A simple plumbing solution

I’ve been running longer than usual lately, so I’ll revert to “short and…” – well, come to think of it, talking about septic systems probably doesn’t qualify as “sweet.” In fact, it wasn’t at all when someone finally stayed in our little refurbished farm house and had to cover the bathroom floor drain with plastic wrap because of the smell.

When we finally got around to examining the mechanics, the problem was quite obvious. The toilet (which of course has a water trap built into it) dumps into a (how Pompeain!) concrete box. The sitzbad drain goes into the bathroom floor drain, then to this same box outside.

Uruguayan plumbing fail

So think about it: the residue from the toilet flows through this box to the septic tank (pozo negro), which then creates smelly gas that wafts its way back up the same pipe and follows the path of least resistance. The toilet is blocked by a water trap, and the concrete lid is more or less airtight, goes where does it go? Up the pipe to the floor drain, of course!

The solution was simple, and took just a few minutes: stick in a cut-off sifón (kitchen sink thingie) and make a little trap. The water in the bottom of the “U” stops gas in its tracks. (“Stop gas in its tracks!” I should be in advertising.) Anything to the right of the “U” I could cut off, but I left just because. You. Never. Know.

plumbing trap solution, Uruguay

Since I didn’t post it in my September 2013 Sitzbad post, I want to mention that the plumbing fail I describe here was balanced by ingenuity, a solution to the “geyser” problem of the floor drain when emptying the sitzbad. The next day Martín returned with one of his daughter’s glass marbles, dropped it into the bath drain, and – pim pam pum – problem solved! The marble reduces the flow by 75%, and it works!

I’ve mentioned before (I’m sure) that Uruguayans can be incredibly resourceful. Had we actually been using the farmhouse with its one bathroom, I have no doubt Martín would have sorted this, no doubt even more elegantly.

On the other hand, in testing this, when I went into the bathroom to turn on the shower/sitzbad water, one of the slate tiles on the step of his sitzbad creation came loose and dropped to the floor.

Of course.





My friend Burkhard, of German descent from Namibia, moved from a rather remote part of the interior of Uruguay to a place not far from our little country property. And immediately started projects. One of which was buying a Ford Model A.

To restore.

Which meant taking the whole thing apart. No, I mean really apart.

And from three engines that looked like this, creating one with the best parts from each. He substituted adjustable valves – a later innovation (i.e., not original) that apparently saved days of labor.

And then, of course, one has to put the whole thing back together.

Today it had its first public-road debut. Having been a farmer all his life in Africa, he knew about windmills, and had helped with ours on our barely-used chacra (14+ acres/5.6 hectares). He mentioned that it probably needed lubrication, and since I was halfway through mowing the knee-high grass, and he was offering, we arranged to meet there this afternoon.

And there he was!

He also helped me find a plumbing solution for an annoying oversight from our Uruguayan “of course I know everything” contractor Martín, and then putt-putt-putt was on his way home before he had to use the vehicle’s lights, which are humorously (as long as you’re not driving in the dark) dim.

All photos except for the last two are his. I’ll try to do better next time.

Next time – did I mention he also bought a Model T that he will begin restoring in a few weeks?


Troglodytes in Uruguay

I first encountered the term troglodyte when I lived in Malta, school year 1980-81. It connoted a type of brutish, neanderthal behavior of the lower-functioning Maltese, a connotation not politically correct in modern ‘Murkan Millenial Anti-Stoic society, but hey.

“Troglodyte” actually refers to cave dwellers, and in the sandy area we walk dogs, caves – despite the fixation of ever-digging dog Kiya – really don’t exist. Can’t exist.

Yet you encounter stuff like this:

trash, Uruguay

Appeared yesterday: three car windshields. a yellow funnel, a yellow play soccer ball, a few other bits of garbage. Fortunately, the glass not shattered as in the previous dump of household goods, but who knows – give it a few days?

Let me add perspective. This (Syd may correct me) is where this appeared:

trash, Uruguay

In other words, someone with a cart and horse took a deliberate 10-15 minute ride into “no man’s land” to dump materials that will not biodegrade, and which would have been removed, immediately or eventually, if deposited closer to dwellings.

What can possibly be the thinking here?




What goes around

Setting out to do a good deed, I end up needing one

Ah, it gets complicated. Buckle up.

Starts with a WhatsApp call from Fernanda in Montevideo, an Urguaya whom we met at a recent asado (barbecue) of Jerry, our American country neighbor.

She has sold her apartment in Montevideo (we knew) but still needed to retrieve a few things. Apparently locks had been changed and Jerry’s Uruguaya “secretary” had arranged to meet her and help out, then showed up at the wrong time with the wrong keys, and blamed it all on Chuck.

Chuck is Jerry’s longtime friend, who unbeknownst to me was now at Jerry’s place here, while Jerry is in Miami, heading off on a cruise to Cuba. Turns out the keys he gave were the ones Jerry told him to give.

Fernanda leaves for Spain on Friday, needs a solution. Surely I have a number for Chuck somewhere — ? No, I don’t.

But then remember I need to pick up the charged battery from local ANCAP service station after failed jump-start of Mike and Michelle’s 18-year-old Ford yesterday. So, why not drive a few miles more and talk to Chuck?

Might have worked had I not first turned off after the Ruta Interbalnearia bridge, to the ANCAP station. The Interbalneria is bumper-to-bumper, with lots of people now exiting to take Ruta 11 in my direction, so it seemed to make more sense than stopping there on the way back.

At ANCAP, I learn that Mike had earlier retrieved the battery on foot, and texted me. My current interpretation of smartphone being “camera,” I was offline and got nothing.

Oh well, let’s connect with Chuck.

Back-o-mind wondered if he might be driving into Atlántida for early supper.

Indeed. 100 meters short his drive, we passed. I waved. He waved. Because you wave at everyone, whether you know them or not. Didn’t occur to me that he couldn’t have seen me anyway, driving straight into the sun.

I waved my arm out the window after he passed. Beeped the horn. Nothing.

And so I thought, if I can just turn around and catch with him…. So, slam into reverse, aim for that last driveway, and fail, totally. Backing up in haste, in hurry, with limited vision given dusty windows and light (notice shadow), I quickly found myself in a not-insignificant ditch.

car in ditch, Uruguay
Stuck. As in, you ain’t goin’ nowhere.

Can’t even open the door. Crawl out the passenger side, call neighbor Mariana, whose father Manuel has hauled my car out of mud before with his tractor. Alas, she’s in Montevideo, and he’s not there. Let me call Abel, she says. Calls me back with good news.

Ten minutes later, a kindly white-haired man rolls up with a big John Deere tractor. We spend a few minutes finding a place to hook onto the car. Then, with no effort at all from the tractor, he gently pulls me out onto the road.

I try to give him some money, but he of course will have nothing to do with it. We’re neighbors, he says.