Sunday, December 24, 2006

La Rambla

From La Rambla
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One of the perks of living in Montevideo, Uruguay, definitely is the walk by the coast, and the beaches on it, which is known here as La Rambla de Montevideo(don't ask me why).

La Rambla goes from Ciudad Vieja to Carrasco in Montevideo, the most popular part of it is the Pocitos's neigborhood one, La Rambla de Pocitos.

It's the favorite place for montevideans to chill out, have a beer, or mate with bizcochos along with friends, or family, specially in spring and summer time. It's also a great place for doing some sports, like: jogging, biking, fishing, beach volley, beach football, or just walk.

Some say is what Buenos Aires lacks, and porteños envy the most of montevideans, but I'm not sure about that. I'll just leave you with a photo album, that I hope explains better what the Rambla is all about...

By the way, merry xmas!

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

ENCE relocates pulp mill

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Remember my previous article about ENCE suspending the construction of their pulp mill, and leaving Uruguay? well, today Argentinean minister, Fernandez, along with and the new president of ENCE, Arregui, announced the relocation of the pulp mill to be built in Uruguay by the spanish corporation. The construction will be carried out in a location closer to the Rio de la Plata river, in Colonia

It seems the argentinean gov is taking this as a very good sign, and as an advance in the pulp mill conflict between the two countries. They recognized that ENCE´s pulp mill won´t pollute.

One journalist asked if Botnia´s pulp mill would pollute, and even though the official answer was that they don´t know, ENCE´s president recognized that in his opinion Botnia´s pulp mill won´t pollute either, due to the technology they are using which is basically the same.

Fernandez publicly thanked ENCE´s attitude of understanding in the conflict, and express his regret for the lack of a similar attitude in Botnia. Also both mentioned the mediation of the king of spain as very important, and positive, which was something that had been agreed to in the iberoamerica summit.

It is interesting to see how Argentina's government speech has been shifting in time. They used to talk about contamination, and now they speak in terms of visual contamination (whatever that may be), and the doubt of contamination.

Meanwhile people in Gualeguaychu keep blocking the bridge from time to time, but there are in my opinion clear signs that the solution to this conflict is closer, like that fact that the ex president of the gualeguaychu assembly no longer takes part in the demonstrations. After he travelled to Finland and saw pulp mills with similar technology, returning convinced that these don't pollute.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006


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It was a stormy night yesterday, heavy rain, thunders and lightning out the window. I was doing some homework when all of a sudden lights went out, lamps, tv, phone, everything but my laptop running on batteries.

Dim, pale, whiteish light iluminating my living room, plus the flashing of the occasional lightning. Walking with my laptop as a torch I reached candles and lighted them with a BIC lighter I found in the kitchen.

The first thing I wanted to check out was if was the only unhappy left in the darkness, so I looked out of my sixth floor window to check on the rest of the appartments. To my surprise not only the building lights were out, but also the whole neighborhood, even street, and traffic lights. Some one had pulled the plug on the whole city.

I couldn't help to think that it was the perfect time for thugs to break havoc, and that my girlfriend was about to come back. With the help of cell phones communication was established and worries dismissed.

The blackout lasted around half an hour, no major incidents where reported. Later local news informed on tv about a huge blackout that affected the whole south side of the country. Apparently the source was one or more lightnings that fell on the lines.

This is not usual in Uruguay. Not at all.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

The iberoamerica summit

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This weekend is taking place in Uruguay the XVI edition of the iberoamerica summit. Presidents and delegations from Latin American countries, plus Spain, Portugal and Andorra gather every year to discuss matters of common interest. This year was Uruguay's turn to host, the last one was in Spain and the next one will be in Chile. This years subject was emigration. Kofi Annan was also present.

To give you an idea of the impact this has had here, know that the government passed a law to create an extraordinary holiday, with the purpose of securing the downtown area where the presidents would be hosted, aka the exclusion zone, the neigborhood of ciudad vieja. In a first version announced the holiday would be for everyone in Montevideo, and then, when confirmed, it was limited only to those working in the "zone".

It was an important security procedure, for Uruguayan measures, land, sea, and air, where secured, and everyone living or working in the exclusion zone was registered by government personnel, more than 5000 persons. We had to have a radar borrowed from spain, because ours was broken (pathetic). They say the cost of the whole thing was about two million dollars.

Uruguay government tried to use this summit to achieve some advance in the negotiations on the pulp mill issue with Argentina, while Mexico was looking for backup against the wall under construction. Lula didn’t come, which, taking into account that he’s the president of the biggest country in South America, takes part of the fun out of the party.

