I gotta tell you, it’s been busy. My dreams of logging a post here every day have been well and truly dashed in the Whirlwind of Activity that was our first month in-country. Today, however is quiet and I’m feeling optimistic.
After the long drive from Tucson to Miami with the cats (see my “post-post-script” below), the flight was a welcome relief. As hard as it was to discharge the kitties into the care of American Airlines and think of them in the cargo area of the plane, we had no choice. At least there were no delays with the flight… and our arrival the following morning was completely uneventful. The closest we came to an issue was having some of the spare cat kibble I’d brought (having been told it would be okay) confiscated by customs. Even the guys at the Avis counter seemed determined to make our life easier – they upgraded us to what passes for a mini-van in this part of the world. It was probably about half the capacity of the one we drove cross-country, but it did hold all of our suitcases, the cat carriers, and the cats.
Before you could say “spectacular weather”, we were on the road, heading east towards our new home. Well, sort of.
The closing date for our house was moved (a couple of times, actually), but we had already made arrangements to spend a week in a dreamy casita belonging to some friends in “Punta del Este”, the major beach town in our new “county” of Maldonado.
Halfway to ‘Punta’, we stopped in Piriopolis to see our friends there. We had left a couple of bags of clothes with them on our last trip and they were just about to start an overseas trip, so it was ‘now or never’. They were gracious as always and it was great to see them on our arrival (ironically, it worked out for us to pick them up from the airport after their trip!). We also hung out with their cat and enjoyed some delicious homemade soup, all while our cats had a little quiet time in the rental van with their long-awaited cat box access.
Our week at the casita was incredible. Everything about the place was serene and aesthetically, it was like something out of a magazine. The entire property is one giant ‘secret garden’ with no actual street access whatsoever. The only way to get to the place is by driving up a grassy slope between ancient flowering jasmine bushes the size of elephants, then sneaking through the hidden gate and winding your way through a rabbits’ warren of brick pathways and an entire jungle of tropical plants and old, flowering vines. There is a little round pool surrounded by an organic herb garden – PLUS – you can hear the waves from the shore! It rained cats and dogs one night, complete with fierce winds and incessant thunder and lightning. A day later, as the sun baked down, the lawn burst into bloom with hundreds of tiny pink and yellow flowers amongst the grasses. On my birthday, our hosts treated us to an outdoor barbeque (known here as a ‘parilla’, pronounced, par-ee-jah) – mouth-watering grilled meat and veggies with fresh salad, local wine, excellent conversation, and even a chocolate birthday cake with a candle on top!
During that first week, we were busy every day sorting out all kinds of details, including wheels. We got an excellent referral to a car dealer and successfully purchased a little (second-hand) BMW 114i (a European-sized station-wagon). Buying a car in Uruguay is very different from the US. The price of a used car (at a dealer, anyway) is non-negotiable, though comparable to US used-car prices and, of course, this one was only driven by a little old lady to the farmers’ market on Sundays. It is in excellent condition and gets great gas mileage (important when gas is $6.50 a gallon!) and we are very pleased with it. The amazing thing is that it took only a single signature and one sheet of paper to purchase the car! No fine print, no up-selling, no silliness whatsoever. Amazing!
Finally, the day came for closing on our house. Naturally, the time was pushed back from mid-morning to mid-afternoon (the sellers had a funeral to attend), meaning that there was no chance of getting the cats moved in before dark. With no other choice, we had to roll with those punches. We were able to drop off a load of suitcases while we visited the property for a final walk-through (that lil Beemer holds a lot of cargo! Pretty sure you could load a couple of sheep in the back without any problem). Our hope was to get our things, including the cats, moved to the house in just two trips.
