Archive for August, 2012

We are now official permanent residents of Paraguay. Hooray!

My plans to take over the world are coming together… muahahahaaaaaa!

“Uruguay has a way of kicking you in the ass when it knows you are leaving,”

HardwareBob commiserates. I was in his store buying up all the heavy-duty trash bags I could find in order to clear out the vast accumulation of mold and deterioration that was in our old Montevideo apartment. We were there for a few days cleaning it out to put it on the market. He had asked me what I was doing with my truck after we left, because he wanted to buy it, and then the whole story came out about the accident last week, etc.

HardwareBob and I have a long history. I spent vast fortunes in his store, daily, for bits and bobs and various and sundry items with which to fix up and restore our old apartment around the corner. He’s a nice guy. So are his employees. When I told them we were moving to Chile, they were all excited yet bummed to see us go. So were MaidBob and other neighbors. Most of the people in that neighborhood are unaccustomed to transitory living and comings-and-goings. Most people who live there are born there and live there and die there. I will miss HardwareBob and his employees.

“I have a guy who already wants the truck but if he changes his mind, let’s talk,” I tell him. Fair enough.

WifeBob and I spent 2 days working around the clock, cleaning, organizing, and packing up the last of our “stuff” to ship out to Santiago. Most of it was clothes and books. Things that we wouldn’t miss if we lost them but wouldn’t want to have to re-buy either. Oh, we *did* give away a ton of stuff to MaidBob, who was delighted. Bonanza for her.

I had gone all the way through Hell’s half-acre and back for 25 40x40x40-cm cardboard boxes which cost me some $1400 pesos to get. I had a Uruguayan experience waiting 40 minutes to pay for them. This is at the ONLY place in Montevideo where you can get cardboard boxes. And they didn’t have half of what I was looking for.

“Do you have more of this one here?” No.

“How about this?” Out of stock.

“This one? Any?” Just the one you are holding in your hand.

“OK then, what do you have 25 of, which are remotely close to this size here?” the slow rusty cogs of parallel thought process begin to squeak free…

I got into a conversation with another frustrated guy in there, a businessman, who was astonished that the box monopoly had hiked his prices from 30 to 36 pesos per box.

“How long have you been here?” he asks me after the usual where-are-you-from stuff.

“5 years,” I reply.

“5 too many,” he grumbles. Yeah, man, I feel your pain.

While we were going through all of our stuff, it was like flashbacks from the past 5 years. Every item in there was the result of or involved in some sort of productive behavior of ours. Ticking through the inhuman efforts we endured, piece by piece. WifeBob became nostalgic; I had swallowed several barrels of “don’t-give-a-fuck-and-in-fact-while-you’re-asking…” which were still in my system.

It was also amazing the stuff which we would have just tossed in the trash or taken to GoodWill had we been in the USA, which we clung to with greedy fingers and refused to part with, because of all the effort that had gone into getting them into Uruguay. The added value attached to them, be it in taxes, smuggling them through Aduanas, or just the sheer amount of wasted, frustrated hours burned away in their acquisition.

Charity disappears quickly when it’s taxed at 60%+22%IVA.

We used our Gringo Rocket Science and powered through the whole place in record time, packed up the truck in geometric Gringo Rocket Science fashion so as to make just one trip out of it, and headed the F out of there, hopefully never to return.

Then I get a panicked call this afternoon from the neighbor downstairs who tells me that our balcony is falling off the front of the building. *&^#@$!! So I go into panic mode and call anyone I can to go and have a look since we are no longer in town. Precious minutes grind by as I chew my fingernails to the bone, wondering just what other disasters will befall us in our last few days in Uruguay. I am thinking (and according to the neighbor’s call, correctly) that the whole thing is dangling by a thread and about to fall completely off and kill an innocent bystander below. Wouldn’t that just take the F-ing cake!?

The day after you finish cleaning your property up from top to bottom to make it showroom condition for selling, and the balcony falls off the front of it into the street? That, my friends, would be the Uruguay experience in a nutshell. Oh, and some idiot crashed into your car and the insurance deems it your fault. Oh, and thieves tore the screen out of your window trying to break into your house. All in the same week.

Finally the call comes back in: our balcony is just fine, but a piece of cement fell from the balcony of the folks above us (The Retard Family), broke, and shattered little rubble bits around the ground below. The sky is falling!

