend to happen when you show up unannounced.

4.5 cubic meters of dry excavated earth, according to this website, weighs 1249 kilograms (2753.5 lbs) but it wasn’t entirely dry, probably in between damp and dry. Moist weight being 1442, we’ll call it right in between at 1345 kg (2965.2 lbs, or right near a ton and a half).

1345 kg x 4.5 = 6052 kg = 13,343.5 lbs (6.67 tons)

We moved it all today, in a few hours, into the garden beds, and then dug up and replanted all of the stuff that was around the periphery of the yard to make way for the wind barrier/privacy fence of acacias. Lemon grass, peppers, cardamom, onions, potatoes, the giant basil bushes, etc. We only used 3 sections of the raised beds, out of about 10, and we still have room for other stuff in the first 3. We’ll be relocating the strawberries too, as soon as we have another small section filled where they can take over completely and not molest the other sections. We may plant more Cayote, but we are afraid, for the original monster has completely overgrown the perimeter of the neighbor’s utility building fence and is now climbing up the tree next to it. The stuff I read on the web about a single plant growing over an entire acre do not sound so absurd now.

After the dirt bath, we went for a swim in the ocean to rinse off, and when we got home, just at the point where the sun is tickling the horizon and we are unable to move, DirtBob shows up unnanounced with the second load of dirt.

I am starving to death and have hamburgers in the pan, almost done, with the buns all prepped for launch, condiments preloaded. I must abandon them and drag myself back up the hill to make sure DirtBob gets paid and doesn’t destroy too much stuff in the yard with his massive truck going back and forth with six and a half tons of dirt flying everywhere.

DirtBob asks us who moved the first pile of dirt.

“We did,” says I

“Who, just you and your wife?” asks he.

“Yup”

DirtBob is impressed. His eyes practically pop free of their sockets to bounce pendulously against his cheeks. He knows it would have taken a gang of Uruguayos a week to do it.

Be careful not to be blinded by the sheer brilliance, my good fellow, for we are Gringos, and this is how we roll. Just don’t tell BPS, or we will have to pay tax on our own labor, based on a 6-man Uruguayo work week.

Today I woke extra early to drive into Montevideo for a few reasons. The first reason is that ExFedBob and I and DiverBob and WifeBob too are all seeking Paraguayan residency because hey, it’s easy, and you can never have too many. Collect them all! Since Uncle Sam is giving Paraguay the shaft as far as requiring Paraguayos to get an entry visa before visiting, Paraguay is rightly reciprocating and giving us the shaft in return. So we need tourist entry visas and need to visit the embassy in Montevideo.

The second reason is that I am selling my old apartment in Montevideo so I can use the money for something fun and worthwhile, instead of watching it slowly compost in the humidity that leaks down from the perpetually retarded neighbors upstairs. Let it be someone else’s problem. The realtors appraised it and fortunately we will make a decent buck on the sale.

The day began with the drive. I picked up ExFedBob and we drove the 2.5 hours to Montevideo. WifeBob stayed home; she would prefer to park a dirt tiller deep in her anus over standing in line as a marionette for worthless government deskjockeys. I would too, but alas one of us has to take it for the team.

As part of the requirement is to have some passport photographs with your application, ExFedBob and I started the search for a place which takes the photos. We walked all over Ciudad Vieja, even across the street from Migraciones, and nobody knew where to have them done. We literally stopped in a dozen places and nobody knew. Well, that’s not entirely correct. They told us “yeah, there’s a place at so-and-so, they do them,” and we’d go there, and there would be nothing. We walked around the city for an hour looking in vain. Then we had to return to the apartment to meet with the realtor and let him have a look around. Meanwhile, ExFedBob used his mad research skills to locate a place which actually took the photos.

During this time, I got a call from the dirt guy who was already at my house ready to dump the dirt in the yard. This has a story to it as well…

A few weeks ago WifeBob and I thought it would be a fun idea to build raised garden beds in the unused portion of our gravel driveway which for some reason ended up spanning across half the damn yard. It was wasted space and now we are using it. So we built 23 square meters of garden space there, enough for an awesome garden. We graded and leveled and everything, put in the plastic liners, stained and protected the wood, etc. They are truly beautiful things. Then we began the Quest for Dirt.

