05/09/2019 Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward is nomadonanomad
I’m still here at the farm on the outskirts of Montevideo, an oasis in the culinary desert that is Uruguay. I had to chuckle the other day when out and about I passed (No, I didn’t call in) a MacDonald’s and it got me thinking about a local going in and placing their order. In true Maccy D’s style, but with a Uruguayan slant, would the person behind the counter say, “Do you want flavour with that?” Maybe the question could be, “Do you want moisture with that?” to which the reply to either or both would surely be, “What’s the matter with you, do I look like a bloody foreigner or what?” I’m so happy to be where I am, 3 excellent meals a day and a bed as well. I don’t really need much more and it has been quite a change to my lifestyle. For how much longer I don’t know, but it’s all good.
Another thing that made me laugh recently was when I was composing an email to the Montevideo Cricket Club. It’s located about 12 kms from the farm and I was hoping that I might be able to go there and get the chance to watch the cricket World Cup Final. I knew it wouldn’t be on regular TV here and was hoping that the cricket club had some special subscription channel or good internet, just any way of watching the final instead of following on ‘over by over’ text commentary. Whilst typing I introduced myself and wrote about what I was doing here and where I was based. I then checked with my host’s father that we were in the Piedras Blancas area of Montevideo. He told me very quickly that I should say I was at a farm in the Manga district as Piedras Blancas, is likened by most folks from Montevideo as being like Iraq! I then thought that many of the residents of Baghdad might be somewhat pissed off with that comparison if they ever got to visit Piedras Blancas. Salubrious it is not, although I must stress the ‘chacra’ (farm) is really nice.
Prices here in Uruguay are somewhere in the region of 50% to 100% more than in Argentina. It really is alarming, so much so that with a very strange irony Uruguay has worked out a whole lot cheaper! Yes, I know that’s impossible, how can a place that’s so much more expensive work out cheaper? It’s because in Argentina everything is so cheap that I got into a very bad habit of thinking, ‘Oh, that ice cream is so cheap I’ll have another quarter kilo. I deserve it, I’ve cycled 100 kilometres so why not?’. Then there would be, ‘That craft beer is so cheap, not to mention delicious, I’d better have another one. At that price, to leave it in the barrel would be a crime!’ Also, hotels and hostels here are just so cheap that I can easily talk myself into not being able to find a camping spot and sleep in a nice comfy bed instead. It went on like that for 3 months and before I knew it I’d spent a bloody fortune!
I crossed the border into Uruguay and the first thing I did was to work out the price of stuff and make comparisons. Thoughts immediately went along the lines of, ‘You what? I’m not paying those prices to the robbing bastards. At least Dick Turpin had the decency to wear a mask.’ Almost immediately I did a serious examination of my expenditure and decided that enough was enough. My overspending had brought the prospect of having to find gainful employment looming large into my life and although I had undertaken a TEFL Plus course to have a qualification whereby I could teach English as a foreign language, I only did it to make myself feel better, and never entertained actually using it and doing some honest labour!
My efforts to try and stave off this most unpleasant prospect meant that I immediately went on an economy drive to see how cheap I could become. Hostels, not hotels, were now the order of the day but only in the event of my not being able to find a camping spot. The thought of eating in a restaurant was straight out the window although in Uruguay that was an easy decision! Now I was going to buy all my food and prepare it myself. If that meant sandwiches made at the roadside then so be it. Otherwise it was me cooking my own food in hostel kitchens that I’d bought in a supermarket.
The other big decision was about beer and what to treat myself to after a long day in the saddle. (After discovering ‘Workaway’ there have been very few long days in the saddle recently, but I still deserve something at the end of the day) Easy enough to forego beer in Uruguay as there is not much in the way of a ‘craft beer scene’ and the ‘industriale’ (that’s Spanish for shit) beer was a similarly exorbitant price to anything and everything else. My saviour was Uruguayan red wine which somehow is as cheap as chips and very nice too. I have gone through a few different brands, getting progressively cheaper, and I’m now onto ‘Faisan Tannat Cabernet’, which I buy in a 1 litre carton for the extremely modest price of 89 pesos, the equivalent of £1.95 in proper money. I have also only bought 6 cartons since I arrived at the farm, so I could claim to be on a real health kick at the same time. I was offered a glass of some other stuff at about 5 times the price and I thought it was pretty average, not a patch on the cheap stuff I buy!
