I made an interesting discovery today. Dispatched to the “hyper” market to pick up crackers, among other things, I saw that my wife wrote “two types.” This caused me to look more thoroughly than usual on the “cracker aisle” (as did the fact that an employee stocking shelves, and two women chatting, blocked further progress).

Low and behold, on the bottom shelf I find flour tortillas, and not the type we’ve been buying, locally produced with the Mexican-licensed “Bimbo” (gotta love it) brand:

From the Tienda Inglesa web site. Note that accessories are not included 😉

So here we have “Azteca Wraps” – kind of fun, because I’ve never seen sandwiches called “wraps” in Uruguay (but they may exist somewhere).

commercial flour torillas

But a glance at the back reveals they’re not just intended for Uruguayans. And they’re not from Mexico, despite the Aztec implication. They’re made in Spain, and the back of the package presents info in twelve languages.

commercial flour torillas

So let’s compare. The product produced an hour away weighs 360 grams. The product produced in Spain, shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, weighs 420 grams, or 17% more. Which do you think is more expensive?

Well, if you’re familiar with how things roll in the socialist paradise of Uruguay, you’ll recognize this as a trick question. Of course the local product, smaller, will be more expensive! In fact 63% more expensive!

And, comparing price per gram, almost exactly 100% more expensive as the imported product.

Better? Hard to imagine. The local Bimbo tortillas are not special in any way.



Two gifts today

For a couple years I’ve walked with Syd and his dogs in a large piece of undeveloped land near his house in Villa Argentina. I’ve blogged many times about our finds there. (Tag: dog walk.)

aerial view of undeveloped land

We’ve stopped now. Benji’s aggression toward other dogs has been getting progressively worse. After a hiatus because of Mocha’s broken leg, we resumed walking together, and Benji attacked Jordan, Syd’s only male dog, three days in a row, despite our changing walking and meeting/sniffing protocol (latter for the dogs only, just to be clear here).

two dogs inside
Benji (“what me, hurt a flea?”) and Mocha

At this point I don’t dare let Benji off-leash around any dog but Mocha. So I’ve been taking them to our Uruguay “mini-farm” every couple days, where I can walk the property and they can run around like beheaded chickens. It’s about 1.2 km — 3/4 mile for me, only half the Villa Argentina walk, but the dogs make up for it by chasing imaginary rabbits.

I did at one point watch several of the neighbor’s dogs chase a hare there, so they exist. It seemed a goner but somehow escaped. No idea how, but I did watch a couple of amazing rabbit chases in Villa Argentina.

About Villa Argentina: though usually we have had the place to ourselves, you can imagine that those sandy trails appeal to horseback riders, motorcyclists, and four-wheeler enthusiasts, all of whom Benji likes to chase. And in fact, during one of our recent visits to the campo, neighbor’s horses were grazing near the house adjacent to the dog-fenced area (thanks to Burkhard the Model A-and-now-T guy). Benji went batshit crazy. I tried to restrain him with force and yelling, to absolutely no avail.

aerial view rural property Uruguay

So today we arrive, ready to walk out of the dog-fenced area, and I see five horses between us and the stream that runs through the middle of the property — the stream we need to cross to go to the back of the property. From the start, I’ve allowed the neighbor access for his cows (I can pretend I’m rich when I arrive and see “my” cattle). But today it’s a gift: a dog training opportunity! I tie Benji to the fence, go back to the car, get the key to the barn, retrieve a 20-foot piece of rope, attach it to the leash, and head toward the horses. Mocha runs over and says hello to the horses; he’s no problem. But Benji….

As we head in, the horses start to head toward us, because I’m being deliberately as calm as possible — don’t think I’ve had horses walk towards me before! I ask them not to come too close: don’t want to push it. Benji is calm, occasionally looking to me for guidance. When the closest is about 5 meters away, I turn my back to it (signaling “no threat/no interest” to Benji), and crouch down to investigate a fallen leaf that is suddenly fascinating. We continue toward the stream, horses following. Across the stream, before the horses have crossed, I drop the lead and let Benji run ahead, dragging it behind him. Halfway to the back fence, I take it off. Later, halfway back to the stream, I put it back on, because the horses have now followed us into the “back 40.” Mocha runs over to them, and Benji makes a couple of tentative tugs on the loose 20-foot lead. Does a shake, meaning he’s relaxed. We get past the horses, 100 meters past the stream, and I let Benji off the lead.

Back in the dog-fenced area, a horse is tethered outside on the road (roughly near the arrowhead above). I put Benji back on the lead, and we walk toward it. Mocha runs over to it a couple times; Benji is content, even lies down in the grass with the horse not far away.

Which brings me to the other gift, why the horses are a gift: theonlinedogtrainer.com (if you’re just remembering it, note “the” at the beginning; without is a bogus site). I don’t remember what led me to it; Universe tends to work that way, but if you are a dog lover, with any concerns – aggression, behavior, separation anxiety – Doggie Dan is simply amazing.

