Selling an Olive Grove in Uruguay

Photo above from June 6, 2015 looks like it was retouched. I am amazed at the number of colors in the sunsets reflected in the sea and clouds. Before getting to Uruguay, if I saw a painting that looked like most of these real-life scenes here in, I would have said “fake” or “garish” in the past. I have seen many such beautiful scenes here since.
GaudiumSign-IMG_0961web
Our olive grove is name Gaudium which is Latin for Joy.

Comfortable, move-in-ready house with income opportunity

Unique, premium olive oil IRR major equipment included. No Glyphosate around trees.

Click on the photos below to enlarge. These are the sections: grove, house, galpon & casita…

As of June 2020: Uruguay reduces the real estate investment to gain “tax residency” with just a minimum of 60 days stay in the country each year. Having beat the virus impact with a miniscule toll* compared to most other countries (1/40th the world average, 1/10th of the USA’s), the country is eager to welcome new residents soon. The minimum for residency is based on a local index, UI, or Unidad Indexada which is currently approximately 378,000 US Dollars. Click here for the PDF of the new residency plan date 11JUN2020 effective 01JUL2020. (There is a separate option for starting a business and providing 15 jobs instead which requires a higher investment than the real estate only option.) Click for English translation new real estate for uy. 

Here’s a link to an article that explains the new 10-year tax holiday (and then lower rate after that). This is led to a large increase in inquiries to the government ministries and real estate agencies even before flights were restarted. According to Gateway To South America, Uruguay has “extended the period for tax exemptions on revenue obtained abroad from five to ten years.  …it is no longer mandatory for foreigners to live at least half the year in the country in order to be able to claim tax residence – now only two months are required.”

Move-in ready means all furnishings can be included like appliances, furniture, premium wood stove, tools, tractor and car. Usually in Uruguay, one buys a shell without even light fixtures. And often there’s much expense (as we found out) and years of projects to get everything working, comfortable and inexpensive on a month-to-month basis. Or if you don’t need our car or farm equipment, you can buy just the real estate (which includes the contents, appliances, wood stove etc. in the house).


Gaudium (Latin for Joy) is the name of our olive grove.

Nearing 10 years of living outside the USA, we have decided to return. For the last 6 years, we have planted and lived on an Olive Grove in Uruguay. We have enjoyed it very much, but I must return because of my remote business. One plants, another harvests.

Beyond the cost of all this set-up is the time it took to get to this point. Renovating a house in Uruguay is not a quick process. Likewise, clearing the land (a huge and expensive project even with multiple backhoes), planting olive trees many that may live hundreds of years. And the years we have taken to research all of this.

We are selling all the vehicles, implements, equipment, appliances, great soapstone wood stove. furniture and kitchen utensils. One could move right in. Nearly everything is in good repair (like our rejas were just redone and should last many years) but there will be a few things that you might choose to touch up or take a new direction.

I mention rejas (burglar bars) and I felt very safe here. Completely different than being in the city or coastal towns. But the family who built the house originally kept it as a vacation/weekend place and so they added the rejas for security for when they were not here most of the year. The neighbors have been great and when one had a little cooking fire, we called another neighbor who got here with own homemade “fire truck” before the Soca department did!


Grove-SocaEtcDistanceMap

Location of Tranquilo close to the Playas

The Rutas 8 & 80 junction is just about a kilometer from our grove. Walking out of our grove, across old route 8 to new route 8 is only about 100 meters away, at Km 69 of new route 8. With the Tres Cruces website, it is very easy to take one of the 29 buses (daily from 5:35 a.m. to 11:54 p.m.) to Soca, Migues, Solis de Mataojo, Minas, Atlantida, Pando, Montevideo.

Likewise, using ComoIr (or its smartphone, Google app or iTunes for Apple) buses within Montevideo are remarkably easy to use.

Being a central location, one is about an hour from Montevideo, Punta Del Este and Minas. 


Inventory of the Land, Buildings etc.

Click for a list of sale items and other details: Info sheet for olive Plantation 2 col.

All is in very well-maintained condition. We recently installed a French Drain around much of the house to channel water away. We added a steel bridge that will take a fully-loaded cement mixer truck. And built a new galpon for the car, tractor and implements. We have only used the casita for storage, but it does have a bathroom and parrilla/sink area so it could readily be finished further.

We are selling about everything but clothing and a very few minor, personal items. Most houses in Uruguay are sold as a shell without light fixtures, appliances etc. So we offer added value so you can move right in. (It took us years to get some things working right and that was based on a house with “good bones”.)


Food

We had this grove planted as an investment but also a mission: feed people, and a healthy food at that. Unlike PUFA  (Poly Unsaturated Fatty Acid) oils, that are bad for you, olive oil is the basis of the healthy Mediterranean diet. And Uruguay still has an Italian and Spanish-influenced Mediterranean lifestyle with long lunches and appreciation for “tranquilo” enjoying the quiet of living in the campo (countryside).

I figured the caloric value of the projected olive oil that we’d produce and figured that we would feed ninety people. Well, it wouldn’t be good for ninety people to just eat olive oil so if you are into corporate-speak: 90-person-equivalents. So would feed many more their olive oil needs.

Beaches

We are about 12 kilometers from the nearest beach, Cuchilla Alta, and quite close to wonderful beach resorts, like:

  • La Floresta: 17 miles, 27 kilometers, 30 minutes
  • Atlantida: 21 miles, 33 kilometers, 34 minutes
  • Piriapolis: 29 miles, 47 kilometers, 42 minutes
  • Punta del Este: 48 miles, 78 kilometers, 1 hour & 1 minute
  • Montevideo is actually a beach town that’s 50-80 minutes away depending where you want to go on its 14-mile long rambla (beachside road)
  • Uruguay has 410 miles of coastline but I cannot find how much of it beach, I’d be surprised if it were less than 200-300—surprising varied, some flat and others with massive dunes and eccentric trees.

Olive oil

One can sell the fruit directly to the olive mill or press. More often farmers will take it (or have it picked up; one press’ truck can pick up the olives, 1-4 tons for 60 pesos per kilometer) and take it to the press and either:

  • Get a share of the oil “pool” they milled (not your same oil) or
  • If you buy a 10-ton tank, or two, for storage, you get your own oil back. This is important for later in this discussion.

The producers near us (near Minas), one does it the former way and the other the latter. We visited three such mills in our area.

The world market for a ton of olive oil (a metric ton, equal to 1,000 liters). I tracked this for two years and found the following:

  • $3,660.59 minimum month
  • $5,886.21 maximum month
  • $4,449.21 average month

This equates to $3.66-5.88 per liter before wholesale or retail market. From https://www.indexmundi.com/commodities/?commodity=olive-oil for Olive Oil, extra virgin less than 1% free fatty acid, ex-tanker price U.K., US Dollars per Metric Ton.