I’ve even been keeping a spreadsheet detailing every peso I now spend and it has brought out the competitive instinct in me which means going without stuff day after day, mainly booze, ice cream and all other things pleasurable, is bringing down my average daily spend very quickly indeed. During the last 17 weeks have seen my average outgoings reduced to 85 pesos a day, (less than £1.90) and since I arrived at the farm here in Montevideo, 14 weeks ago, my spending has been less than 45 pesos a day. How good is that? Maybe I should change my name by deed poll to ‘Skinflint McPinch?’ (Little did I know that my efforts at some sensible thrift would, upon my arrival in Zarate, pale into insignificance where I would be witness to some of the most extreme ‘tight-arsery’ imaginable.)
I mentioned earlier about not eating in restaurants here. Easy in Uruguay, just check out the previous blog post. I have, however, and after a very long time, remembered to google ‘Indian restaurants in Montevideo’ and 3 have appeared on screen. I have to admit I’m sorely tempted to go and blow my new-found stinginess on a complete pig out on some great curries. Even though at the farm the food is very good I have missed Indian food massively and I still remember the last Christmas I spent whilst still living at home with my parents and they went away for 9 days and I was told that there was plenty of food in the fridge and freezer, all I had to do was cook it myself. Instead I had 11 curries in 9 days. Now that is devotion to duty. Most of these were at my favourite Indian restaurant in Leicester at the time, the legendary, to Leicester folks, Koh-I-Noor which had been next to the train station for an eternity. During my time in Laos I still used to read the Leicester Mercury, the evening newspaper, and even now I recall with great sadness the article which told of the closing down of this legendary institution where I spent a great amount of my time as a teenager. You just can’t beat a good ‘Ruby Murray.’
Photos. I’ve decided to come out. No, not like that, but as a Pastafarian. When my driving licence is up for renewal I’m entitled, by law, to have this as my photo on the licence. Only decision is which one?
Anyway, Matias my host has been on holiday in Europe for the past month and I have been tasked with chauffeuring his father around as he has a minor medical issue and cannot drive. No worries as I’ve plenty of experience driving on the right after all my years in Laos, it’ll be a piece of cake. And it was for the most part, although I don’t think I will be hankering after life as a taxi driver here, I didn’t hit anything else and nothing hit me. Success! Before Matias and the family’s return I washed and valeted all three cars, a Mitsubishi, a Dodge as well as the Fiat pick-up. The amount of dust, dirt and grime that came out of these was amazing, although hardly surprising as they are farm vehicles and also transport three young kids around.
On the family’s return I was unsure as to whether I would still be required here. Very quickly I was told of new projects and tasks that had been thought of in case I wanted to stay longer. So, I’m now starting month four here and am quite happy to see out the remains of winter, particularly as I have been moved into the roof-space where it is very cosy and warm.
Photo. Hard to believe but this is the uniform for kids at state schools in Uruguay and Argentina. Benicio and Ramiro almost had to be stapled to the floor before I could get this picture of them. Two not happy bunnies!
Hardware Spanish is a language I got pretty good at. My many visits to the local hardware store means that I’m easily able to come out with the Spanish for, amongst others, ‘nuts, bolts, washers, screws, drill bits, wheelbarrow, angle grinder, glasspaper and spanner’. All I need to do now is find somewhere to engage folks in conversations with this new vocabulary. The guys at the ‘ferreteria’ were all cool and when they found out I was leaving the boss presented me with a logoed polo shirt and baseball cap. Really nice people.
The time to leave had arrived and I set off for my next placement back in Argentina. Sad to leave Contento the puppy who was 50 Kgs when I left and still not quite 6 months old. He had followed me everywhere during my working hours and been great company. I’d taught him to sit and stay, and all the family had to learn to give him these instructions in English rather than their native Italian.
Photos. Contento was 8 weeks old when I arrived and he waddled up to greet me. At that time he was allowed indoors but when Mathias’ father came home Contento had to become an outdoor dog and was a bit miffed to say the least. The last picture shows him with Benicio just before I left when he was still not 6 months old and weighing in at 50 kilos. Benicio is a tall 11 year old. I am missing Contento so much as he was a big part of that chapter of my life.
My journey involved a two-day ride to Colonia del Sacremanto followed by the ferry to Buenos Aires where I was anticipating some issues with Argentine border control as I’d been waved past the border at Gualyguaychu when leaving the country and crossing into Uruguay and therefore had no exit stamp in my passport. I had worked hard at my regular Spanish and had rehearsed several pertinent phrases regarding it’s not my fault if your folks can’t do their job but it turned out to be no problem at all and I was quickly stamped back into the country. It was then that things got interesting, but that’s for another time.
As always thanks for reading this far and may Odin, Thor and Freyr go with you.
Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward.