Dreaming on a shoestring

I had started for Montevideo in the early days of 2020. Started in the sense that I had signed a contract for sale of my home and shucked most of my possessions. I was on the verge of leaving, only a few loose details still to be tied. There was the home sale to close. A few documents still to wrangle. My car to sell. A handful of goodbyes. Then covid-19 slammed the door.

Outside looking in

Moving to Uruguay was something I talked about for years, but finally, when I decided to go, it was almost spur of the moment. It came down to arithmetic. Numbers showed plainly that staying in Austin meant a slow but steady slide into poverty. Leaving wasn’t so much a choice as a necessity. The question was where to go. The field was wide open. A destination didn’t have to be orders of magnitude cheaper to keep the wolf away. Many smaller cities around central Texas could have served, and I investigated several of them. The main virtue they shared was a positive solution to the arithmetic. It certainly wasn’t irresistible charm.

At some point during that search Montevideo started pushing its way into the math. This city is by no means the cheapest in Latin America—far from it—but it is enough cheaper than Austin to afford an acceptable old age on my income. The hump was getting here. Austin’s outrageous real estate market provided a way.

My condo had reached the point in its life-cycle of demanding continuous applications of cash to keep the shoddy construction from falling apart. Despite that, its market value had risen obscenely in excess of its actual worth. Had I stayed, the place would have been a never-ending money sink and the taxes would have taken a huge bite out of groceries. Its sale paid off the mortgage and provided a nice lump, enough to relocate to Uruguay and set up a new household. A dream seemed ripe to become reality. Then came this virus.

Escape still looked possible when I signed the contract for sale, but by the time of closing mine was the last the title company planned to conduct in-person. The pandemic had hit and shut every door. Following the closing I spent the night in a hotel, solvent but homeless. For a couple of weeks after that I was the guest of a generous friend with a cottage in his San Antonio backyard. From there I moved to an under-the-table sublet in north Austin. That was supposed to be temporary. Remember, back in April of 2020 it was possible to hope the crisis would pass in a few months at the most.

Days in suspension

As we all know, the crisis did not pass. Uruguay, sandwiched between Brazil and Argentina, closed its frontiers. The U.S., with a lying incompetent at the wheel, made everything worse and did everything wrong. Time dragged by.

Each month put forward the same decision: sign a binding lease on a cheaper alternative or stay in an unaffordable place I could leave without notice. Every month I clung to hope a miracle would happen, and chose to stay. Every month, the rent ate more of the funds for relocation. That was enough fuel on the fire of anxiety all by itself, but it wasn’t all by itself.

The Mighty Scion, the car that carried me back and forth across the United States for over fifteen years, began to fail. Once a model of reliability, it suddenly needed major repair about every six weeks just to keep going—and it had to keep going. Austin is hostile to senior citizens without wheels.

There were other expensive surprises as well. A cracked molar and worsening gum disease tied directly to stress, but that didn’t lessen the co-pays. Those came from money earmarked for moving, just like car repair and a bite of the rent. The lump that had been enough to support a modestly comfortable landing grew ever more modest. Had it not been for immersion in The Song of Worlds I would have surrendered to despair.

A crack in the wall

Several times during the darkest hours I voiced the conviction that when a way opened, it would open quickly and demand rapid response. That is what happened. I do not remember how I found out that Uruguay granted entry exceptions to foreign nationals coming for immersive study of Spanish. It may have popped up in one of hundreds of web searches that probed the sealed borders. However it appeared, suddenly there was a mechanism to explore. Information was hard to come by. None of it was trumpeted, and nothing was volunteered.

With persistence I learned that a prospective student needed an institutional sponsor. That was a place to start. I reached out to Academia Uruguay, the school I attended during a visit in 2019. They were laboring to survive by offering online classes, of which I had taken a few weeks during the covid spring of 2020. They knew me. Their information was hardly better than mine, but they were motivated to bring students back to their program. Our hopes and dreams coincided. Their sponsorship meant one more huge scoop into the relocation funds, as I had to prepay for a couple months of classes. It was a cost of getting here. The instruction will be an unquestionable benefit.

A complication we faced was that the policy for granting exceptions for entry changed as Uruguay’s government struggled to adapt to a shifting pandemic reality. When I thought I had all the ducks in a row, I applied one Sunday night according to the rules in place at that moment. Monday morning I was rejected. I crashed. The school reached out with an explanation. That very day the rules for exceptions had been replaced. A new procedure had taken immediate effect. There was nothing to do but try again.

The far horizon

The second application seemed to hang fire forever. After initiating a request and supplying a travel itinerary, most of it was out of my hands. The school, as sponsor, had the ball. Once their part was done, everything disappeared into the invisible workings of a government ministry. Meanwhile, on the assumption that my request would be granted, I had to make arrangements for travel and a place to live. A countdown started toward an uncertain event.

One day late in August, this past August, one month ago, my request was approved and I received a certificado de llegada, a certificate of arrival. This was my permission to enter the country. It had a deadline ten days earlier than the travel and housing I had arranged. The way forward was suddenly a scramble. Fortunately, there were seats on flights that fit the need and this apartment, arranged through the school, was available.

Sentimentality went (mostly) out the window in a flurry of packing what I needed to take or store. Whatever wasn’t essential went to family, friends, charity or trash. Motions were far from efficient. A few things disappeared that I had intended to keep, and a few things I had intended to shed made the journey. Necessities came together for the most part. The only intractable problems involved getting documents from agencies of the U.S. government. Were I to start, I could not curse them enough, so I won’t go there. A little inventive thinking came up with workarounds.

Finally, I am here. Pandemic challenges deeply gouged the modestly comfortable relocation I had hoped for, but I am here. Instead of having a cushion for landing, I play tag with credit card debt. It’s another arithmetic, working out how much I can run up and pay off while tucking back a little toward establishing a household. A cautious few weeks will stabilize the situation. Lots of experience tightening my belt helps minimize variables. I am here, and I can do this.

The exception that allowed me to come is not permanent, only three months, but I have already started the process of asking to stay. I am here. I am hopeful. The Spanish classes that unlocked the border start in a few days. Every morning I mask up and explore the city. Every day, mask to mask, I speak Spanish with people I cannot quite understand. Every day it gets a little easier. I am here. This is my greatest adventure. This is exactly what I said one day I would do. I am here, dreaming on a shoestring.