You can see the ranking of world suppliers here:

Rank Country Production (1000 MT)
1 EU-27 2,310
2 Tunisia 290
3 Turkey 250
4 Morocco 140
5 Syrian Arab Republic 105
6 Algeria 80
7 Argentina 38
8 Lebanon 25
9 Jordan 24
10 Australia 22
11 Libya 18
12 Chile 17
13 Israel 17
14 United States 16
15 China 5
16 Saudi Arabia 3

https://www.indexmundi.com/agriculture/?commodity=olive-oil&graph=production 

This income per liter is not a lot of money really, so many farmers bottle it (or have the olive mill bottle, cap, label and box it—we have these price lists) and sell it to stores or wholesalers. But how does one differentiate oneself?

One route is through boutique stores that want the actual olive oil. Too many cases of adulterated oil have been reported throughout Europe and the USA so that the oil one buys in many stores may be mostly “PUFA”. Another route is to sell to an ethnic market like the Asian nouveau riche who don’t want to buy their own lesser-quality products but good, healthy items. I have a reference on that.

I did a google search for an “olive oil store” in a given state and found that there was such a store in a small town I was familiar with. So, I went to their website and found that they bottled it (so must be buying in bulk) from Chile and the net retail they get, effectively, ranges from $35.92-82.50 per liter. The lower end of the range for 750ml bottles at $26.95 (which works out to $35.92/liter)and the higher end, a “tester size” of 60ml for $4.95 where the packaging and shipping are a big part of the cost.

Then we realized another opportunity that we really just backed into, without intending to. Premium oil with special characteristics, or in our case without exposure to certain questionable chemicals many people want to avoid…

Early on, we decided to not use glyphosate for weed killer. The more we heard about the stuff it seemed nasty. And while you don’t put it on the trees, all over the world olive groves spray it all around their trees. It’s supposed to break down but how many times have we heard of “dead soil” and researchers are finding it in people’s stomach biology with results that seems like a very bad idea. So, it’s been a challenge for us on how to get rid of the weeds. We’ve mowed, weed-whacked and come to the conclusion that there must be a better way.

Here are top two: spraying super-heated steam or sheep! I think that the sheep sound like a great idea, albeit if it’s someone else’s project to tend them. One does need to enhance the fences so there’s that cost—several thousand dollars. The right number of sheep will trim the grass, without the need of inner fences for paddocks. A breed that is not shy of humans is a good idea. Having seen this in action: it’s beautiful! Looked just like a golf course with your “lawn crew” providing bits of fertilizer at the same time!

I talked to an Australian vendor who is bringing the steam device for the tractor and it’s $20,000. So it’s not cheap. Then once under control you might only use it 4-6 days out of the year. The nature of farm equipment. Maybe one could hire out for others’ needs. We hear how glyphosate is banned in many countries already and we’d like to get ahead of this trend. It supports our olive oil having a premium value.

Want to hear more about a sales analysis with suggested business plan, list of annual expenses and valuation? Click here: Gaudium sales analysis 06302019 …it shows how one could make $66,000 a year while have a comfortable lifestyle.


Mosquitos?

Uruguay’s beach town do have many mosquitos. When our house was being renovated, we rented a house about three blocks from the beach and every night I swatted 30-50 mosquitos hanging on various walls waiting for us to go to bed. We slept under a mosquito net but most nights one or two I missed managed to slip in with us.

Depending on how you live here in the campo, if others do most of the field work, one year I counted five total! We rarely see one in the house (just one so far in 2020). But then we do have screens on the windows. And we have never used the mosquito net again here in the campo. During periods when it’s dry, one does not see mosquitos much in the fields either. But after a good rain, they can appear everywhere in the fields; though on the windy days in the sun (of which there are many), one doesn’t see them much even then.


Hard work but even I did it.

Our original plan was to have trees managed but the set-up of the grove ended up being so much more expensive than we dreamed. So, we took on the project of keeping the trees alive while young. Fortunately, a friend who is a farmer helped us and that first fall and early winter we had a drought. To irrigate our baby trees, we had to get about six liters of water on them regularly and farmer friend worked out what speed to run the tractor at and I walked along side pouring water from the 800-liter tank, switching from one to the next tree. I had never done much physical work since high school, so I figured it was do or die. But I didn’t die. It was just a 15-kilometer jog over three days, with regular rest periods as we drove back to the tower to get more water (when I’d check my email on my phone). We did this two more times before the heavens opened up and we have not had to irrigate since 2015.

Our water tower has a 4,000-liter tank and we were told that our 35-meter well produced a 1,000 liters per hour—which was more than enough for our purposes. The well house also has a pressure tank to give the house good water pressure.

Each new project on the farm seemed challenging, but as I learned the process I remembered those 3-day, 15-kilometer jogs and figured: I could do it.


The importance of community—we’re all in this together.

I want to mention the various people who came to help at stages, but without names. There are a number of expats and locals who have been invaluable. I came to realize the importance of community through this time and backed off from my gringo “self-reliance”.


Spend less time finding your tools

ToolsInCasita-IMG_0059


 A “river” runs through it

Well, a gully actually and dry most of the time. When the deluge came after our initial drought, we took a look at our primitive bridge and asked: how long will this last? Turns out that it did not last another year before the raging stream undercut it and took it down. Before that happened, we decided to build a new, solid bridge. Perhaps it ended up being stronger than strictly necessary, but you build for the extreme need not the average. And so now we have a steel and concrete bridge that will take a fully-loaded cement mixer—perhaps for a new house further into the grove? On the hill looking at the mountains? This was fascinating experience that I got to help with: tying steel and shoveling gravel, that was overseen by a master builder who had built bridges for the state of New Mexico. Again, with the help of nearby friends who had heavy equipment.


Varieties of Olives

Gaudium-Olive-Varieties-Map-web
Our five varieties of olives. We did not harvest this year because we felt that we just did not have enough to warrant it.  At the northern corner, the Arbequinas has been the greatest early producers. The Leccinos came in second, Coratinas third, Barnea next with Frantoio last.

Our goal was to hire an expert to give us a recommend a good ratio for our varieties and make a unique blend. But it’s premature. Maybe next fall 2021.

CHACRA-1
Pulling the Google Map telescope out a bit, we can see our immediate area. We are on a section of old route 8 which is accessible from the Route 80 rotonda or the wood balanza entrance at KM 68 after the Route 9 rotonda. Solis de Matojo is the nearest town but Soca (to the left and west) is nearly the same and on the way to Atlantida where one can find bigger stores and more services.