The vivero near us sells dirt by the bag for an absurd price of $10 each, for maybe a 30-liter bag. Ridiculous. So I asked them if they know someone who does dirt by the truckload. They gave me his number and I called him. He wanted $600 for the dirt! No way, says I, is it made of gold or what?

So the search for other dirt sources commenced. I have a free source of unlimited horse shit from a friend’s farm but that does me no good. Eventually this same friend gave me a lead on another dirt guy, and he had a very reasonable price, for 10 cubic meters (2 truckloads) of sifted (stone-free) topsoil, for $300 total. Sign me up, says I. OK, says he, but it’s been raining so I have to wait for the pile to dry up. I’ll call you when it’s ready.

Uruguayos NEVER call you back; it’s a cultural thing. So I called him a couple times over the past week or two to see how things were going. Not yet, he said, give it a couple more days.

So I was absolutely floored when he called me while I was in Montevideo and said he was a few blocks from my house. I gave him directions on where to find the house, and told him that the wife was home, and to go knock on the door. Here, call her number, says I.

WifeBob is nowhere to be found. DirtBob calls me back and says he knocked on the door and there was no answer, and also WifeBob is not answering her phone. OK, maybe she has gone on a walk to the store, she ought to be back in 15 minutes. I’ll call you back if you don’t find her first, give it a few and let’s see what happens.

No WifeBob. Still no answer on the phone. I am doing all this while we are searching for photo places and showing the realtor around the apartment, by the way.

More phone calls back and forth, can’t get WifeBob on the phone. Finally I reach her and she goes out to look for DirtBob (and she’s mad at ME because DirtBob just showed up without announcement or planning, like all Uruguayos do, as if this is something new! Be glad you are actually getting dirt, woman, because with the effort it took to find and arrange, I could have learned the long lost dark arts of alchemy, willed the goddamn stuff into existence, and built an army of golem slaves to move it where it needs to go!!!)

Turns out she was sleeping and didn’t hear the phone ringing. Anyhow, DirtBob is a couple houses down, and no wonder he hadn’t gotten WifeBob’s attention because he was knocking on the wrong door. Who knows how that happened because I told him it was the house without a name in front, between (x) house and (y) house. Not rocket science. Maybe that’s why he is DirtBob and not BrainSurgeonBob. WifeBob, ever prepared, does not have the money to pay DirtBob and strategically asks him to bring the second truckload tomorrow. So the Quest for Dirt is completed, sort of.

OK, one situation defused. Kinda.

By the time we finished with the realtor and went to get the photos, it was 12:00 noon. Great, we think, because the embassy’s posted hours are 9:30am until 3pm, and we still have 3 hours to get this done. Erring on the side of caution, we ordered 8 photos each, because we know that somehow the bureaucrats will lose everything 4 times so best to have enough copies on hand.

Good, another situation defused. Or so we thought…

We drive to the consulate, find a parking space, and walk around to the gate. We tell the guard we are there for tourist visas. No, not here, says he, go to that building down yonder, that’s where the tourist voodoo happens. So we go there. Another gate, another guard. We stand there at the gate waving our hands for about a minute in front of the guard booth, which is maybe 20 feet away, and we can see the guard looking off into space and not noticing us. Finally we get his attention, and state our intentions. No, this place is only open from 9 until 12. Look at the clock, 1:30.

Skullfuck me with a sledgehammer.

Do that twice. Because for the past couple of weeks, 3 of us have been attempting to contact the Paraguayan consulate in Montevideo by phone to find out the proper hours and procedure for this whole thing. They never pick up their phone and never return calls. I firmly believe that they have someone there who is paid to sit and watch a phone ring all day.

We called SwingDanceBob to see if she wanted to hang out and cry into some beer with us, but she was unavailable, so we called VikingBob, who was. And we cried into our beers with our tails between our legs. Then we drove another 2.5 hours home, and must return on Monday to attempt a repeat of the whole goddamn process.

All for a rubber stamp on a piece of paper.

Ain’t this all just a fucking bag of laughs?