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?


Starting to make sense?

Knowing my fondness for quirky Uruguayan handwriting, Syd sent along this gem:

Marvelous Uruguayan handwriting

1 something times maybe 20, or 20 liters, and one of the worst attempts at a 9 that I’ve seen yet. His annotations are in dark red, but why stop there? What’s with the month scribble? And since when is a 7 simply a crossed 1?

What’s starting to make sense is that this handwriting actually mirrors the way many Uruguayans speak. Not all, but many, especially the important people like electricians, mechanics, and plumbers: largely incomprehensible mumbles to a non-native.

Alas, I didn’t pick up handwriting samples in Colombia, Peru, or Bolivia, where they speak clearly, so I’ll just have to hypothesize for now that they also write legibly. Seems a stretch, but you never know.



Reaching for…

This morning, in my maybe-sorta dare-you-to-grow garden, an ambitious squash plant aspires to — what? A penthouse apartment in the avocado trees?

Ambitious squash plant, Uruguay

Most noteworthy about this image is what it lacks: shadows. After weeks of blistering sun, the temperature dropped dramatically overnight (90s – 70s F, 30s – 20s C). Unlike the last few weeks of forecast nonexistent thunderstorms, this time they got it right. We’re delighted, though reminded that *sigh* winter in Uruguay comes not far behind.




A weed shop in Montevideo

Cañabis Protectio shop, Montevideo, Uruguay

No, not selling weed. Seeds, paraphernalia, maybe growing supplies. I didn’t even bother to look inside. I was showing some visitors around.

Uruguay legalized marijuana — sort of — in 2013.

You can legally grow six plants at home, but you’re supposed to register with the government, an idea which for some reason weed users (and people who remember the military rule) don’t universally embrace. You can join a cooperative and grow up to 99 plants. But no weed is available through pharmacies, as planned, because many pharmacies oppose the idea. (Because marijuana is so unhealthy, don’t you know.)

Cannabis medicine
Between 1850 and 1942, Big Pharma did not exist. Thanks @hemprojectsocial on Facespook.

Unlike Jamaica, Uruguay has decided not to sell marijuana, if and when it’s ever available, to non-residents and non-citizens. However,

Montevideo is now littered with shops selling weed paraphernalia to both locals and tourists. A biscuit firm is marketing alfajores – the country’s national snack, two chocolate biscuits sandwiching a layer of dulce de leche – at dope users suffering the munchies. Its yellow “Marley” packaging seems to be in almost every convenience store, complete with a lion waving a Rastafarian flag and a large dope leaf. [source]

Alfajores Marley

Needless to say, I’ve never seen one. Must be a Montevideo thing. Reminds me of the Macarena: the U.S. nationwide song craze that no one outside the Washington Beltway had ever heard of. But I digress.

Uruguay’s laudable marijuana initiative will hopefully pan out. Meanwhile, it’s looking — to me at least — as a well-meant, and welcome, move, that can only come to fruition through a miracle: the government bureaucracy actually allowing human beings to thrive. Here, as everywhere else, they seem to revel in doing the exact opposite.