Archive for April, 2012

Small quake in Santa Cruz

Posted: April 29, 2012 in Travel
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We were eating lunch in the restaurant at Viu Manent winery when we experienced a small earthquake. Nothing major but it was a bit unnerving to see and hear things shaking around. Felt like being on a moving subway car.

The Museo Calchagua in Santa Cruz was absolutely amazing. The rest of the town was not. It was kind of a dump. Disappointing considering the beauty of the rest of the valley. For a tiny town of 20,000 people, the traffic was horrific. We assume it is because we were entering at the beginning of a long holiday weekend and Santa Cruz is the crossroads for all things in the Calchagua region. There are no bypass roads, so everything has to go through the main drag in town.

Nazi Hotel Lady followed us out of the hotel after we checked out, freaking out about the population of folks piling into the van. ExFedBob and DiverBob were staying in another place across town, but they had the van, so they were picking us all up. “How many people were staying in your room?” she asked me.

“Two,” I said.

“But there are so many people here,” she said nervously, wringing her hands. She must be assuming that we are somehow hiding people in our rooms. In the off-season, when we were the only people in the hotel, and it would be easy to spot. Vee do not haff our papers. Ziss vill surely displease Der Fuhrer.

“Yes, there are indeed many people,” says I, “but those two are not staying here,” I explained.


I saw her actually counting heads, like we were going to rip her off.

She didn’t want to wash my clothes, either, because there was a strict time table and she cannot break the time table– the laundry goes in at x time and comes out at y time, and no, you cannot use the machine on your own time. That would have caused a great disturbance in the Force. She wouldn’t fork over more than one extra pillow for MexicanBob’s family, either, despite once again that we were the only people staying at the hotel, booking a grand total of 3 rooms, and they had an extra kid in their room who needed a pillow.

We ate dinner at a Peruvian restaurant which had excellent food; I cannot remember the name. While we were piling into the van after the meal, a delivery guy arrived, put his bicycle against the fence, and went inside. He came out a few minutes later, and it was gone. We didn’t even see who took it, and we were right there. Ninja bike thieves.

We spent the day driving up the 5 to Santiago. It was uneventful enough. We stopped at one gas station to use the facilities and grab some snacks. In this particular stop they had a little fast food counter for burgers and hot dogs, with a counter clearly labeled “caja” where we stood for 5 minutes or so waiting for someone to take our order. The automatons behind the counter kept wandering past, on “active ignore” mode. I kept trying to make eye contact but they made sure not to look forward past the counter.

Someone eventually pointed out the order system to me, which consisted of a touch screen with a card scanner attached. So we placed our orders and then tried to run our cards. It would not accept our foreign credit cards, and we could not find the option to pay for cash, so I tried to cancel the order and it wouldn’t let me do that either. Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink. Wallet full of cash and nobody to spend it on, and a field of expressionless robots between me and my hot dogs. Ah well. I opted for a bag of doritos and a soda, which I was able to pay for in cash with a real human who was not plugged into the Matrix.

Getting into Santiago was interesting. I was fully expecting it to be like every other major city in South America, where large highways turn into choke points, and then cars must painfully navigate through gridlock from one side of town to the other. It was not. Clean, wide highways cutting clear through all parts of town, with easy offramps, easy enough to navigate at high speed.

Santiago is a neat city. It reminds us of a cross between Vancouver and Portland. More to come on Santiago. So far mostly positive.

No bidets in Chile

Posted: April 26, 2012 in Life, Stupidity, Travel
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And that’s a good thing.

We still can’t quite figure them out. It was a topic of conversation on the road today: just how is one supposed to use a bidet? It’s such a clumsy invention. There is no seat to sit on, so are you to sit on it, or squat over it, or what? And why are the controls on the back of it? Or are we to sit on it facing the wall so as to be able to reach the controls?

There is no instruction manual anywhere, not with a bidet, nor on the internet. ExFedBob provided us with the boggling information that he had actually tried looking it up. We believe we have found the last thing remaining that is not on the internet.

Bidets are common things in Uruguay and Argentina, yet strangely I have never seen nor heard one being used even in the homes of locals. In fact, our old apartment in Montevideo had one that was 100 years old and it had never been used except maybe to verify that the plumbing was connected correctly when it was first installed. We know because when we tore it out the 100-year-old pipes were as good as new (and the only ones that did not need replacement, ironically). We did not put it back after the remodel. But someone was happy to take it, so they could put it in their bathroom and never use it for another 100 years.