In my opinion the summit meant for Uruguayans among other things a long weekend, some long waited restoration work done on some public buildings, and having a part of the city banned, which is totally unusual for us. You could tell something funny was going on for the number of tourists walking 18 de Julio the last couple of days, in particular Brazilians, plus some demonstrations going on on 18 against the "capitalist" summit, plus the fact that my usual empanadas delivery (san telmo) seems to be in the exclusion zone, and I’m blogging on an empty stomach.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Alive! a Uruguayan story

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A day like today, friday 13th, thirty four years ago, a plane departed from Montevideo, carrying a team of young uruguayan rugby players and relatives, former students of the Stella Maris high school to play in Chile, only that it never made it to their destination, Santiago.

The plane crashed in the Andes mountains, and an odyssey of seventy two days started. The survivors of the plane crash had to endure extremely cold temperatures, starvation, and more deads. In their desperation they resorted to eating human flesh of the dead in order to survive.

The true story inspired several books, and a movie, called Alive, starred by Ethan Hawke. I remember getting angry with the movie cause I felt it lacked references to Uruguay, and was not very accurate on some stuff, like calling mate "tea" in the first scenes where the pilots are drinking mate.

The different portrayals of the story, in particular the books, are filled with details, of the everyday life in those conditions, how they fed on chocolate and whatever food resources they had at first, the avalanche they went through in the middle of the night that killed some of them, and how they were able to receive radio transmissions and listened when the rescue parties gave up the search for them.

Finally when they realized that they could count on no one other than God and themselves they organized a trip that would go looking for help. The three person party that would search for help was formed by the fittest of them. Recently National Geographic released an article where a team recreated the trip Roberto Canessa, Nando Parrado, and Antonio Vizintín did in their quest for help, and they say it's a tough trip to do, even for trained people with the proper equipment.

When they were rescued the story was huge with the press, and they went through tough times explaining the flesh eating. My mother told me once that the argentinean press was really hard on them, and labeled them cannibals.

Living in Uruguay meant listening about this story along the years, and sometimes even crossing the survivors in the streets of Montevideo. When I was a teenager there were a couple of black humor jokes going around about Parrado in relation to the flesh eating issue.

Today Parrado is a national TV personality that can be watched every Sunday in a eternal program called Vertigo (about cars & rally racing), and goes around the world giving motivational conferences based on his experience. He's written the last book released on the subject, called: "Miracle in the Andes, which word is it's good, since it's first hand.

I guess is one of those examples when reality beats fiction, It's an incredible story about human survival against all odds, and adaptation to extreme conditions. One that makes one proud of being Uruguayan.

(picture taken from the official site of the andes tragedy)

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Happy Birthday From Uruguay

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One year ago I decided I should start a blog about my country, Uruguay, in an intent to combat the Uru..what? responses uruguayans get all over the world when they share their origin.

I had recently arrived after months of living abroad and travelling in "first world" countries, and I had the strange feeling that for the first time I was watching my country with the eyes of a tourist. Everything long known seemed new. Characters, customs, and things that for me were global I realized that they are not, and viceversa aspects I had thought to be typical are global in nature. I guess the idea, was to share this re discovering of my own country.

After some months tali joined the team, as another traveller returning to the country, with a similar desire to tell the world a bit about things around here.

The blog had an unexpected response from people all over the world, we've been contacted from places as far as India, Finland, Switzerland, USA, and Japan, because of this blog, and even met some of them personally.

Thank you for all of your comments and emails, they fueled our motivation to carry on with this idea, and excuse us if we are not as frequent as you'd like us to be :)

By the way, if you have any request, about a subject you'd like to read more about Uruguay, please add a comment with your request.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

ENCE with one foot out of Uruguay

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Spanish corporation ENCE has announced that the construction of their pulp mill won't continue, and fired 40 employees from the Montevideo's office, which is about 60% of their staff there, and around forty episodes of The Apprentice, right?

Yesterday while I was watching the news I tried not to take it personally but it's not easy, the news was actually that the company was leaving the country. I can't help to think in all those who relocated their families, leaving former jobs to go to Fray Bentos to work. Word is that this is the first step in ENCE's withdrawal plan.

ENCE authorities declared that the pressure the Argentinan goverment was applying on international banking organisms not to approve loans for the construction of pulp mills in Uruguay played an importan role in the decision, as well as the conflict between Uruguay and Argentina on the whole subject.

Today the news were a bit brighter, ENCE declared that is NOT leaving Uruguay, just relocating the pulp mill, but who knows, some weeks ago they said they were not going to fire anyone.

It kinda feels like Argentina's bullying is prevailing. It's unfair, and depressing.

