Thursday, October 31, 2013

Rental Cars in Uruguay are Dangerous!

Today I was supposed to let our rental car guy know whether we are keeping this car for the next five months or whether we are returning it to him tomorrow.  I told him we would like a bigger car, with airbags, and still with air conditioning.  He actually laughed at me.  He said, "You will never find a rental car here with airbags!"  I thought he was exaggerating, because I know he wants us to rent from him for our long rental, and his cars don't have them.
It looks like he was not exaggerating!  I kept looking, and I think airbags are really not common here.  That was kind of a surprise.  I was comparing other vehicles that are available for us to rent, and it seems like rental cars are usually Chinese cars--we've already noticed that our current car (despite being brand new) is far lower quality than cars sold in the United States--but it seems like the same types of cars are also somewhat more common here in general.  Maybe, since cars are so expensive to import, people import cheaper cars.

So, anyhow, we were comparing some of the other vehicles available through other rental companies, and a couple things happened.  First, when we were Googling to see pictures of the types of cars offered to us we found the Wikipedia page about the Chery QQ (which is very common, especially among rental cars).  I noticed this sentence on the Wikipedia page:  "Upon impact, the QQ driver will most likely suffer severe (possibly fatal) head trauma, and trauma to the neck and chest areas." Whoa...notice the words "most likely"?  So, if you're in an accident in that car, you're done, thanks for playing.  That sounds really dangerous.  And, I would be really surprised if the car we're currently renting is any safer.  That's kind of scary.

It is interesting that cars are available that wouldn't be available in the United States, but at the same time, it seems like an unnecessary, stupid risk to take for us to drive something so unsafe.

So, that led to us looking on mercadolibre (the classifieds here) for information about another car that looked a little better from the pictures but lacked specific info about the car on the Wikipedia page about it.  As we were looking there, we realized, gosh, we're thinking about paying a minimum of about $5000USD to rent a car for five months, and the same cars sell (brand new, including the taxes) for about $10,000USD.  And then, the interesting thing is, if you look at the same cars that are used and a few years old, they're selling for $8,700USD.  So, they really don't lose much value at all. 

We had talked before about buying a car instead of renting one, but now we're thinking more seriously about that.  There will be the hassle of selling it when we're ready to; selling used cars is a bigger project here because financial stuff follows the car instead of the owner, so buyers have to make sure that there are not loans or unpaid fines, etc, still owing on the car...but financially, it seems like it is a pretty compelling option.  And then we can have our air bags, and space for Paisley's car seat, and so on.

We'll see.

We told our car rental guy that we want to keep this car for another week, so that we have some time to shop for a car. 

Halloween in Carrasco, Uruguay!

Today is Halloween, and here in Uruguay we were not really sure what to expect.

At first, we just assumed that Halloween was basically an American thing so it wouldn't really be happening here, or if it did happen here it would be very limited.

Then we started seeing Halloween stuff at stores.  Mainly, just at grocery stores.  The bigger the grocery store, the bigger the Halloween section, buuuut it's still almost nothing.  So, the giant superstore (called, of course, Geant) had a few islands in the middle of the store with about 5 or 6 very cheap costumes in assorted sizes, some fake fangs maybe, and a couple islands with what appeared to be Halloween candy.  Regular grocery stores carry less than that.  Everywhere else, it seems as if Halloween doesn't exist.

I haven't noticed any pumpkins or jack-o-lanterns.  I was thinking about that, though, and I wonder if it may have to do with the difference of seasons.  In the United States, Halloween occurs in the fall, right after summer, when things (like pumpkins) are being harvested.  Here in Uruguay, this is spring.  Instead of a nice warm summer for growing pumpkins, we've just come through winter, which (as far as I know) is not suitable for growing pumpkins.  So, I think if they wanted to carve pumpkins here, the pumpkins would have to be imported from somewhere in the northern hemisphere, or at least somewhere closer to the equator below the equator.  Imports are expensive here--most imports are taxed at about 60%--so particularly with pumpkins (which are heavy, so the freight charges would be more)--they would be expensive to get to Uruguay for Halloween.  Maybe they could at least have pumpkin shaped plastic stuff, though?  I haven't really noticed any.