I can’t say for sure I’ve reversed Benji’s behavior toward horses in a half hour. But I know why he acted the way he did, in response to the incredible change in our relationship in the last week. I’m now encouraged to expand the training to cows (yeah, those were a problem in Villa Argentina as well), chickens. And strange dogs as well. Since the neighbor’s daughter is a vet and boards dogs, they have stranger-dogs, plus cattle and fowl, all easy to arrange.

One dollar for three day’s access, during which you can easily learn the basics. I’ve upped for a month, and will probably do more: this stuff is simply amazing!


Happy day in Uruguay

This is the third world cup since we’ve lived in Uruguay. While previous ones have been exciting, I was never impressed with the actual playing. Not so this year in Russia. Today Uruguay beat Portugal to move to the quarter-finals, and though I only watched the second half,* it was fine playing. Especially, from my viewpoint, considering how Portugal’s shots on goal almost all went spectacularly wide or high. The Uruguay defense was fabulous, and both its goals were scored, not by superstar Luis Suárez, but by Edinson Cavani. Of course a joint effort: the two strikers are quite amazing together.

Screen shot from FIFA site

Since I haven’t been walking with Syd lately because of training issues with my dogs, I subsequently took them to our chacra (mini farm) and walked the property. This gave them a chance to run around like crazy in the muddy fields, splash into the stream, and further the transition of our new Renault Duster from “new car” smell to “wet dog” smell. Whatever.

When we returned to Atlántida, I had to go on side streets because the main road was still choked — almost two hours after the game — with cars full of people waving flags and blaring horns.

Uruguay next faces France, the leader in terms of salaries of players on the national team: USD 1.1 billion versus Uruguay USD 330 million or so. France advanced to the quarters after beating Argentina 4-3. I can’t speak for Uruguayans, but I think there might be a little schadenfreude at seeing Argentina eliminated.

When the game started, I was trying to collect yet another Western Union transfer I had sent myself. I heard the first goal — seven minutes in — on the radio while waiting for an inexplicable 15 minute delay from them. Then WU cancelled my transfer inexplicably. And locked me out of their site, and claimed-to but didn’t send me a chance to reset my password. I called them, then emailed a section with no phone access, for an explanation. I hate to come across as a grumpy old bastard, but after the recent experiences with Mercado Libre (previous posts), I’m getting pretty fed up with business that promise but don’t deliver. Add Western Union to the shit list.

The unlikely tools

It was a little past four in the afternoon. I was driving the dogs back from walking with Syd and his dogs. Since my wife has been under the weather and not feeling much like cooking, I stopped in a place I had found to buy a rotisserie chicken. No sooner had I gotten into the car with it, than a rental car pulled up next to us. The dogs started barking like crazy, so I got out of the car to find out what they needed. When they learned my nationality, they started speaking in English, telling me about various relatives in America.

So far, so good.

They said they were Italians. The driver’s name was Marco. The passenger might have been Giulio, but I’ll call him Guido because it sounds sleazier. As you’ll see, that serves.

They worked for a company called Telarini, I think he said. Something about steel. Had I heard of it? No.

(Doesn’t matter; it doesn’t exist.)

They had a flight out tonight, and their manager had given them a parting gift of two boxes of tools their company manufactured for German companies – or something–, telling them they could sell them for [whatever they wanted]. They couldn’t take them on the plane tonight, they said, so they needed to sell them first.

OK, why? Even if they had to pay for extra luggage, if these tools were worth what they said, why wouldn’t they? And why are they waiting until the last minute to try to sell them?

They were looking for people who spoke Italian or English. Because they didn’t speak good Spanish, they didn’t want to just sell them on the street.

Umm, so what exactly are you trying to do here?

The boxes were in the back seat. He opened the first one, which had a very impressive looking hammer drill and cordless dril, with just enough charge to make it turn a bit. “It even has the diamond bits,” he told me.


He then opened the second box, with several shelves, which he said contained 200 tools of Vanadian steel. I think the number was a tad exaggerated, but the tools – as with the drills – certainly did look good. Better quality, at least, than 95% of what you can buy in Uruguay.


The he pulled out a “factura” (invoice; he had previously waved a piece of paper in the shape of an airline boarding pass to underscore their desperation), “since we’re gentleman.”

Yes, we’ve just met for the first time on a dirt road alongside a highway, so of course we’re gentlemen. Got it.

The “factura” had no currency indicated, and showed a total, with 23% IVA, of 2,800+. He said this is the dollar amount the  Sheraton sells them for.

Aha! So now Sheraton Hotels sell tools, and your manager gave you a gift with an invoice? This narrative is getting rich!

Did I want to help them out by buying both toolboxes for $2,000 US?