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Friday, August 25, 2006

La Noche de la Nostalgia

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Nostalgia party Uruguay Every 25th of August Uruguay celebrates the Declaration of Independance. It's one the five non workable holidays in the year, meaning the night before it's a good time for partying, just like a friday, or saturday.

Something like twenty years ago, sponsored by a local am radio, someone invented "La Noche de la Nostalgia" (the nostalgia night), to name a party where only "old hits" would be played. This party's idea spread along the years, like a virus, and now the night of the 24th it's a national phenomenon, that's even been passed as a law (LEY N° 17.825 ????).

Custome party UruguayThis particular night moves as many people as the night of the 25th, or 31st of december. Some even say that it beats those nights, becoming THE night of the year when most people go out partying in Uruguay. It appeals to all ages, I know some old couples that only go out dancing that night in the year. There is a great variety of things to do, parties of all types and sizes, public, and private. Some people organize thematic custom parties. It's just different.

The whole thing is based in "the good all days" concept. The night of the 24th kinda celebrates the idea that former days of our lives will always be better than present ones, which sounds pretty much like a tango, if you think about it (todo tiempo pasado fue mejor). Here in Uruguay, nostalgia is culture.

It's speaks a lot about Uruguay's idiosyncracy. It's the yearly instance to remind us that we were once the champions of the world, we were called the switzerland of south america, and so on and so forth.

When it started old hits were music of the sixties and seventies, and now oldies mean eighties and ninties hits. If you go out you may listen to stuff like: Barry White, Barry Manilow, Air Supply, Billy Joel, Aha, Sui Generis, Los Shakers, Billy Idol, Queen, Beatles, Phil Collins, Michael Jackson, The Police, The Ramones, etc. There are also anti nostalgia movements, which organize rave parties to celebrate all the contrary, for those that cannot bear to live in a country that tends to look backwards, or that just want something different from that night.

The stay in the mood, I leave you now with an oldie...


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Monday, August 14, 2006

To free trade with USA, or not to free trade, that's the question

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For some time now the rumours about Uruguay consolidating a free trade agreement (aka FTA, or TLC in spanish) with the United States of America have been going on (and on, and on).

The former government started negotiations to establish this agreement with the number one world power, and the foreign affairs office of the current government continued to work in the same direction.

After years of negotiations it now seems that the the situation, and the mood in the states are favorable to this kind of agreement, but now that everything is given to lock the deal, looks like our government is not like really really sure it'd be the best, or at least not everyone.

There have been a number of contradictory declarations coming from members of the government. Contradictory to the point of being funny. You would hear about a ministry saying that a FTA is not within the president's agenda, right after attending a meeting with the president and the rest of the ministries, and more or less at the same time read the president talking about the need to strenghten our relationship with the states. Just so that you know, the president Tabare Vazquez, is in favor, as is the ministry of economy, Daniel Astori, but others like Gargano, the ministry of foreign affairs, and the ministry of social development are not.

The president referred to this opportunity in terms of: "sometimes the train only passes once".

To understand the core of the contradiction, you should know that our current administration (which I voted), is formed by a leftist coalition, that ranges in the political spectrum from center to the extreme left, including ex guerrilla members (some say trained in cuba). Not so long ago, when they were opposition, they wouldn't tolerate, and critisized, any hint of negotiation with the states, but now the tide has changed, they are government and opinions are divided. How do this guys match old enemies, and ideals, with current economic needs?

Some related, interesting facts:
  • Every country that has signed a free trade agreement with the U.S. has seen profit out of it (mexico, chile)
  • The U.S. is Uruguay's biggest buyer
  • Today Uruguay pays tons to the U.S. only in taxes, for every product exported there.
  • Out of ten uruguayans, six are in favor, three are against, one just doesn't care.
  • The other two uruguayan important political parties are in favor of the FTA
  • The Mercosur as it is right now, is incompatible with this sort of agreement, made out of the block
  • There's nothing confirmed yet between Uruguay and the U.S.
Makes me wonder to what extent do old ideals prevent the current administration from making smart moves?

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Uruguayan Invasion

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In the mid sixties, while the Beatles leaded the "British Invasion" in north america, something similar was taking place around here, which someone baptized the "Uruguayan Invasion".

A wave of local bands inspired by british groups started singing some of their hit songs, and even composing some of their own, also in english, which is kinda funny if you realize we are a spanish speaking country, not to mention that only the thought of Uruguay invading anyone/anything, is just hilarious.

The story goes that some of this groups became very popular in Argentina, seems they were the coolest thing around, every argentinean tv show would invite them, at least so says my father :) The leaders of this movements where "Los Shakers", with their "Break it all" hit, which has become a must play song in every uruguayan wedding every since then ;) They took after The Beatles, while another group, called Los Mockers, took after The Rolling Stones.

