Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bajofondo electronic meets Tango, Uruguayan-Argentinean sounds

If you like Tango, you may like what groups like Bajo Fondo, and Gotan Project are doing by fusioning styles, and creating something new, with a strong taste of this region of the world. I'll let the music do the talking.

Read more!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Uruguay + One Laptop Per Child = CEIBAL

One Laptop Per Child Uruguay Ceibal One Laptop per Child or OLPC is a program aimed to provide one mobile personal computer to every child in the world (as the name implies). Ceibal is the code name of the implementation project in Uruguay. It's an acronym for "Basic informatic educative conectivity for on-line learning" in spanish.

This program started to run in Uruguay this year, as one of the firsts countries in the world to adopt it, if not the first. In 2007 the scope of the adoption was reduced to one city, Cardal, in the Florida department, as a pilot project. It is expected to go national by 2008 & 2009, meaning one laptop for every uruguayan kid.

Right now universities, and companies willing to collaborate are studying ways to contribute to this. In this month I've heard about volunteering posibilites from three different sources, the truth is, there are a lot of aspects required to push this thing that go far beyond the machine. For instance you need conectivity, technical support, training for teachers and parents. All costs that are not included in the 100$ per laptop original budget (which has increased to almost 200).

I am motivated to participate in some way in this project and give my two cents worth. I'm in the process of understanding the project and consuming as much information about it as I can (I've also came into contact with the OLPC laptops last week).

The Ceibal project for me is one of the boldest moves this government has made. I've come to learn that is much more controversial than I had thought of. Some sectors in the Uruguayan public education system are openly against the whole project, arguing that the goals of the project are unclear, that there's no evidence that one laptop will necessarily help six year old children learn more, or better, that the pilot project should last five years, not one, etc.

Some of the arguments are sound and valid, but others are just hiding fears related to loss of power from some sectors (teachers for instance), or concerns related to the true nature of the drivers behind this project. I've participated in discussions with people with a more radical point of view that say this project is not so much about reducing the digial gap in the third world, but more about creating One Consumer per Child, one consumer per uruguayan kid, for an imperialistic machinery which has nothing to do with our benefit. This being the more paranoic bell of the left wing.

For me the word in this case is... faith. This is a project I have faith in, a project I believe in. Providing the kids with access to information and knowledge, and the means to generate content is a good thing, of critical importance, in an information era society. There are the obvious risks like porn, theft, internet addiction, but I believe the outcome will be very positive, I think Uruguay has certain conditions that make it a good candidate for fully adopting the OLPC program.

You can find more information about the project in the following links:

By the way merry xmas everybody!!!!!...

Read more!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Camping in Santa Teresa

I came across this video about Santa Teresa in youtube, which looks like it was created by brazilian surfers and I couldn´t help posting it. It pretty much resembles some of my own memories.If you are into surf & camping and happen to be in Uruguay in summer don´t miss it. ...

Read more!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Abortion and Sexual Diversity

Yesterday night there was a demonstration in Montevideo to support sexual diversity and to help make abortion legal.

Many women die in Uruguay as well as in other countries because abortion is illegal and women can't get proper medical attention. There is big concern about this now, you can hear ads on the radio that say that 60% of Uruguay's population supports making abortion legal and that the government should hear their citizens. This demonstration was intended to make a statement in this sense. Many people were holding the orange hands that read "Voto a Favor" (I vote in favor of this).

Dj Paola Dalto was playing happy music to make the demonstration more fun. There was a bus with music and many transvestites dancing to the rhythm of it.

The other cause that these people were supporting was sexual diversity. Transvestites and gays want discrimination to stop and they wore costumes and had a lot of fun during the walk.

The demonstration started in Plaza Independencia and ended in Plaza Cagancha with a show by Dani Umpi and many speeches about the law and sexual discrimination. There were many many people there which is quite unusual for a conservative country like Uruguay. It looks like we are changing fortunately :)


Read more!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Uruguay, Religion and Taxes

Uruguay, Iglesia Univeral del Reino de Dios, ex Trocadero

Right after the economic crisis of 2002 a Brazilian Pentecostal church, called Iglesia Universal del Reino de Dios, spread all over the country, like a virus. They launched a very aggressive mediatic campaign including one hour spots in Uruguay air channels on a daily basis. Their slogan is Pare de Sufrir (stop suffering).

They are highly criticized for their methods, even among other Christian groups, since they grant special powers to physical objects, and they sell them. For example they launch campaigns like: "Buy the blessed candle" (and you will have God's blessing) or "Touch the mantle of discharge", of course only after you "donate" a reasonable fee.

They operate as a multinational corporation, they are huge in Brazil, and they have presence all over South American countries, including Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, and of course Brazil.

In Uruguay they usually took for temples what used to be cinemas. Probably the most popular case, is what used to be "El Cine Trocadero", a beautiful building in the middle of 18 de Julio, where now stands a branch of this church. This was yet another sad consequence of the economic crisis of 2002, another change in the urban landscape, where we traded cinemas & culture, for sects. It's the perfect business since religious activities are exempt of certain taxes in this country.

Under the new law, started in July 2007, the new IRPF tax, where do religious group's activities stand? Nobody was certain, until the first days of this month when all the religious groups received with surprise an increased bill (now they have to pay aportes patronales).

Catholic, Protestant, and Hebrew religious groups are planning to sue the government. They claim to be exempt and this taxing could be called unconstitutional, depending on the interpretation of the new law.

Now, I wonder, if I were the government, how could I do to tax sects like the Iglesia Universal del Reino de Dios which are clearly profit based and leave other true non profit organizations alone?


Read more!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Chavez came to Uruguay

Everybody's been talking about Chavez's visit to Uruguay over the last couple of days, so I figured it would be worth it taking a moment and writing some thoughts on the matter. Chavez is doing a tour across south american countries to nail his acceptance in the Mercosur block, yet to be definitively approved. As a part of this tour it has visited Uruguay. Visit which took place yesterday and today. During his stay Chavez talked about the sea of oil Venezuela has, which is willing to share with his south american friends. Uruguay and Venezuela signed today an Energy Security treaty which in Chavez words will assure Uruguay a provision of oil and natural gas for a hundred years. On the other hand, Uruguay continues to play this game where with one hand shakes Bush's grip, with the other it taps Chavez on the back and welcomes him to the Mercosur party. Uruguay wants to be everyone's allied. Uruguay's president, Tabare Vazquez publicly expressed his support for Venezuela's membership acceptance into the block. In my opinion the entrance of Venezuela benefits Uruguay for sure in the short term. It provides a new actor in the Mercosur scene that will shake the Brazilian-Argentinean hegemony of power in the block, giving the smaller members a greater chance to be heard on their claims, plus it's always good to have a friend with plenty of spare oil. At the same time the constitution of the Mercosur states that all member countries must be democracies. Chavez was elected democratically, no question about that, but the direction of his actions, and of his government are not(when can it be said that a man is a dictator?) So, the question remains if including someone with this dictatorial tendencies will be good in the long term, when everyone that criticizes Chavez actions is labeled by him as a puppet of Bush, shutting up everyone that thinks different than him....

Read more!

Uruguay Places, Colonia de Sacramento

We’ve recently been to Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay with my girlfriend, and I feel like paying a tribute post to the place. If you’ve never heard of it, check out the post where I introduce Colonia in this blog. It’s basically one of the top five places worth visiting in Uruguay.

Sometimes when we feel like recharging batteries we go to Colonia de Sacramento. It’s the sort of place you go when you want to escape from the city, noise, technology, etc. Make sure to take your special someone and a good book. That’s pretty much all is needed to spend a great weekend there.

What do you do there? Well, you walk the cobbledstone streets. You browse the crafts offered by the artisans, you enjoy the sun in the mini port, you eat some sea food. You dine in some romantic, candle lighted, stone walled restaurants.

You probably don’t want to be there more than two, or three days or you may get bored.

It caught my attention the number of tourist we saw there this time, we could hear English, French, and German being spoken at our sides. It's been always a very touristic place, but argentineans used to be the only foreigners around. Now the place seems so much more cosmopolite, I guess it's been included in the visit buenos aires one week circuit.

We stayed in a little familiar place, called Hotel Leoncia for 55 bucks a night. The place is not great, it's ok, and we had dinner in a place in the historic part of the city for around 27 usd both of us.

Here are some pictures of our retreat to Colonia...


Read more!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Uruguay advances, tax reform

Uruguay advances (Uruguay Avanza). That's the slogan the Uruguayan government is using to market the new tax reform, as a positive change.

The reform entered into play the first of july. We were all required to fill, sign and present a form to each employer before 29th june.

Among the changes introduced by the reform 14 taxes were derogated, and were replaced by only one, called IRPF, in an attempt to simplify our tax system. VAT (IVA) was reduced from the astronomic 23 to 22 (not much if you ask me) for all items except some categorized as basic (canasta basica) which had a greater reduction.

Anyone earning 25.000 (around 1000 usd) nominal, will be negative affected by the tax, meaning will earn less money by the end of the month. This obviously makes a lot of people not so happy with the new tax system. Some even call it the end of Uruguayan middle class.

Uruguay's minister of economy, Danilo Astori, has of course, a different, more optimistic, view on things, he says this reform will benefit 80% of the population.

I'm no specialist, I don't have a clear position on whether this reform is a positive change or not for the country, but I'm glad the government is at least trying to do something different. I'd gladly earn less, if someone could assure me that this is actually going to benefit those in need in Uruguay.

I find that what they are trying to accomplish is very tough, and to some extent even maybe incompatible with Uruguayan banking secrecy (which I think should be removed, but that's a whole different post).

My fear is this will make little or no difference for those in need, and will place a heavy burden on the Uruguayan middle class, people that in cases resort to working in more than one place, 12 hours a day, to earn a decent living.

It's still too early to tell, we can only hope Astori's bet is a winner.

Read more!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

From Jamaica

Let's switch countries for a day. I've been for a couple of weeks in Kingston, Jamaica. Bob Marley's city, and Reggae's motherland.

It's in some ways similar to Uruguay. It was colony, it's a small population country. Officially 2.7 millon inhabitants. It's an emerging economy as well, and both countries suffer from emigration issues.

