We Say Goodbye To Matt

Matt made his exit from Montevideo on Thursday night. The days coming up to his departure were full of seeing people and fun activities.

Saturday night a couple of friends were gracious enough to host a “Despedida” (going away party) for Matt at someone’s house. There were drinks, food, and good conversations. There was also some gift giving and some challenges to drink beer out of a frisbee. For those of you that don’t know, it is possible to fit an entire pitcher of beer within a frisbee. Many people don’t believe this and do stupid things to prove that it is false (like trying to drink an entire frisbee full of beer within 20 seconds… good luck with that one).

The majority of the ultimate team here in Uruguay. They made Matt a poster collage of photos from his time in Montevideo.

Sunday was a great day of frisbee out at the beach. After finishing up, Matt did a great job practicing his minimalist lifestyle by giving away a bunch of his ultimate jerseys to the players here in Montevideo. The people here will greatly appreciate nice jerseys, and Matt has about a billion of them. At this point, Juanma can dress completely in clothes given to him by Matt (including cleats). It’s like a South American version of Matt!

Juanma, Matt, and Carlos at the beach.

Tuesday was dinner with our good friend Paco at La Lupita. We have been here once before, and yes, the margaritas were just as potent as the first time!

Wednesday, Matt’s last night in town, we went to a parilla (grill) so that Matt could eat one last steak. Chandro was gracious enough to come with us. The restaurant was great! Chandro had a traditional asado, Matt had a cut of steak, and Asa and I split some chicken and veggie skewers. The boys ordered caipirinha’s, a Brazilian cocktail. It is made from a Brazilian liquor called cachaça, which is similar to rum but made from cane sugar.

Thursday Matt and I took a trip downtown with the quest of finding gifts for his family that they would actually use and enjoy. The day was a little gloomy and once it actually started to rain all the vendors quickly packed up their wares. Matt was left with only the small magnet he had purchased. It’s probably for the best because his family probably didn’t really want bracelets or little wire figurines anyway. I imagine they’ll be happy enough just to see him again!

Matt managed to pack everything up, including the 5 bottles of grapamiel (a local liquor that I’ll talk about in another post) he had saved to take back to the states. He headed to the airport with plenty of time, as they had delayed the flight by almost an hour. Unknown if the delay was caused by weather here in Montevideo (it was rainy) or by weather in Miami (from TS Debby).

Based on our intelligence, Matt made it to Las Vegas for his sister’s wedding, but only after being detained by US customs for about 45 minutes in Miami. They apparently found his story about quitting his job and moving to Uruguay a little fishy. He missed his direct flight to Vegas and had to be re-routed through Los Angeles. Hopefully he’ll get on the blog and tell everyone about his experience.

So what are we doing now? Well Asa and I are going to enjoy our last four weeks in Montevideo. We have already taken over Matt’s room. Just kidding! We don’t really have a bucket list of things to do before we leave. We’ve already done most of the things to do in the city and the ones that we haven’t done don’t sound that interesting. So I think we’re just going to enjoy immersing ourselves in the Montevideo culture for another couple weeks and call it good!

Matt is in Vegas for about a week and then he is headed to the Philippines for a two week internet business program being held at some resort right on the beach. Poor Matt! He’ll be there two weeks beforehand and probably two weeks after. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess (including himself) what he’ll do. I tell you all this so that you won’t wonder why Matt fell off the grid for so long, but we’ll get him to come back to the blog when he’s got some time! We wish Matt good luck in his travels and know we’ll see him sometime in the future!

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Uruguayan Greetings

I arrive at a function here in Uruguay. It could be any function: game night, frisbee practice, a party, a spanish lesson. The typical Uruguayan greeting involves a kiss on the right cheek. Sometimes you can feign a kiss, but cheek touching is mandatory. Regardless of how many people are present, it is expected that you follow this routine with everyone present. This includes people you may not have ever met.

With each person you must also politely ask them how they are doing and respond quickly before moving on to the next person. People will usually get up from their seated position to accept your greeting (unless they are occupied doing something on a table like playing a board game). I haven’t perceived any special hierarchy as to the order of greetings. It seems like a proximity thing; whoever’s cheek you happen to be nearest gets the first kiss.

If you do not know the person whom you are addressing, it is custom to say your name after your greeting in lieu of asking them how they are doing. That person will usually also say their name. As you may be thinking, sometimes this results in both people saying their names at the same time and neither one will actually get the other’s name correct. It’s just the nature of the beast.