Uh, no. The tools look impressive (that price is outrageous), but regardless, I need few tools, and don’t collect tools (or anything, including carcasses of ancient cars) for fun.

But I know someone who does! That guy could also evaluate their quality better than I. And he’d know what to really pay.

Enter Burkhard. I called. He was in the middle of something – slaughtering and dressing out a sheep, it turns out* – and couldn’t make it for an hour. Can I just lead them out there now? I asked. Sure: so ten minutes later, I pull off Ruta 11 and beckon them to turn in the driveway. I don’t plan on hanging around for long. We wave at Burkhard, who’s maybe a hundred meters away with a couple of people with a pickup truck, a carcass hanging from the raised front end of his tractor. With the remote, he opens the gate to the driveway and starts up the rise. Guido yells to Marco to pull the car in. More than once. Marco is busy playing with his cell phone.

Hey Marco, you’re going off script here – we’re supposed to be eager to sell some tools. Pay attention!

When Guido walks down and taps on the hood of the car, Marco snaps back into character. Within a minute, he’s got the car pulled in, Burkhard joins us, and Guido’s got the back door of the car open, displaying the tools. I bid them adieu, and Marco thanks me, calling me a real gentleman. But of course.

*Burkhard had sold some sheep to a pig farmer, and was amazed to learn that guy could skin a sheep in five minutes, something that took Burkhard an hour. So he arranged for him to help with this slaughter, and learn some new skills.

Back home, a while after dark (we’re at winter solstice, so that’s fairly early), when I figured they must be through, I called Burkhard on our land line. No answer.

After a while more, I get a little apprehensive. As I reach for my cell phone to send him a text message, our land line (with no caller ID) rings, and I pick it up saying, “I was just about to send you a text message. What happened?”

He told me that a couple of years ago, in the process of trading his chacra in the boonies (Lavalleja) for a gorgeous hilltop property on Ruta 11, and there talking to Sr. Fiore, the seller, one of these same two guys came by, also in a rental car, with the same story about the airport et al, and tools to sell.

“Incredible!” I said. “So did you send these guys packing?

No, he replied, I bought them for USD 500.

In fact, during the previous encounter, he had wanted to buy the tools, but so had Fiore, and Burkhard didn’t feel he should upstage him.

In this encounter, when Burkhard told Guido that they’d met before, Guido insisted it was impossible – before taking the cash, and returning to whence they came, to emerge another time with (smuggled? stolen? counterfeit?) tools they have to sell “before their flight tonight.”

Sounds legit to me, eh? FWIW, I find no evidence that a company called CAM Germany exists.


Children’s toys at the feria

Yesterday was the weekly open-air market. It can be fun after you’ve been here a while. The “seed and nut ladies” who enjoyed my account of puppy Mocha’s first encounter with the wood stove some time ago (“Heat! Ooh, I like this!) immediately pointed out that they had unsalted cashews, which they hadn’t last week. I talked briefly with a girl I’ve never seen before selling loofahs (for bath sponges) that her grandfather grows. When I mentioned that my attempts to grow them had less than stellar results (wow, it’s been over five years!), she offered an explanation I didn’t really get, concluding with a smile that it’s “medio complicado.” Fair ’nuff. I bought some cheese from a young couple who are new to the feria, telling the customer in front of me whose dog had  just caused an uproar, that the owner of the (many) “uproar” dogs told me that her dogs never bark. Got a good laugh with that.

I’m reminded that before the feria, returning from a few small chores in the campo, I stopped at the carnicería (butcher). Only Javier, the proprietor, was there, busily getting things ready. He didn’t have what I needed for the dogs – will have all tomorrow! – but found a couple kilos of bones, cut them on the band saw to a size I asked, threw them in a bag and handed them to me – see you tomorrow! No charge.

This has happened before. Nice.

feria Atlántida Uruguay

On my return, I notice a large display of toys – haven’t seen this before. However, what really struck me was this:

toy guns, Atlántida, Uruguay

toy guns. Which reminded me of a photo-op I missed a few weeks ago. A couple of kids, maybe 10 years old, passed me twice in the feria with one of the more realistic imitation guns. The second time, the kid pointed it at me again. I smiled. The thought to take a photo pf them came slowly and by then the moment had passed.

In many (most?) parts of the Untied Snakes, it would be extremely dangerous to even be near this kid. There, overzealous cops don’t have to pay for their own ammunition (as they do here, apparently!), and think nothing of firing dozens and dozens of bullets in the direction of such a grave “threat.”

When I was his age, my best friend and I, saturated with World War II movies featuring glorious American soldiers saving the world, had a contest to see who could do the best “death” from atop a pile of dirt on a construction site. Neither mother was too pleased with the cleanup that episode required. So what is a 10-year-old boy with a toy gun thinking about now? Maybe movies, but more likely his mind is orders of magnitude more saturated with first-person shooter video games.