Monday, January 9, 2012

Our Big Adventure-It's a wrap

What we learned about Uruguay-
Uruguay is a beautiful country! We have LIVED in the big city of Montivideo, the town of Colonia that was a Portuguese fort on the 1600's, we have lived on an estancia built in the 1700's in the beach town of Piriopolas and we have lived in a small beach town on the Atlantic ocean.
We have travelled through the interior and North Uruguay. We have spent time on the Atlantic ocean side and the Rio del Plato (river) side that borders Argentina.
The history of Uriguay is fascinating and we have learned that through the people that we have met. We learned about the discovery of Uruguay by the Spanish and the Portuguese. We learned about all the groups of people who moved there to start new lives. The Spanish, Swiss, Northern Italians, Germans etc. There are many people here now that come from all of Europe. Uruguay is very European. We have travelled to Mexico a lot, and at first we compared the two countries. Uruguay is NOT Mexico. Everyone drinks sparkling water. You have to order special to get water without gas. There is a bidet in every bathroom. The fork is held in your left hand with the knife always in the right, never putting down your utensils and you can drink tap water. We looked like "locals", well at least we did not stick out. Allen was so proud when someone asked him directions.
Beef is the food of Uruguay. The parilla (pah-ree-zsha) type barbecue dinner being a staple for all parties, restaurants and family events. If you are eating dinner at 8:00, first you are lucky to find something that is open, and second you are eating early. Dinner should not start before 10:00! The food choices are monotonous but the food is good. Chivitos, panchos, parilla, chorizzo, and pasta and calliente sandwiches (white bread with the crust removed, ham and cheese, toasted).
Uruguay is a country without a name. The country is NOT named Uruguay. Its name is "Republica Oriental del Uruguay" which means "The Republic to the East of the Uruguay River". There were many fights for domination of the area. Spanish vs Portuguese, Brazil, Argentina, and then the British came in and helped Uruguay become its own country, of course they had a vested interest in this too. The main interest was trading, they did not colonize. Uruguay was very prosperous during both world wars. They sold canned beef to both the British and the Argentines sold to the Germans. When either Uruguay or Argentina ran short of product to sell they sold to each other. In the first half of the 20th century Uruguay was very wealthy and life was very grand. At some point that tanked. In the 1970's one of the military leaders took over and the dictatorship years began. It seems that the first dictator, being military followed a strict code that people felt was good, after that as the dictator in charge changed over the years the life in Uruguay became very scary. All people were required to carry their identification cards at all times. You could be stopped on the streets and just "disappear". There were thousands of people who disappeared or were jailed at the whim of the military and police. Many people fled to other countries. The dictatorship ended in the 80's. It is very hard to imagine something like that happening in your own country but it is possible. Because of this, many people are leery of the police, although there is not corruption in the police like there seems to be in Mexico. We asked if we should offer a "mordita" if we got stopped by the police, and we were told "No! We could go to jail for offering a bribe. Uruguay does not have a huge military. Some people told us they have even entertained the possibility of not having a military at all. I guess they would rely on the United Nations and other countries to protect them.
Up until recently there was no such thing as credit in Uruguay. No credit cards, no mortgages. You had to pay cash for everything. Still today 40% of the population doesn't have a bank account. This affects the way that commerce is done. To pay for your water, electricity, or to pay for minutes on your cell phone, you go to a kiosk called RedPagos. They're everywhere. The bus station, banks and many stores have the kiosk. you do not pay your bills online because most people don't have a credit card. This cash system really affects how the internet will work in Uruguay. It seems to me Facebook is used quite a bit as a advertising/content base. More and more businesses have web sites, but you cannot buy anything on them, they are just an information portal.
Uruguay is one of the countries that has instituted a Laptop for every child. Every student has a free laptop. The public school system has a bad reputation right now, so many people send their kids to private schools. Private schools teach English as a second language and it seems that the public high schools are teaching English also.
"Es lo que hay". It is what it is, is the laid back motto of the country. Things run on Uruguayan time, which is always slow and you pretty much accept things how they are. It sounds nice, but could become frustrating when "it is what it is" is not what you want.