Anyhow, we have yet to encounter a single bidet in our travels in Chile.

We drove from Valparaiso to Santa Cruz by way of Cartagena and San Antonio. Someone we met today in Santa Cruz described San Antonio as one of the ugliest cities in Chile; I agree. Even Valpo was pretty crummy but at least it had a neat vibe to counteract the crumminess. Valpo had no green spaces to speak of, not sure if it would be a place I could spend long periods of time.

Valparaiso, Chile

Santa Cruz is a pretty little place. It reminds me a lot of Calchaqui valley in Argentina, but more lush and green, and not quite so blasted by lack of rainfall and constant sun. Speaking on sun, we haven’t seen it in a couple of days. There is a gloomy haze that has settled over the land, so thick that you can hardly see the mountains surrounding the valley. This is common, from what the locals say, and it can last for weeks. -1 point for Chile. If I can’t see the sun for weeks at a time, I think I might start to go a little more postal than I already am.

Alternatively, it really does help to see a place when the weather is at its most gloomy so you can evaluate it as a potential place to live or spend extended vacations.

So far my overall impressions of Chile are that it is kind of gritty and run-down overall. Perhaps it is because the climate is mild and people don’t have to take care of things to an obsessive level, but they take too much pride in their stuff to have “cultural not-give-a-damn” like the Uruguayos.

They do like color, which is nice, and probably has something to do with the fact that paint is affordable, unlike in Uruguay.

One other thing that we see is that there is not the insane motorbike culture here like there is in Uruguay, Argentina, and Paraguay. We have seen very few bikes on the road. Perhaps it is because people can afford cars so they buy and use them, perhaps it is a climate thing?

Diesel fuel here is much cheaper than gasoline. Diesel priced here to about $5.01 per gallon, a far cry from Uruguay’s $7.+

I smell subsidy but I don’t know the facts.

Uruguay has long been a haven for Argentine flight capital, both because of its bank secrecy laws and because of its easy international real estate market.

Now, it wants to throw away one of its biggest customers by reporting any future bank activity or real estate transactions done in Uruguay by Argentines.

Not that Kristina’s recent policies have not already been effective enough; her currency controls have cut Uruguay’s real estate market by 16% this March.

Read the article here.

Pepper sprayed in Valparaiso

Posted: April 25, 2012 in Life, Travel
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We’ve been in transit for 3 days in Chile, now in Valparaiso.

Upon arrival a group of us met up at the airport, got some local phone simcards, and piled into our Magic Bus out of Santiago towards Viña del Mar, where we stayed overnight before heading into Valpo for 2 more nights before we move on to other locations.

Viña del Mar is a sleepy beach town most of the year but supposedly overflows with tourists in the summertime. It is like the Punta Del Este of the Pacific coast. Every window dark at night, tumbleweeds in the streets in low season. Nice and quiet.

I am impressed with Jumbo, the local chain of big box stores. The selection is excellent and the prices are either cheaper or similar to Uruguay on food.

We went to the mall in Viña and were kicking ourselves in the ass about the prices. So many things we can get in Chile for so much cheaper than in Uruguay. The same shovel we had to pay $60 for is available in Chile for $12. Same goes for power tools, wood, etc. For the same boards we just used to build a compost bin in our yard in Uruguay, we could get 3 times cheaper *and* kiln-dried (the stuff in UY is wet, heavy, and moldy; you have to dry it out in a garage somewhere before you can even prep and stain it for use). $2 for an 8 foot pressure treated post here. Ugh.

We can get 3-liter bottles of soda here. +1 for Chile. Cranberries, +1. Peanut butter for $4 per jar, which is still obscene but half the price of Uruguay. Chile continues to score points.

Fuel costs about $8 per gallon which is about the same as Uruguay. -1.

Cel phone data plans suck and don’t work well. -1.

Now it is afternoon 2 in Valpo. We’re up on the hillside in a little rental duplex at the border of “District 1” and “District 2.” Finding it at night was a bit “difficult” but we managed. Having grown up in Illinois and then lived in Florida for a long time, and then living in Uruguay for a long time, I am completely unaccustomed to thinking in vertical space. It’s interesting and bizarre.

Valparaiso is a very shabby artsy sort of town. I thought it was a dump when I first arrived but it’s growing on me. It’s sort of Portland meets SanFran meets the Italian coast.