Lluvias, Rainfalls

Rainfall in Uruguay averages around 4″ a month but much of that can early one and late the next! This was not a problem for our trees which we only needed to irrigate from June-July 2015 and not since. But I didn’t take it for granted and started keeping daily records when the rains restarted in late July (I did not keep records for earlier in 2015).

Rainfall-Lluvias---July-2015-December-2020


Where on the globe is Uruguay?

MapGlobeUruguay&Antarctica34-39S
Uruguay is located in a moderate weather zone of South America. The equivalent latitude to the Northern Hemisphere’s Santa Barbara, California or Cape Lookout, North Carolina.

Location in South America

Latitude & Longitude: 34°39’02.3″S 55°34’05.9″W (-34.650635, -55.568314)

We are in the Southern Hemisphere, 3881 kilometers (2411 miles) below the equator and 6126 kilometers (3807 miles) above the South pole. These numbers are for Montevideo, the capital city which is 75 minutes southwest of the chacra by the many nice bus lines that pickup on the new Route 8 highway that goes by 100 meters in front of our gate.

Our Latitude equivalents in the Northern Hemisphere are Cape Lookout, North Carolina (between Wilmington and Morehead City, NC) or (ironically) Los Olivos in California (near Vandenburg Air Force Base and Los Alamos, between Santa Barbara and Morro Bay, CA). My understanding is that an Olive Grove here in Uruguay would be more affordable than in California. Taxes are probably lower too. And with zero snow, plus low humidity in summer, it’s pretty nice here. One could be a snowbird and have two summers each year!

UruguayGaudiumMap1745pxWide
A map of Uruguay showing the big city of Buenos Aires, Argentina also. Our chacra is at the green dot labelled “We Are Here”. You can see we are about halfway between Montevideo to the southwest and jet set beach resort, Punta del Este (below the easier to find city of Maldonado), to the southeast. We are just above the more residential beach towns of La Floresta and Cuchilla Alta (latter not shown on the map) and the year-around towns of Atlantida and Piriapolis.

Between Argentina and Brazil, Uruguay is a small country of three million people and twelve million cattle designed as a buffer state between the Argentines and Brazilians. Initially pastoral, the country made its fortune twice through feeding the allies in both World War I and II which was helped by having a good deep-water port, Montevideo. Since then its hundreds of miles of beaches have become a magnet to summer visitors in the adjacent countries along with northerners escaping their frigid hemisphere.

When I drive to the nearest coastline, at Cuchilla Alta (16 miles, 26 kilometers or 30 minutes), I look over the “River” Plate (Rîo de la Plata) and there’s no other shore until Antarctica, 2400 miles further south. Where we are, east of Montevideo, calling it a river is a misnomer, instead “an estuary, a gulf or a marginal sea” is how others describe it according to Wikipedia.

Uruguay Time Zone (UYT)

To further orient you, we are directly south of St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada and so effectively in the Atlantic time zone means that we are an hour ahead of the US EDT time zone. Note Eastern Standard Time; when they “fall back”, we do not—no daylight savings time as of 2016, which is very nice to have to bother with that. In the USA, Daylight Savings is called the most hated government regulation. Anyway, once they “fall back” we are 2 hours ahead of the US EST.

I find it easier to work with Europeans here who typically closed in our mid-day when I was in the central time zone. Officially though we are on UYT (Uruguay Time), UTC/GMT -3 hours. Because our daylight savings time change dates did not correspond with my family and customers up north, we had four different periods when we would be 0-4 hours different depending on the date! Now, part of the year we are on the same time zone as Canada’s Atlantic time zone until they “fall back”.

Our real estate agents (so far) are located in Atlantida (26 kms away), Cuchilla Alta and Punta del Este. All speak Spanish, some also English or Dutch. Let me know of your interest and preferred language and I will put you in touch. We would rather sell through them than to try to “beat out” the real estate commission. We want the process to be as easy and professional as possible.


Different map scales

GaudiumOliveGrove_GoogleView100m2


Passive Solar

Our house was built well to take advantage of the sun’s warmth during winter. The roof extends so that sun comes through most of the windows then. But in summer most windows are shielded by the roof when the sun is at a higher angle. The two rooms that have direct sunlight are the bedroom in the southern corner and the kitchen. Both have side windows. The bedroom has little impact as it just for a short time that the side window gets sun and heat. But the kitchen’s side window gets more of the afternoon and evening sun and so the kitchen gets warmer in summer than the rest of the house. An awning might be a good idea.

Yet, we never considered air conditioning for the few weeks that it was quite hot. Partly the moderate humidity makes the heat here a walk in the park compared to Illinois’ muggy summers. We also theorized that we could get in the car, turn on the air conditioning and drive to coast or the mall. But we never got to that point of need!


Padron Map

OliveGrovePropertyMapWithPadron11224
Our Padron (register) number is 11224 and size is 11.62 hectares or about 28 acres. The compass rose at lower right indicates that from the back of the house, we look southwest.

Above is the map when we bought the property. You will see other maps of the property below that are online for the sake classifying the soil types.


Panoramic view right after planting

IMG_1603-5002-wide-x-HD-height-1080-just-planted


CONEAT Uruguay’s country-wide land rating

All Uruguay is mapped with soil types classified according to their productivity. Productivity is then measured by an index, known as the “CONEAT index”.

Our chacra has 63% better ground (Coneat 88), 37% lesser ground (Coneat 61) with the proportions’ average being 78. The following is from a website called Farmland Uruguay:

“The average index for soils is 100. Thin soils on slopes will have low index, and would, perhaps, be better suited to forestry. Land given a Coneat grade of 80 to 120 is most often grassland, suitable for cattle. Coneat above 120 is usually suitable for intensive cultivation of most crops. Prime farmland for wheat might have an index of 150.

Of course, any one property may have a diversity of soils—generally poorer on uplands and slopes, and better on the lower-ground.” From: https://farmlandinuruguay.wordpress.com/coneat-index/ And another:

https://www.focuspropertiesuruguay.com/infos/What_is_the_CONEAT_index/info.html

And here’s an even more-detailed page in English…

https://www.realestate-in-uruguay.com/blog/the-coneat-index-in-uruguay/

…that website explains that 100 is average, 200 is maximum [the link below says 263]. IMPORTANT to realized Coneat is regarding beef production: the 100 refers to 100 kilos of meat. But you will read how it has since been used to categorize value also for crops and forestry also.

Here is a link regarding “Coneat” and how to find a parcel’s rating:

  1. http://web.renare.gub.uy/js/coneatm/ will give you a map of South America
  2. Click on Opciones and a menu should pop out from the right
  3. Click on Buscar Padron
  4. Choose the Departmento of Canelones
  5. Enter Numero Padron: 20316
  6. Click on Buscar
  7. You will see the light blue rectangular boundary of Senor Morales’ property, only
  8. Click on Capas and then Padrones Rurales and his number appears
  9. Click on Grupos Coneat and the soil levels (called Coneat here) appear… like us he has two levels, the northern end is the lesser, grey, level and most, southern is better.

