Piriapolis Expats



“Did you know that the idea of a round planet was really a conspiracy between Copernicus and the church? After all, they’ve lied to us before…” This is spoken by Jack, one of a group of expats in Piriapolis that I’d run into. Jack is a true believer in the Flat Earth Society, a group that believes the earth is shaped a lot like what you see on the UN emblem, kind of like a sliced orange laid flat.

No one really knows what to say to this, which only encourages him. “Yep. In fact, there is no curvature of the earth. Why do you think you can’t see it, even in an airplane?”

I want to fit in here, because I’m enjoying the conversation, but I can’t resist interjecting:

“But if you go high enough you can see it.”

Jack has a quick reply: “That’s what they want you to think, but you’ve never seen it, have you?”

I have to concede the point, and in any case do not want to expend a lot of intellectual capital and time defending the idea that we live on a globe.

Not everyone is on board with Jack, though: not even, I think, his pretty wife Bobby, a very Swedish looking blonde from Minnesota. She and Jack moved to Uruguay from their prepper home back in the States to avoid what they believe will be a mass extinction of humans.

“Do you know what a Faraday Cage is?” she asks me.

“No I don’t.” I’ve said this a lot today, more than I can remember since I struggled through my psychotherapy course in college.

“It’s basically a giant metal cage designed to protect sensitive electronics from EMP. We designed one to surround our bed. We climbed inside of it every night for two years.”

Jack advises me that he hopes their invention is going to be featured on the Discovery Channel. They have accepted his video (which he tells me they received no compensation for) but he has no way of knowing when it will air.

“It did wonders for my health”, says Bobby, and I try to imagine her climbing into a giant steel crab trap every night.

“In what way?” I venture like an innocent abroad, which at this point would be an understatement.

She is surprised by my question. Hesitating a moment, she tells me “My headaches went away.”

The conversation turns to politics, and Jean opines that she was thrilled by Vladimir Putin’s latest speech. Jean lived in Hawaii until the Fukushima reactor imploded, then decided to hightail it to Florida, but, although she still keeps a home there, that wasn’t far enough, and is now renting the house we are in.

I tell her that I actually like Putin myself, and I’m a little relieved to be able to find some common ground with everyone.

Patty is a native Californian who is old enough to remember the halcyon days of campus radicalism and grew up near San francisco in the 60’s. “I moved out here when my Geiger Counter hit 130”, she says, evoking an eerie image of an old science fiction movie for me.

Once again, I can’t resist a stupid question: “So, you actually owned a Geiger Counter?”

She seems as surprised by my question as Bobby did earlier. “Of course”, she replied. “When I told my (grown) children about it, I tried to get them to come out here to live, but there are no jobs for them here. I really can’t blame them.” She looks away, as if she’s talking about a lost loved one, but continues again:

“The Pacific Ocean is dying. They aren’t reporting it, of course, but fishermen are pulling up all kinds of mutant fish. The plankton is dying from the Fukushima radiation bloom, and so of course all of the animals are going extinct.”

“Wouldn’t you be safe from that anywhere on the Atlantic coast?”, I ask, and now I feel a little like Dr. Watson to everyone else’s Sherlock.

“No. The background radiation in Florida is way over the allowable limit.” I am now wondering about those dark spots I’d recently noticed on my hands.

“I did a lot of research on this”, advises Jean, and at this point I am not surprised. “Uruguay is not subject to any natural disasters. No volcanic activity, no earthquakes, floods, hurricanes…of course, you may not even be safe here. There are record breaking natural disasters every year now, with global warming.”

Now, all of this talk is punctuated by the passing of a pipe filled with marijuana, a substance I haven’t abused since I was in my 20’s. They ask me if I want to partake, and when I decline, I sense that I have lost some credibility with them, if indeed I ever had any. Yes, for once, I am the most sober man in the group, the designated thinker, as it were.

Marijuana is in fact so widely used here, especially among these expats, that I think it’s safe to say they are high most of the day. The aforementioned conversation took place at about 1PM, but I had been in the car with two of them when they passed the pipe during a morning shopping trip.


I am not sure if this is why none of them seem to be able to drive a car. These are, after all, for the most part, women, and in Uruguay almost every car is a manual shifter, thanks to ridiculously high tariffs. I personally witnessed Patty go through 3 gears going uphill before we found the correct one, but by then we had come to a complete stop. When she did get going, she stalled us out. I thought it was just her, until I saw Jean do it, too, and even my (presumably) stone-cold sober native Uruguayan realtor. So maybe it isn’t the pot when it comes to the incredibly bad driving.