Yeaaaaah, I’m so over it.

Check out the graphic up on Google today.

Apparently this goes nicely hand-in-hand with the postal strike in which several tons of mail have still been piling up.

According to El Pais, On the 21st of August, a “pre-agreement” was made (why not a full agreement? Can’t anyone finish ANYTHING in Uruguay?): at one meeting, they finally agreed that “On Friday we will meet to discuss this proposal at another meeting, and if it is approved, we will lift the measures (stop the strike)”

At this point my impression is that they kind of want the strike to stop but then on the other hand they don’t, because then they have to actually go back to work and do their jobs, PLUS figure out how to deal with the 50+ tons of mail that has accumulated since the strike began. The last time this happened, the Correo quickly solved their dilemma by outsourcing delivery to the tides of the Rio de la Plata. “Well, we dumped it in the river, and if it never got to you, it’s not our fault, it’s the fault of the river! Leave me alone, I’m just doing my job!”

Look on the bright side: 100 more workers will be hired. Surely that will make the whole thing run like clockwork!

In a gesture of “good faith” in this negotiation, the correo has agreed to authorize the departure of ONE TRUCK to “mitigate the delay in deliveries.” What??? You can’t make this stuff up.

Perhaps the folks at Google are mocking Uruguay with this graphic, or perhaps it is a faux-pas? Supposedly today (August 25) is the observance of Uruguayan Independence Day, but this graphic is kind of a backhanded compliment. I like it!

Yeah, you’re independent. Now act like it, and deliver your damned mail.

Bravo, Google graphic artists! Even if you didn’t intend it.

…but I have a sneaking suspicion that you did. And Bravo again for that. Quite clever.

The Mosquito Coast

Posted: August 25, 2012 in Ancient wisdom, Life
Tags: , ,

There are many reasons why The Mosquito Coast is an excellent movie. It was recently stirred up from the recesses of my brain because WifeBob and I were having a conversation about a friend of ours and I had voiced concerns that they are going “Mosquito Coast.” WifeBob had never seen the movie so she didn’t get it. And for those who haven’t seen it or have forgotten the basic premise, it is a story of man’s need to be appreciated for his genius, a struggle of man vs nature, man vs himself, man vs man, , capitalism vs communism, science vs technology, and a big lesson on how obsession and ego can end up putting you in mortal danger.

So we found a copy and watched it, and WifeBob truly enjoyed it. We had to pause it periodically to applaud its excellence. After living for so many years as both a water vagabond and an international expat, Mosquito Coast has even more little bits and pieces you find that fall into place, where you nod and laugh and say, “Yeah, I get it,” and “Yeah, you poor souls have no idea what you are in for but we know where this is going.”

One of the best lines of the movie:

The scene: Father and son are sneaking up to kill a trio of looter thugs who have been preying on his village, having tricked them into bunking up inside his giant freezer, in order to lock them inside and freeze them to death. The son is fearful and doesn’t want to kill anyone. The father, smashing a mosquito on the back of his neck, turns to his son to put his fears and trepidations to rest and says,

“Don’t pity this insect. That’s not his blood, it’s mine.”

We’ve been in and out of our own Mosquito Coast experiences repeatedly. I think it’s something all expats deal with now and then. If you’ve never seen it, or if it’s been a long time since you have, I highly recommend giving it a go.

The other day a lady shot out from the left side of an intersection, right in front of us. By the time we saw her coming it was already too late and we ran right into her. Fortunately nobody was injured. Her car was trashed but our truck, while the steering and front frame is bent, suffered little more than cosmetic damage. We drove home.

We did the standard insurance thing, two inspectors come out to survey the damage, information is exchanged, and then you wait to hear from your insurance company. Meanwhile you research the local laws and educate yourself on right-of-way and other sundry items.

…such as the following, which states clearly that when in an unmarked intersection, the right-of-way preference goes to the vehicle on the right, and/or the street with through-way preference.

I was both on the through-way street, *and* the vehicle on the right. So, clearly, I thought, I had the right-of-way and the other lady’s insurance will pay for the damage. Having learned the laws I felt confident when I went in to get the results from my insurance agent.

WRONG!