There is another site http://dgrn.mgap.gub.uy/js/visores/coneat/  that shows our property’s average Coneat rating: 78. Real Valor translates as real value of 121 which is related to the services and good roads a few meters away: Ruta 8. There is lots of land that is difficult to access even in dry season which is why we built such a good bridge on property—so we could get across to the other side when our stream fills up with rain.

PadronesAroundOurChacra11224_like-10808
Our padrone is labelled A-11224 has two coneats 4.2 in grey and 5.02b in green

Coneat is the average of the gray and light green but the labels for those (4.2 & 5.02b) are not ratings but rather categories (detailed below). With this one you have to zoom into the area on route 8, 9 & 80 several times before the Padrone boundaries show… then click on the Magnifying Glass symbol at right (Buscar) to enter the Padron number & Departmento like above. This site is found on http://www.mgap.gub.uy/unidad-organizativa/direccion-general-de-recursos-naturales which may have other info of interest.

Two Types of Coneat Index

  1. The index of production outcome, based on soil type, fertility and productive capacity.
  2. The real value index, which includes the parametric calculation of factors as distances to towns, accesses to land, road and services.

The second index has changed over time. In the 60’s, the country road infrastructure was much more rudimentary than today and not only their soils influenced the production of a field, but also the access to land and transportation.

The CONEAT index of final productivity determines operating costs in Uruguay. The impact of the CONEAT productivity index over farmland prices in Uruguay is clear since it states the relationship between land productivity and the type of soils present in the Uruguayan land. There is a very good advantage when using this index because it is easily understood by all agents of the agricultural sector. The disadvantage is that it considers exclusively parameters from livestock production, which may be questioned when applied to the comparison of land for other productive uses [like an Olive Grove that does not require the best soil like soy or corn]. Despite of this, the CONEAT index is widely used to value price of farmlands in Uruguay, as well as to compare productivity of rural lands.

While there may be errors in mapping, generally the Coneat sketch with the distribution of soils is very accurate, giving a clear idea of ​​what you’ll find on a tour of the field.

https://www.uruguaycountryinformation.com/suelosconeatsoils-3y4y5.htm   (the following is Google translated from Spanish)

Soil Group 4.2
Coneat 61
It includes the hills located south of the Dpto. of Rocha and Maldonado, occupying an important area in the surroundings of the city of Soca. The relief is strongly undulated with 4-8% slope with convex interfluves and extended slopes with very little rocky outcrops. A salient characteristic of this unit is the presence of abundant carcavas that extend through the concavities of the relief. The dominant soils occupy, within the landscape, the extended slopes and are typical / Abruptic Ochric Subeutric Argisols, of frank, deep textures, of moderately good to imperfect drainage and medium to low fertility (Pardas Parnas maximas). In the strongly convex upper parts, shallower soils and lithosols are developed. The mother material consists of silty clay sediments of little thickness that cover the altered crystalline basement. The vegetation is prairie, predominantly winter, with a dense and somewhat open tapestry. The current use is pastoral and partially agricultural. This group corresponds to the San Carlos unit of the 1: 1,000,000 scale letter (DSF).

Soil group 5.02b
Coneat 88
http://solocampos.blogspot.com/p/suelos-del-uruguay-coneat.html
5.02b It is the most important group, since it occupies more than 80% of the lands of this sub-zone. It exists repeatedly in the Departments. of Florida and in the Department of Flowers (Puntas del San Jose) and in the rest of the region defined for zone 5. The relief is wavy and strong wavy, with modal slopes of 5 to 7%. The geological material corresponds to variable lithologies of predevonian rocks, such as granites, migmatites, metamorphic schist rocks (around Rosario), etc. The soils are moderately deep and superficial Haplicos Sub-eutrophic Brunosoles (moderately deep Brown Prairies and Regosols), to which Inceptisole (Lithosols) sometimes are very superficial. The upper horizon is brown and reddish brown, sometimes yellowish brown, with a frank texture, frank gravillosa or sandy loam with abundant gravel, Fertility is average, sometimes low.The rockiness is moderate and varies between 2 to 10% of the area with outcrops. Across the area there may be narrow lows, associated with minor drainage routes, which contain Glicsoles Luvicos (Gley humicos) and typical Eutric Brunches or Luvicos (Black Meadows and Brown Prairies maximas), hydromorphic, which contain very good summer pastures. The use is pastoral. This group corresponds to the San Gabriel-Guaycuru unit in the 1: 1,000,000 scale letter (DSF). containing Gleysoles Luvicos (Gley humicos) and typical Eutric Brunches or Luvicos (Black Prairies and Brown Prairies maximas), hydromorphic, which contain very good summer pastures. The use is pastoral. This group corresponds to the San Gabriel-Guaycuru unit in the 1: 1,000,000 scale letter (DSF). containing Gleysoles Luvicos (Gley humicos) and typical Eutric Brunches or Luvicos (Black Prairies and Brown Prairies maximas), hydromorphic, which contain very good summer pastures. The use is pastoral. This group corresponds to the San Gabriel-Guaycuru unit in the 1: 1,000,000 scale letter (DSF).

The soil descriptions come from this pdf and translated in Google:
http://www.mgap.gub.uy/sites/default/files/descripcion_de_grupos_de_suelos_coneat.pdf

ConeatCalculation

Knowing the values of the portions’ Categories (Grupos de Suelos) and the average (property wide) value, one can use that to calculate the amount of ground in each category. Our chacra has 63% better ground (Coneat 88), 37% lesser ground (Coneat 61) with the proportions’ average being 78.


A big yard

GaudiumYardAt20mScale
Here you see the main house (green roof) then, in line, the casita and the galpon for parking the car, tractor, and equipment. So how much to mow? A half acre (.52 to be exact or .21 hectare). Included in the sale is a self-drive mower! And a 2.6-meter-wide bush-hog to pull behind the tractor but it doesn’t do as nice a job as the little mower (or sheep would).

A half-acre lawn around the house and the other buildings provides a nice look. Just out of view on the right-hand side is a solar-powered clothes dryer: clothesline to supplement the big electric dryer we include.

GaudiumRainbowInWellIMG_2410-HD1920x1440
After winter, here’s one of  the rainbows that landed in our cistern. We also have a pizza oven built in an even more massive style. And of course, for barbeques, a parrilla in the casita.

Electrical Outlets: 107!

Maybe you are not familiar with how many outlets that Uruguayan houses have: just 1 or 2 single outlets in each room. When we redid the house in 2015, we added lots of double and quad outlets.