The property had a housekeeper/caretaker couple who had lived in a little house near the street for 19 years. We had been warned to steer clear of any sort of permanent help for a variety of reasons, so we had a stern clause added to our purchase contract insisting that these people be moved out before we took possession. We had heard horror stories about buyers getting stuck with bills close to 100K US to extricate themselves from entanglements with live-in help that spilled over into their ownership and we wanted to avoid that like the plague. On the morning of our final walk-through, the couple was still on-site! Apparently they were there to have a good-bye with the sellers and that turned out to be the case. (We found out later that the sellers had to rent a house elsewhere for this couple for a year in order to end their contract!)
The closing process itself was fascinating. You do this at the office of a Uruguayan (pronounced er-oo-gwah-jun) notary. Notaries here are closer to lawyers than their counterparts in the US – it takes something like 5 years of law school to become one and they are highly respected, like doctors in the US. So our notary, a wonderful woman who bears a physical similarity to the fictional Lucille Bluth, rattles along in rapid Spanish, while a roomful of assistants manage details for her (noting the rare typo or change, fetching documents and copies, taking notes) and translating into English for us. We both read along in the Spanish copy of the document, struggling to keep up with her extreme speed-aloud skillz. Amazing.
There was a humorous hiccup just before we began the procedure – the seller, a young Uruguyan woman, had accidentally left her purse and keys back at the house. Her father was along for support, so he hopped in their car and drove back out to the house to get her things. Well, it turned out she’d left them on the floor of the car, though he didn’t figure that out until he got to the house and couldn’t find them!
The team at the notary office – wonderful people!! It was a real pleasure to work with them. In a broad sense, typical for Uruguay – straightforward, highly-skilled, genuinely pleasant, honorable people. Refreshing.
After the closing, it was on to the seemingly mundane task of getting the electric bill set up in our name. Turned out to be easier to do so in Geoff’s name and, with the help of our splendiferous realtor, Martina, it was essentially the work of a moment. In fact, it went so smoothly, we ventured on and set up cell phones as well. Don’t ask me what my Uruguayan phone number is; my brain is still fighting me on this.
Well, you know what they say. Give it a few days and the simplest thing will gradually devolve into a complication.
The process of buying the car, which had seemed so very, very simple turned out to have one itty-bitty wrinkle: turns out we are no longer married.
You heard me! Several google-assisted translations later, we learned that in order to complete the paperwork on the car (read: DMV), we needed to prove our residence with a utility bill in our name. Oh, we thought – this is no big deal – let us simply trundle down to “UTE”, the electrical company, and add my name (Joanne) to the bill. Easiest thing in the world, right?
Not so fast. It seems that, upon immigrating to Uruguay, one must have one’s marriage license nationalized, something we had not yet done, and until completed, one cannot have an electrical bill registered in the name of a man and his ‘concubine’.
The stunning part of this is that we learned about our quandary from the incredibly pleasant clerk at UTE, who added in her highly limited English, to me, “Now would be the time for you to hunt around for another man!” Smiles all around.
With a UTE bill re-issued in my name (only!), we were off to the car dealer and the local DMV (where we also had to resolve $500 worth of unpaid speeding tickets that were attached to the car – in the end, the dealer took care of them, but it was still a surprise). Registering a car in Uruguay is a little different than in the US – a team of 4 or 5 older men with wrenches come at your car, open the hood, and poke and prod, presumably searching for VIN info or something. The traditional paperwork process is similar to the US, but, as is typical with all agencies here, the paperwork itself tends to be closer to a court order (several pages of prose) and the clerk literally takes the time to read the entire thing before doing The Thing (vs. similar procedures in the US, where the information tends to be in checklist form and the process mainly consists of someone looking to ascertain whether each box has been properly checked).
Not to give you whiplash, but I’m afraid I’ve somewhat lost my train of thought and beg your indulgence to return now, as jarring as that might be, to our first night at the new house.
Closing paperwork in hand, we drove back to our friends’ casita and gathered up our last bits of belongings and the cats. With darkness closing in and rain beginning to fall from a foggy sky, we made our way the twenty minutes or so to “Los Morteros” (our place is named for what was once a very large ‘chacra’ that we were told was named for the mortar portion of ‘mortar and pestle’). Arriving after dark, feeling really weird about introducing our cats to a strange place with so little pomp, we nevertheless ferried the kitties inside, one at a time. After all of the travel, all of the new places to stay, all of the upheaval, we were not surprised that they took off immediately to explore!
