Uruguay Expatriate

Your Social Life in Coastal Uruguay, Has Just Gotten Better!

Posted on October 4, 2009. Filed under: Coastal Uruguay, People, Travel/Tourism, Uruguay Expatriate |

piriapolis-sunset-497w

One of the things we’ve been hoping for is coming to pass, an invigorated social scene in the Maldonado Department which includes Punta del Este, Piriapolis and the places in between of course.

Piriapolis has its monthly expat lunch, but Punta del Este is the center for most of the meetings. When we first arrived in Uruguay, in 2006, Punta was a ghost town much/most of the year. This has changed dramatically in the last year. Punta is fast becoming a year around happening with a social venue to match as the schedule below clearly shows.

Here is a sample of the upcoming social events. (And yes, if your Spanish is poor or missing, English speakers will be there in mass.)

* Thursday, Oct. 1, 10 pm, Trio Tom jazz show at La Cueva, Dodera 867 corner with Florida (Sorry we’re late on this one but it’s a good sample.)

* Friday, Oct. 16, 7PM at Brava 28, PDE, wine tasting

* Mon. Oct. 21, 11AM, meeting at Kitty’s on the PDE harbor

All I can add is cool and exciting!

source: Punta del Este Expats

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British Society in Uruguay

Posted on September 14, 2009. Filed under: Coastal Uruguay, People, Uruguay Expatriate |

New Brit Soc
Hi Steve,
Many thanks for providing coverage on Coastal Uruguay about the Society. Here’s a newspaper article about the organization and the newsletter. Also, I’ve inclosed a PDF copy of the September newsletter. – Jonathan Lamb, Editor
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From El Observador, 9 June: The British Community in Uruguay is one of the most active and well-organized national groupings.  Its appropriately-named ‘umbrella organisation’ is the British Society (britsoc@gmail.com), which organises parties, excursions, lectures and an annual croquet tournament.

Societies under the BritSoc umbrella include the Montevideo Players, Latin America’s oldest English-language amateur drama group (montevideoplayers@gmail.com); the Scottish St Andrews Society (pellishill at adinet dot com dot uy) which each year runs two Caledonian balls, a picnic and a dinner; and of course those well-known and successful institutions, the British Schools and the British Hospital.  Together with three churches, the Sir Winston Churchill Home for the elderly and the British Cemetery, it can be truly be said that the British in Uruguay benefit from a cradle-to-grave service.

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If you’re interested in receiving a copy of the September newsletter, let me know and I’ll email it to you.

– Steve Bowman

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Non Political, Political Statement

Posted on May 3, 2009. Filed under: Coastal Uruguay, Off The Wall, Uruguay Expatriate |

mountain-of-the-spirits-497w

In the nearly two and half years of writing for this blog, I’ve avoided political commentary.

First, we’re trying to make friends and nothing can wee wee people off faster than political disagreements. It ain’t worth it. Second, we like making money for ourselves and our business associates. The first rule applies. I’d rather have the money than win political arguments.

The time has come for a slight retreat on the issue. While I have no interest in bashing anyone’s political views, or selling my own, a neutral observation is in order. Of all the reasons given by people for moving to Uruguay, from the US in particular, the overwhelming driver was fear of mounting political repression. Rightly or wrongly, this fear has only escalated with the new administration in Washington.

But here’s the thing. Of the probably 100 people I’ve talked to about baling out, every single person has been a conservative. This brings up an obvious conflict for these emigrants. Let’s put it this way, if you like the direction of US politics you’re just gonna love Uruguay. The Land of the Sun is socialist in ways the US can only dream of and envy. The largest bank is the government, so is the power company, the water company, the phone company and so on. The whole commercial setup is pretty much like a trip to any US federal government agency. Take a number, stand in line and wait for indifferent, lousy service. I feel this needs to be pointed out; for some reason people seem unaware.

Am I anti Uruguay? Of course not. I love the people and our second home. But let’s put the obvious cards on the table.