  • Kitchen 18
  • Living room 24
  • Bathroom 3
  • Master Bedroom 28
  • Second Bedroom 32
  • Total 107

Most are 3 round hole variety that is most common in Uruguay but occasionally some are of the “Shuco” variety (recessed with 2 big holes).

We also redid several electrical connections: from the property-edge “drop” to the panel, tower by the wall, out to the casita, into the galpon and water tower.


HousePhotoFromFront-IMG_0028

Other Features

Since the 2015 renovation, two rooms have double-glass, thermo-pane windows. All have screens (many houses in Uruguay don’t have screens). What’s really nice is how big the windows are, letting in lots of light. But with the passive-solar positioning and roof pitch, only one room gets a significant amount of sun in the summer. But in winter, all but one room gets free heat due to the passive solar feature.

Flimsy, wavy 1/8th” ceiling paneling were replaced by solid beams and tongue and groove planks. Heritage Wood Stove from Inotal replaced the typically-ineffective fireplace. Hearthstone is Vermont-designed, built in Spain with Brazilian soapstone, costing over $5,000 in 2014. Vents for the ceiling and wall areas (to let out humidity). Completely redone bathroom.

Newly installed in the last year: reworked porch, a French Drain along walls that had bubbled from “rising damp”. All walls with that unsightly bubbling have been replaced with material to block water from coming through.  The entire interior was repainted in March 2020. The rejas (burglar bars) were all properly sanded, Rustoleum primed and painted with two coats in 2019; should last twice as long a with these proper coats.


One may wonder about costs

What does it cost to buy property in Uruguay? About 8-9% for real estate agent & notary fees, deed stamp, registry and property transfer tax. I have a PDF from the top law firm in Uruguay and while it’s 7 years old, I don’t think much has changed:

Uruguay-Property-Purchase-Process-2013

What does it cost to live here? It does depend of course. Examples, for average aged 68-year-old person: (each, per month based on 41 pesos/US dollar)

  1. Health insurance (called Mutualista) like Asociacion Española U$2161 (U$=pesos) or U$S $52 (U$S=US dollars). Plus I have had a few doctor’s appointments at U$300, U$S7.31 each.
  2. Smartphone data/calls U$810, U$S20.
  3. Wifi U$2600, U$S63.
  4. Bus ride to Montevideo U$340 round trip, U$S8; if you go twice in a month, double that.
  5. Water U$0.00, U$S0.00 (free from the well!)
  6. Electricity U$3,000, U$S73 (less if you use the solar energy clothes dryer). And this a monthly average for the property, not per person! We have no air conditioners but do run the dehumidifier in winter time occasionally or fans in summer.
  7. Firewood, delivered & stacked (from February 2018 when we bought 6 tons and still seem to have over half that left) U$3900/ton average (we bought half each of red and white eucapalyptus)  U$S95 so about U$S190/year not per person but for the house!
  8. Groceries U$8,000-12,000, U$S196-293. Obviously, this is variable by taste & preference. Hot dogs are expensive here so we get the best steak @U$290/kilo (U$S7.07 or $3.21/pound). We don’t really shop around and buy a lot of imported items so you could save a bit or spend a lot more.
  9. Gas, I figured about U$10/kilometer so if you go to the coast or Montevideo a lot this will add up (but not per person of course).
  10. Grass-fed, good steak at a restaurant, local – nicer U$300-500 $7.31-12.20. Empanada U$30, U$S.73 or Pancho (hot dog) U$60, U$S1.46.

The car and eating out makes a big difference. We figure, that together not per person, we might spend only $1,200/month if we keep busy at the grove and go out little, or $2,000 if we go out a lot.

What about taxes as a foreign expat? Tax holiday for the first five years plus year one became a tax resident (defined as living here 183+ days per year). Afterwards: two types of foreign income are taxed: dividends and interest (12%) but we have little of this sort of income. Other income exempted if earned outside Uruguay and tax paid there. But if earned in the country and getting the FEIE deduction off US taxes, may thereafter owe some to Uruguay but I have not found the rates.


Drone View

A very helpful neighbor took some photos with his new drone. in April 2020. Click on each for an enlarged view.

  1. Here the drone pictures on standing in the driveway.
  2. A view from the south of the whole Chacra.
  3. A view from the southwest; the neighbor’s 3 hectares is more prominently noted as very overgrown and virtually a nature preserve.
  4. A closer view from the southwest where you can see our red-painted steel bridge and old route 8 that goes by our Chacra.
  5. A view from high overhead the south end of the Chacra.
  6. A view from the north where our Chacra’s seven shape looks like an “L” that encompasses the neighbor’s 3 hectares.
ChacraFromTheEastOutlinedRed
Here’s a view from the east. The property line is in red and the yellow arrow points at our RAV4.

So why sell?

Perhaps you can tell how much I love it here & Uruguay in general. The natural question then is “why sell?” Because my USA work has changed greatly, and we must return to rebuild that.


Bird Sanctuary?

We have enjoyed the many birds that live here like horneros, the oven bird, for the house they make is shaped like an oven which they added to our galpon.

Rufous_hornero_(Red_ovenbird)(Furnarius_rufus)_and_nest_(2)

Here’s a better photo…

Rufous_hornero_(Red_ovenbird)(Furnarius_rufus)

The stars of the show are the vocal Southern Lapwings which we have seen as many as 7 of at a time. The most frequent visitors are Poindexter and Muffy. Yes, we named them…

Southern_lapwing_(Vanellus_chilenis_lampronotus)

Muffy came up within ten feet of the back door for a glamor shot with my old cell phone.

We also see hummingbirds, herons, hawks, red-headed woodpeckers, tiny birds colored yellow and black and many others. There is always a symphony of tweeting.


House Plan


Click Download button at bottom for a PDF of this house plan.

Contact, click this headline to call or email Bill Owen


USA phone number shown in Contact webpage above. Uruguay 099 834 544 (English only) 11AM – 7PM UY time (1 hour ahead US EST) SkypeTourGroupPro
Chacra Gaudium
Ruta 8 Vieja Km 68.5 0003 SN
Solis Chico de Migues, Canalones CP91004
Uruguay

34°39’04.2″S 55°34’05.7″W

-34.651164, -55.568253

Click Download button for PDF of house plan:

“The signers of the Declaration of Independence had chutzpah… Be bold. Let the strength of your desire give force and moment to your every step. Move with all of yourself. When you embark for strange places don’t leave any of yourself safely on shore. They may laugh at you if you don’t discover India. Let them laugh. India’s already there. You’ll come back with a brand new America. Have the nerve to go into unexplored territory. Be brave enough to live life creatively. The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. It is not the previously known. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can’t get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you’re doing, but what you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover will be yourself.”
– Alan Alda, Commencement Speech at Connecticut College, New London, CT, 1980

House, casita & galpon on 11.62 hectares (28 acres) $397,000 US

+ Optional farm equipment $34,000 US

+ Optional Toyota Rav4 $8,000 US

Total package $439,000 US

Click below to download Contents & Equipment included in Gaudium price options below:

*Below is a mid-November 2020 Covid-19 chart. The virus claimed its first victim here in late March (the beginning of fall here) and we have gotten through winter (June-September) with 1/40th the toll of the world average (1/10th the USA) and now in spring here the impact still barely registers. Move to the bottom of the list, only 64 fatalities in the first 8 months of the pandemic.