The phenomenon died in the early seventies, when the dictatorship arrived and singing in english would be seen as officialist, and unpopular.

Some weeks ago I came across this article, talking about this, and I couldn't believe it, to be reading someone from so far about something I've grown up hearing about. My father is a great fan of music groups from those days, like: El sexteto electrónico, Totem, Los Shakers,Los Mockers. If you speak to young uruguayans today, no one knows this groups, except maybe for Los Shakers.

Here is the Break it all video, with some bonus appearences of a very young El negro Rada, one of the most popular uruguayan jet set figures, and even players of Peñarol.

I still can't believe this stuff is on the web. Viva Internet!


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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Uruguay vs Argentina, first round, 14-1

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The International Court of Justice in The Hague gave it's first order in favor of Uruguay, to the argentinean request of provisional measures. I quote:

"The Court finds that the circumstances, as they now present themselves to it, are not such as to require the exercise of its power to indicate provisional measures"

Argentina had requested the suspension of the pulp mills constructions as a provisional measure, but in order for it to be granted they had to probe irreversible damage, which seems they couldn't.

This is actually very good news for Uruguay, which really didn't make much noise among people yet, maybe because it was somehow expected. It's worth noting that it's unusual (or so they say) such unanimity in the veredict, 14-1. The only vote against was from an argentinean in the court.

Uruguay will continue with the constructions on it's own risk, knowing that if Argentina wins the case some years from now, they'll be useless (will they? but that's another story).

As a consequence argentina's president, kirchner, is now giving speeches about how their strategy now will be to exercise pressure on the european authorities to cut funding for the corporations behind the pulp mills. What, the heck, does this mean? Should we win the case, will Argentina's stop it? We are on court on their initiative, the least to be expected it for them to bow the veredict, but to he honest I'm not sure they will.

Meanwhile in Gualeguaychú they decided to blockade route 14 in Argentina, with a march of about 3.500 vehicles, demonstrating against the veredict and the pulp mills. The Gualeguaychú movement seen in perspective seems like a snowboll rolling down a hill, ending in an avalanche, to think it all started with their "governor", Busti's declarations.

Myself like almost anyone else around (even in buenos aires) is pretty fed up with the whole subject, I guess there's not much to do but hope it all turns out right.

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Winter has arrived

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Winter has arrived to Uruguay, too. Scarfs , woollen gloves, and hats are becoming more and more frequent in everybody's outfit, once again. In cold mornings you even get to see your condensed breath. Tough times for homeless people.

It's been a month of rains, cold, and even some mist. Rains were highly expected, and when they arrived, it poured. Unfortunately, it wasn't in the areas that really needed rain, so the energy saving policies are still ongoing (aka elevator queue syndrom).

The president's been making some ill comments about the uruguayan press, and how it is politically biased, against the government. The uncomfortable thing was, that he mentioned the exact list of newspapers, and tv channels that did not support the government. It was sort of the unhappy, unnecessary kind of comment, you wouldn't expect from the president, in a country with press freedom. Anyway, uruguayans, after our former president (Jorge Batlle), are kind of numb to stupid presidential declarations, noone could ever top him (he went public about how argentineans are all thieves and corrupt, and then had to go to argentina to beg for forgiveness.... historically sad).

We were visited by the brazilian ministry of foreign affairs to strengthen the mercosur bond, and to be offered a "new deal", since the mercour's presidency will be going to brazil in the coming period.

Nacional is the unnoticed victorious champion of the decaying national opening tournament (el apertura).

Today there was this big farmer's demonstration, against the upcoming economic tax reform. The government is in the final approval stages of a major tax reform, and there's unconformity in a lot of sectors that won't be at all benefited in the new taxing scheme, especially those that have right now some kind of excemptions, like farms ;)
The gov is implementing the tax to the rent of the physical person, something that does not exist in Uruguay, so far, and which seems very tricky to be implemented in a country with banking secrecy. Tomorrow there'll be what is known as a general partial strike for this reason, meaning all unions will stop working for some hours of the day. If it were all day, it'd be called a general strike, this ones are not very frequent (can't remember the last one).

Meanwhile, everybody talks, eats, reads, and breaths the world cup, the world cup match, players, and everythings. In every company small betting pots are made(called pencas no idea why :). Here, in Uruguay, everybody speculates about the world cup results, everybody has a formed opinion, everybody has a favorite, everybody "knows".

Right now, everybody is expecting tomorrow's Argentina Germany world cup match. As usually happens, when our neighbors play, opinions are divided in half, brazilian sympathizers (or just plain argentinian haters), will strongly support germany (the current "other"), while the rest will support argentina.