So what are the governmental/political differences? For one, there’s no totalitarian bent to the government here. Uruguay does not have a Patriot Act; it’s not a police state. The US seems to be heading that way. There’s harassment by Home Land Security, domestic spying by the FBI and fear of the Department of Justice who has tagged conservative dissidents as subversive.

What’s the life span of the so-called Uruguayan populist movement? South America seems to run in extreme cycles. Fascist governments become stylish, then the socialist throw them out and so the cycle goes. I believe the whole continent is in the midst of a secular move to the left with the exception of Chile, perhaps. I feel things will intensify and then remain clearly to the far left for years to come.

So what’s the end game in relocating here? In my opinion, physical and political safety are the overriding advantages when compared with the US. Government oppression is less likely here. But if you’re a conservative trying to escape a descent into left wing hell, living here is probably not a great idea. If you can accept the populist government, and the extreme systemic inefficiency, you may find Uruguay fills the bill on many other well-advertised levels.

In closing, I’m sure the Politically Correct will howl about this commentary. I’m sorry that I have the intestinal fortitude to talk about a sensitive issue!

Food for thought,

Steve Bowman

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Uruguay, Still Tucked Away

Posted on July 14, 2008. Filed under: People, Uruguay Expatriate | Tags: |


Pan Azucar, on the outskirts of Piriapolis

The following is an expose by a reader, Larry Vickers. While this article is not strictly about the Coast, it has a lot of useful info and accurate perceptions about the country. The only thing I notice is it appears the article was written awhile ago; some of the price references seem a bit dated.

Thank you, Larry

Steve Bowman

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URUGUAY, Still Tucked Away
By Larry Vickers

Tucked between giants, hot Brazil towards the Equator and cool Argentina on the south, Uruguay delights tourists as the Atlantic summer resort center of the cone of South America. Astonishing beaches of golden sand shine down the coast east of Montevideo, the dense capital city, as the surf turns from muddy brown to deep ocean blue. Traveling east, everything becomes spectacular– fishing, surfing, eucalyptus groves and pastures lapping against rocky mountain outcrops. Small coastal towns like La Barra bring to mind Southern California in the 1960s. Punta del Este in the 21st century is a glamour center with dozens of mighty condo towers and sophistication of the Mediterranean at bargain basement prices for Euros. Not many Americans have found this. It remains today, Uruguay, out of the way, where the USA’s Ambassador Frank E. Baxter is said not to speak fluent Spanish and has a staff of three interpreters on call.

Ambassador Baxter, actually, is not a career diplomat. He is a prominent Los Angeles Republican with a background in international banking. An indication of the rewards system in US ambassadorships may also read as the degree of diplomatic importance placed by the State Department on this posting, Baxter’s only.

Flights out of Asheville can take from 16 to 24 hours, depending on connections, with coach fares from $1,600 to $1,900 on a good itinerary. To save a couple hundred you can fly out of Charlotte or Atlanta. The long leg is usually an overnight from Miami, sailing over the spine of the Andes, sometimes with intermediate stops but often direct to Montevideo. Beware “deep tissue thrombosis,” and move around on the plane. Carrasco airport is clean and friendly, where three construction cranes are busily erecting a new passenger terminal today. Check-in at immigration is a 10-minute line-up, and the cambio, (money exchange booths found throughout the country) is about 10% more expensive than you’ll pay for Uruguayan pesos in your destination city.

Piriapolis, a small city of 6,000 permanent residents which bloats to many times that in summer, is a 70-minute bus ride east from the national airport, at a cost under $4. It pre-dates Punta del Este as a summer resort and is also a yachting port, offering the only 70-ton travel lift capable of handling large ocean sailboats in a thousand miles. Here live fewer than a dozen US families, resulting in a tight-knit Anglo community where the opinion is unanimous: “Don’t tell anybody about this place. We’ve found it and the last thing we want is a deluge of Americans because it’s just too sweet here and now.”