You can see one of tiny trees after planting and the newly-built water tower in January 2015.
The most “winter” we have seen here are a few mornings with a frosty dawn.

DIY Digitizing A Photo Album

The photo above was taken while traveling in Athens, 1988 before a Greek Isles cruise. This photo of a mobile pillbox shows the quality (or lack of it) when taking a digital photo of an old-style physical album page.

If you think that this picture looks “mediocre”, consider this: that is what it looked like in my photo album and those photos were not going to look better with time. Many may have been rotten snapshots and were only getting worse. Chemicals darkening or lightening, and exposed to the risk of damage or destruction. The photo albums were heavy and dusty so I didn’t look at them that often.

Notice how there is a square at the upper right of the photo? That’s where I had overlaid another photo. I decided not to open the clear plastic and fix that. The album was good enough with the “bite” out the picture before and good enough now.


Why Digitize?

I think we will look at the pictures more in a digital tablet than in the heavy albums. I already enjoyed looking at them again while taking the pictures and pulling just a few out before throwing the albums away. Besides some of the 40-50 year old photos are about “shot”. I already lost some albums to water damage …the photo emulsions ran. Sad I cried.

Is your “pad” filling up with stuff? We surround ourselves with junk. And take out storage units to put it in. But time and again the thing that disaster survivors miss most are their family photos. Digitizing them gives you the chance to have a back-up, in the “cloud”. Then you can throw out your albums and you are free to downsize your “pad” to an iPad. With a sense of adventure, you could move somewhere new. And smaller.

When we were about to move again and I thought that there has to be a better way than boxing up heavy, deteriorating photo albums. What if we just took a digital photo of each page?

The upcoming move is motivating me to finish taking photos of the remaining album pages. How will I motivate myself to do the added step, retouching? By promising myself an iPad when done and no sooner.

Since we had already decided not to ship a container to our new country (itself costing many thousands of dollars) and air freight for numerous heavy boxes would be very expensive, the dozen or so hours (during a few evenings in a week) I put into this was like getting a $100-200 per hour job.

But what if this is too much work for you? I suggest you try finding a company locally first (saving on shipping) that can digitize your photo album pages or if no one seems reasonably priced or trustworthy, consider a company like DigitalMemoriesOnline.net …I don’t have any experience with them having just found them on line via Google. They say they give a money-back guarantee. Use them as a starting point so you can compare their cost (with shipping) to that of a local option. The digitizer company will give you CDs or DVDs but you should back-up your iPad or computer to the “cloud” too like via an annual subscription to Carbonite. Important: an iPad has no CD/DVD reader so this will require moving the photos via iTunes and your computer as an intermediary.

Note: From the poor quality of the above pillbox shot, you can see that this is a snapshot of mostly bad snapshots. How good you want the photos to look with depend on how much work you want to put into it. I decided to do a quick and dirty job. So it took me about 20-30 minutes per album to take the pictures and then about 45-60 minutes to “retouch”.


Here’s what I did

So having decided to digitize old albums before they turned to yellowed, molded, faded yuck, I used using an ordinary digital camera, tripod and a photo program, in my case, Adobe Photoshop but a lesser software would probably work. The program just needs 2 common features: auto-color and crop (especially if  the crop can fix “keystone”)

I did this with a camera on its last legs. Using a smart phone’s camera comes with its own issues I have not thought through: like how most phones do not have a memory card and so all retouching would either have to be done in the phone (which might be awkward with its a tiny screen and fat fingers) or the digital image files would need to be easily transferred to your computer. The computer may be much more convenient to do the retouching.

So after testing my process whole process with a few pages, we decided to take pictures of each page of the photo album.

Ideally the photos would be individually scanned on flat-bed scanner, but I figured if photographing all my album pages is a 40 hour project (to do all my albums) then using a scanner would be, at least, a 160 hour project. This is not counting the retouching. And getting them out of those sticky pages would be difficult or in some cases prone to damaging the photos. Incidentally, buying a scanner big enough for typical album pages is quite expensive (thousands of dollars). Most inexpensive scanners’ maximum scanning area is 8.5×14″ but most photo album pages are bigger than that plus the extra time. Maybe this approach would work for you. It saves having to fix the keystone issue mentioned next.


Two ways to avoid or fix “keystoning”

It’s very difficult to get the camera exactly perpendicular to the photo. If not quite right you end up with what’s called a keystone effect: the photo below, at left, is normal (what I call “square”) and at right, the camera was at an angle when the photo was taken. So the one at right likes like an inverted “keystone”.

Vertical-keystone

Avoiding Keystone: Are you handyman/inventor type? I was not a good enough carpenter to build a “rig” to hold the camera perpendicular to the photo album page. If you can make such an overhead rig, it could save you some “retouching” hours later by avoiding the crop/keystone repair.

Since I couldn’t figure out how rig and secure the camera right over the page or tilt the album to match the camera angle, I thought that the photos would just have to have the “keystone” effect: wider at the bottom, narrower at the top. And I was okay with that, after all, when you hold a photo album, it’s at an angle.

Fixing Keystone: But then I stumbled on a relatively easy fix using the crop tool in Photoshop. (Much easier than the program’s “correct perspective” process.)

UPDATE 21JUN2020: If you have Adobe Photoshop, it has a new tool called Perspective Crop Tool that is easier than the DIY steps below for the ordinary Crop tool (in Step #4 below). You can find a Help page by clicking here. Move down to the section called Transform perspective while cropping.


DIY Steps

The first 2 steps are about taking the actual digital photos …the last 5 steps are done in a computer using a photo re-touching program. I would take photos for 1-3 albums at a time, take the photos and then pull the memory card and put it in the computer to upload all the pictures in the computer, a folder for each album. I’d look at a few of the images to make sure the process is working okay. I figured it would be frustrating if I took a dozen albums’ of photos and then noticed a glitch. Besides the physical strain and tedium required a break.

Camera shake ruins a lot of photos. That’s why you should use a tripod. But even pressing the shutter button could shake the camera. If your camera has a remote shutter release cable (I think iPhone’s headphones have a “volume up” button will take a photo) then that will help you avoid shaking the camera.

