I Didn’t Choose to Live in Uruguay – It Chose Me

In 2004, my husband, Mark, and I had just moved to Colorado. We opened a sports conditioning studio and had a lifestyle that included teaching fitness classes, working at the ski resorts, performing with local theater companies and taking on freelance writing assignments. I even published a ski conditioning book in my time there.

Then the headaches began.

My doctor informed me that I had a rare type of illness, which prevented me from living comfortably above 1,000 feet. He also advised me that I would need to modify the intensity of my workouts. For the time being, I was okay without medication, but should my condition worsen, the treatment costs would overwhelm us.

Mark suggested moving to Uruguay. Having only visited once on a day trip from Buenos Aires, I thought he was nuts… but we arranged an exploratory trip around the country. When we arrived in our first choice of Piriapolis, I fell in love.

We came up with a plan. Since I didn’t speak Spanish, I’d spend one month alone in Uruguay, to assess whether I could survive in a non-English speaking country. If I could do it, it would be easy for Mark, who already has a decent working ability for Spanish. Piriapolis beckoned… but Atlantida, an hour’s drive away, had already claimed me.

I discovered a program called “Spanish Uruguay” that arranges housing in Atlantida for their language students. My temporary dwelling was in a casita—a small, two-story house—which was part of a group of similar houses facing each other in a courtyard called Isla Negra. This layout, common in Uruguay, is conducive to communication among neighbors. (So much so that when, on our first day, we needed to find a dry match to light our gas stove, it became a community project.) When we eventually moved to more permanent dwellings, our neighbor told us that your Uruguayan neighbors are not just your neighbors. They are your family.

Other pleasantries soon appeared—like the house shaped like an eagle, or the airplane parked outside the local community center, which the kids had painted in multiple color patterns. Call me fickle, but it was Atlantida that I was now enamored with.

Mark and I sat down to discuss that pesky “where should we live” issue, and discovered that Atlantida had some significant benefits over Piriapolis.

For a start, Atlantida is less spread out than Piriapolis, with more services reachable by foot. Since I had to modify my fitness training, the ability to get some activity by using my own two feet was of primary importance. Food was a concern, too. Products at the supermarkets in Atlantida are more varied than in Piriapolis. I love to cook, and I don’t eat meat, so that was a high priority for me.

When it came to a new home, Atlantida won out again. Finding affordable rentals in convenient Piriapolis locations might prove problematic, but we found a one-bedroom place in Atlantida, just a few blocks from the beach, to rent for under $500 a month.

While Atlantida has its summer beach tourists, it doesn’t turn into a ghost town during the winter months. Still, we occasionally enjoy a dose of the big city action and Uruguay’s capital city, Montevideo, is close (just an hour’s drive away).

And though Mark was not planning to go back to IT work, he wanted to be able to do so if the opportunity came along… and it did. A day after he closed up our place in Colorado, he sat in the airport lounge, awaiting the flight that would deliver him to Uruguay. He checked his emails one last time before boarding… and discovered someone had offered him a tech-writing job… in Montevideo.

It definitely seems like Atlantida chose us.

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