Wooden laders destined to become kindling, Uruguay

For over a month now, I’ve been supervising repairs on a house whose American owners haven’t been here in six years. The caretaker died of cancer a couple years ago. Leaving a house unmaintained is bad anywhere, but with the humidity, really bad in Uruguay.

Today I brought home two ladders (one on the ground cut in two pieces to fit in the car). The vertical one is completely ruined by bugs — notice the bottom rung, broken from just a little weight.

The one on the ground is equally scary. All that wire desperately wound to hold the thing together. That could be ten years old. More likely 15 or 20. Or more: the house was built in the 1960s.

Astillas? Kindling. My next fun-with-dangerous-power-tools project!



My “ghetto” gutter

Several years ago, a departing northerner gave me a short length of plastic gutter, hangers, and a couple other pieces which I installed on our barbacoa. Recently I’ve been inspired — mostly by the unexpected gift of an extra 3-meter gutter section by apparently incompetent employees in a local business that I’m told is a front — to expand it to the full length of the barbacoa. With rain coming yesterday evening, I was eager to get it put together.

Then I discovered that the existing elbow was not in fact 45°, but more like 60°.  This is not my first 45° angle problem in Uruguay.

But hey —

— it worked.

This is a little better, but I’m still not finished. Despite finally learning how to drill holes in walls correctly, I must have hit iron inside the concrete column on one side, so the bracket is more decorative than functional at this point. And maybe I need to splurge on another hanger for the downspout end. Oopa!

Why does the downspout end at knee level, instead of ground level? Well, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, — no, I really don’t want paraphrase that hideous creature who unleashed the neurotoxin aspartame on the world — let’s just say “I worked with what I had.”



Fast house construction

I have often commented on how long construction takes in Uruguay. Simple houses can take the better part of a year.

By contrast, using new technology, here’s the house Syd and Gundy are building as a rental.

super fast house construction with Isopanel

This is in fact a bit misleading because, being Easter week, the workers have only put in a few hours of work the last three days.




Taco wisdom

When we installed an “inverter” split (DC, variable, no motor noise) in our bedroom, we moved the noisy split (AC/heater/dehumidifier) unit to our dining room. Finally, today, I mounted its remote control to the wall, removing two pieces of clutter from the counter top.

Took me ten years to figure this out.

But that’s not the story. In north North America, hanging something on a wall is pretty simple, dealing with drywall and (usually) wood studs. In south North America, and South America, our home for ten years, you deal with a different situation: plaster and brick walls. In Uruguay the requisite plastic expanding anchors are called Tacos Fisher, and I’ve often found myself sticking wood slivers or broken toothpicks alongside them because the hole ends up too big.

Until I figured it out.

To install a wall anchor, do not drill a hole.

This will be obvious to a machinist, or someone who has worked a lot with metal, but I am neither. You don’t drill a hole: you drill a hole twice, the first time with a smaller drill bit. You then use the proper-size drill as a reamer.


I can’t believe it took me over nine years to figure that out :0




Feliz año nuevo

You’ll recall that Christmas Day 2016 was dreary as could be.

January 1, 2017, Uruguay: rain

So was New Year’s Day. I’m starting to wonder if this forecast “hot and dry” summer might end up looking like 2014.

Typical Uruguay quality?

I “repaired” the incompetent window installer’s botched fix (see first link above). Turns out when he smeared everything with silicon, he covered up the drain hole. Someone else advised me to drill holes on the outside channel every 20 cm or so, and I drilled through the aluminum — but forgot to cut away the silicon on the outside. Anyway, in the yesterday’s bad storm, it (finally) didn’t leak.

Sunset, Atlántida, Uruguay

The rain cleared and we had a lovely sunset at 8:30,

moon, Atlántida, Uruguay

and a clear view of the waxing moon.

The second of January didn’t bode well. I got bitten by a dog.

Alas, it was my own dog. Accosted by an obnoxious and too-often-loose dog, Benji and Syd’s five predictably went crazy. Apparently when I pulled Benji back quickly he assumed my leg was the enemy. No harm done.

Sunset, Atlántida, Uruguay

And another lovely sunset.

fake soccer ball in ditch

Yesterday brought the unusual sight of a fake soccer ball in a ditch, not far from where I once saw two real soccer balls in the ditch.