  1. When taking the pictures, very important: watch for glare on the shiny album pages, what you see is what you get. You may have to move lights around or turn off overhead light(s).
  2. Try to square the top and/or bottom* in the shot. This is a manual “nudging” process from behind the camera while look in the back-display. I only looked to see that it was “square and no glare”. But if out of square, that can be fixed later; glare cannot be fixed.
  3. Place the photos for a given album (or subject) in a clearly identified folder on your hard drive, perhaps starting with the year taken. Photo image files usually have very generic filenames like IMG1234.jpg so it would be hard to know where one album ended and another began. If you labeled your photo album cover or spine, start the series of photos by taking that label first.
  4. Open the digital picture of the page** in an image retouching program (like Photoshop) select the Crop tool and drag the opposite/diagonal corners to the edge of either side of the page (or photos’ edges if you want to fill the page more). Important note: make sure that the check box Perspective is selected. Otherwise dragging the corner handles will maintain 90° square.
  5. Click on one of the other opposite/diagonal corners that is outside the page margin and drag it over to follow the edge of the page …repeat for the opposite diagonal corner.
  6. The crop will not be square/rectangular anymore, and you will likely end up with a wedge-shaped selection (an inverted keystone). If not, see important note above in #3.
  7. Click on the OK and like magic the program will pull the top to the edges making the photo squared up.
  8. The only other retouching I do is apply the program’s Auto-Color command to fix the yellowing and typically too-dark or sometime too-light shots. Even if it isn’t perfect, it usually improves the look 100%. But if it makes the colors worse, then Undo (ctrl Z or cmd Z on Mac). If you have yellowing on the album page, the Auto-Color may eliminate some of it but the page will still have some dirty backgrounds. I just figured that’s not worth correcting.  These are snapshots after all. Many looked much better after Auto-Color was applied.How much resolution? I looked up the Retina iPad and its resolution is 2048×1533 @264 pixels/inch. So I took my photos at 2560×1920 so that I could crop it down some and allow for a bit of enlargement. The JPG files start out 2.4 MB but after cropping most are about 425 KB when saving at an image quality of “High/8”.

Why not a higher resolution? You are taking snapshots of mere snapshots. So a lot of the higher resolution is wasted. Worst of all bigger image files just take up more room, take longer to work with and displaying on screen when viewing later will have a delay.

*If you didn’t square the top and botom, you can do the usual rotate with the Crop tool to square at least the bottom or the top. Even if you have bad angles, you can fine tune all 4 corners if you want, the program manages to force fit the photo back into a rectangular format.

**After doing a whole album for practice and to determine the time it would take to do all my albums, I have NOT done all the retouching yet. That can come after I finish photographing all the albums. There’s no hurry on the retouching. The images can sit in my computer and are backed up by Carbonite.


Example, Red Numbers

  1. I took this album’s page sideways.
  2. So my first step in the software was to Rotate CCW (Counter Clock Wise)
  3. Then I cropped (see the “handles”?) placing just the opposite corners, white circled numbers 1 & 4 at the correct corners of the subject. Corners 2 & 3 don’t matter yet and are left out away from the subject.
  4. Then I clicked on the white circled corners 2 & 3 and brought them into the subject’s actual corners. This is all done with the Crop tool selected (white circle 5) and once it’s selected the Perspective box (white circle 6) should be checked. You may need to one or all of the 4 corners a bit to crop tighter or more loosely.
  5. Click Enter and the subject gets squared up removing he extraneous borders, 3-ring binder etc.
  6. Since the doors (top photo of the 3) were sideways in the album, I cropped them and Rotated CW (Clock Wise) so they would be a separate item.

CropToRemoveKeystoneWEB


I hope this helps you get clicking.

Fill in a survey on Wargamers Battlefield tour to Europe 2018

Just 10 quick questions that should take about a minute. Tell us about your preferences and suggestions. Just click on this link:

http://mailchi.mp/dd6366ada099/wargamers-tour-2018-survey-european-battlefields

Answering the survey gives us valuable feedback. You need not give us any contact information but can subscribe to hear more by email. So you can see if the tour appeals to you.

WargamersEuropeTourMap2018WEB

Thanks!

WargamerTour.com 2018

I have assembled on another military history tour of particular interest to wargamers and military history buffs (and this time we have heard some wives and girlfriends are going to be coming along!) Group size will be smaller than most tours, do not delay.

Tour information can be found at (click) WargamerTour.com

WargamersEuropeTourMap2018WEB


The following link is to survey that I put out in October 11, 2017 to gather information from people who were interested:

Click here if you would like to hear more and answer a quick 10-question survey to help us plan next year’s tour.

This was done via free accounts in MailChimp to send notice of the survey (link in previous paragraph starting Click here) and SurveyMonkey to gather the responses. I sent out 45 targeted emails and posted mentions in two Facebook groups that I have been active in (about 3000 wargamers in total). I did not “link drop” to hit and run groups that I had no connection with. Of the 45 emails I sent, 29 (64%) opened the email and 10 (33%) of those clicked on the survey link.

Within 25 days (Oct. 14 to November 7), I had 49 surveys filled out. The first 3 days saw 39 (80%) responses. Then 10 more the next 4 days. Then a couple of zero days then 2 days with 1 each, a 2 week dry spell and 2 more, the last of 49.

Because of the survey, I ended up with 24 net, new contacts for a total of 69 in my email list. I say net because these are the deliverable addresses. Mail Chimp found 5 initially then 1 more for 6 total of 75 were inactive and “greyed” them out. Email addresses must “expire” faster than home addresses!

It can be seen that the 10 of 45 targeted email recipients took the survey and 39 of the Facebook groups filled out the bulk of the surveys. Perhaps a few less than 39 because there may have been either group referring the survey link to friends so the “referral” count is unknown.

One guy took the trouble to say that he had absolutely no interest in the tour but my survey was really badly designed! Unfortunately, he did not leave an email address so I could agree with him. But we all have to start somewhere. And maybe he’s expert on making surveys and I could hire him but c’est la guerre. 

On the other hand, I got a guy who was not interested this time but had been with us in 2003 and he wrote a nice testimonial and was glad to help spread the word:

“Was on your 2003 tour. Definitely will recommend this tour to others. Well worth whatever the cost will be. I’m 80 now and just finished a similar 14 day tour in Poland, father’s birthplace.” – Dave Nelson WYWAE tour member (which I asked if I could use it on the website alongside a picture of him that I showed him).

The survey helped me choose between the two dates that I thought would be the most interesting to my fellow wargamers. Some people indicated that they wanted to receive notice of the tour but a significant proportion did not provide an email or phone even though they expressed interest.

Results of the survey:

Ten questions are the maximum for a free survey. Fewer might have been better.