Sounds like the Florida Keys of a generation past. But the New York Times has published a couple of articles on Uruguay in the past year and development is happening– Europeans and likewise Americans are on the scent. Obviously miles of scarcely touched golden beaches where whales play offshore in the very early spring are too desirable to be ignored. Fishermen with long surf casting rods work the rocky points and beaches, weather permitting, year round. The catch is corvalo and brotola most often, sometimes Lisa and pescadilla.

In the winter, which is July and August, the coast stares across open ocean to the South Pole, the wind is hard, the rains are cold. Two or three mornings in the year there could be frost on the car. Winter storms are getting worse, according to a local mother of two small children. “We never had hurricanes before, and now in four years, we have had two.” “I’m going back to LA,” said my friend Maria Suaze after a winter at her mother’s home in LaBarra. “I am so tired of being cold.”

In summer, January and February, the beaches are layer-caked with Argentinians and the sun is so intenso that even these hoards of broasted South Americans seriously seek mid-day shade. Then the week after Easter when summer vacation ends, the tourists evaporate, and thousands of masonry stuccoed vacation casas cling a few meters above the tide line like uninsulated barnacle shells. Tenacious permanent residents sweat and shiver seasonally. Central heat is rare but every house has ceiling paddle fans and a living room fireplace with a eucalyptus log fire, which creates on still winter mornings a brown smoke haze hanging low offshore. Just look through the palms and past the aloe and hibiscus hedges, you’ll see it on the horizon.

“This isn’t so bad,” says Dorothy Mondelo, a new retiree from South Florida and resident of Piriapolis now. “In winter the cold snaps are separated by weeks of bright sunny days. If you have a good house with a heat source as we do, it’s really very beautiful.” “We don’t sweat it,” says Ralph Petley, a Texan. “Just suck it up and pay the electric. A few nights in summer and a few days in winter we use our mini-split units. Life here is good. You could not get any better.”

As the Uruguayan novelist Juan Carlos Onetti wrote in A Brief Life, “At my age life begins to be a twisted smile.”

Looking for a retirement hide-away, I had made a couple of trips when this came to my brother’s attention.
“Where-a-guay,” he interrogated, “and why-a-guay?”

It had taken some research. This is a country with modern infrastructure, excellent roads, hydro-electric power exceeding demand, high literacy, free public education through graduate school, medical coverage for everyone, fine climate at 35-d S where frosts are rare, a true democracy where the people are enthusiastic about their government. (Most U.S. meddling is behind the scenes, like the privatization of water and sewer services in 2005, which was accomplished after a public vote against.) There is plenty of farm produce year round and meat consumption is higher per capita even than Argentina–which holds the reputation as a country of meat-heads–but there are no oil resources to draw the military attention of the Empire. Spanish is the language but locals are genial and helpful. The racial heritage is essentially Mediterranean—Italian and Spanish predominate. It is proudly secular but essentially Christian with a small Jewish element. Drinking water is safe from the tap, there are several good beers and passable but not noteworthy local wine. Hot dog stands on the city streets are large enough for six or eight eaters to stand under the awning and fill up for $3 or so. Hamburgers, steaks, and pizza joints are commonplace. You get the impression that being so far away, it is very close to home.

Montevideo, the one big city, has the noise and bustle of 1.8 million people (about 56% of the total population of Uruguay). Some would say, even, that it’s exotic. But exotic lies three hours by fast boat across the muddy River Plata, in Buenos Aires with its 13 million and self-proclaimed image as the Paris of South America, its streets full of pushy Argentines and political riots and robberies and kidnappings by organized criminals. By contrast Montevideo feels less dangerous, and even though I was mugged there on a bright afternoon standing on a street corner, he failed to snatch my camera and the bar tender rushed out to help us. It could happen anywhere. My daughter had smashed the mugger with a bag of grapes she happened to be holding and the tavern keeper gave us each an espresso on the house and kept apologizing. That hospitality was for a stupid foreigner staring around like a sitting duck, with a camera hanging off his neck, airline tickets sticking out of his jeans pocket, unable even to speak good Spanish.