If I had to answer quickly what are the pros and cons of Jamaica vs Uruguay, I would answer something like this,

Jamican Pros


Jamaican people seem more optimistic, lively, outgoing, and warmer than in Uruguay. This is for me probably the best thing about this country. Their people. The party mood, and no problem attitude.


There's only one season, and it's summer. If you are the type of person that doesn't like cold seasons. This may be your place.


If you are not a surfer, or if you don't miss waves in a beach, jamaica's caribbean beaches are warm, and have crystal like waters. This is not exactly a pro, it may depend on your taste on beaches in general.


Jamaica is geographically closer to the rest of the world. It's a two hour flight to Miami, and 8 hour flight to Europe.

Jamaican Cons


Jamaican seems more violent, and dangerous. It feels that way, and the stats agree.


Traffic is chaos, even more than in Uruguay.

Buildings & Architecture

Uruguay once dreamed of being a great country. It has a golden era, and today a lot of buildings like El Palacio Legislativo, and El Palacio Salvo witness that. You don't find anything like it in Jamaica.


It's free in Uruguay, even University. This is not the case in Jamaica, you have to pay.

Final thoughts & Conclusions

I guess I expected a bit more, from a place that has such a brand name as Jamaica has. Everyone in the world knows Jamaica. Even though they are fewer, and smaller than Uruguay. What puts Jamaica on the map still puzzles me. Is it Marley? Is it Reggae?

If I had to guess I'd go with it's people, and their attitude towards life. Where a Uruguayan might blend and go unnoticed you won't miss the Jamaican.

I'm very grateful, people have been really, really nice to me here, but despite all the good stuff, I'm feeling a bit homesick. It don't matter the reggae, hot weather, and everything. Ya mon, Me wanna go home


Read more!

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ten things I love about living in Uruguay

I told you already the ugly part, the ten things I hate about living in Uruguay, which sparked a couple of mails with a worried tone.

Now it's time to talk about the other part. Why despite all the bad things I told you about, I still choose Uruguay for a living.

So here I go, this is my top ten list of things I like about Uruguay.

First things first

My family, and dear ones. I was born and raised here. This may be of no value for someone coming from abroad, it may not be part of the "official" list, but I would be hipocritical not to acknowledge this is the greatest asset Uruguay has for me. I get to see my family whenever I want, I can watch my four months niece grow. I keep in touch with people I met when I was four and five years old. It's difficult to put it into words but here I feel at home.

Uruguay Family values

In Uruguay family comes first. Weekly family gatherings to have pasta or asado, sometimes including friends are something to enjoy, and miss when not around.

Uruguay Weather

In Uruguay the sun shines generously and regularly all year long, what's that worth to you? Lots of "great" places with huge average income rates, and great life expectancy just don't. Here summer is hot, and you go to the beach, while winter is cold and you cuddle by the fireplace. You get both, and in spring you see stuff blossom. Every season is different, and lasts more or less the same.

Uruguay Beaches

400+ km of beach coast, with white sand. You've got calm river like beaches, you've got as well surfing oceanic beaches. I personally like to have the sea at hand, otherwise I miss watching a water horizon from time to time.

Forget traffic jams in Uruguay

We are very few. This may be a drag for the economy, but it sure helps life quality. There are almost no traffic jams in Uruguay. You almost never have to wait for a table in a restaurant. It's not the sahara desert either, but it's just not crowded. I like it.

Uruguay life costs

Life cost is comparatively cheap. In a globalized economy, you could work remotely, earn an average income, and live very well with it in Uruguay.

Uruguay Culture

It's not an image worshiping culture. The whole world is everyday more image aware, but in this as in other lots of things we are a few steps behind. So if you have a few extra pounds, is not the end of the world.

It's not a money worshiping culture. For the most part people don't measure others by their income, or if they have the right brand of sport shoes or whatever.

Time is not money in Uruguay. There's a bad side to this but there's also a good side. People take due time for zero revenue activities like spending time with their families, or just walk and have mate with bizcochos in la rambla.


It's a relatively secure place. It used to be even more, but that is true for the whole world. In Uruguay people don't get kidnapped. High schools don't have metal detectors, and car glasses are not bullet proof. In the scalation of violence, we are a few steps behind.

Uruguay Food

Some countries have a tendency to include a lot of fried stuff in their diet, or frozen precooked, microwave oven targeted food. I'm under the impression that cooking here is still more of a home made thing, thus more natural, and healthy. Obesity is not a problem in Uruguay as it is in other countries.

Have a bigger relative impact, make a difference

The effort required to change Uruguay in some way is say, less than changing that same aspect in Brazil. We are small, so (and this is a feeling) actions have a bigger relative impact. If you choose to teach in the university, you'll be one among tens, and not one among thousands as it happens in other countries. Bottom line, it's easier to make a difference, it's a smaller system, and this pays off not in cash.


I'd say Uruguay has a good balance between life costs, and life quality. Sure there's struggle, and you may have to effort more than usual to buy/have/own things. But it's a place in the world were you can enjoy life in relative safety, make friends without much problem, raise a family, make a difference, be recognized and loved. Well, isn't that pretty much what life is about?...