My insurance company is leaving me to hang. “This all depends on where you are from,” my insurance agent explains to me. Translation: because you are a gringo, you are instantly guilty. Nice. Forget the law, forget that it is much more expensive for them to pay to replace the entire front end of the car WHICH CAUSED THE ACCIDENT than it is to say, “this is the law, your client is clearly guilty, and you should pay for the damage to my client.” Forget that they will lose a customer. Forget that I am a legal resident, forget that I have a local drivers license and a locally registered vehicle and I know what I am doing and know the laws. Nah, that’s all unimportant.

The corporate office’s official excuse: Because the street I was on changes names on the other side of the intersection, I am therefore culpable. Not a note about the fact that it is the secondary throughway through town on which all the bus routes run to avoid traffic on the main road. Nor that there are no street signs to signify the change-of-name. Because the locals are too lazy to post them and also because if they did, someone would steal them (as in here and here). So I shall hang because of mismanaged data on a map.

Fortunately the agent is on my side despite the ruling from the corporate office, so he has arranged tomorrow afternoon to help me get this straightened out. He has written in to appeal the decision in corporate, and he is going with me to Crash Lady’s insurance office to see what we can wrangle out of them. We shall see what happens. I am not hopeful. If they fail to please me I shall put their name up here with a notice to boycott.

Added Aug 25, 2012:
The company in question is RSA. They are reputed to be a quality insurance company (we have multiple policies for vehicle and home coverage). However at this point, I will not renew my policy with them, and instead I shall transfer it to a different company upon its expiration.

Welcome home! I can’t wait to get the F back out of here and get back to Chile where laws are at least more respected than the Kangaroo Subjective Interpretation you get here in Uruguay backwardsland.

Yet more ridiculous prices

Posted: August 21, 2012 in Life, Stupidity, Travel
Tags: , ,

Diesel fuel costs $36 pesos per liter these days (US$1.69, or $6.42/gallon). The road toll prices were recently also hiked to $55 pesos (US$2.58). So now it costs about US$60 in fuel to drive round-trip from Punta Del Este to Montevideo, with an additional US$10.32 in tolls.

More price hilarity

Posted: August 16, 2012 in Food, Stupidity
Tags: , , ,

The insanity continues:

Tube of Pringles chips: UY$72 (USD$3.39)

Bag of locally-made potato chips, 500g: UY$126 (USD$5.93)!!!

8 hot dogs, locally-made: UY$95 (USD$4.47)!!!

And, here’s the one that hits it out of the park in so many ways I cannot list them all:

The 200 empty shell casings for my .303 rifle, which I left with the gun shop back in January 2012, I have decided not to recharge, because in August 2012 (8 months later) I finally got an estimate for USD$6 per shot! For reloads! For reference, I can buy them brand-new elsewhere for less than $1, sometimes as cheap as 50 cents each.

How the heck are Uruguayans supposed to afford food?

Suffice it to say that I was threatened with a slander and defamation lawsuit in Uruguay because of my harsh criticism of someone’s business practices. After being educated about the fact that truth is not relevant in Uruguayan defamation cases, I thought it best to remove the blog both for my own personal protection and the added bonus of keeping my mouth shut lest I start a long, horrible, bloody war of mudslinging and evil speech.

I present to you the first piece of evidence, quoted straight from the court:

“Little importance should be attached to the truth of the alleged facts.”

source: http://en.rsf.org/uruguay-supreme-court-creates-dangerous-03-10-2006,19052.html

Read the whole article for some chilling Backwardian insight. You can’t make this stuff up.

I told this person that as an act of peace and good faith, I would remove their name from my posts and take the blog down until this matter was resolved. Being a man who places honor high on the list, I have upheld my end of the bargain.

I believe things have been patched up as best they can with this mysterious other party who shall go unnamed, and they have agreed to shelf their legal action against me in exchange for a letter of apology. I am still waiting for this in writing.

We just returned to Uruguay after 2 months in Chile. It’s already noticeably more fucked here. 20% increase in food prices SINCE WE LEFT. On LOCALLY MADE stuff! I attribute it to the inflationary ratcheting mechanism whereby the peso loses a little value vs the dollar, either by UY inflation or USD deflation, the UY merchants hike the price in a reactionary way to compensate, and then never reduce the price. They then become accustomed to it, until the next peso devaluation. Repeat process.