Beach house complete after two years

And I noticed for the first time that the townhouses are finally rented after two-plus years of construction.

house, Atlántida, Uruguay

Today I noticed that one started ten months ago is finally finished.

Meanwhile at the beach, the saga of the buried boardwalk seems almost over.

Rotting boardwalk, Atlántida Uruguay

The exposed part is getting a little dangerous to walk on (but could be worse),

Dune breach, Atlántida, Uruguay

and while the dune has regained its height on the left, burying the elevated boardwalk, the path of least resistance has once again become the breach in the dune, which is now larger than ever. For a fun comparison of its early days, see this from October 2013.

stick on beach

And a much-traveled beach throwing stick that now — after ten or more trips up and down the beach — probably deserves to be retired.

Finally, more rain is forecast. I’m ready!

No, these are not in progress. They are finished. They are above the stairs, where no one sees them, and even though I have repeated sealed them, after water pouring down the wall inside during yesterday’s rain/wind storm I said enough! The goop I happened to have on hand is white.

They don’t even open. I intend to replace them with glass blocks eventually.

Waterproofing: busy day

Since we’ve recently had painting done, we thought it time to try to address some persistent moisture problems on parts of the wall that couldn’t be painted. Inside, our new do-anything guy removed all the revoque (surface) of a section of wall, drilled lots of holes, and set bottles of Igol Infiltración, which eventually empty themselves into the surrounding brick and waterproof it. We hope.

waterproofing wall

Outside, despite being almost directly below a valley in the roof where the most water pours off, the owner/builder apparently made no provision for waterproofing the subterranean part of the sunken living room wall. Even though fixed in place, the pretty-but-shitty window on the right allows water into the wall as well.

exposed bay window foundation

Meanwhile, our Namibian tenant in the campo sought advice from a local South African with lots of building experience, and the two launched into solving water problems on the flat roof there. Typical of Uruguayan construction, the bottom of the drain pipe was slightly above the lowest part of the roof, leaving pooled water to soak through the inevitable cracks in the concrete.

Waterproofing the roof, campo

I helped somewhat, but mostly watched and listened, trying to sort out what they were saying to each other in Afrikaans.

Between the to-and-froing, I managed to take Benji walking with all his buddies, and saw this decent-sized spider casually making its way across our path.

A busy 24 hours

Yesterday evening, a Namibian farmer of German descent who relocated here showed me how the thorny branches of the two orange trees salvaged from my failed country growing attempt were in fact suckers, growing from the root stock, and would never contribute anything. I had no idea that orange trees were grafted! So those bits went away first thing this morning.

Then to start the rounds: butcher, vegetable stand, plant some squash plants in the campo, report to the glass people that the window they just installed leaks like a ________, take back to Tienda Inglesa a USD 8 LED light bulb that failed in less than a month, and then to the hardware store.

paint swatch and light bulb
When I buy these “good for 20 years“ bulbs now, I label them with the source and date purchased. 20 years=<1 month? Unh hunh.

On the left, a swatch I made from the lovely color we painted the inside of the casita (little house) so I could consider it for the house in the country. The hardware store (ferretería) people were very helpful in instructing me how to mix one liter of brown paint into 18 of white, and so when the casita nearly exhausted our first batch, I prepared a second. Yes, what you see below on that swatch. Completely different color.

I took photos of the successful paint job in the casita, the mess in wife’s office, and the radical difference in color and coverage. I took a picture of a swatch of the second batch painted over the first.

Quality control, paint, Uruguay: the two results from mixing identical ingredients
Sorry, but they are identical. Honest.

And the paint containers.

paint containers

The reaction of Ferretería Villa de Sol? Never mind different colored labels, never mind different numbers written on top, never mind the radically different results, these are exactly the same product. We don’t know what happened, and we’re really really sorry. Can we offer to help you find a solution? No. Can we contact the distributor or manufacturer? No (are you mad?).

Unfortunately in Uruguay, es loy que hay (it’s what it is). Accept mediocrity, because.