Read more!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Ten things I hate about living in Uruguay

I've been writing about Uruguay for a little bit more than a year and a half now. The topics range from places, to food, to customs but the perspective has always been a positive one. For a change I've decided to write about the ten major things I dislike about living in Uruguay.

So here I go, this is my top ten list of things I DON'T like about living in Uruguay in no particular order,

Poverty in Uruguay

More generally speaking would be lack of resources at all levels. The consequences of this can be seen everywhere. From beggars in traffic lights, to children begging in restaurant tables, to public buildings in need of restoration, like el Palacio Salvo, to lousy salaries for university professors and doctors. It can be depressing.

Conservative & lazy mentality

This one is hard to explain. There's a popular phrase that portrays it well, which is "es lo que hay"(…valor). Translated would be something like: it is what there is, it's the way it is, meaning don't complain and put up with it. If something is wrong, sometimes the answer is not let's change it, but rather "es lo que hay" it's the way it is. This is one part of the problem.

On the other hand lots of people look up to bankers and public employees as low effort, high paying jobs. Like they are the role model to follow. It's a twisted logic, where the "smart one" (el vivo) is the one who works less and gets more, to put it somehow, and if he cheates the state in the process and gets away with it, then he's even smarter.

Risk taking and enterpreneruism is not encouraged in Uruguay to say the least. There's a rather pesimist mentality regarding endeavours, business in Uruguay doesn't work, and if it work is because there's some monkey business going on. That's pretty much the Uruguayan mentality regarding business.

Uruguay services

Uruguayan services are usually not good.This is not a service oriented culture. Here the customer is NOT always right, in fact he seldom is.

One example, sometimes in restaurants the waiters make you feel like they are doing you a favor putting up with you. If your request is not standard then you've gained an enemy. If you phoned the empanadas delivery and they brought you something wrong, or in a bad state, you don't have many options. Being a small population, there are few service providers, and sometimes you don't get to complain, you put up with it, or you quit consuming the service, which sometimes is just not an option. Picture that with cable, phone, electricity, water, restaurants, food deliveries, and you'll get the idea.

Uruguay's Taxes

Added value tax stands for a 23% of the total value of most products. This makes for expensive imported products, which are 99% of them. Buying tech stuff is a matter of waiting for someone you know to travel north and buy one of whatever for you.

Lack of jobs and opportunities in Uruguay

Uruguayan market is very small, if you specialize in some subject chances are that the market won't pay your specialized skills, meaning if you are a PhD and you stay in Uruguay don't expect to make money. This is another emigration helper.

Public transport sucks

Schedules are not strictly respected, frequently services are missed, buses travel packed. Some neighborhoods are very badly connected, and on top of all this is a expensive service. One urban bus ticket is worth 0.65 USD.

Old population

Uruguay's population is old, we are only three millions and 12.8% has more than 65 years old, and it's stands out.

Public employee's inamobility

This was born as a solution to a former problem, but the cure ended up being worse than the original disease. Years ago every new government would change all the public institutions staff. To restrain this from happening they passed a law that makes virtually impossible to fire a public employee. No matter how inefficient an employee is, he will never be fired. The result is bureaucracy hell in Uruguay. Again, you can complain, but you feel like won't gain much.

In theory is possible to fire a public employee in Uruguay, but I guess in practice there must be a huge felony involved, and tons of evidence to support it, like videotapes, and an army of witnesses.

Increasing insecurity

Uruguay is known to be secure, and comparatively I guess is still is, but everyday less, and if compared to the Uruguay I was born it's very insecure.

Money is expensive in Uruguay

Getting a loan to buy a house or to start a business is very hard to get.

Some of the provided loans to buy real state require an income that only has like 20% of the population (1000 usd) , plus they don't lend the total of the amount of the real state, but more like 70%, meaning you have to save by yourself 30% of the total.

Final thoughts and conclusion

I know, I know, you are thinking: if it's so bad what am I still doing here, right? Building this list wasn't easy, there's a lot of subjectivity involved. Sometimes it's hard to separate syntomps from causes, plus some of the items are related, I feel I could go on ranting for ages. There's a good graffiti here that reads: "Don't complain, emigrate!"

The truth is there are a lot of good things also, that I'd like to write about in a future post.


Read more!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Thunderstorms in Uruguay

thunderstorm in uruguay I like storms, always had, and if they are electrical storms even better. Right now there's a bit of a thunderstorm going on outside, with the nightsky going daylight bright every ten minutes. I just love the cracking sound of the thunders, don't you?

I don't know if this is a Uruguay thing, but I'm under the impression that electrical storm are pretty frequent here, or at least compared to some places I've been, where there would be lots of rain, but without thunder and lightnings.

Now the weather is hot, heavy, damp, rainy and it's been quite like this for days now, but it also got cold all of a sudden last week, so we are in those days you have to go outside early in the morning to taste the weather, you just can't assume anymore it'll be hot. Taking a sweater with me to work it's a gamble.

This awesome picture was taken by tali, in last week's big storm, in el puertito del buceo, in la rambla. I wish I take a picture as good as that someday in my life, when I saw it I couldn't believe it the timing is perfect.