Sometimes a gentlemanly handshake is accepted as a greeting or farewell between men, but never between ladies or between a man and a lady.

Farewells usually consist of the same process as greetings. Sometimes when trying to leave a large group of people that you don’t know very well, it is acceptable to kiss those you do know well and give a hearty wave and “chau” to those you don’t. Otherwise a kiss for each person is required along with “nos vemos” (literally translated as we see each other).

For someone, like me, that wasn’t well practiced in the Uruguayan art of greeting, the act of saying hello and goodbye to people has resulted in some fairly humorous and painful moments. I have frequently and accidentally jabbed people in the head or eye with my baseball hat, I have stepped on toes, tripped on things trying to get close enough for a kiss with an acquaintance which resulted in my falling onto said acquaintance, and knocking heads on accident. All of these incidents were met with laughter. I mean really, you can’t be mad at the silly “gringo” for too long.

As you can imagine, the process of greeting and saying farewell can be long and tedious (and potentially dangerous) depending on the size of your party. On the other hand, it provides a personal connection with each person to whom you are interacting. There is an opportunity to address each person as an individual and show them with a small gesture that you value their company. I know that when I am greeted by my friends here I feel like they care about me and genuinely want to interact with me. I feel included regardless of what I am doing.

Just imagine if people in the US greeted each other with a kiss.

The Laundry Never Dries!

We have had some trouble of late with drying our laundry. We like the addition of the washing machine in our new apartment, but it doesn’t come with a dryer. Our only “dryers” are the air and sun, which is a bit unfortunate considering that the humidity is upwards of 80-90% most days and the sun doesn’t reach our balcony.

A laundry drying rack has been included in our “inventory” for us to lay our clothes on to dry. After the first couple of times doing laundry and using our rack, we realized that it shouldn’t really take 2 days for clothes to dry. Being the smart people that we are, we utilized a stand-up fan (also in the inventory) to help dry our clothes. Now, instead of two days, we get dry clothes in a couple hours.

Here is our lovely laundry rack with fan set-up. You may also notice that it’s pouring down rain outside. Go figure!

Another thing that adds to our humidity problem is that there is no fan in the bathroom. The moist air from a nice hot shower always permeates the house and condenses on all the windows. Again, this wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t so humid naturally. Inevitably the water from the windows drips onto the sills and then down the wall. This resulted in a small mildew problem that was quickly remedied by a wipe-down of the walls with a bit of bleach.

It’s very interesting the problems that arise when it’s humid all year long!

New Digs!

As many of you know, the plan for our 6 month trip to Montevideo was to stay at the Little House for the first three months and then find a different place to stay for the remainder. We want to experience as much of the city as we can. Luckily we found just the place and moved in yesterday!

We packed up all our stuff from the Little House, which amazingly fit right back into the suitcases we brought with us, and Matt and I loaded all of it into a taxi and drove over to the new place. Asa met us there from the office. The check-in process was a little more in-depth than at the Little House, but that’s because we are now venturing into the world of Montevideo rental apartments and agencies instead of just a listing on airbnb.

We had to sign a rental agreement, or I should say ,”I” had to sign a rental agreement. They knew who was the responsible one of the bunch. We also had to sign a 4 page inventory. Apparently when visitors come from Argentina or elsewhere with their cars they tend to take things when they leave. They don’t understand that American visitors can’t fit pots and pans in their suitcases. Oh well!

So the place… We are now in a two bedroom apartment on the 9th (and top) floor of an apartment building in Pocitos, complete with a balcony, heat, and a washing machine. It is a smaller than the Little House was, but it is much brighter, the kitchen is stocked with more than one frying pan, and we have a door man. How cool is that?

None of us have ever lived up so high! When the leaves finally fall off the trees, we’ve been told that we’ll be able to see the ocean. The apartment is two blocks from the beach and it’s apparently pretty empty this time of year. Maybe we’ll actually get to the beach to throw a frisbee more often! Here are some pictures of the new place.

Welcome to the Apartment! To the left is the living room and the door on the right leads to the kitchen.

This is the kitchen with a big fridge, double sink, and plenty of dishes.

This is our cute little front loader washing machine that may or may not fit more than one change of clothes. Then again, it won’t matter if we can’t figure out the settings. There are more than 20 different ways to wash things.

This is the living room, complete with table and loveseat. All that glare is coming from our awesome little patio balcony!

These are the interesting decorations on the wall in the living room. The hallway leads back to the bedrooms and the bathroom.

This is the balcony. These plants are on our inventory list so hopefully we don’t manage to kill them.

View from the balcony.

This is what the street looks like from the balcony. Nice wide sidewalks!

Bathroom. The toilet and bidet are on the left and the shower is on the right.

Master bedroom with lots of windows. One whole wall is closet and shelf space.

Other bedroom. Again, one whole wall is closet and shelf space.

Stuck in Customs – In sight, but out of arms reach

I could see them!! 80 discs to help teach and spread Ultimate Frisbee throughout Latin America were shipped down from the United States in boxes on the other side of the counter. Customs agents weren’t letting me have them though…

The Atlanta Flying Disc Club donated 80 discs so that we can help spread Ultimate Frisbee in Uruguay and throughout South America. It took about three weeks for the discs to arrive. Once they arrived, we received a couple letters from customs at our door saying we needed to pick them up.

We had no clue where customs was. There was an address at the top of the letter, but nothing indicating where we needed to go or what we needed to do.

We asked various people from ultimate frisbee in Uruguay, Asa’s work, and neighbors but we received conflicting addresses. Great…

After making a decision to go to the address on the letter, I headed off on a journey like Indiana Jones, but without the whip (it might be slightly intimidating to the customs agents) and hopefully without the danger… So I guess it’s nothing like Indiana Jones.

The shipment was in Asa and Randi’s name so they signed over the paperwork because they had some things to do. I called Carlos, a friend that is fluent in Spanish and plays ultimate frisbee down here, to see if he could help. He was able to meet at 3:30pm to help out so we could go in and pick up the three packages.

I arrive at the post office and Carlos notified me that he was coming with two other friends. They were a little late due to waiting for a while for a bus. Since customs closes at 4pm so I went ahead and went in customs to figure it out before they closed. I was hoping that Carlos and friends would make it in time to help me out in case there were any issues.

As I went inside, I started mentally preparing for the random questions about pricing, why my friends aren’t here to pick them up with me, and anything else they might ask. There was an open waiting room with a few people standing at the counter getting packages and about twice as many workers behind the counters standing around.

I waited my turn to hand a worker the papers and waited as he went into the back to retrieve the boxes. This was a huge moment! We were waiting for the discs to come in and they were finally here. Once he came back with the boxes, I figured everything was a go and the discs would be given to us.

The worker only spoke Spanish. This was going to be difficult.

Right as the customs agent asked for the receipt, he saw the invoice attached to the box. He opened the little plastic package for the receipt to look at it. Right when he looked at the final price, he gave me a confused look and said he couldn’t give me the boxes.

I asked him why not and what the problem was, but he kept pointing to the price on the invoice. I was confused. I figured I’d have to pay some money (an import tax) and then I could have the discs. That wasn’t the case.

The company that the discs were from put on the invoice that it was for donation for a non-profit and not for resale, but that didn’t seem to matter to the customs agent.

After we talked for a few minutes and eventually got to a point where we couldn’t understand each other, he asked if I would rather talk in English. Ohh perfect! I said yes and he walked away. Great…

A minute later, someone came walking from the back and said that I needed a customs broker. He didn’t speak much English, but I did understand that I needed someone to fill out paperwork for me and pick up the packages on my behalf. This was because Uruguay has a law that any package over $100 US Dollars needs to have official paperwork completed by an independent broker and properly paid for.

They said there was nothing I could do without a customs broker. I was so confused. I don’t know where to find a customs broker, what they charge, how to talk to one, or anything about what to do next. Luckily, after being outside for a couple more minutes, Carlos, Chandro, and Maru came walking up. I told them what happened and what the customs people said and immediately, Chandro and Carlos were on the phone calling people. They both are great people and have great connections, but Chandro had a family friend who was a customs broker and agreed to meet us.

We walked about 10 blocks through the city towards the port and arrived at his office. He met with us and was extremely friendly and gracious offering his services for free and helping. Without the normal upcharge percentage added on for needing to use a customs broker, he showed us that the taxes were going to cost about $450, which was roughly 60% of the final price of the discs with shipping. I don’t even want to know how much it would have cost with his fees.

He said he would take care of it and for us to wait until next week. He was going to try and go through the donations and charity route, but worse case scenario, was going to get the discs for us and we would pay him whatever it costs.

I hate waiting… BUT… after a week and a half, Chandro sent me a message on facebook and let me know the discs had arrived and we could pick them up. This time, Randi joined us for the fun. We figured it would be easier since it was originally addressed to her. There was a slight worry they would be confused since the address said Randi and not Miranda.

We met up with Carlos and Chandro and walked to the office of the customs broker. He gave us the good news that we didn’t have to pay for anything.