Speaking of which, recall my amusement at the cluelessness of people who obviously (great location!) had firewood, but offered no way to get it. A few years on, apparently a light bulb has illuminated:

Basic marketing. What an amazing concept.

I will add that perhaps before they did wholesale, but: the retail potential of their location should have been obvious long, long ago.

So, what else?

pear tree

Wife pointed out that the fence we installed for dogs in the front yard was based on presence of bushes, not property line. Pear tree we planted is looking bounteous (bleh, crap photo), but it’s as though it’s chemically repelled by those bushes — notice how branches starting to the right reverse direction and grow to the left. With the revelation (what’s this about delayed light bulbs?) that I had an extra half meter to work with, I tore into the bushes. And will do more.

Go, pear tree. go!

Meanwhile, backyard, the butchered hibiscus offers today a couple flowers, for the first time.

Hibiscus blooming

Ready for a glass of wine, dinner, and read a book. My day in Uruguay.


Aguas Dulces after the storm

We had quite a storm here at the end of last month.

We returned today from Aguas Dulces. I normally don’t like to post lots of photos, but I think in this case they will help you appreciate its aftermath.

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016
From our friends’ deck. The lower right was their front yard.

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016
Neighbor on the left: front third of house gone.

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016
Neighbor on the right: no house anymore.

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016
Meet your new front yard.

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016
People scurrying in and out — salvaging furniture?

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016
Meet your new front yard.

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016
Meet your new front yard.

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016
Meet your new front yard.

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016
Meet your new front yard. Feel lucky.

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016

No doubt a lot of people feeling this way. But dunes are built by wind and waves, moved and removed by winds and waves, and wind and waves have little regard for your desire to live with a view of wind and waves.

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016

Meanwhile, the local “council” has suspended rubble cleanup after a court order. Seems they felt they could take into their own hands the destruction and removal of private buildings (on public land — ah, complicated).

The last big storm was 31 December, 1988. Expected storm surge is up to three meters. In this storm it was five meters above normal sea level.

Design Notebook

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016

On a lighter note, some imaginative decorations of other buildings in Aquas Dulces.

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016

Aguas Dulces, Uruguay, November 2016
The door on the right says NO ESTACIONAR — NO PARKING 😉


Modern vs. conventional construction in Uruguay

Friends are buying a lot and want to build a rental house. Recently they visited a construction expo in Montevideo and became fascinated with prefabricated houses imported from Australia. Today we went with them to view a couple of them.

The prefab house in the foreground is built to the same plans as the single-brick house in the background. The one in the foreground is less than a month into construction, and will be complete in less than two months from start. The one in back took two years.

modern construction in Uruguay

Additionally, the prefab is extremely well insulated. The vertical wall elements are filled with flammable styrofoam, but isolated from one another. In other words, each is its own cell, so even if one caught fire inside, it would not easily spread. Meanwhile, in the “wet” (traditional) construction house, which has never been occupied, the excessive moisture and lack of ventilation has created (typical) mold problems. Again, before people have even been living — and breathing — in that space.


I don’t have comparative costs, but two months versus two years, excellent insulation versus no insulation and moisture problems — should be a no-brainer, eh? Well, there’s something lacking in the warm-and-fuzzy department in the interiors of the prefabs.

Interior, prefab house, Uruguay

The “wood” floor doesn’t really remediate the shiny walls and industrial ceiling.

Interior, prefab house, Uruguay

And then the details ….

Interior detail, prefab house, Uruguay

In the end, though, you must consider that this is “cheap for rental” construction. This could be done with an impressive crown molding, but in this case the owner doesn’t give a shit (no offense, Joe). In fact, there’s supposed to be a video on their site, but I didn’t find it on a quick perusal (tonight’s pizza night; I’m on duty). One could easily do a lambriz (thin tongue and groove) ceiling which would be much more simpatico.

You can make the walls much more attractive with textured paint. All a question of cost. Still, pretty exciting stuff.



Charm removal

Quincho (thatched) roof being "modernized" - Atlántida, Uruguay

A few weeks ago, I correctly guessed the end result of roof work being done on a charming quincho (thatched roof) house nearby. The sheet metal panels do come in different colors, including one similar to clay tiles. Maybe it’s just me, but bright blue feels like a charm-killer.