Situational awareness (lack thereof)

I was talking with a woman in the feria (street market) yesterday, who wanted to know where I was from and what I thought of Uruguay. It’s very tranquilo, she said, a common theme and indeed what made the country so attractive to us, especially after the noise and chaos of Mexico.

But there’s a flip side to that tranqui attitude, which is a lack of situational awareness. People block the entrance and exit of the supermarket as they stop to chat, completely unaware of anyone else; drivers at speed follow the car before them at a distance of 1/2 second, guaranteeing catastrophe should anything unexpected occur; pedestrians step into the street and then look to see if there might be approaching traffic.

And I don’t know if this is uniquely Uruguayan — I can imagine it’s more a Latin American thing — there are the supermarket aisles. More than once I’ve tempted to tap the shoulder of a Tienda Inglesa employee stocking shelves, and point out that if they moved their shopping cart just 20 cm this way they could block the entire aisle, instead of just 75% of it. But alas, sarcasm is not a thing here.

Here’s a recent gem.


A store employee has lost interest in stocking shelves, and despite the wide aisles of Tienda Inglesa (unlike Disco), manages to leave the shopping cart in exactly the place where it can maximally obstruct traffic. The fact that the store was relatively empty at the time might have influenced this “thinking.”

But more likely, there was simply no thinking at all. Just wandered off to some other task, or mate break, or ….


Sad, pathetic people

Generally, I try to keep things here upbeat. But walking daily in a sprawling area whose owner or owners are unknown, that is sometimes difficult.

Consider this: from one day to another, a dumped load of furniture and windows appears in the middle of nowhere.

open air dump, Uruguay

They could have left all of this near a trash container. They could have left some of it near a recycling container. Instead they just dump it carelessly. In fact, I would argue contemptuously, since they managed to smash at least one of the windows.

open air dump, Uruguay

It’s not a spot where other stuff has been dumped. There are several of those. No, just a new, random location.

Update — per Syd comment. I took a marker with me on our walk today. The person who did this might pass by again, might not. But anyone who does will read it:

cerdo humano, Uruguay

“Left by a human pig.” Play on ser humano, which means “human being.”


The coin nobody wants

I got two coins in my change last Thursday at the feria. They are the same diameter, though one is slightly thinner.

the thoroughly unloved Uruguayan 50-peso coin

Here the thinner one is on the left. It’s quite plain, not at all distinctive, and just looks cheap compared to the one on the right.

the thoroughly unloved Uruguayan 50-peso coin

When you flip them over, the distinctive one clearly states its value. The other you really have to take into bright light (as I did for the picture) in order to read.

the thoroughly unloved Uruguayan 50-peso coin

Yes, that wretched coppery coin is worth FIVE TIMES the other.

Normally I get rid of them in the very next transaction, so normally I would not have one to show, but this was from my last purchase of the day.

Is it just me? I asked the cleaning girl today when she arrived. No, she confirmed, everyone hates them.

Issued in 2011, it says Bicentenario de los hechos historicos. Which means (drum roll, please) Bicentennial of historic events. What events? They’re not saying.

It’s not the first 50 peso coins, but at least the others clearly stated their denomination.

It’s an idiotic coin, produced by idiots. I will pass this one on this afternoon, when I stop by the butcher’s.

Update: done.



The Great Backhoe Heist

We were working feverishly at our chacra (mini-farm, 14 acres with small house) in preparation for the arrival of a tenant, the second Canadian-dwelling family member of Germany-Russian neighbors who really wanted to rent. Alas, also the second Canadian-dwelling family member of Germany-Russian neighbors who cancelled his trip at the last minute. (Can you guess to whom we won’t be offering to rent in the future?)

I thought it a good idea to flush the rooftop water tank (which overflows back into the well) by letting the windmill run nonstop, but the windmill suddenly started making dinosaur noises: give me grease! I immediately thought of my Namibian friend Burkhart, who lives a kilometer or so up Ruta 11. His farm hand dealt with our windmill a year ago, when Burkhart briefly lived there. Lubricate it myself? At age 63, while fit, I’m not particularly (read: AT ALL) comfortable messing around at the top of an 8-meter windmill tower, with the disengaged fins still pivoting in the wind.

(I’ll work on that: I should be!)

I had phoned Burkhart moments before for advice about our hot water heater (giza in southern Africa), but felt that asking help with the windmill warranted a visit in person.

So I drove to his place. Heading out our dirt road, I noticed a couple guys messing around with our neighbor Jerry’s backhoe.

Burkhart wasn’t at home. Nice chat with his wife. Noticed an accident a couple hundred meters further. Cops, fire truck, some truck off the side the side of the road, or something. Headed back.

Back on our side road, passed someone driving away with Jerry’s backhoe. Behind, a pickup with flashers on. I waved at both.

Got to our place. Phoned Jerry: is this legit, someone driving away with your backhoe?

Jerry: know nothing. Heading north or south on Ruta 11? If north, maybe going to Burkhart’s place.

Back in the car. Photograph the perps.

pickup, backhoe, Uruguay

Call Jerry: they’re turning north on 11. If they proceed past Burkhart’s, I’ll go on ahead to alert traffic police that they’re stealing the backhoe.

At Burkhart’s driveway on the right, I pull off to the left and park. They pass Burkhart’s driveway. I speed on ahead to report to the police that the approaching backhoe is a stolen vehicle. I have to repeat it, perhaps because I’m not mumbling enough to be understood by a normal Urugayan. Another policía transito appears. I repeat my accusation of a theft in progress.


No no, he says, he’s a friend of the owner. The gringo?

And the backhoe turns off the road to help clean up the mess.

It took two hours for the clean up, Burkhart later tells me. Who’s paying the time? The fuel? The machine hours? I doubt Jerry cares, but…

….apparently it didn’t occur to them to tell the backhoe’s owner what they were doing?

Why do I even bother to pay attention?