City buses are reliable with conductors to collect and change money and hard molded plastic seats. The fare is 13.5 pesos or about 60 cents US. At various spots around the city small black cabs line up like trained pigs, each awaiting its turn to feed. They are metered, efficient, and a thrill to ride through city traffic, inexpensive if three people share. Inter-city buses run from a major terminal hub at Tres Cruces in Montevideo to all parts. There are many bus companies. The terminal is a large shopping mall with more traffic by far than the airport. Buses run on-time. They are clean. On the longer distance routes you could find first-run Hollywood movies and moistened face towels to freshen up before reaching destination.

After a few visits it becomes clear that exotic is often how we label what we see incompletely. Both Montevideo and Uruguay are becoming less strange with each visit. On the first trip we supposed an environmentally thrifty people were indicated by the thin tissues people used to wipe their lips at restaurants, suggesting economical use of resources. Later we saw huge piles of plastic and waste paper. Trash pickers on horse-drawn carts scavenge the green boxes throughout the city, providing a recycling of necessity. We decided the country’s population was trim because so many young people on the streets were thin, but on later visits probably 15% of the city’s population came into view as chubby– still less so than the waddling mall rhinos at home.

On the early visits it was remarkable how the shapely South American senoritas strode purposefully in spike heels and tight tailored slacks to delightfully reveal their assets. Later it became clear the art of marching on the uneven city sidewalks in spike heels is indeed a powerful skill, but viewed objectively, fewer girls wore the really tight pants. They drew ogles and whistles from their peers, but the other half look equally lovely in loose fitting jeans.

Styles on the street seem more ordinary than in Asheville where fashion statements are loudly displayed. By ordinary I mean the tailored look is more European and jeans with black or leather jackets are more common. It’s still essentially a macho sexist street, but the style is more conservative, with fewer bellybutton displays than Asheville, fewer piercings, tats, wild make-up, spiked henna and purple hair, Conde-Nast layers of stockings, socks, shorts, chemises with brogans or designer running shoes. More heels, more leather, less Goth, fewer chains. If exotic lies in strange personal appearance, then Asheville’s streets out-do Montevideo.

But there, so much kissing! Air-kissing. People kiss both genders hello, goodbye, you’re my friend, that was a cool move. Lovers do the Latin romantic long smooch and rolling heads passion-kiss in the park. Old folks air-kiss after a short visit. Sometimes foreigners mistakenly try to kiss when they shouldn’t. There is still the issue of personal space. It’s a cultural subtlety.

Even the dogs seem to kiss, and there are mostly friendly dogs everywhere. Uruguayans eat more meat per capita than even Argentineans, so there are plenty of scraps and bones. Most street dogs look well-fed and healthy and generally pretty pleased, like the Disney character, Tramp. They’re on the beaches, on the Rambla, in the parks and on the sidewalks. In the words of the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “The dog walks freely in the street…” And people should beware where set their feet.

Meat-eating is a national passion. Asado or meat roasted on hot wood coals is served in every home, and even high-rise apartments come equipped with parillas, special fireplaces for the asado. The feast is prepared by a host, who tends the fire and roasts all sorts of carne from organ sweetbreads to loins, chicken, pork and sometimes lamb, all so good! Washed down with the local red wine—though locals may prefer soft drinks—it is amazing how much you consume at a feast.

But consumption isn’t the cultural badge we often billboard here. Hospitality and having a generous host, be that a chef or a yerba mate’ master, is the hospitable key to a social event. Uruguayan conversation is more considerate and artful than ours, in part because of the Spanish tradition. At an asado or at a traditional mate’ gathering, the host prepares the food or drink and distributes it. If it’s yerba mate’, the gourd is passed and all share the metal bombilla (sipping straw) in turn, while the master replenishes hot water over the green herb between each guest’s turn. Mate’ is packed carefully into the gourd or cup and given just a little cold water to hold the dry tea in place. Then a little hot water is poured into the open side of the pack and the trick is to sip your bitter brew without dislodging the shaped herb inside the cup.
As the gourd progresses around the gathering conversation naturally flows. The tea is a stimulant and also mildly addictive, but full of healthy anti-oxidants and caffeine.