No taxes. No fees. Nothing.

It was extremely exciting to hear, but there was still doubt since we didn’t have the discs in our hands.

One of the employees of the custom broker’s office came with us. We were instructed not to talk or do anything and to let him talk. He didn’t say much at customs and handed over the papers that I originally gave them. They came back with three boxes and asked for Randi’s signature and passport.

She signed the paperwork and the customs agent rolled the boxes around the counter for us. No fees or anything. When we left, the customs broker said bye, we thanked him a lot, and he went on his way.

It was like Christmas!!

I felt as if I was 8 years old, running downstairs right after I opened my eyes on Christmas day to see the presents under the Christmas tree. It was so exciting. We couldn’t wait to get the boxes home and check out the designs.

The discs arrived safely

Discs made it home safely

We took the boxes back by bus, got home, and opened them up. There were a lot of great designs, one from Kaimana Klassic, Emory University, Spin, VC, some that were glow-in-the-dark, different colors, and the majority were standard white discs with misprints.

Various Ultimate Discs

Sorting through ultimate discs

Exciting!

Asa, Randi, and I talked a little about how we were going to give them out and how to maximize them to help spread Ultimate in South America (mainly Uruguay and Argentina).

So far, we have given out about 35 discs to the locals in Uruguay and some in a small town in Argentina called Bahia Banca. On a daily basis, they are telling people about ultimate, teaching at schools, physical education programs, youth centers, and bringing many youngsters out to learn the game and enjoy it. The most important part of ultimate to them is Spirit of the Game.

Discs for teaching and spreading ultimate

VeC with their discs. They were extremely impressive with their efforts of teaching and helping the sport grow in Argentina.

While we’re down here, we’re trying to teach everything we know about Ultimate Frisbee. One of the biggest problems is that no company sells real discs (Discraft discs) and each one costs about $30 US Dollars to buy because of shipping and import taxes (Great business opportunity if someone wants to take the time to figure out how to get discs here cheap).

Without the discs that the AFDC so generously donated, kids down here wouldn’t be able to learn how to play with discs that fly. Some of the discs were duct-taped together. I don’t think you need me to tell you that they didn’t fly that well.

Different departments of the government were trying to help buy creating a custom mold to create discs for kids to play with. The discs they created were really just circles of plastic with a huge hole in the middle. They donate fields to play on and help out with tournaments. Ultimate is slowly becoming more well known with the physical education teachers and government officials. It’s really awesome to have teachers come up to us and say how impressed they are with the sport, attitudes, and willingness to help others learn.

Just recently, we were filmed at a practice for one of the largest news programs in Uruguay. We recorded it and are being sent a DVD from the program. If they give us permission, we’ll upload clips for all to see.

Immediately after the program, people started sending facebook messages to players of the team saying they saw it on TV and it looked great.

The sport is growing!

Beware USA and Japan, Uruguay might become the next great team to contend with at Worlds!

When in Uruguay, Drink Maté

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

When in Uruguay, do as the Uruguayans do… drink maté.

Maté is everywhere. It is similar to green tea. The taste is different, and takes a little getting used to, but it’s the same concept. Hot water with some amount of leaves or ground up foliage and a way to drink it without eating the foliage.

I’m a huge fan of green tea and maté is a readily available drink close to green tea in Uruguay.

I didn’t want to drink maté out of a regular glass or cup. I wanted to drink it like Uruguayans do. To do that, it requires the correct items and not one of the collectors glasses that we have from a whisky box set.

The different parts of a complete maté setup are:

Yerba maté, the tea

Maté gourd with yerba maté in it

Maté gourd (called maté)

Maté gourd and bombilla

Bombilla, the metal straw that looks like a spoon on one end with holes in it to act as a filter of the maté.

My shiny new bombilla

Thermos, to carry the hot water around since immediate access to hot water is very important.

Maté thermos

A maté gourd and thermos for all day yerba maté satisfaction

Matera, a leather satchel to carry everything around in.

Matera is used to carry a thermos, maté gourd, and yerba mate

Some people carry a matera around with them, but most people tuck their thermos under an arm and carry their gourd in the same hand of the arm with a thermos, leaving one hand free to do tasks.

Whenever we are outside, at least 1/4th of the people we see have a thermos tucked under one arm, while using the hand of that same arm to hold their maté gourd, full of yerba maté, hot water, and a bombilla.

 

And now, some maté information!

Appropriate times to drink maté: all day. Seriously, there is never a bad time to drink maté. You’re not cool if you’re not carrying around a thermos and maté.