This year UY increased construction worker minimum wage by 22%, along with an additional 22% increase in BPS taxes for said labor. Which goes hand in hand with last year’s labor and BPS hike. Which put a damper on construction, including ours; were were ready to push the button on the construction of a second house, until we saw that we would be paying some USD$70,000 worth of taxes to construct it, so it can no longer be done within the budget we had drawn up.

OH– and this is all nicely timed with the removal of bank secrecy for Argentines looking to bank or invest in property in UY. Builders are now marching and rioting and going on strike because they are being laid off from construction projects. Some construction projects are stopping completely due to lack of available flight capital from Argentina and shrinking input from the EU.

“How dare you run out of OUR money!?” is their attitude.

“Hey, in order to protest our being laid off because there are too many of us and we don’t work enough, let’s stop working completely! That’ll show everyone!”

Add to that the discussion, passage, and finalization of new taxes on foreign-earned income for all other expats. Which was then repealed to give them a 5-year amnesty, just in time to maybe get their residency or passports, if they ever get it (what a joke we all know that to be now). But hey, we’re thinking of your best interests, foreign investors! All that talk about raping your wallets, that was just political rhetoric. We’re really friendly. Really.

And our banking? That’s so stable that our employees are always going on strike, shutting down entire branches, and so we have reduced opening and working to 5 hours per day to give you the best customer experience possible. Oh, and now we’ve made it so that unless you are withdrawing more than 30,000 pesos (USD$1500) in a single transaction, our tellers will refuse to even deal with you. You’ll have to go to the ATM that tells you that you must change your pin before you can withdraw your money and then doesn’t let you change your pin. And so now we only need one guy in there, and 2 SWAT team thugs to protect him from angry customers. That and the removal of banking secrecy for Argentines, your biggest customer base. But it’s stable, really! That makes it really stable!

Just like the “residency is easy and granted in 6 months” stuff. And the passports for 5-year single and 3-year married residents. It’s guaranteed in the law. Really. And we clearly respect the law. Really! You can trust us 100%

Hey, where did everyone go?

Way to go, Uruguay!

Seriously, I am willing to bet that you start to see significant unemployment exploding here, and accompanying demonstrations, and families and whole communities unable to feed themselves. How Uruguayans can afford to exist boggles my mind. Their cost of living has literally doubled in the last few years and it wasn’t cheap to begin with.

My day in Uruguay…

We returned to Punta del Este, Uruguay after two months in Santiago, Chile. It was an exploratory trip in which we truly felt “at home” in Chile despite having moved from aparthotel to aparthotel. We are going back after we take care of a few things here, which include, foremost, the sale of some of our Uruguayan real estate.

Divest! Divest!

Arriving at the airport, the first thing I do is go to the ATM to get some local currency. Nope. Bank ATM says, after going through all the standard steps to retrieve your money, “You have to change your PIN number.”

“OK, no problem,” says I, and I proceed to do what it tells me to do. No good. It won’t change the PIN number. I can’t get any money. Good thing I had enough in my wallet to get bus tickets back to PDE, or we would have been stranded there. I would later find out that no, despite the ATM’s instructions, you cannot change your pin when prompted to do so; you must remove your card, start a new session, and then change your PIN first-thing.

I’m no rocket scientist but how hard would it be to have that message pop up right when you put your card into the machine? And how hard would it be to make sure it worked if you were too stupid to do it that way, and then had the machine ask you to change your PIN after you tried unsuccessfully to withdraw your money?

So I pick up my phone and call my friends to see if I can get a pickup at the bus terminal in PDE. “Tu saldo no es suficiente para realizar esta llamada (you have insufficient balance to make this call).” Great. So I log into my internet banking site to recharge my phone. “Sorry, this transaction cannot be completed. Please check your balance to verify the transaction.” I try with different accounts, maybe something is FUBAR between the USD and Peso conversion. No dice there either. GREAT! No money, no phone.

We bought bus tickets and then went back into the airport to the Patria restaurant to wait for the bus. We usually hang out there pre-flight to medicate ourselves with alcohol and maybe grab a bite if we are hungry. In the past they have had reasonable prices and good food. And they take credit cards, which is good because the bank has cut everyone off.

