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.