Today we complete our investigation of San Gregorio de Polanco in the Tacuarembó Department. We had a pretty good feel for the town by now. We wanted to go a bit deeper than a surface view.

This is our third and last installment on the San Gregorio visit. If you missed the previous articles, you can read them here and here.

As stated in a previous installment, we ate in the community center several times. At one point a man and his teenage son approached our table and asked us in English where we were from and chatted with us for a while. He is Javier Mendina, a returning Uruguayan who was a business owner in New York before deciding to return to Uruguay. He and his family have chosen San Gregorio for their home base.  Javier is obviously very proud of their little town. He is a building contractor. Much of his work is in Montevideo and he and his wife live part of the time in their apartment in that city.

I asked him if he knew anyone that we could pay to take us on a tour of the town and the outlying areas. He said yes, as a matter of fact, he was available himself and would be happy to show us around!

In deciding to return to the land of his birth, he didn’t exactly leave all of his U.S. life behind. He proudly took us into his garage to show us his beautiful little sports car–a Porsche that he just could not part with. So he brought it with him. We recommend our readers not ship a car to Uruguay. If you read the law you will see that it says you can. But trust us. The head of Customs has another idea. They have been known to charge the entire retail price for importing and you sure don’t want to pay for your car twice! We suggest you sell it and buy another one in Uruguay.

But if you happen to be a returning Uruguayan, the story is different.

Here is our San Gregorio tour guide.

Javier drove us through the streets of the town and told us a great deal about the place. He said there is no crime in San Gregorio. He could park his truck along one of the country roads and come back a year later and it would be there, intact. No one would bother it. He did say that there is a discipline problem developing in the school that they had never had before. We think that might foretell some changes ahead, but we report things as they are now.

He also took us to see the lakes and recreational area just outside of town. There is a ferry that will take you and your car across the Rio Negro to Durazno Department. We were going to take it across, but it turned out the ferry had made its last trip for the day. But we saw the beaches and the lakes, the campgrounds and recreational areas. (There is a YouTube video trip through those areas in Part 2)

Javier also told us about some of the legal and other challenges of doing business in Uruguay—very helpful and enlightening. We were sufficiently impressed by Javier that if we were looking for a building contractor in Uruguay, this is the person we would contact. Javier speaks very good English.

You can contact Javier by email at Website:

As we stood on the shore looking at the beauty around us, Javier said, “Look. You don’t see a plastic bag or a piece of garbage anywhere.” I said, “You’re right! How come?” He responded emphatically, “Because they pick it up!” He added that if he saw anything there now he would pick it up and take it out with him. It reminded me of our early years in Montana, in the States, when we camped in the wilderness. We not only carefully hauled out our own trash, but if anyone else had dropped anything there, we picked that up too, amidst comments about the questionable upbringing of whomever it was who left it!

Later, when we ended the tour, I asked how much we owed him for the tour. He looked surprised and said, “Nothing. It is free.”

One thing this writer noticed in these small interior towns was the attitude of the people toward us. Even though we were from the States, we did not see the dollar signs light up in the eyes of the people as soon as they knew our origin. Maybe it’s because not many people from the U.S. have gone to the interior. Or maybe it is just the quality of the people. They treated us as neighbors—or even as guests–as far as we could tell. As stated before, we notice an unusual level of honesty in the people. We have been warned that it is not necessarily true in Montevideo.

Javier and several other people told us that the people we should see for information about houses and farms were at Negocios Rurales.

We talked to the owner, Jose Perez, and learned that most of the land offered is large acreage and runs from $2,000 per hectare to $10,000 per hectare, depending on the size of the parcel and fertility of the land. In case you wonder, for those more familiar with land parcels quoted in acres, a hectare amounts to 2.47 acres.

We asked if he had any small farms with buildings and he said he did get them occasionally but it would take time to find that. Mostly he has larger spreads of two hundred hectares or more. He said that dividing a parcel is not difficult and if a group were to decide to do so, it would not be a problem.

Uruguay has analyzed the soil across the country. When the real estate agent shows you a farm, he will also show you a parcel layout on which is marked the fertility levels of the soil at different places on the parcel. Then the analysis includes an average fertility for the entire parcel. Depending on fertility, some areas are best for intensive row crops, some for trees and cattle. Uruguay provides information that will help you to determine what is the best use for the plot that you are considering. The level of fertility even determines how many cows a single hectare can support. We will tell you more about this later on, as well as how you can get the information yourself to help you judge farm land that you might be considering.

Jose so graciously and patiently answered all of our questions and took us to see a couple of properties. If you decide to look into San Gregorio, we can’t imagine that you would find anyone better than Jose to work with you to find what you need.

Here are some properties that we saw. To be honest, they were pretty far out in the country. But it will still give you an idea what is there. As we have stated in other posts, we recommend choosing an area where you think you would like to live, moving there, renting, becoming part of the community, learning the area and taking your time to find the real estate you want. Although we know that is not always possible, we think it is ideal if you can do it.

Just an idea of the lay of the land. This is one of the parcels we investigated.

Here is our real estate agent in the foreground of another parcel that he showed us. This property had another farm with house and outbuildings across the street.

You can reach Jose at: Negocios Rurales does not have a web site and, unless you speak some Spanish, you will need someone to translate.

The picture at the very top of this article is the galpon/barn on one of the properties that we visited. It includes quarters for hired help. The outside is in great shape, but the inside is in need of some repair in the living quarters.

Thus we conclude our visit to San Gregorio de Polanco as we head north to Artigas and the border of Brazil. We look forward to seeing you again next week.




Copyright Arlean Kelley August 2012