This time, however, was different. They now charge a $100-peso-per-person “cubierto” (US$5) so that added 10 bucks to our bill, and the prices for everything else had blasted skyward as well. It ended up costing US$70 for our lunch. Welcome home! Give me MY money, gringo! So fuck Patria for the forseeable future.

Fortunately we had no problems on the bus and we arrived in PDE, were met by friends, and got my truck.

We then arrived “back home” and was greeted with a lawn of weeds. The property managers which I hired to take care of the yard had not touched it. They left on vacation for several months before I even had a chance to drop off the keys, so we had corresponded via email. When I asked them why the lawn had not been mowed, they told me, “We never sent the gardener because you never gave us any money to pay him.”

No duh. You weren’t there to give money to. And you never asked to be paid. I had to leave the keys with your other office. Send him anyway and bill me. Or send him to me so he can bill me. There are a dozen ways to ensure that the transaction completes somehow. What a dumbass I am to assume that you will charge me for, or at least arrange, a service I asked for!?

Oh, before I even got to the weeds, I had to ford an 18-inch-deep ditch that had formed in front of my driveway due to rain water running down the hill. It was tough even for my 4×4 pickup truck. I have to drive through a fucking canyon to reach my driveway but oh, they have done a great job putting in brand-new speed bumps in the road through “town” at merge intersections which never required a stop before. To slow down all the traffic in Low Season!? That’s what we call “lipstick on a pig.”

So I get in and test all the systems in the house. Power’s been out untold times, clocks are all blinking, big surprise. Satellite receiver is completely dead, fried, won’t even register that it is plugged in. Interesting. Everything else seems to work. Except for the window mechanism that we requested a replacement for months ago and is still not replaced.

At this point I had not solved the ATM mystery so I headed to the bank. I had not had anything to eat all day so, seeing Burger King, I figured OK, I’m a block from the bank, I’ll stop in for a quick bite.

I was the only guy in there. I had my doubts as to the restaurant’s level of operational status but there were indeed employees there who came to the register when they saw me approach. “I’d like a big, hot, steamy Number Two, please.”

I pay UY$210, which is about USD$10. For a whopper combo, which you’d probably pay $6 for in the USA. Ah well, I’m starving.

After I was given my order slip, I stood in front of the counter where the burgers slide across towards their inevitable demise, and waited. And waited. The 5 workers present were having their little chat, and there was nobody in the back making any food. The fry bin was empty. I made a point to make direct individual eye contact with each and every one of them, while I stood there holding my slip. Nobody moved towards the back. After literally 5 minutes (yes, I timed it) of me staring them down and they not “getting it,” I inquired, “Is someone going to make my hamburger?”

It took them, I kid you not, about 30 seconds to consider and realize that a contract had indeed occurred and required action to be fulfilled, and then another full 120 seconds (I timed this too) to determine just who was going to go back there and make my hamburger and fries. It was a full-on debate party of blame and delegation and henpecking. Nobody wanted to actually be the one who had to go back there and spend a whole 30 seconds compiling a hamburger, what with all the lines of one customer waiting. One of them did indeed feel sorry for the situation, and told me to have a seat, she’d bring it out to me when it was done. And she did bring it to me, and she did apologize for the stupid delay. But it was just another teeth-grinding experience in lack of work ethic or customer service in Uruugay.

You see, the reason I typically go to Burger King is not because the food is good, but it’s the only place you can usually get in and out of in a few minutes with the least possibility of receiving the grey-faced sour contempt heaped upon you by your waiter for having the audacity to disturb his lack of activity at work. Or, at least, it was. I never go there in any other country, it’s just too gross when there are acceptable alternatives. But here in Uruguay, it’s the last bastion of capitalism. Or, at least, it was.

So I ate my angstburger and then went to the bank, only to find it closed. Nuevas horas: 12:00 a 17:00. 5 hours per day. Great. I missed them, and so I tried again at the ATM to see if my card worked at the home machine, which of course it did not.

On the way home I stop by the DirecTV dealer office and explained that my receiver was dead (I had it in the truck) and if they can fix it. “Nope. Call the technicians. Here is their number.”

No, “Sorry to hear that, please sit down and let’s call the technicians and see what we can do for you, considering YOU BOUGHT IT HERE, FROM US.” Surprise surprise.

So after all this, my day is shot, and I have nothing to show for it but more frustration. Welcome home!