Appropriate places to drink maté at: Everywhere!

I saw a guy struggling with 5 full grocery bags on one arm leaving a store, thermos and maté occupying the other while trying to take a sip without spilling or dropping anything.There is no way this guy would ever commit a party foul and spill a beer in hand, even if he fell down a flight of stairs. Hopefully he doesn’t fall down a flight of stairs though.

The most common places I see people with maté are:

  • The beach, even if it’s 100 degrees out, people are enjoying their super hot maté.
  • The bus, if you sit next to someone with maté on the bus and strike up a conversation, you might just get some maté.
  • La Rambla, the numbers increase of people drinkin maté at the La Rambla (street and large sidewalk next to the ocean/river). Seriously, it often gets close to 1 out of every 2 people have maté in hand around 7-8pm. The ones without maté are running or young children.
  • Walking on the streets, it seems important to never lose an opportunity to drink maté.

In case you are out and run out of hot water, you can refill your thermos with the correct temperature water at many gas stations, restaurants, bars, and more.

We have a maté dispenser on the kitchen wall in our house.

Push the gourd into the pole at the bottom and maté falls into the cup.

With all this maté going around, I’ve wanted to buy a maté gourd, bombilla, and thermos since I’ve been down here.

When in Uruguay, do as the Uruguayans do and drink maté!

This past Sunday, we went to the local market at Parque Rodo and I saw some maté gourds that I liked. After walking around to see what the market was about, I stopped and started talking to a very nice lady that was selling maté gourds and bombillas. She didn’t speak english except for a few words such as horse, english, and United States, and I felt pretty comfortable understanding and talking with her about the maté gourds.

Matt buying Maté

Buying a maté gourd and bombilla at the Parque Rodó market

About 10 minutes later, I walked away with my very own maté gourd and bombilla at a good price.

There were different sizes, different designs, and even gourds that were ceramic on the inside, but I chose to buy the traditional maté gourd with a logo of Uruguay on it. I’m sure only tourists have Uruguay on their maté gourd, but I liked it and figured people can pick out that I’m a tourist pretty quickly.

Preparing the Gourd

I was told that I needed to put cold water and maté in the gourd for 2 days to let it soak in and then lightly scrape the inside to remove the loose part of the gourd. This is supposed to take the bitterness out of the gourd. Everywhere online said to use hot water so I followed her directions and then the hot water directions.

So, here is my maté gourd and bombilla. I’ll buy a thermos and take my maté on adventures when I am more conversational in spanish. For now, I’m content with just drinking maté in our house.

Matt's maté gourd and bombilla

 

Featured image credits here.

This is not the cream you’re looking for…

Randi and I voted that it was Matt’s turn to cook, and being the great guy that he is, he obliged. He set to work making salads, raviolis and a cream sauce. Now, cream sauces make Matt very nervous. He has vivid memories of his sister fretting over white sauces at home because of their tendency to break. So, he looked up a recipe online assembled the necessary ingredients and set to work, carefully following every instruction.

I was blissfully listening to the sounds of dinner preparation from my lethargic position on the couch, when Matt came a little sullenly  into the room to ask how to fix a broken sauce. I had made several white sauces since we got down here so I was a little surprised, but I had only made them with milk and Matt had decided to use cream, which could account for different behavior. We determined that the best course of action was to add more cream and stir, after which, I followed Matt back into kitchen.

The cream he was using came in a box roughly the size and shape of the juice boxes one would relish as a child during recess. The milk and yogurt drinks here come in bags so why wouldn’t the cream come in a box. As Matt began to add more cream to the sauce, I noticed, with some amount of trepidation, that it was coming out in clumps as he was really working to squeeze it out. He assured me that this was how it all came out. Now, many things are different here, but chunky cream drew some suspicion. I sampled this with my finger and found that the cream he was using was actually whipped cream.

Upon closer inspection of the box, one side said cream while the other had the clarifying subtitle of whipped, all in Spanish of course. Now to be fair the box did have a picture of whipped cream with strawberries and mint leaves but we’ll chalk that up to assuming that it was a picture of something one might make with the contents of the box. After all, cereal boxes often show a bowl with milk, and even on occasion orange juice, on it but most of that doesn’t come in the box.

I suggested that we just add some milk (from a bag) and I stirred continuously for about 5 minutes to fix the broken sauce, while Matt finished prepping the rest of dinner. Everything came together quite nicely and the sauce, whipped cream and all, was delicious.

Matt whipped up a great dinner.