Six or seven rooms, depending on how you count them, plus bathrooms and stairs (something none of these cats has ever experienced, so far as we know) is enough to keep a trio of recently-cooped-up cats occupied for a good hour or so and that is exactly what happened… but all good things must come to an end and, with the advancing evening (remember, it’s autumn in the Southern Hemisphere!), it was getting colder and colder. Having failed to account for this in any practical sense of the word, we decided the warmest, smartest place to gather was bed.
Fortunately, the sellers had left a super-warm down comforter on the bed in the master bedroom (the tower room!), along with an old-school wool blanket, so bed turned out to be a very wise decision. Safely ensconced under the covers, we waited for the kitties – and sleep – to find us.
Find us, they did. Sweet dreams, right?
Not. So. Fast.
Mother Nature chose this particular night for a massive storm – our first night in the new house, our kitties’ first night in a real home for weeks (and still technically their honeymoon, as only Qwerty and Allie Cat had ever met each other before the trip and literally everything Lufo was experiencing was new, including her new ‘siblings’)…
And what a storm it was! Thunder and lightning straight out of a Hollywood movie for hours and hours. Pelting sheets of rain, slamming sideways into the house (and finding its way through the roof in a few places…). Wind, wind, WIND!!!
Now, I don’t know how many of you have ever read the classic, “Wuthering Heights”, but there is a pivotal plot-thread early on where a traveler foists himself into the reclusive scene and is relegated to a ‘haunted’ room for the night. The stormy night. He tries to distract himself with an old book, but handwritten notes in the book spark his imagination, and when the storm reaches its peak, he thinks he sees the author of those notes tapping piteously at the glass (of a second-storey window). Eventually, his likely nightmare stops and he realizes it’s really just a branch in the wind.
Well, about 1:30 in the morning, I was awakened by a strange tapping noise. Probably one of the cats, managed to get stuck inside a cabinet or something. It will stop soon enough. Well, it wasn’t, they hadn’t, and it didn’t. Amongst the literally thousands of things I would have rather done at 1:30 in the morning of our first sleep during a violent storm in a strange house in a new country, of those thousands of things, one of them was most definitely not dragging myself out of bed into the cold to track down a mischievous cat, but it had to be done.
Was I ever surprised when I got partway down the stairs and discovered that the tapping noise was a branch making music on a window. And the moment I discovered this, it stopped. Exactly like the one in Wuthering Heights!
Trimmed that branch the very next day, though.
From there, the project load swelled like, like… well, like a bubble on a tire. Like a twin pregnancy on time-lapse. Like the volume of a Kleenex that has gone through the wash: leaks in the roof, missing screens, non-functioning lights and appliances, cleaning issues and odors, drainage issues around the house… but most importantly, COLD!
Martina very kindly connected us with Carlos, man of many solutions, who quickly delivered a load of firewood and subsequently addressed some of the other maintenance issues in and around the house. Another couple came several times and helped resolve some deep-cleaning issues in the main house. And another friend very, very kindly connected us with a wonderful local woman (and her young-adult son) who have helped out with a wide variety of projects (including some Spanish lessons!).
Then, after shaking hands with Adventure, we took some little trips to town: groceries, hardware, doctor, bank, etc., etc., etc.! It’s really cheap of me to list them like that with no detail, because each is its own amazing story, but I’m thinking the only way this blog is going to actually get published is if I discipline myself to use some “end punctuation”.
So… tune in next week (or so); same ‘bat time’, same ‘bat channel’!
P.S. In fact, there will be an actual bat in the next episode. Promise!
P.P.S. I’ll also try to fill in the blanks of the road trip from Tucson to Miami with an edit to my previous post, but wanted to get right to the state of things here first.