“Mate’ has kept our family together when we had no money,” reported Jonathan Chavez, a Montevidean. “We always had that time in the day when we would gather, have our mate’ and good conversation.” The drink is more commonplace than coffee and has been a favorite since the gaucho tended open plains cattle, but it is not offered in restaurants because of the method of preparation. Individuals on the street carry a gourd and in the crook of their elbow a thermos of hot water which they use to infuse the herb all day, changing out fresh tea leaves for old. The espresso machines in cafes dispense hot water for a few cents, and the chatting drinkers stroll or park themselves on benches to sip their brew.

Strolling and chatting are developed pastimes, whether or not yerba mate’ is involved. Each city along the coast has a Rambla or paved walkway along the seaside which is popular with all ages, some power-walking and some just chatting as they take the air. On the beach at Piriapolis every nice afternoon there is a bowling game. A short way past the enclosed harbor the fleet of fishermen sell their day’s catch and you can buy fresh fried fish cubes with large slices of lemon for about $2, the same cost as a cup of coffee or a beer at a restaurant in town.

There are many houses among the summer resort towns on the coast and what appears to be a buyers’ market. Of course, building codes are different and summer houses have no insulation and walls are often just one brick thick. You can find well built places, but buyer beware, when casas con vista al mar are offered from $50K and up, many of them have problemos. Because of the educational system the country has a surplus of architects and a surfeit of modernist design. This doesn’t mean, however, that all construction is carefully supervised or that all materials are of standard quality. To see the market at a glance, go to http://www.sasua.com/nuevo.asp?p=inmobiliarias.

Can you find a liveable house for $50,000? Yes you can. Will you need to adjust your expectations of what comfortable living means? Yes you will. “Can you retire and live on $1,000 a month?” I asked a local real estate saleswoman. She replied, “If you own your house, and have a car, then yes you can.” But whether you’ll go stir crazy in the winter when the houses around are shuttered and empty, the wind is blowing cold, and the small fuego on your hearth draws you close to keep from shivering, that is another question. It’s one you should investigate by renting for a year before you buy or build.

One reason fewer Americans retire out of country is the silver cord of Medicare for those of us at the portal of the golden years. U.S. Medicare is not available for overseas residents, but interestingly, medical insurance coverage for the same or lower cost is. In Uruguay there is universal health care, but the most public plan is not as good as one of several that residents can join for a monthly fee. In the U.S., next year Medicare Parts A and B together will cost the covered individual around $95 per month, an amount that changes annually, and many people buy an additional supplement to protect them in situations excluded from Medicare. In Uruguay, for around $74 per month, residents can buy first class coverage that includes a full range of medicines, hospitalization, doctor visits, and emergencies. It also includes Blue Cross protection when traveling out of Uruguay.

Jean Petley, Uruguayan resident now but formerly of Texas, took an accidental fall from a garden fence last year. “My service was absolutely great,” she recalls. “The ambulance, emergency room, doctors, medications, and follow-up. All just great. There is no extra charge, whatever your medical needs. There is no co-pay.”

While the country is justly proud of its universal health care, the educational system trains a surplus of doctors. One told me on a plane, “I would love to go home again but I can not, not until I retire.” During the repression in the 1970s he was in medical school and he kept his head down and simply studied. Then after graduating, his only job offer was in a clinic where the salary was approximately double the cost of transportation to work. Now, with a practice and a teaching position in Alabama, the pay scale has made the thought of returning home impossible. This was echoed by another Uruguayan-trained doctor who loves to sail in home waters, but only on vacation.