Halloween decorations in general have been almost nowhere, and when we have seen them (I think maybe at a grocery store sometime) they are always minimal and isolated to a tiny spot (such as one sign that says HALLOWEEN! or something).  I have not seen any decorated houses.

But then we heard that they celebrate Halloween here similarly to how it is celebrated in the United States.  Huh.  What would that mean?  Do kids dress up in costumes for school?  Could they actually go trick-or-treating?  Security is a little intense here--every house in our area is gated, most houses have well marked security systems, lots of houses have multiple barky guard dogs, some houses have on-site security guards...anyway, it's not like kids could just come up and ring your doorbell to go trick-or-treating.  Or, they could, but they would be doing it out at the street, not right at your door.  When we were living in Centro (in downtown Montevideo) the situation was similar.  There, people had apartments instead of houses, but the apartments typically have guards or at least a doorman, so I don't know how that would work for trick-or-treaters.  Do they trick-or-treat just by ringing doorbells down at the street?  (Is it cheating if you ring 20 people at once and say "trick-or-treat" to all of them at the same time??)  So the logistics were really unclear to us.

We were looking at the little Halloween islands at Geant earlier this week and I asked a lady (in my best Spanish, lacking Halloween vocabulary) if kids go to houses for candy in this country.  She grinned and said they do.  So we decided to buy candy just in case.

The choices for Halloween candy were:
- large pastel-colored marshmallows in a twisty shape (not individually packaged)
- large pastel-colored marshmallows in a flower shape (not individually packaged)
- candies that look like they might be fruit flavored and chewy (individually wrapped!)
- suckers (individually wrapped!)

There were TONS of marshmallows!  We felt a little funny about giving kids unwrapped treats, so we grabbed a bag of maybe-fruit-chew candies and then also a bag of the suckers.  Jeff was like, "Oh, no, Em, if we get these aren't they going to not like the candy from our house?  What about the fun-size good candies like Snickers?"  and I said, "Uhhhh, this is all they have.  They don't have fun-size Snickers or Twix or any of that stuff!  Look around, this is all there is.  So...if they only have this, do you think they'll just like it anyway, because that's all anyone has to give them?"  We decided it would have to do.  The maybe-fruit-chew candies came packaged with a special collector edition cup shaped like a werewolf, but we also could have chosen one with a skull cup or one of a couple other options.

Would we have anyone to give our Halloween candy to?

Then I started feeling a little bad that Paisley is not having much of a Halloween experience this year, even though it is a year where she could really understand a little bit about it and enjoy participating.  I taught her how to say "Trick or Treat" (and she says it, if you ask her for each word).  I decided to look for a simple costume at a grocery store--last minute--in case we could take her somewhere nearby to trick-or-treat at a couple houses.  (I ended up just finding a little witch hat. "GREEN!")  Tonight we painted with some Halloween colors.

I started to wonder if maybe Halloween was celebrated as Day of the Dead or All Souls Day or something else, in the next couple days.

Then, early this evening we had our first group of trick-or-treaters!  There were four kids.  One of the kids was probably about 3 years old and he was wrapped up as a mummy.  His eyes had dark make-up on them, and his costume looked quite good.  The other kids had kind of lame costumes, like the typical grocery store collection: a vampire cape or witch hat here or there.  I don't remember the specifics because they were not very memorable.

I wondered what they would say.  Do they say "trick-or-treat" here?  Probably not, since it isn't Spanish.

Nothing.  They said nothing at all.