Last night WifeBob, ExFedBob, DiverBob, and I went stumbling down the hill around midnight for some beer, pisco, and food. Most things were closing down once we got to the base of the hill, but we managed to find a few places open. ExFedBob learned that it is considered a “mala palabra” to pronounce “pisco” with a RioPlatense accent (nearly eliminating the “S”). Pico must be local slang for “gentleman sausage.”

We bought the last of PizzaPronto’s stock for a few bucks, and then went on to El Tucan for some hamburgers that were like having a pile of avocados with a hamburger garnish. Heavy stuff to lug back up the hill. The remainder of the evening was spent with feeding and our usual interesting drunken deep political and sociological conversations.

This morning it took a while to get jumpstarted but we eventually got to wandering out about noon in search of a breakfast place up at the top of Cerro Concepcion called “Desayunador” (breakfaster). We couldn’t find it according to our maps so we asked a local if he knew where it was. He guided us through some torn up construction streets and pointed us to where it was, then asked me for a few coins and promptly disappeared into the nearest kiosco for some cigarettes as soon as the pesos hit his palm.

Desayunador was pretty good. Free fast wifi. Healthy portions in their salads.

We walked around at the top of the hill and took in the views, and then took the funicular railcar down to “ground level.” The ride was a bit hairy; there were about 12 people jammed into a 6-foot by 6-foot car from the 1890s which shortly thereafter plunged down the hill shaking and rattling, but did make it safely to the bottom. 300 pesos each, or about 75 cents.

On our way to our next goal of a coffee shop from which to buy ground beans, recommended by the waitress at Desayunador, we were walking along Condell when suddenly we all start sneezing, coughing, and experiencing burning of the eyes, nose, lips, lungs, etc. We had walked through a cloud of pepper spray that had just been used by the local Carbineros (Chileño Riflemen, or military police). I got an entire lungful and my eyes, nose, and throat are still burning. We didn’t really want to stop and see what was happening so we kept walking on out of the cloud. We’re still unsure what was going on. But now we know what it feels like to be pepper sprayed. Unscented, unflavored, instant burning.

We all went to the grocery store to stock up for a homemade dinner/barbecue, and lugged about another couple of hundred pounds of groceries up the hill, which was made harder by lungsful of pepper spray and the fact that the taxistas are not the least bit interested in taking fares up the hill. Valpo would definitely whip anyone’s ass into shape in short time.

It’s a neat town I would like to spend more time exploring. 2 days are not going to be enough.

I realize the gravity of that statement; we were pepper sprayed as collateral damage in a police conflict in a shabby town in Chile and we want to spend more time here…


Further investigation brought us the information that there were lots of students protesting in Santiago over the increasing costs of education. To which, I say, TANSTAAFL. Suck it up, bitches, and pay up or shut up.

But that explains the pepper spray, because it was happening across the country and I guess we caught it in Valpo.

April 20

Posted: April 20, 2012 in History, Life

I saw this today while waiting for the bus that never came. My truck was at MechanicBob’s and I was heading there to pick it up. Eventually I got tired of waiting after 3 hours at the bus station, so I called him to come get me instead.

Today I got WifeBob an anniversary present of 2 truckloads of brick pavers. These are to replace the brick pavers we bought from BrickBob, which he insisted were strong enough to use for our driveway. They were not. So I had to go to CementBob and order cement pavers, which took them another week to manufacture.

Whilst shooting the mierda with CementBobs 1-3, we got into a fun political conversation, as always happens when Uruguayos ask you just why you came here of all the armpits of the earth. One of them said something very clever which I had never heard before, when the subject came up regarding blowing up other countries.

“They just painted Bush darker and put him back in office,” said CementBob 2. I couldn’t agree more. It’s rare gems like this that make me slightly less pissed that I have spent so much time here in Uruguay. And from a guy who slings cement all day.

Happy April 20th: Waco, Columbine, Oklahoma City, Hitler’s birthday, and all sorts of other crazy shit through history.

Another fuel price increase

Posted: April 14, 2012 in Life, Stupidity
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ANCAP has raised prices on diesel fuel by another 2 pesos (10 cents) per liter, to 36.0 pesos. That’s like getting a 20 cent per gallon price hike. You now pay the equivalent of USD$7.03 per gallon. And it’s crappy fuel; homemade biodiesel contains less BTUs than highway grade diesel, and the crap I make in my garage gives me better fuel economy than the crap I can buy at ANCAP.


Septic tank fixed

Posted: April 10, 2012 in Life, Stupidity
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PlumberBob actually showed up this morning on time, with all the parts he needed, and fixed the pump. He then re-buried it, put what was left of the ripped up grass back in place, replaced our torn-out paving stones, and even washed the sand and dirt and shit out of our gravel afterwards. I am impressed. Finally I have someone I can recommend to people.

I have been thinking about this situation, and many more like it. Would this happen to us in the US? Maybe. Maybe not. Probably not. At least not with the same amount of fuckups and inability to solve the problems immediately. Yes, it sounds like a first-world problem, not being able to flush your toilet or take a shower. I am not opposed to shitting in a hole I dig myself. But we work hard in order to improve our lives in order to avoid living the third world life. Digging your own hole to shit is OK when you are camping. It’s not OK when you are in your own house.

We have access to first world products, just not first world service or first world skills. THAT right there is the difference. And it is a big one. Uruguay pretends like it can be a first world country and in many parts it looks like it is and pretends to be such; but it’s not. It’s a facade, nothing more. Lipstick on a pig. And that’s fine, someone has to be the polished turd. BUT…

What good is a supercar if you need a 4×4 to drive on your roads? Maybe this place shouldn’t sell products it cannot service. Just a thought. If all that works is a big open cesspit, then do that. Don’t offer a septic system that can’t even last a year without falling apart. Why sell something that fails in a year, and your customer comes back to you angry? It happens again and again and again, not just to us. Not just to foreigners. It happens to locals too.

Don’t put your hand in the fire, you’ll get burned. OW! I said don’t do that. OW! Man, you’ll learn eventually. OW! Jeez, what is wrong with you? OW! Come on, seriously, learn how to service modern equipment and set it up right from the start.

I realize this is a multi-tiered statement and I am the pot calling the kettle black. Uruguay keeps putting its hand in the fire of modernity and getting burned, and I keep putting my hand in the fire of Uruguay’s backwardness and getting burned. Yes, I would be fine if I set about doing it all myself, as I am quite handy, but seriously, am I to rebuild my entire house from scratch? I could, but I have better things to do. That is why I paid other people to do it for me.

How this whole situation would have played out in the US: We would have called the guys who installed the septic tank, they would have sent a guy out. If they didn’t have their own guy available, they would have contracted it out to someone else. Someone would have shown up with a truckload of parts. Seeing as so much stuff in the US is standardized, he would have had, 99% chance, all the stuff he needed to make the repairs then and there, made them, and left. He would have found the septic access right away for the same reasons and minimized turning our yard into a warzone. If, for some reason, they could not fix it then and there, they could have at least pumped it out enough that we could flush toilets and run showers until they came back tomorrow. And that’s IF the septic system broke down in its first year, which is pretty well unheard-of.

If your shitter breaks here, it better break between the hours of 10am and 4pm.

I’m not ungrateful, I am actually quite happy that we now have things fixed. I am just saying that with either first-world service or third-world construction, we could have saved a lot of misery (and also saved WifeBob from having to deal with me when I am not my typical cheery self).

Today was supposed to be a party at our place, with a few of the Usual Suspects, some wine, a bonfire, and a batch of something you can no longer get here, surprisingly, which we make at home: corned beef. Fray Bentos Corned Beef was one of the foods that helped win World War II, and it was made right here in Uruguay. Just one of the many long-lost bastions of capitalist excellence that has been consumed, shat out, and not reseeded, by generations of Tupamaros, socialsts, and communists.

Speaking of shit…

I got back to the house today after a run for groceries, firewood, and other sundries, including rye bread which I had to search all 9 levels of Hell for, and notice an interesting smell in the garage. There is shit water bubbling up from the plumbing access in the garage and bathroom. Lovely!

I run upstairs yelling for WifeBob, and find her in the shower. “Turn off the water! Now! There is shit backing up downstairs!”

I go back outside and put my head to the ground over the septic tank. Sure enough, I hear the overflow pump running. But it’s not moving anything. In fact, it hasn’t been moving anything for a month. But it’s been running the whole time. That explains the $400 electric bill I was about to take into the UTE office, guns blazing.

Great. 10 people are coming over in an hour.

Meanwhile, I call everyone I know, frantic to get any recommendations for a good plumber, because I certainly have nobody I would call again. Nobody else does, either. They all got tired of waiting around for people to not show up, and have nobody to recommend. I fall back on ArchitectBob, who knows our system better than anyone else, and I explain the problem.

“No problem, the plumber will come tomorrow morning.” he says.