In Piriapolis I noticed several magnificent gardens at the homes of people I met and I was told the gardener has employees, but he is a trained cardiologist who finds his business more lucrative than his profession. So he no longer practices cardiology.

“The country is leftist,” says Ralph Petley, “but it’s too leftist. When we hire workers for four hundred pesos a day, we have to pay a government tax for each one that is more than the salary we pay the worker! In my opinion, even though that is their retirement, medical coverage, and other programs, that is too far left.”

On the other hand, a caravan of 14 new luxury buses pulls along the Rambla in Piriapolis, honking enthusiastically. Down the street and next to a gigantic luxury hotel there is an older hotel building, now an institute for primary education. The buses circle the institute, and a few minutes later groups of elementary age kids are hopping and skipping along the walkway beside the beach, sober teachers walking fore and aft and abeam.

“This is great,” a bilingual native speaker tells me, “so often, the kids who come here have never seen the sea. They ask, whose lake is this?”

Different labor unions own huge resorts throughout the country. One Parque de Vacaciones sits beside the scenic highway inland through the small mountains from the coast. A mammoth hotel with dining halls, grounds with pools, stables with bridal paths, and smaller family cottages are set on landscaped acres. This is the resort that belongs to the electrical and telecommunications workers. There are many others throughout the country. “This is great,” my friend on the Rambla explains, “because the people have a fine place for vacations, and they also get bargains there.”

While Montevideo has been called the most liveable city in South America, there are still barrios where strangers should not walk, especially after dusk. The picturesque Ciudad Viejo has a reputation for danger. Its blocks of once elegant colonial buildings offer opportunity now for bold investors with remodeling in mind, but along the main boulevard during the afternoon, clutches of ragamuffin children beg, do tricks, try to relieve passers-by of spare change. Watch closely. You will see their handlers sitting across the way, keeping a watchful eye and moving the herd when a sign appears of the coming Tourist Police. During the day it’s safe to walk the old city, but during the night as they say, you’d best not go.

At the edges of Ciudad Viejo near the national Teatro Solis, a concert hall and opera house, restaurants and bistros spill out onto the streets at night. On a recent All Saints Day, November 1, the crowd was enthusiastic at Shannon’s Irish Pub where a group called Los Casal, fusion celta, used rock guitars, drums, saxophone, Irish pipes and more to create a major celebration.

A friend of the family Casal sat with his wife and two young boys, sipping cola drinks. A conversation. Why Uruguay? Good country, non-strategic. But he reminded me, “Water is the next contested resource, and Paraguay, just up the river from us, is water-rich. The Bush family has been buying large holdings there.”
“Uruguay,” he said, “would be an easy entry point. Much less difficult than to invade Argentina or Brazil.”
As things stand, the Uruguayans appreciate their country with its benefits and holidays. The following day, Dia de los Muertos, is a national holiday that fell on Friday for a long weekend. Because I wanted a book, I went to the area of walled embassy mansions and a few blocks on to the Arquitectura Faculidad, the college of architecture. Finding no bookstores open because of the holiday, after stopping for coffee I walked through the nearby park to the Museo de los Artes Plasticos, where my son Joe and I had viewed spectacular paintings once before. At three, when the museum might have re-opened, I rattled the metal outer door with a few yanks. A window opened nearby and someone speaking gruffly in Spanish told me to come back on Monday, the museum was closed for the weekend.

Again, Onetti comes to mind. “What’s wrong with life isn’t that it promises things is never gives us, but that it always gives them and then stops giving them.”

Though the park and at the beach, kids kicked soccer balls, the ice cream vendor pushed his bicycle wheeled cart among sun bathers, and a dog sat with its master, full partners, watching as a black dog trotted past at the water’s edge. There was no sense of remoteness, just of the increasing broil of the sun. I wandered back uphill past the amusement park to a restaurant with a shaded patio and wondered, Why not Uruguay?
Family. Wives with aging mothers, daughters with new sons, children in school and grandchildren to watch grow. This is the answer my friends point to. I sit in the terrace café awaiting my salad and read more of Onetti: “I played at stirring the top of the milk with a spoon, slowly modifying its whiteness, letting drops of coffee fall into the pitcher, happy and alone, dissipating my shame, waiting for the happiness that needs solitude to grow.”