So, I gave them each a few suckers.  The parents nearby called out "Gracias!" and I said "Gracias!" right back to them.  Then I immediately felt kind of dumb because what was I thanking them for, coming to get candy?  It was one of those silly things like when someone tells you to have a good trip and without thinking about it you say, "You too!" even though of course that doesn't make any sense.

So they were candied-up, and they left.

We had one more set of trick-or-treaters a couple hours later, as I was in the middle of putting Paisley to bed.  Instead, I took her down to pass out candy with me.  That time, it was a little Spiderman (in a full costume including mask) and a bloody ghost, with their dad.  Also silent.  So I gave them each a few suckers.  I should have given them a whole bag of candy each, because that was the end of our trick-or-treaters.  

I didn't take Paisley anywhere with her little witch hat, because I never did figure out what we were supposed to say, or if much of anywhere would even be expecting us.

Happy Halloween!

(Hopefully soon I will start to take pictures to go along with posts.)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Rear-facing Car Seats in Uruguay

We rented our fourth car in Uruguay today. 

We brought Paisley's car seat along for our travels; it is a Diono Radian RXT, which is supposed to be awesome for travel because it folds up, but is actually not awesome for travel because it weighs as much as a car.  (Almost.)  I do feel like it is a very safe car seat, though, which is an important consideration when you're choosing a child safety seat.

Our first car we rented from Alamo when we first arrived, in mid-September.  I may write more about that experience another time, but for now I will just address the issue of car seats.

We had trouble getting in touch with the Alamo office because their number was published wrong online, so we decided just to walk downtown and hopefully figure car rental stuff out in person.  Since it was kind of a long walk, we didn't take Paisley's car seat with us to the rental place.  I halfway forgot to bring it, and halfway didn't want to think about it, because it is so heavy that it is no fun to move.  If I knew for sure that it would be a one-way w alk we probably would have sucked it up and taken the car seat with us along for the walk, but I remember confessing to Jeff halfway there that I guessed it was probably a 50/50 probability as to whether they would actually be there and rent us a car or not.  They were there, and they did rent us a car, as it turned out.

They asked us if we also wanted to rent a car seat for Paisley, for $7/day (I think that was the rate, anyway).  We assured them that we had brought hers even though it wasn't with us for the walk.  They wanted to show us theirs.  It was a forward-facing toddler seat, recommended for kids ages 3 and older.  Yikes!  No, and, absolutely not!  It did look very nice, though, and if I had, say, a 5 year old kid that was going to be forward-facing anyway, and needed that kind of seat, it would have been totally fine.

Our second car was also from Alamo, a few days later, because we traded for an automatic transmission instead of the manual one we started out with.

Our third car we rented from Avis when we returned to Uruguay a week ago.  I think they may have asked us if we had a car seat for her, and we said that we did, and it was actually with us because it went with us to Argentina.  (Which is another story; sometime I should write about car seats on airplanes...or lack thereof.)  Anyway, no car seat rental from Avis.

Today we rented from a guy who has a small local car rental company.  When I talked to him ahead of time he said he had two types of car seats for kids and that we could look at them when we went to pick up the car, and use one if we wanted (and I think that would have been at no additional cost).

We liked the idea of using another car seat because Paisley's seat is so large that without a Radian angle adjuster (which we do not have) it is sometimes very difficult to install properly, and I typically end up sitting in the glove compartment because the passenger seat has to be moved so far forward.  Rear-facing is still an absolute requirement, though, because Paisley is still too small to be forward-facing, even by the most lenient standards.  In the US, babies need to be at least 1 year old AND 20 lbs to be forward-facing, but it is recommended that they be at least 2 (according to our pediatrician).  Paisley is not close to 2, and, the last time we weighed her she was about 18.5 lbs, so she is still well below that guideline.

Anyhow, the guy didn't have two car seats for us to see, he had one.  It looked a little shabby, but I tried not to act like I was better than them or something.  "Can this be put rear-facing?" I asked.  He reassured me that it could.  Doubting his response, I rephrased the question: "This can go backwards in the car?" "Yes, yes."  Huh.