Lightnings made in Uruguay

Read more!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Semana Criolla, Beerfest in Paysandu

Semana Criolla, aka Semana de Turismo, aka Semana Santa is the last big holiday stand before the year "really begins". January, and February is holiday season, and everybody takes vacations. March is kind of a lame month, classes start, kids go to school, and then again in Semana de Turismo everybody is on vacation again. This is specially true for those working for the state. Public offices usually take the whole week, while private companies, only take friday, but lots of people (like me :), take thursday off too.

The saying in Uruguay, is "the year begins after Semana de Turismo". So much for hardworking Uruguay.

Semana Santa is big in internal tourism, families go camping, to santa teresa for example, and a couple of cool events take place in Uruguay:

La fiesta de la cerveza in Paysandu

Uruguay's beerfest in Paysandu. This is a whole week party, where it gets crammed with (drunk?) teenagers. Never been to la fiesta de la cerveza myself, but they say it's fun, maybe worthy of E! Wild on... I wouldn't know, anyone?

On a sad note, this year's party will be shortened, since the bridges with Argentina are blocked, and the usual 20.000 young argentineans that come to party won't be present.

Semana Criolla en la Rural del Prado

La Semana Criolla en la Rural del Prado, a once in a year event, where country customs get celebrated, featuring jineteadas and payadas tournaments.This is Uruguay posted a nice article about Semana Criolla in Uruguay, including a jineteada video. (Chuck also blogs on the topic).

Felices pascuas to everyone! (happy eastern!)...

Read more!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Milanesa, a typical dish in uruguay

milanesa uruguay When I travel I tend to miss uruguayan food, I think this happens more or less to everyone (your birthplace food, not uruguay's ;) Among the stuff I miss, there's...well, of course dulce de leche, but there's also Milanesa.

Milanesa is a typical dish in uruguayan's diet, it consists of a breaded filet, with beef or chicken meat, usually fried, but it can also be oven cooked. If you add on top of the milanesa, ham, cheese, and tomato sauce then it's a "Milanesa a la Napolitana".

milanesa napolitana uruguay It's usually served along with smashed potatoes, or french fries. You can have it on a dish, or between sliced bread, in which case is Milanesa al pan. It comes with tomato, lettuce, and sliced egg.

milanesa uruguay A typical, low budget, lunch, fast/junk food is Milanesa en dos panes, sold in lunch delivery places. This is a milanesa so big that needs two pieces of bread to eat it properly.

milanesa uruguay Every bar in uruguay, has milanesa, you can find it typically in the "minutas" section of the menu (minutas, used for stuff that can be served within few minutes, thus the name).

It's the type of food that's frequently homemade, and uruguayans tend to live under the impression that their mother's milanesas are unbeatable, well, mine are :p

It's actually Mr Bush's favorite uruguayan dish, or so they say, since he discovered it, in his visit to La Corte.

Is there something similar where you live?

milanesa uruguay food

Read more!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Montevideo's Harbor (in Black and White)

Montevideo's harbor (aka "el puerto de montevideo") is a very interesting place, but unfortunately access is restricted. I was lucky to get in and take pictures because I am entering a photography contest and was given a special permission and a tour guide to walk around. These pictures describe the harbor and its people, their work and their breaks.

Please full view them by clicking on the thumbnail, you will appreciate the scenes much better. I might add a couple more in about a week or so because I will go back to take some more so if you like them come back for more! Hope you enjoy them...

Uruguay, Montevideo's harbor

Uruguay, Montevideo's harbor

Uruguay, Montevideo's harbor

Uruguay, Montevideo's harbor

Uruguay, Montevideo's harbor

Uruguay, Montevideo's harbor Uruguay, Montevideo's harbor

Read more!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Rifa Arquitectura, around the world in seven months

Architecture and travelling, are not necessarily synonyms, right? Well, in Uruguay they are, sort of. Every year a group of more than 100 students of the Architecture Faculty, of the University of the Republic get to travel around the globe for seven months or so. The best of it, is that this is willingly financed by Uruguayans. You are thinking taxes, or university support, right? Well, not exactly. Actually they organize the biggest fundraiser raffle in the country.

arquitectura rifaIt’s a Uruguayan tradition, which is more than sixty years old already. I understand the travel has a couple of different flavors, some do the whole thing, others half of it, and some customize some of the destinations, but for those who do the full monty it means travelling throughout all of europe, north of africa, asia, and north america. It’s an awesome trip.

Everybody in Uruguay knows someone who’s either studying architecture, or who has a son, or sister who’s doing it, and it’s like the right thing to do in Uruguay to buy at least one ticket to support the lazy bum to travel the world, meet interesting people, learn and maybe some day… design houses?

arquitectura rifaSince this has been going on for years, they have perfectioned a strong marketing muscle, and they are sponsored by big companies, and mainstream media. They have the ability to put on some of the funniest commercials in uruguayan tv. The best of them all imho was the one that involved a drag queen, who had lost the prize for not playing the usual number on a particular year, being this so unlikely he’d made a promise he’d have his parts removed on the event of the number being a winner, well, the ticket number turned out to be a winner, and ... yeah he fulfilled his promise (I como soy un hombre de palabra…).

Tickets can be paid in affordable ten bucks installments, for a period of one year, and the prizes are really, really good. Like houses, apartments, cars, laptops, trips, etc. There are 10 sorting events (is that the term?) along the year, all of them with a very attractive pool of prizes.

In theory those who travel are graduate students, in practice they travel before finishing studies, usually a couple of years before, and since the career takes so long (7 in theory, 11 average) ages of those travelling vary (thanks ana for the correction). They are allowed to take someone as travel partners. When they are abroad they flock in smaller groups to do parts of the trip. These groups sometimes buy vans in Europe to road trip, and after they are done they sell them.

Some of the Uruguayan architecture travellers take the trip with a, let’s say, academic attitude, they get up early, visit museums, go to conferences, and try to see and learn as much as they can. On the other hand, there’s always the nonstop partying crowd, who focus on learning the different cultures at nighttime.

This week you may see them in Plaza Cagancha, “demonstrating”, and trying to sell raffle tickets. You just can’t say no to those faces, can you?

arquitectura rifa

Read more!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Uncle Sam has left Uruguay

Friday 9. Some hours before Bush's arrival. I live and work in Montevideo's downtown, here known as "El Centro", and there was some nervousness at the office. It was not directly related to the president of the U.S. arriving to Uruguay in a couple of hours, but it had more to do with the two demonstrations that were going to take place and pass by la plaza cagancha, against Bush, imperialism, the states, etc, etc.

The first demonstration, called by the unions association PIT CNT, didn't worry us since we knew it was of a peaceful mood. The second one, on the other hand, called by the anti imperialist coordinator (la coordinadora antiimperialista), made some of us bit uneasy, since it involved some of the more radicals members of the uruguayan left, along with some special guests from argentina.

The company didn't took any preemtpive measure, demonstrations in Uruguay are 99% of the time without violence.

I took off at six, I had to make it somewhere in El Parque Rodo. I took the 117 bus, the route wasn't the usual but still I arrived on time. After an hour I had to return to El Centro, I took the same bus on the way back, and this time it had to take Pablo de Maria, which is a detour of around five blocks in narrow streets with jammed traffic, horns, waits, and an old lady in the seat by my side telling me what a lack of respect was all that turmoil for receiving a president we had invited. The type of conversation you find yourself nodding no matter what the old lady says. The bus took twice the time, maybe the same if I had walked.

Later that night I've found out that for the most part the demonstrations went on without violence but there had been some incidents. Some shops had it windows smashed, like MacDonalds in 18 y Gaboto, and a Brazilian Pentecostal telepreachers church place (pare de sufrir, ex trocadero cinema) and even some violence against journalists. With an outcome of around 20 arrests.

Some friends told me also about a couple of puppets being carried in one of the marchs, portraying the relationship between U.S. and the states, where Bush was the groom, and Tabare Vazquez the bride, pregnant with an FTA.

Saturday 10. Beautiful day. Bush was all over the media, tv, news, and radio shows. Both presidents appeared always smiling as usual.

I catched part of the presidential press conference from La Estancia Anchorena, the uruguayan version of camp david. I would sum it up as a lot of good will talk but I have to agree with chuck there was little of substance in both speeches. Among the topics touched there was trade for the most part but without references to an FTA. Inmigration was also present. The one remarkable thing is that Bush said something like: "if you have any problem, you grab the phone, and give me a call". Now, what does that mean?.

Sunday 11. I wake up and the guy was already gone. Still newspapers, and tv shows only talk about his visit, the misfits that played havoc in El Centro on friday, and the way the police had failed to repress, intentionally or not, the incidents.

Today, It came out, that last saturday they took Bush to dinner to ciudad vieja, undercover, and he discovered the taste of Uruguayan Milanesa.

On and all, I think it was a rather regular weekend for the most part of uruguayans.

Read more!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Uncle Sam is coming to Uruguay

Everybody is talking about two things this week in Uruguay. The first one is Argentina's 2007 edition of Big Brother, the reality show, and the way Nadia was kicked out :) The second one, is the fact that Bush is arriving this friday to Uruguay along with Condolezza Rice, and all the turmoil this is generating.

I'd have to agree with southron, when he says it looks like an american invasion, since the number of americans walking by 18 de Julio this week has tripled, word of mouth is Uruguay has earned around 1 millon dollars with this visit, more than what's raised in eastern week with tourism.

People are talking about a couple of helicopters that were brought, and assembled here in Uruguay, and all the security devices and policies that will be enforced during mr danger's visit.

Tabare Vazquez and Bush will meet in the presidential countryside residency "La Estancia Anchorena", and an FTA is expected to be among the topics discussed. Opinions about the convenience of this are strongly divided in Uruguay's government. My opinion is Uruguay should open, and establish as many trade routes, and agreements as possible, not only with the states, but with China, and Chile, and the rest of the world. Recent years have proved that we can't expect much from our direct neighbors. Like Artigas said, nothing we can expect, but from ourselves.

Read more!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Lula says it's ok for Uruguay to negotiate outside Mercosur

Lula, Brazil's current president came to Uruguay, and held a private meeting with our president Tabare Vázquez, in the countryside presidential residence "La Estancia Anchorena" in Colonia.

They seem to have agreed that it's ok for Uruguay to negotiate outside the Mercosur economic block.

Brazil is Uruguay, and Argentina's big brother in the Mercosur, if Lula supports this sort of economic agreement outside the block I guess Argentina will have to put up with it. It's a bit pathetic that we have to go by asking permission to do things, when is something that doesn't happen the other way around, but that's the way it is (let's face it... we are a midget in the middle of two basketball players).

I'm not sure whether Lula's word is enough, I'll be more comfortable when they reach a legal agreement, maybe modifying the Mercosur constitution, to back up what Lula said. Since I think this is against Mercosur's legislation (not that anyone is paying much attention to it latetly).

"Withing the block is better", said brazilian economy minister who came along, and I agree, but now is more of a guideline, not a rule.

Uruguay has recently established a trade agreement named TIFA (TRADE AND INVESTMENT FRAMEWORK AGREEMENT) with USA, as a second option after almost agreeing on an FTA.

Our economy minister, Danilo Astori, who is maybe the greatest sponsor of an FTA with the US, has publicly declared something like an FTA is not discarded ("no hay nada descartado acerca del TLC") after establishing the TIFA.

In the meantime, US president, Bush, comes to visit Uruguay in two weeks, and Chavez who is coming to Argentina, will demonstrate in Buenos Aires, right in front of Uruguay's embassy, against the presence of Bush (or as he danger) in the region.

I feel when Bush arrives Astori along with our president will replay the FTA card.

Is this the beginning of the end of the Mercosur?

Read more!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Parque del Plata, Canelones

I've spent the last few days in Parque del Plata, Canelones, Uruguay, along with my familiy for the carnival holidays.

Parque del Plata is one of a series of beachside villas/towns (balnearios) by the coast of Canelones. All of them very peaceful, green, with nice beaches, reasonably good renting prices, and most important around 50km from Montevideo. They make for good weekend escape spots.

These are not trendy places, like Punta del Diablo, Cabo Polonio, or Punta del Este, but still they are nice and have good beaches. Some of them are Marindia, Atlantida, Las Toscas, Parque del Plata, La Floresta.

All this places are kinda dead during most of the year and come alive in the summer season. Atlantida is the biggest of them all, and the one with best nightlife, restaurants, pubs and discos. It is also the place where El Aguila is located.

In particular Parque del Plata, and Atlantida host an increasing amount of retired couples that are choosing to live all the year in these places, escaping from the city.

Parque del Plata has some of the best dunes in the coast of Uruguay, that is why is not uncommon to see people practicing sandboard in the beach.

By the way I'm a brand new uncle (hooray!). In the following slideshow you get to see my mother proudly walking her three weeks old granddaughter, Maria Lucia.


Read more!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Food, Torta Frita

Torta Frita Uruguay Continuing with the typical food series, another heavy weight in Uruguay food tradition is what we call Torta Frita.

Torta Frita UruguayTorta Frita is a round shaped, fried biscuit, with a hole in the middle. Is a very simple biscuit to prepare. Torta Frita ingredients are: flour, self-rising and salt creating a mass which is fried in grease. Thus the name, torta frita, something like fried cake.

Uruguay Torta FritaTorta Frita is the dish of rainy afternoons in Uruguay, by excellence, and is another typical partner of Mate.

It can be bought in stands for around five uruguayan pesos (one quarter usd), but is usually homemade.

Torta Fritas are usuarlly eaten with sugar or dulce de leche.

Uruguay Torta Frita

Read more!

Monday, February 05, 2007

Pizza & Faina in Uruguay

Pizza Uruguay In Uruguay pizza is not round, and slices are not triangular, well now is getting more common, but when I was a kid, round pizzas could only be seen in movies.

I guess the reason lies in the traditional usage of a spade (pala, is spade the right word? is more like a paddle) in the cooking process. Pizza here is prepared a la pala, using a sort of spade to put the pizza into, and take it out from the oven, typically a firewood oven. The pizza is given a rectangular, long and thin shape, to be better handled with the spade. In some places pizza is sold by the meter.

pizza uruguayAlso in Uruguay, if you order a pizza, you'll get one without any mozzarella. If you want the portion with mozzarella, you have to order a mozzarella :D Informally called "muzza".

faina uruguayIt is also usually ordered along with a traditional dish in Uruguay named Fainá (farinata in italian), which is a sort of thin bread mixed with cheese (depending on the receipe), and served with pepper. It's typical to order it from the border (faina de la orilla), which is kind of stupid, taking into account I've never met anyone that likes it from the middle (everybody orders it "de la orilla"). If you ask me among the best places to have Pizza in Uruguay is a bar called Costa Azul by the Rambla de Pocitos. One portion of pizza costs around 20 pesos, almost 1 usd, and one portion of muzza costs two times that amount.

wrapped pizza uruguayPizza is usually delivered wrapped in paper and nylon to separate the layers of pizza, muzza, faina, etc. The paper is typically used to get your hands cleaned.
The size of the portion also changes from bar to bar, and it depends heavily on the cookers mood when cutting the portion. One interesting experiment I like to make is to order one portion, and after a while order two portions. Usually two portions aren't two times one, but more like 1.5, and if you order three you'll get whatever, since it's eyed measured. When you are uruguayan, young, penniless, and starving this is the type of useless things that you pay attention to.