“I can’t even flush a toilet until then? Are you serious?”

“Don’t worry,” he says… BEEP! Tu saldo no es suficiente para… (You are out of minutes, bitch. Buy more.)

UnFuckingBelievable. I go in to my computer and order more minutes online because the process cannot POSSIBLY be automated in this day and age of 2012. I call ArchitectBob back…

“I am supposed to have 10 people over for dinner tonight,” I explain.

“Oh. Yeah, that’s bad. Let me call you back, I’ll see if I can find someone to do it now.”


The plumber arrives at 7pm, after we have thrown in the towel and called off the Corned Beef party. We spend 2 hours digging the yard all to hell, right after we have finally nursed it back to health after the drought killed it off, searching for the access hatch to the septic tank, which Architect’sAssistantBob insists is 3 meters from the visible access hatch we have already unearthed, when it is, in fact, only one meter (and about 100 holes) away from the visible hatch.

As we get closer to the septic tank hatch, we feel the ground getting hotter and hotter underneath, and when we finally open the hatch, a cloud of steam erupts along with the stench. Imagine what it looks like to take the lid off a pot of boiling water. Now imagine it on an industrial scale with thousands of gallons of hot, steaming shit.

It’s also a good thing I shut off the pump’s breaker before we opened it, or we would have been taking a hot chunky shower. The pipe where the pump’s outlet is connected has come undone, and the pump was in there for a month or more simply spinning its own waste all over the place, running 24/7, and making it nice and hot. MMM!

Since it is dark and there is nothing open at this hour where we can get pipe pieces to fix the broken pipe, we must call it a night and the plumber will return tomorrow. The tank is still full, now I am covered in and smell like my own shit, and I cannot take a shower because it will just overflow the entire garage again with shitwater.

“Es mal hecho,” the plumber said. Well duh. Sad, really, because the work we had done was supposedly the best in the area, and we paid accordingly. Now it has to be redone, the yard is trashed, and we are an extra $400 in the hole for the wasted electricity (take a guess whether we’ll get that back!).

I sold my old canoe on As a result of the sale, there was a fee of UY$500 and change. I paid it at Abitab. Now I just got an email informing me that my account has been shut off for nonpayment of the fee, for which I have the receipt right in front of me, and on their help pages, all I get is a circlejerk with a link “why is my account shut off?” which, when clicked, brings me right back to the thing saying I still owe them 500 fucking pesos. No email help, nothing.

So, fuck you Mercadolibre. Cling tightly to that 500 pesos. It will be the last you get from me.

Semana Santa, despite what some doofuses may think, is not “Santa” week. It is “Holy Week,” the week preceeding Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Uruguayans are not religious by any stretch of the imagination so they have attempted to rebrand it as Semana de Turismo. The coast floods with Argentines and THEY actually go to church. The Uruguayos also join the Argentine travelers, not in church but as tourists, as rents are lower in the coastal towns at this time of year, and they can actually afford to go places.

However, prices for things in general here in PDE remain high. I just spent USD$80 for 6 frozen pizzas, a box of 6 frozen Lehmejun, a dozen frozen hamburgers, a couple small bags of popcorn, and 6 bottles of Coca Light (Diet Coke). Pretty much a week’s worth of quickie lunches.

I get it in my head to build a robot pizza maker that spits out frozen pizzas. I know for a fact that the components that go into one of these sad little 15-minute oven pizzas cost next to nothing to make. I shall employ my robot slave to produce me many pizzas, and sell them for absurd profits while still undercutting the overpriced pizza mafia. But then I dismiss the whole fantasy, because there is probably some law that says pizza cannot be made in Uruguay by evil capitalist machines, and every step must be done by some slow drooler on an assembly line who is prevented from working more than 4 hours per day.

But I digress.

During Semana Santa, most businesses are closed. We did run into a few hardware stores which were open, for a few days in the early part of the week. And one of the viveros, so we were able to get some replacements for the baby acacias that we murdered. Trying to get anything done at this time is pretty much impossible, so we stay at home, work, and drink a lot to dry and dull the pain of nothing getting done around us.

That broken window is still perched precariously in its frame, waiting to fall and guillotine someone’s toes off.

As the clocks spins over to Easter Sunday, I am thankful that this whole goddamn week is over and things will start again on Monday. Maybe. Last year a lot of stuff was still closed on Monday. Newton’s first law: Uruguayans at rest remain at rest unless compelled otherwise by force…