What we learned about North America (U.S.A.)-
I was surprised how much America, (which when I refer to America I mean North America, U.S.A.) influences other cultures. Many of the television stations carried English speaking shows with Spanish subtitles. Many of the songs on the radio's were American songs. Levi's ($150 for a pair of 501's) and many American brand names are international.
We have so many products available for consumption. Ziplock bags cost $5.50 for 5 bags. Do I really need to buy them by the caseload at Sam's Club? We could not find brown sugar or anything like Crisco.
Electronics are very expensive in Uruguay. An iPhone cost $1400.00. Blackberry was the phone of choice for people who could afford it.
I think we should learn the metric system. Why does America not go metric like the rest of the world??? Because we don't have to. That is why.
I am also surprised to learn the English is the language for business. I do believe that as Americans we should be bilingual, especially if you are going to have the luxury of travel in your life. How pompous we are as a nation to think that all we need is English. On the flip side, it was amazing how far we could get with hand gestures and a local Uruguayans knowledge of English. Right now America is a super power and I was taking that for granted. Traveling to other countries gives perspective.
Why can't I take a 2 minute shower at home. I knew I would run out of hot water in most places so I was fast. Why can't I walk to the grocery store rater than drive? Why do we waste so much? I did not really realize that I did. It won't take long to fall back into old habits I am sure. We have so many choices.

What we learned about ourselves-
Tracie learned that she still enjoys spending time with Allen. I would like to say that in the end, we will probably be 85 years old and still live in Fairbanks Alaska. But I really hope not. I did learn that with Skype and email it is easier to be away from friends and family than I thought it would be.
We liked to think of ourselves as "travelers" on this trip. It was not a vacation, my definition of that is three weeks max. We were not quite tourists because we lived with people as we traveled around. It was really nice to be able to travel like this while we are in our mid 40's. We (Tracie) are too old and spoiled to live the hostel style of travel, but we are a bit young to be expats.
Speaking of expats. before this trip, I was asked if we were interested in meeting some expats. I immediately said "No!". Our experience with expats is that they are "nut jobs" that could not make it in their own country so they moved. Or that they were moving to a foreign country to exploit the lower cost of housing and hired help. This was not the case with the people that we met in Uruguay. The people we met from America, Mexico, Germany and England we're in Uruguay because it is a beautiful country. (although the cost of living is lower and the health care is good and crime is low). Our new friends are amazing people and we will miss them all.
We did look at a retirement community called "Sugar Loaf". It was aimed at the American who wanted all the benefits of the country, but did not want the outside world to enter. We met one couple In a restaurant who did not know any Spanish. We talked to them and later we were shocked to find out that they were actually living in Uruguay. I do not consider that living in a foreign country.
I want to know if you can live in a foreign country but become a part of the community. Some of the people we met were half and half. All had a tie to Uruguay, whether it be a friend or spouse. We talked about how you become a immersed member of a foreign country. In the end we had about 17 phone numbers in our cell phone for emergencies or just for friendly chats. Not too bad, 17 people we could call on for help in 9 weeks. And yes, we made a few calls.
We are still trying to figure out how to travel and make personal connections like we did this time. Our school was the vehicle that made our travels a success. It was a way to stay in homes and meet people. That is also part of what changes my definition of travel vs vacation.
I don't know what is next for us, although i still think learning Spanish is a possibility. Allen is still thinking about living on a sailboat and traveling. I told him I would do 1 year. I think I will send him out first though.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Our Big Adventure-wrap up

Montivideo Tracie

Well, mom and Emily are not very good bloggers. It is very difficult to blog because after a day you are very tired and just want to go to bed. I am not sure what their stories of the big city will be, but to catch you up we had a party (parilla) dinner at Leo and Meckis that was wonderful. Our friends Francisco, Jenny and Tim and Amalie were there. We had the full meal deal followed by a glass of grappa. Mom, dad and Emily were so tired they left at 11:30 while Allen and I stayed to keep talking. We started eating at 7:00 and did not finish until 11:00. Amazing.
We played croquet. Emily made the first three points on her team and Tim proclaimed that my mom had the best shot of the day. We are plotting how to AstroTurf Aunt Carol's tennis court...
We went downtown on the bus for a day of shopping and lunch at the Mercado del Puerto (the most famous eating landmark in Uruguay).
We also went to a restaurant and I had veal, for the first time. Wow that was pretty good.
Today Allen and I are leaving at 3:00 and their flight is not until 10:30 tonight, so they are at the beach. I am sure they will have their own stories to tell. I am glad that they came to Uruguay so we could share some of our adventure with them.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Montivideo Wednesday. Happy Birthday Brian!!!!