It is typical to have a slice of muzza, with a slice of faina on top, and this is called pizza a caballo (pizza on horseback?).

pizza a caballo uruguay

Read more!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Punta del Diablo, Rocha, Uruguay

Punta del Diablo, is a little fishermen's town, five kilometers away from Santa Teresa, and close to the border with Brazil, in the state/region/department (departamento, i'm never sure how to translate this) of Rocha, Uruguay.

I don't know how to put it, but the place is weird, like good weird, is like is not Uruguay. I remember the first time I went there, after a lengthy walk from Santa Teresa around seven years ago, it struck me the scene I've found there, like nothing I had seen before in my country. I saw shored fishing boats by the beach, one little pub playing reggae, plus like about a block of hippie stands in a row, selling handcrafted earrings, collars, and such, close to a peninsula shaped by big rocks.

Nobody knew the place ten years ago, while now in summer a rent there is about 60 bucks a day, for a crumbling small ranch, close to the beach. This year I even spotted some foreign tourists, which was unheard of some years ago.

Even though it's getting trendy, and more sophisticated, it still retains the jamaica no problem vibe, with the hippie little shops, surfers, seafood restaurants, lack of paved roads, and everybody in summerwear style.

If you go there you must try "Buñuelos de alga" (something like seaweed fritters, or fried doughs), since it´s the specialty of the town.

Check what Chuck Stull in his blog writes about it. The few pictures I have were taken in the afternoon, and in cloudy days, so they are no the best, but I hope you'll find them illustrative.


Read more!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Cabo Polonio, Rocha

There's a place in Rocha, Uruguay, called Cabo Polonio. I've never been there myself, but I've always heard all sort of things about it, some people love it, they says it's a unique place in the world, while others can't stand the lack of civilization and services there.

The fact is that there this place called Cabo Polonio, that can't be reached by car, it's about 7 km from the closest highway, people get there walking that distance, or in all terrain vehicles. Another way to get there is by the beach, in a 3 hour walk from Valizas.

There you can find: sea lions, a lighthouse, the beach, and sand dunes. The place has no electricity, no running water, few and rustic constructions. The funny thing is that from january to march it gets crowded with tourists, and the rents are sky high, even though almost no basic services are provided.

Topless is a common practice there, and even some nudity, or so they say. My girlfriend says she saw there (I hope from far away) some guys playing beach soccer in the nude. Well that's the type of things you don't see everyday.

I came across this articles about Cabo Polonio in Uruguay, in gaston in suecia's blog, which has some nice pictures, and I think captures what seems to be the escence of Cabo Polonio.

Read more!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Santa Teresa, Rocha, Uruguay

Santa Teresa, Rocha, Uruguay

In the region of Rocha, Uruguay, more specifically at the km 302 of the 9 route, there's a national park called Santa Teresa. The place is a beautiful forest with some of the best beaches this country has to offer.

The park is named after a hilltop fortress built in the 1762 by the Portuguese, early captured and finished by the Spaniards. The place has witnessed battles between Spanish and Portuguese, Spanish and British, and civil wars. The fort has been restored and is one of the attractions to visit in the park.

Santa Teresa has wide area available for tent camping, and has some bungalows to rent. It's very popular among camping fans. It's ridiculously cheap to camp there, one parcel that can be used by up to 7 guys, costs 150 pesos, about 6 american bucks. Being so affordable it gets crammed with youth in summer, well, not really crammed, the place is 1054 hectares wide (2064 acres), so it's big enough to host an army of camping fans. The beaches are great, oceanic, big waves (in uruguayan terms) I'd say waves up to 2 meters tall, surfing is a popular sport there.

The place is run by the army, and management is not very good. The supermarkets (there are 2 of them) run out of supplies rather quick, and if you ask "where can I find a free spot to camp?" you won't get very clear directions. On the other hand the place is safe like no other, and the park is very well taken care of.

Santa Teresa is a very popular destination for the uruguayan middle class, surfers, and teenagers, providing a good blend of natural resources, peace, safety, adventure and low costs. It's a humble type of tourism, the spirit among the campers is of camaradery, usually older campers (families) lend the tools to the groups of unequipped teenagers that try the camping experience. It also attracts a great deal of tourists from the south of Brazil, and from Argentina, in particular people from Cordoba.

The park is only 5 km away from Punta del Diablo, another seaside tourism hotspot in Rocha, and about 30 km to the border with Brazil, El Chuy, a border town with half a dozen of duty-free shops. Actually the trip to Punta del Diablo can be done by the beach which is one of the popular things to do there, in a walk of a couple of hours.

It's a place I'm very fond of, which I visited all my life, first as a kid with my parents, and later on, in my teenage years, we would go there with a bunch of friends every summer. When I think of Santa Teresa, lot of memories come to my mind, memories of campfires, beach soccer, walking in the beach for hours, fetching wood, making up excuses to visit the girl's neighbor camp, the night as one mantle of stars above the trees, hideous toilets, hitchhiking back to Montevideo for hours, and so on.

Here is a photo album that I hope will help you understand what's Santa Teresa like,


Read more!