Well, it was smaller.  It wasn't an infant seat or anything, but the angles and the difference in size meant that I could probably sit in the front seat with only a minor adjustment, if any.

"You prove it.  You put her in it."  He invited me to try putting Paisley in the seat in his living room.  So I did.

Then I noticed the straps were folded over instead of flat.  Hm.

Then I noticed that there was no chest buckle harness thing.  At all.

You just put the two little metal pieces from the sides into the crotch buckle, and the kid is supposed to be good to go, even though it kind of looks like they're just wearing suspenders.

I couldn't do it.

"I think it is not that much smaller than ours.  I think we should just use ours."  Jeff and I have talked a lot about how much we don't like Paisley's car seat for our trip, so I knew he wanted whatever it was going to be to work great, but he said the same thing.  "That's not much smaller than hers."

So it was decided that we would just use Paisley's own car seat, which was folded up in the car seat bag.

We did our paperwork for renting the car, and then we went outside to see the new car--which was in this case really a brand-new car, with only 40 kilometers on it.

I started to install Paisley's car seat, and the car rental guy was surprised by how large it is.  "I know.  I want her to be very safe, but it is not good for traveling..."

He became confused when I started to install the (convertible) seat rear facing.  "In all of my years, I have never seen this.  Are you sure this is okay?"  My eyes widened.  OH MY!  His whole specialty is cars...he has traveled pretty extensively, including some international trips which had come up during our conversations.  I said, "Oh, yes, it is much safer."  His English and my Spanish were not great enough for me to explain crash testing,s o I just said, "I will have to show you a video on YouTube."  And I will have to show him.  [This is the video I'm thinking of.]  Several times he expressed surprise and some concern about me putting the car seat in backwards.  Then he told me her car seat is like the Mercedes Benz of car seats.  That made me laugh.  Yeah, it kind of is, but we just really want her to be safe.

I don't know any other people with babies yet, so I don't know how common car seats actually are, or if they really don't rear-face, or if they just don't rear-face convertible seats, or what, but it was a surprising interaction anyway.

It occurred to me later that he must have thought I was asking him whether his car seat could go in the back seat.  It was definitely a forward-facing seat!

Car seat shopping would be fairly easy here, if you are not picky.  Travel systems (meaning, the car seat that pops onto a stroller) are very common here; when I was shopping for used stroller I thought about half of the strollers were actually travel systems that came with an infant seat.  There are some baby stores here--I'm thinking of one that I used to walk past in centro all the time, and there are a couple other stores like that in our local mall--and they each have 10-15 types of car seats, mostly made by bebesit and a couple other brands.  I have not looked at them really closely, but I have noticed that there is not a great variety of brands.  I have no idea what the limits are for forward-facing or rear-facing, although now I am curious.

None of the cars we have seen here have a LATCH system.  It kind of seems silly; I realize it's cheaper to save a dollar on metal and plastic, or whatever, but it is strange to me that they wouldn't make such a minor change for the sake of saving kids' lives.

As of right now, I am planning to swap car seats the next time we're in the US, and pick up a Combi Cocorro.  We'll see, though, depending on when we're actually back, and how Paisley is growing at that point.


We've been traveling for several months now.

I keep thinking I should just start a blog about our travels, and maybe I will, but I keep having experiences that I want to share.  So, I think I'll start sharing them anyway, and if I decide to migrate some posts to another blog later, that's fine.

And in the meantime, if anybody doesn't want to read about travel topics, feel free to skip topics that are not interesting to you.

We started our trip in Panama.  Then we went to Uruguay.  We felt really comfortable in Uruguay, randomly, so we decided we want to stay longer.  We went to Argentina for a little vacation, and now we're back in Uruguay for the next 5 months; we're still planning to visit other places, but we'll have our house here as a home base. 

So, that's what we're doing.