“Onetti was a fool, a madman and an alcoholic!” declared Inez, the 78 year old friend of Maria Suaze and gadfly of Punta del Este. “But Eduardo Galeano, now there was and remains a pure genius.”
Galeano is still active and has undertaken many journalistic and literary crusades. Lately he spoke out against the privatization of Uruguay’s water and sewer systems, reflecting the popular will, if to no avail. In one of his many great books, Memory of Fire, Part III, Century of the Wind, he wrote: “He dosen’t expect to find any messages in any bottles in any sea. But the despairing Juan Carlos Onetti refuses to be alone. He would be alone, of course, if it weren’t for the inhabitants of the town of Santa Maria, sad like himself, invented by him to keep him company.

“Onetti has lived in Madrid since he came out of prison. The military rulers of Uruguay had jailed him because a story to which he had given a prize in a competition he was judging was not to their liking.
“Hands clasped behind his neck, the exile contemplates the damp stains on the ceiling of his room in Santa Maria or Madrid or Montevideo or who knows where. from time to time he picks himself up and writes shouts that only seem like whispers.”

From my restaurant perch, just a few miles up the Rambla, the Uruguayan Naval Academy sits serenely on the slope facing down to the shore of Rio de la Plata. In the evenings, starched cadets beautifully strike their country’s colors as sunbeams splash across the parade grounds making dark shadows on the buildings where in another lifetime, for these cadets, even another world, torturers worked in the 1970s, before democracy came.

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What’s That Smell? Yuk! High Cost of Living!

Posted on June 17, 2008. Filed under: Cost of Living, Uruguay Expatriate | Tags: |


That’s me, waddling up Sierra de las Animas.

We’ve haven’t done anything about the cost of living in awhile; so here you have it. If it walks like a duck, and it looks like a duck, you can be fairly sure that’s what it is.

The Uruguayan government claims the official rate of inflation is 8.5%. Yeah, sure. Santa Claus gave them that number for Christmas. Based on my by gosh and by golly estimate, in January 2008 prices (peso baseline) were, on average, at least 15% above December 2007. Food prices up 20%, and other items like medications were up 35%. Building materials skyrocketed 30% from between Spring of 2007 and now. (By the way, inflation is an issue on a planetary level right now; it’s not just Uruguay.) However, this region is legendary for its insane inflation levels, 300%….. the sky has been the limit.

So what does this mean if you’re a prospective full time expat? It’s no longer inexpensive here. If you planned for the high life on the cheap, forget it. Like all things this will pass, but if you concocted a budget on stale data from a year or more ago, recalculate! I feel that prices, on average, are at mid market US levels.

If you’re well-off, or relatively so, none of this matters much. The life style and quality of life is hard to beat…..that has not changed!

For those of us on a budget, consider this. Prices will be high for a year or two longer, then there will be yet another economic crisis that will bring everything back down to earth. At least that’s the historical pattern.

For example, the inflation beast is really revived up in our neighbor, Argentina. When it goes to extremes, like what is happening in Argentina right now (23% so they say, ah huh), it always turns out ugly. The economic crisis of 2001 – 2002 in Uruguay and Argentina is one way the drama could unfold. For those of you that don’t know, the bottom fell out here. How the story will actually play out in a hyper inflation scenario is impossible to know, but as I said, the ending is never pretty.

After the dust settles, the end result will be reasonable, if not outright cheap prices. There is an old cliche about those who don’t remember history. And so it goes, time-and-time again.

Stay Tuned!

Steve Bowman

PS: In the long-run, prices here will average out as very reasonable. In the short term, there are burst that can be expensive!

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