We left Colonia this morning to drive to Montivideo. We stopped in Libertad to pick up a package to bring home to the Uruguayans who live in Fairbanks. Libertad is a HOT city. As a gift for stopping and playing Santa with package deliveries to the U.S. we received a treat of fresh chiccarones. They are a cracker that has pork cracklings in it. They were really good!
We drove through the city and had our trip plotted out. Drop off laundry, stop at Leo and Meckis to drop off beach crap and then check into the hotel, drop the car off and then relax. Well, of course there were a few glitches. Our favorite laundry lady was closed, and the second laundress could not have it done before Monday. Next we just went to see Leo and Mecki. We invaded their house like it was our own. Again. We are referred to as the "Boomerang Alaskans" and it is too true. We stored more of our crap in their basement, visited and made plans for the parilla dinner that Mecki is letting us have at her house tomorrow night. Then off to try a third laundry. Mecki offered her washing machine, but with a two hour cycle we might not be done before our plane leaves Sunday. Haha
After we checked into the hotel, Allen and Tracie returned the rental car, they did charge us for the lost key. $300.00, but "Es Lo que hay." It is what it is. Like the lifeguard said, "nobody is dead." that puts it all in perspective. Sage advise from a lifeguard.
We had dinner at the mall. Bonnie, Wayne and Tracie ate at the best Chivito stand ever. Allen and Emily had Burger King. Can you believe that?
Our hotel is really nice! We are looking out over the ocean watching the world go by.

Colonia/Emily Monday & Tuesday

We left the estancia on Monday morning. We drove to the town Nueva Helvecia for lunch. We went to the Granja Suizo Hotel and had a fondue lunch. We had cheese and bread, meat and chocolate fondue. It was excellent. We even stuck our fingers in the chocolate to get the last little bit when our fresh fruit ran out. After lunch we drove to Colonia, we drove into town on a street that mom and dad had never been on and she missed the fact the town had a shopping mall. She let me down, I've never known a woman who shops like my mom, she is like a dog with a bone...and she missed a shopping mall! Disgraceful. So we checked out that mall and headed to our "hotel", which in it's history was a brothel. Side note: just asked what a brothel was...didn't know it was an old whore house...good thing I didn't know this sooner, I would have been even more uncomfortable. Anyways, the entryway was beautiful but as soon as we put the key in the door it got stuck in the lock, and was not able to come out. We must have bad key karma. Dad and grandpa worked about 1/2 hour trying to get the key out, but finally called the caretaker. She could not fix it either so again a locksmith was called. Meanwhile sweet pea was hollering from her room that the toilet was stuck so grandpa went and took care of that. We had "breakfast" provided so we had two bags of crackers and instant coffee...yum. Not. This day was 89 degrees let me remind you, we were all getting a little crabby. We went to pizza with Buby (highlight of the town) and went home after that.

Our room set up went like this...grandma and grandpa were in their own room downstairs. Their hot water scalded them when they turned it on because the waster tank was on so hot. Mom and dad and I had a room upstairs that was split into two rooms one side had a queen bed and one side had two sets of bunk beds with NO air conditioning or fans and it was about 100 degrees. Mom and dads side had an air conditioner so I was going to kick my dad out and sleep with my mom in there.

Right when we walked in the door two little cockroaches scurried under the door. Mom told me not to look but of course I did. My mom and I were about to pack our bags and leave or at least go sleep in the car. Rule number one was to not tell sweet pea what happened. I was so scared so my dad let me sleep in the bed with them all of us in one queen size bed :) it went dad, mom, and me on the side, upside down...little squeezy with no wiggle room. We woke up the next morning and had a group meeting. The vote was 3 to 2 to leave and the women still lost!!!

We walked around Colonia, climbed the light house (thought sweet pea was going to kill us by the end) and did some shopping. We ended our day at the beach and a trip to say good bye to Buby. We had wine, beer and cheese and got a tour of her lovely home. She's so stinking cute. She bought us all gifts that were much appreciated. We then walked to dinner and had a fantastic steak. We were a little more comfortable with the brothel so we sucked it up and stayed one more night. Plus we made sure we were extra tired and had a little too much to drink.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Day Ocho: by Tracie and Emily

Feliz nueva año! It has been a great 2012 so far. Today we went to the dining room to eat a wonderful breakfast that Charro made for us. We had to be up at 9:30 today per Allen for his tour of Piriaoplis. We went to San Antonio which is a town that looks over the ocean and city, had lunch up there it was "muy linda" (very pretty). After that we went to the harbor to look at the boats and headed back to the zoo for Emily round 2. The raccoon ant eater finally found his way into the bird cage and was now trying to find a way out. We came back and took some naps then went to our pig dinner. Our blogs are staring to sound the same now, they are all centered around food.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Years!!!

We wanted to be the first to wish you a Happy 2012!!! Wow that feels weird to type. Wait until I have to say it out loud. We are thinking of all our friends tonight knowing you will read this tomorrow.