Me? I guess, like most uruguayans have mixed feelings towards tomorrow's match. On one hand I'd like to see a fellow south american, emerging country, win one of the most important world tournaments. On the other hand...who will be able to put up with argentineans if they win?... no one! they are waaay too cocky, and they are too close for that matter

(not to mention pulp mills) ;)

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Ecology from here sounds luxury

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The last couple of days Uruguay and Argentina's lawyers presented their initial statements in the international court of The Hague (aka Den Haag, La Haya), in the Pulp Mills on the River Uruguay (Argentina v. Uruguay) case.

For the newcomers the construction of two pulp mills by the riverside of the Uruguay river represents the biggest economic investment in Uruguay's history. Uruguay is still getting back from it's biggest economic depression, lived through in 2002-2003. Seems we are on a peaks decade.

Argentina's initial request is to stop the construction of the pulp mills as a provisional measure. Some say Argentina has to prove irreversible damage to have its request granted.

The case is expected to last around a couple of years and to cost loads of money in first class international lawyers. Uruguay has everything to loose here, if the request is granted thousands of persons directly or indirectly employeed will be left without their jobs, since stopping the constructions means waiting two to three years for a veredict, whatever may be.

When I read the international articles Uruguay seems like the bad guy, and Argentina seem just so noble, but living here I feel it's totally the other way around. These pulp mills will be equipped with the latest and less polluting technologies possible, while Argentina has already installed more than ten paper mills with, fifty years old, very polluting technology.

Last summer Argentinean demonstrations blockaded two of the bridges with Uruguay, looses are calculated around 400 to 500 millon dollars.

Meanwhile Corrientes, another argentinean provincia, by the Uruguay riverside, is reviewing a proposition to construct an even bigger paper mill.

The argentinean request to the international court is for the construction of the pulp mills not to take place, even though the paper mills are aligned with international standards.

I think industry and development always come along with some degree of pollution, and ecology in emerging countries seems to me a luxury we cannot always afford. It's sad, and true, and it's even more sad that argentina's attitude be that hypocrite, and that we've had to resort to an international european court to settle our affairs.

The country right now seems more concerned about the opening world cup match than anything else. Bottom line, I'm not supporting Argentina in the world cup series this time.

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Monday, June 05, 2006

Turn off the lights, be a good citizen!

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Salto Grande Uruguay Long time, no rain, and since the biggest source of power in Uruguay is hydroelectric, and it's working under 10% of its capacity, we have a bit of a power crisis.

Usually Uruguay borrows/buy power from Argentina, but it seems our "cousins" are having it's own power crisis right now, which made them cut the wire, not to mention the current tensions in the relationship.

Brazil is lending some power also, but it appears we need even more.

There are other options on the table, like to buy natural gas from Bolivia, or oil from Venezuela, but there's nothing concrete yet.

Things have gotten badly enough that the state has started to take some measures, among them: buildings have to cut on half the number of working elevators, and shoppings have to use low consume lights at night. The consequences of this are that now waiting an elevator at 9:00am or 18:00 has become pretty much like waiting a bus, which you have to wait for a lot of minutes, and once you take it, it's crowded, and stops in every possible stop there is on the way. Regarding the lights now the city at night it's even more gloomy, just great!

If the situation does not improve (aka rains soon), restriction policies will start to apply to residences as well, which reminds me of the power cutting policies that were carried out in 1988, and 1989. Actually they are not bad memories, I remember my father taking out the car battery to power the tv set, and myself making hand shadows on candle light with my brothers, it was all very unusual stuff, funny at the time.... not anymore.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

La Posta del Chuy, Cerro Largo

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Posta del Chuy
In the middle of the XIX century the brand new Uruguayan state in an attempt to populate the lands near the border with Brazil, and not being able to finance the cost of road works, gives the concesion to privates of the building of a bridge over the creek "Chuy del Tacuarí", on the path that communicated the city of Melo with Rio Branco (in those years called “Villa Artigas”).

Those who wanted to cross that bridge, had to pay a toll.

Posta del ChuyThe building of the bridge and the nearby facilities, was leaded by the men that years later would rebuild the “Fortaleza de Santa Teresa” (Saint Teresa Fortress), the “Fortaleza del Cerro de Montevideo”(Cerro of Montevideo Fortress) and the “Fuerte de San Miguel” (Saint Michael Fort).

The bridge has loopholes in its sides, something essential given the dangers of those years and the proximity of the Brazilian border. The building's style was very common in the Basque Country. Also, next to it, there was constructed a hostal, a “Pulpería” (like a inn, but actually a bit more like a social center and a place to buy supplies) and a horse relay service.