But I’m pretty sure the Evil Weed affected the conversation that day. After all, THC is a powerful drug, especially in the concentrations these guys are used to, which is quite a bit higher than the Stateside stuff.

However, that doesn’t mean these people are wrong about everything. They are quite correctly concerned about the surveillance state, the military-industrial complex, and the GMO seeds that Monsanto is pushing on an uncomprehending public. And while the idea that a cell phone tower is a reason to move may be foreign to you (which Patty did after one was installed next to her Paraguayan home), I have to admit when they touch on a subject that I do know something about they are well informed about it. So while I’m not ready to climb into my steel bunker surrounded by a year’s supply of heirloom seeds, I’m also not ready to say that because these guys and gals are waaay out there that they’re incorrect in their assessment about the way things are going.


The fact is, the world is a dangerous place, and it’s getting worse all the time. What I admire about these folks is that they have the courage of their convictions. Here they are, way down at the bottom of the world, in a foreign culture, and some of them without much money to really work with, trying to forge a new life. They are, in a sense, modern day pioneers.

They see the banking conspiracy, the police state, the lies of the media, the folly of our foreign policy, and the corruption of our government, and, instead of just whining about, they voted with their feet, and found their way to Uruguay, which is not a paradise, to be sure, but at the very least you can say that it is a very good, well-educated choice if you’re looking to move.

Yet they face many hardships. Patty’s is a typical story. Her long-term boyfriend moved down with her, and, when the going got tough, after a few local rip-offs irritated him, he left her with a half-finished home and no money….then had the gall to ask her to sign over their stateside home to him, so he could live there with his new girlfriend. Now, Patty lives in a containerized cargo “home”, which is not much more than an uninsulated shipping crate, and she doesn’t know how she will finish her house.

But Patty isn’t alone. Another woman I met, Ulia, was also deserted by her boyfriend, who took off on their catamaran with a younger woman, but at least she has some money. Not so lucky was Bev, whose father was a famous talk show host, but, when he remarried, left everything to his (very young) bride in his will, and she got nothing when he died.

Now, this may seem like a soap opera to you, and there is some truth in that. But it is a real-life drama, and these women (they are mostly women, after all), are trying their best to make it in a world new to them, and I can’t help but admire their grit, while at the same time it is very obvious that they need men, and badly.

They need them financially. They need them to tote heavy loads (as I did for them), to figure out how to build a steel frame house, to keep them safe at night, to tend their gardens, to bounce ideas off of, and, yes- to shift their gears for them.

Yet they keep plodding on, keeping their hopes and dreams alive. Jean wants to create an eco-community based on sustainable farming, Patty wants to finish her homestead, Bobby and Jack want to bring their household goods down, and Ulia and Bev have their own ambitions.


Piriapolis was founded in 1890 by a Francisco Piria, an Italian businessman and self-proclaimed alchemist who buried crystals in key locations around the city, so it’s really no accident that today it’s attracted a no less unique set of visionaries. Most Americans are abroad to make or save a buck, or enjoy the climate, art, and culture of a uniquely different place. These new immigrants are bound by a different desire: to escape from what they see as a coming whirlwind of environmental destruction and an utter loss of liberty. They really believe that there are conspiracies in the world that shape events beyond what we are allowed to know. They don’t believe in the goodness of the Federal Reserve, that raw milk is unhealthy, or that 9/11 was conducted solely by a group of Arab wingnuts. They all share an apocalyptic vision of a world in which there’s not enough food and too much government and they don’t want any part of it.


And you know what? I believe most of that too, and I agree with them. The difference between them and me is that I think I can still enjoy the ride for a little while longer here on easy street before the wheels come off, while they think disaster is imminent.

Then again, I could be wrong, and the stakes are high.


This entry was posted in Commentary, Lifetsyle, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Piriapolis Expats

  1. Becky says:

    great story Jonathan. Makes me eager to visit some day when I too think escape and change will be necessary. Meantime I’m writing from St. Maarten, stepping off the Epic for the day! Having a wonderful journey again. The Barcelona portion was fine, made it into and detailed learning of Casada Familia this time, seas much nicer, captain frank and I reminisced over the 50 foot seas of 2012. Hope you are well and leaving more stories soon. I’ll be back November 9.

  2. Jonathan says:

    Thanks Becky and great to hear from you. Honestly i don’t think i ever met Captain Jack, but glad you’re having fun. I’ll be down here (now in the Dominican Republic not so far from you) until mid November.

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