How Don And His 9-Year-Old Grandson Are Retiring Overseas
“My name is Don, and I’m an aviator with an uncontrollable curiosity problem,” writes new Uruguay Correspondent Don Peterson.
“Two years ago, we sold our company. My share was almost enough to retire on if I gave up most of my bad habits and managed to avoid living too long. Not a viable plan. I’d always wanted to live in another country and learn a foreign language, so I took this as the opportunity. A strategy emerged. I would reduce my cost of living while launching a new adventure.
“I’m also the full-time solo guardian for my 9-year-old grandson. I believe that a person will have to be multilingual and culturally diverse to prosper in the world in which he’ll be an adult. So I’ve brought him along for the adventure.
“I’ve spent the past two years visiting Quito and Cuenca, Ecuador; Bariloche, Buenos Aires, and Villa la Angostura, Argentina; and Baja Mexico, while reflecting on my previous life, which took me all over Europe and a fair slice of Asia. Each of those places fell short on some critical point or more. Meantime, time was fleeting, and I’m not one to analyze to the point of paralysis. Thus, Donavan (the grandson) and I loaded up my 1964 Mooney single-engine airplane and headed east and south.
“I’d already had my fill of the islands. My father lived on Nevis for 30 years, and I shared a beachfront property with my now departed wife. The islands are nice to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. We made short work of French Guiana and Brazil, the latter being expensive and over-regulated, particularly for small plane owners. We passed through French Guiana, which I think could be worth looking into. I was expecting grass-roofed huts and muddy squalor, but what I saw over our one night looked more like Club Med for French 20- and 30-somethings.
“After three weeks and 50 hours of flight time, Donovan and I landed on one of the grass runways outside Mercedes, Uruguay. The sum total of my research into this small, riverside town was to confirm that it had both an airport and a hotel where we might arrange a room. I’d read about it in a couple of travel magazines, which described it as a quiet and comfortable possibility for an expat looking for serenity rather than the busy highways and sophisticated nightlife of a big city.
“Traveling in an old airplane with a charismatic young boy is a pretty good conversation starter. We were greeted by Annamarie, the secretary at Contore Aviation, a crop dusting and air taxi operation based at Mercedes. Annamarie provided the phone number for Tomas Contore, the proprietor. We took a taxi to the Hotel Brisas del Hum, booked a room, and asked ourselves, What now?
“The next morning I called Tomas, who immediately drove to our hotel to share a cup of coffee and offer his help in workable English. He was happy to provide hangar space and would accept no payment. He drove me to a real estate broker, who was discouraging about the availability of furnished apartments, and the one we looked at was, in short, discouraging.
“I noticed that the broker’s son was wearing a T-shirt with a ‘Uruguay American School’ logo and inquired. Tomas drove us to visit the 50+-year-old institution. Within the hour, I had Donovan registered at a cost of the equivalent of about US$300/month. We met Elissa, the assistant headmistress, who gave me the third degree in excellent English. After deciding I probably wasn’t a fugitive hiding from the law with a kidnapped child, Elissa told me about the San Isidro Golf and Yacht Club, where she stays when in town for her three days of work each week.
“Donovan and I now have adjoining rooms upstairs in the clubhouse, overlooking the Rio Negro, and free use of the ultra-modern gym, 9-hole golf course, volleyball court, soccer field, pool, and sauna. I agreed to pay slightly less than US$100/night, which is substantially more than one might expect to pay for permanent lodging but slightly less than local hotels charge as a daily rate. We’re going to be here for only two months, so it’s not permanent.
“The rate includes breakfast and a full-time hostess/babysitter for the children’s indoor and outdoor play areas. (This allows the health-conscious housewives time to visit the gym, spinning classes, and Friday tea parties.) Some of Donovan’s schoolmates live in the residential area up the hill from the club, so he can hitch a ride to and from school and join the soccer matches in the evening.
“I had hoped to find a place to use as a beachhead in South America, from which I could take as many small-airplane trips to Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Chile, and perhaps Brazil as needed to find the ideal place to feed my character flaws on a budget I can sustain. I may have stumbled into heaven without getting lost along the way.
“This is not the urbane, sophisticated First World found in Montevideo or Buenos Aires. Horse carts, cobblestones, and corner markets are the norm. Children and adults play along the riverside rambla every evening. Arching trees offer shade. On your third visit to the riverside restaurant, Gonzalo, the proprietor, will greet you by your first name…”
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