Over the bridge, a heavy iron chain was always extended, and only was lowered after paying… and ancient version of our current “peajes” and their black and yellow barriers.

Posta del Chuy UruguayThe first owners (actually concessionaires), Spanish Basques, were known by the towering fees they collect, often over what said the law. As an example of it, it is said that the fee by law for a carriage was 4 cents and 1 cent for people, but they retrieve 5 cents… 4 for the carriage and 1 for the driver… as if the carriage could pass alone.

The facilities were usufructed till 1919, when the government decided to put an end to the concession, because in that moment all the roads in the country were free.

Later, and after some reparations to the stone structures, the Posta del Chuy became a museum and received the status of historical patrimony of the country.
There you can see replicas of advertisements and the routes covered by some coaches… journeys of about 20 days that nowadays are covered in 4 hours by car.

The place is well preserved and remains as a glimpse of what used to be life one hundred and half years ago over here.

Posta del chuy Uruguay

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Uruguay and Mercosur

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Mercosur logo
While in Washington DC, President Vazquez declared to a Uruguayan news reporter that Uruguay will change its member status in MERCOSUR, going from full member to just associate member like are today Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
In case you wonder what’s this MERCOSUR thing, to put it in one sentence is the South America’s European Union wannabe. In theory it’s an integration of South American countries initiative very much like it is the EU, at many levels, not only economical ones. In practice it’s just sad, seems to me like a means to Brazilian’s and Argentinean’s ends.

Ok, now you may wonder why? Why Uruguay wants to get out of this apparently noble thing? The answer is because as it is today it’s a joke, the existent asymmetries in the participating countries are just to damn big, and it seems we are just not mature (or wealthy) enough to act based on long term outcome.

For example, Brazil does whatever the blazes it wants. They are ok with the free trade of goods legislation of Mercosur when it’s about their goods entering other countries, but it’s not unusual for Uruguayan trucks loaded with rice to be blockaded when trying to enter Brazil by Brazilian farmers while Brazilian government sits still, or even worse applies taxes to imported good from other countries of Mercosur.

Another example, the Gualeguaychu’s bridge between Uruguay and Argentina has been blockaded for months by Argentinean demonstrators, while at the same time the Mercosur legislation is supposed to guarantee the free circulation of goods, and persons between member countries. In this light the blockade to Uruguay-Argentina’s bridge it’s just unconstitutional. What did Argentina’s government do about it?

Uruguay and Argentina are probably going through their worst diplomatic conflict since the creation of both countries. Uruguay has called for “the council of Mercosur” in order to find a solution, trying to activate mechanisms defined in Mercosur for this sort of situation. Argentina just did not answer the request.

Participating in Mercosur for Uruguay represents not being able to establish free trade treaties with other nations, like the United States or China. As the president put it Mercosur for Uruguay “is more of a problem than a solution”.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Football, Nacional fell 2-1

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Nacional badge

Tonight Nacional fell to its rival, the Brazilian’s “Internacional de Porto Alegre”, in its first leg quarterfinals match, in the Libertadores de America cup. It’s a shame, because the game was played here, in Nacional's stadium (el parque central), and winning in Porto Alegre its going to be real hard. It’s been long time since any Uruguayan club made it to the finals, near twenty years now.

Nacional first team, football uruguayEl Club Nacional de Futbol is one of the two biggest, and more ancient football teams in Uruguay, it has more than a hundred years old, founded in may 1899, which is a lot to say when the sport itself is around that time old. Nicknamed el bolso, Nacional is actually considered among the firsts true South American football teams, since prior to the foundation of Nacional all football teams would only allow European players. Also Nacional’s stadium hosted the first match in the first world cup ever.

I could go on babbling about el bolso’s glorious history but you could get that info somewhere else.I’d rather tell you a little story, first hand, just to put you in context about what this team means to a lot of Uruguayans. My father is a Nacional supporter, always been, his brother, my uncle, is, and always been, a big fan of Peñarol, the other ancient Uruguayan football team, Nacional’s nemesis. When I was born, some years from now, my uncle was decided to make a Peñarol’s fan out of me, at all costs, so he went and bought this little peñarol’s official team baby outfit, hoping that it would become the first football garment I wear charming the little creature to be a follower of the dark side forever I guess, or at least to take pictures of me in it in order to black mail me in the future, or my father or whatever. Anyway, when my grandma found out about this, the legend goes she went berserk. She was a big Nacional’s supporter and couldn’t believe my uncle’s nerve. They say she gave him the lecture of his life, about how if he wanted a baby to wear that kind of (evil?)outfit he would have to have it himself. My uncle still keeps the Peñarol’s baby outfit to this present day, I've seen it. I am a Nacional supporter, always been :)

Nacional supporters Uruguay
(images taken from Nacional's official site and here)

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Monday, April 10, 2006

Trekking in la Sierra de las Animas, Maldonado

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Panoramic picture of Sierra de las Animas, Maldonado, Uruguay La Sierra de las Animas is the name of a couple of hills in Maldonado (actually a sierra) of no more than 508 meters high (did I ever mention that Uruguay is a flat country?). It's actually the second highest "peak" in Uruguay, being the first one el cerro catedral with something like ten more meters high, not much more (dont take my word for it, go get some encyclopedia and correct me).

It's a very popular trekking spot in Uruguay, there are a couple of different walks to choose from. The one we did was to make it to the top of the hill, which is about a two to three hour walk, but there is also another one called "El cañadon de los espejos". The last one is named after pools of rainwater with small waterfalls you arrive to when you reach to the end of the path. The place is said to be very beautiful after rainy days with the waterfalls in their full glamour.

Arrival at sierra de las animasSierra de las animasSierra de las animas

There used to be a third walk to the "pozos azules" (or blue pools) which is now closed, and there is also a whole discussion about which ones are the true legendary blue pools which I won't go into.

La Sierra de las Animas is also very popular among mountain bikers who carry their bikes to the top and then slide from there.

Once we arrived to the place we payed the 40 uruguayan pesos fee, and listened carefully to the pleasetakegoodcareofthepark fifteen minutes lecture. The place is maintained as an ecological park and we learned that it's forbidden even to spit fruit seeds while walking in order to protect the original flora (killing anything that walks or crawls or flies is of course out of the question).

When you are on the top of the hill you understand why they used to call it Mirador Nacional (National watcher...err, no.. watchpost, sightseer...err, something like that) as you can see a great part of Maldonado and even Montevideo or so they say in clear days.

We crossed a bunch of horses on the way to the top, and one snake and one impressive tarantula on the way down.

If you are the kind of person that likes walking, watching nature and just talking with someone in the way to the top (to the peak) you probably would've enjoyed it.

Sierra de las animas

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

saint valentine's day

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Just a footnote, the 14th of febraury is no big deal in Uruguay. Actually there is another day in the year set as the lover's day. In this thing we going against the flow. Those who celebrate saint valentine's day in Uruguay are a minority. Some gifts shops are trying to impose the day for economic reasons but without real success so far. Anyway it's a matter of time, globalization will do the rest.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

The longest carnival in the world has begun

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Uruguay's carnival, parade in 18 de julio Uruguay's carnival 18 de julio paradeLast Thursday started Uruguay's carnival, which this year's been baptized as the longest carnival in the world. I guess, we may not have Brazilian's glamorous, most famous carnival, but we have the longest, or so they say. It goes from January’s last week until the first days of March. Uruguay's carnival actually has little or nothing to do with Brazilian’s one.

Uruguay's carnival 18 de Julio paradeIt's Uruguay biggest popular celebration; it's a strange mixture between Hispanic carnival traditions with afro rhythms, the result is something I haven’t seen elsewhere. Along the month or so it lasts a lot of shows and presentations take place starting with the initial parade in 18 de Julio the main street in Montevideo's downtown. This initial parade consists of different carnival groups called comparsas which compete for the year’s carnival prize, and walk all over 18 singing and dancing, and waving flags, and carnival symbols.

As it was just some blocks away from my place I decided to pass by to take some pictures. For the record the previous time I'd gone to this parade I was a kid with no more than ten years, and my only and main recollection of it was about "cabezudos" (meaning bigheaded), which are guys disguised with an enormous painted "head", reaching more than 8 feet tall that approach to children to scary them at the rhythm of music. To my surprise they told me that these characters are no longer very frequent, too bad, they rocked. Well this time I also got a little scared but not because of the cabezudos, you see, every time I took out my camera I had the feeling that a lot of eyes that seemed to have escaped out of mordor where watching it and following me. Nothing happened, there was a lot of police presence but it was uncomfortable.

I would like to say it was awesome, but it really wasn’t, the truth is that it didn’t live up to my memories. Between every comparsa you’d have to wait around twenty minutes. It disappointed me to see so much commercial propaganda in the flags, banners and carrousels of each carnival group. I felt the whole thing has gone very commercial. Even though there were a lot of cops there was still a feeling of insecurity. Next Friday is the second big parade in Uruguay’s carnival; named "Las Llamadas", it’s more typical of afro culture in Uruguay, with much more Candombe which a like and for me much more enjoyable.

Uruguay's carnival 18 de julio parade

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Monday, January 16, 2006

It's summer time, not much sun though

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Uruguay summer, La pedrera, 2006
First half of january is over, typically the best days in the year to go on vacations in Uruguay. Usually the best weather days in the whole year, when every teenage girl takes like twelve daily hours of suntan, until it hurts, literally. Even though in this corner of the world it's highly adviced against sunbathing between eleven am to three, because of the ozone layer hole, you know...sun hurts, didn't used to, but now it does, shame on polluting countries! But not this year, nope, the first half of january's been more like... is it really january? is this rain stopping, ever? when are the clouds going to leave?

Map, Uruguay, golden coast, costa de oroHere are some pictures taken in La Pedrera, Rocha, and Solis, Maldonado. Well, yeah, there are a lot places to go on vacations in Uruguay, besides Punta del Este, which is the only one that people seem to talk about. While Punta del Este is more of a high profile beachside, resort, there are a lot of places, specially in Rocha, but also in Maldonado and Canelones, that are pretty good to spend some days lying on the beach, reading, taking naps, swiming, fishing doing whatever but working. In particular, in Rocha, it's where the best beaches are and where less populated is. People go there camping, or stay in rented houses, sometimes, even fishermen hutslike houses. In winter, most of those places are deserted, which is why a lot of people like to go off season, typically in december, or march.

enjoy the pics!

La Pedrera

Camping in la pedrera, uruguay

La Pedrera, Rocha, beach

La Pedrera beach, Rocha, uruguay


solis beach, maldonado, uruguay

Solis beach, maldonado, river, uruguay

Solis, maldonado, uruguay, with friends

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Friday, January 06, 2006

The Wizard Kings

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No, I'm not talking about some role playing game, this is about something that's still celebrated in Uruguay, which is the Three kings festivity or The Wizard kings, or as we ordinary refer to it here, "Los Reyes Magos". Named after the visitation to the Jesus child by three wise men, or three wizard kings, mentioned in the bible. It's a holiday and it's a very special morning particularly for children.

Every January 6th children wake up early and run anxiously to the Christmas tree to find gifts placed by their shoes, does this sound weird? Tradition says that anyone who wants to be gifted by the three wizard kings must leave his or her shoes by the Christmas tree. Also a bucket with water and another one with grass must be left for the feeding of the camels, didn't i mention it?, they travel in camels. Letters are written to wizards with detailed specifications of the dreamed toys, and “unbiasedly” describing the year overall behavior.

It was funny to wake up and find the buckets moved, the grass gone, less water, irrefutable proof of the passing and existence of the three kings for every children in Uruguay. In some families with strong Spanish tradition like mine, gifts were more and better than those given at Christmas' eve, after all it had it's logic, Santa Claus is only one, these guys are three, they should try harder.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A river and two paper mills

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A river and two paper mills is what stands between Uruguay and Argentina these days.  Around three thousand persons blockaded the San Martin’s bridge between Uruguay and Argentina demonstrating against the construction of two paper mills in the Uruguayan borders of the Uruguay River last weekend.

The construction of two paper mills is being carried out in the region of Fray Bentos, Uruguay, by Spanish and Finish capitals.  This subject’s been around for months but right now is gaining momentum with surprise blockades by green parties on the bridges between Uruguay and Argentina, on a high traffic season due to summer tourism. The international relationship among nations is getting tight.

The matter is more complex than it may seem at first sight. On one side, these paper mills represent the biggest investment ever in the Uruguayan history and the economic situation of the country is pretty damn bad for lack of a better adjective. The consequences of the economic crisis lived through in 2001/2002 are present still. Unemployment is up the roof, one every two children in Uruguay is born under the poverty line, emigration rate of educated young people is very high, etc. Bottom line, our economy desperately needs it (some say "I rather die from pollution than starve to death"). On the other hand paper mills will have a contaminating effect, and will affect the environment, period. European enterprises are moving the paper mills out of Europe into developing nations not exactly out of good will. Paper mills in Finland are known to have had a negative effect in the environment. To summarize we are buying ourselves a problem.

Will it be positive or negative in the long term, I don’t have the foggiest idea, I guess time will tell. What bothers me right now is to put up with declarations like those of the Argentinean governor of Entre Rios, Jorge Busti, who’s become an ecologist all of a sudden, and even makes suggestions that the Uruguayan government is corrupt (which is not in discussion really, but is just an statement that no one in the Argentinean government has the moral authority to make). The guy is a clown, he even as a measure forbidded government employees coming to Uruguay on vacations, and wasn’t respected about it (check out this).

One fact that I find very interesting is that there are right now around ten paper mills working in Argentina, throwing their wastes to the Paraná River, and you don’t listen to Argentinean green parties complaining on the news about that. I believe that ecology should start at home.

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