  1. 10% were from past wargame tour members (this is our fifth such specialized tour) and so 90% were new to the concept.
  2. 74% said either Yes or Probably to whether they wanted to go, 22% answered Maybe and 4% Definitely Not.
  3. 74% said that they would help get the word out about the tour and 26% said they wouldn’t.
  4. 75% said they either preferred the May date or were okay with both May and July, 53% said that they either preferred the July date or were okay with both May and July, while 4% said they were not interested in either date. This totaled over 100% because of the 31% that were counted twice because they okay with both dates.
  5. I essentially asked the 2nd question in a different manner, asking for a rating of “interest level” and the top 2 of 5 levels were only 39% this time.
  6. Asked about the specific type of wargame that they were interested in and each type was given an above average rating varying minimally, from 3.87 to 4.20 (out of 6 at highest). This question was probably poorly designed and might have better if I asked them to rank the games rather rate their interest. Or it just shows that the group was fairly open to different game types. This surprised me a bit.
  7. Asked about the sort of rooming arrangements that they would want based on their likely roommates: 35% a single room, 23% would want a roommate assigned (because no roommate and didn’t want to pay the “single room supplement”), 46% wanted a double room or one with 2 twin beds to go with someone already known to them, 8% for a triple room (which was surprisingly high) and 8% were unsure.
  8. 55% gave suggestions or comments, 45% skipped the solicitation.
  9. 70% gave a way to contact them, 30% did not. Of those that gave any contact, all gave their email address, 57% gave their phone number, 57% gave a postal address and 89% gave at least a first name.
  10. 54% gave a count of who else might be interested (which was zero for some) and 46% did not answer.

Here are ways to improve the survey:

  • Handle the game choices differently. Probably ranking them 1-9 (or whatever) and enter a zero if not interested at all.
  • Use some programming logic so if they were definitely not interested, skip all the questions but comments/suggestions and an optional email address.
  • Only ask the “interest level” question once.
  • Cut out as many other questions as possible, I think 3-5 questions might get more responses.

If you were a survey respondent, thanks! Otherwise I hope this helps you make your only specialty survey.

So what happened next?

I built the tour based on what I had learned, Which meant checking the route both directions for pro & con, choosing what could be visited with times/admissions researched, studied timing for travel, lunches and visits. Plus hotel preferences and asked a receptive operator to shop the hotels and motor coach based on the mileage and driving time involved (very strict in Europe and verified by an unhackable on-coach clock). Then I built the 10 page flier and a website with booking engine …all in 3 weeks that incorporated Thanksgiving (which Europe doesn’t have so it only affected me). Which is a record but I did a fair amount of research and planning done before this.

Another Mail Chimp e-mail blast

I should first mention that I like Mail Chimp because they have any easy way to make a nice email (having some graphic skills is a must here though), gives the recipient an easy way to unsubscribe from their list (required by law, last I heard), is trusted by e-mail vendors to not send spam (so don’t spam or Mail Chimp will throw you and your bananas out on the street), avoid having to use BCC which many e-mail vendors is an automatic one way trip to recipients’ Junk Mail folder.

On November 28 (Tuesday after Thanksgiving at 10 AM—I looked up the best moment in the week to send an email) sent another Mail Chimp campaign to 70 in my email list. I did not immediately post to the Facebook groups or forums that I am active on. I wanted to let the core customers and prospects to have first dibs. I was going to wait several days but found that the tour’s website was being shared by recipients fairly quickly so moved up my plan and in two days started posting around. Bookings came in the first week and the second week has started with a bang too. So it’s looking like it could be sold out before New Years. Of the 70, 44 (65%) opened the email and 9 (22%) of those clicked the More Information button.

So bookings start

After all this, will anyone want to go?! The following may not be a typical response but of great test of a front-loaded project. I say front-loaded because a tremendous amount of time was put in before the tour was announced, probably more than usual on custom tours. Then the big difference is that when the actual bookings came in there was very little phone and no walk-in contact, With a nation-wide audience after all, it’s unlikely anyone will walk in! Some of the contacts emailed, others Facebook Messengered (if that’s a word). But no one booked “cold” (yet) without some sort of initial contact. Robots have still not taken over the multi-week, custom tour business! Just helped it be more efficient—which keeps the price more reasonable.

Of those who have booked so far, in round terms 40% have come from the announcement mailing, another 40% referred by those announcement recipients and 20% from Facebook group or referral. This split is likely to change as more bookings arrive… and increase referrals or new sources.

Another big difference is that the customers could “pull the trigger” by just clicking on a button that securely took their credit card (even I can never see the number etc. as it is “tokenized”) when they were ready whether that be 6:00 AM, 8:00 PM or 1:00 AM—when our office is not open. Although a few got unexpectedly immediate responses from me since I never close, well, except when I’m asleep.

Once people start booking what can still go wrong?

If too many people book and you are “free-selling” (just taking bookings without reference to space you are holding, is called in the travel industry “free sale”), then you could easily oversell the tour or certain key components. This is bad! We don’t want even one disappointed or unhappy customer after being told “sorry, that tour you ‘booked’, is full after all.” That’s the flip side of not enough customers: too many customers for places to put them. Probably won’t try to go with you again and will tell their friends. And in special interest markets, the word can travel fast, bad words especially.

So the nice thing about the booking engine website* is that it controls the inventory of rooms and coach seats. We limit the number of seats sold to 26 to make the tour a more private experience with lots of open seats to spread out if some want two seats to sprawl in. But a concern I have is the limited number of single rooms, versus twin or triple. Unlike America where all rooms are typically alike (two queen sized beds), there are three different room types: true single rooms with a bed that will fit one person, “twins” with 2 twin-sized beds for 2, a room with 1 double bed or a triple which is really a family room with a double bed and a single bed—so not for 3 guys. The booking engine tracks this and will not oversell any type. We may be able to get the hotel to swap around later if we need a different mix of types and they have what’s needed.

The other complication is that a single guy could book and have three different intentions for two different room occupancy types: a single room for himself only, request to share a room with another single guy or advise that a friend will be booking to share with him separately. So we needed a Roommate Choice “radio button” to alert us to which was his case.

Tour’s own Domain versus being one on a list

Note that I bought a domain WargamerTour.com which I thought was generic enough to use in future years. Then I had that domain point at the tour’s page on the travel agency’s website. I feel that the simpler, germane URL might be more apt to be shared and clicked than an unfamiliar travel agency name.

There’s more to it than this of course (insurances, arrival/departure planning, E&O, thinking about options for non-gamers) but I’ve run on long enough.

– Bill Owen

*incidentally there are many different such Tour Booking engine sites, each with their own trade-offs. I cannot recommend one size to fit all. Each is designed for a particular part of the travel industry with varying levels of tech background required to implement them. But I’d be glad to help you figure out how your needs are special and possibly unique to you.

Special Interests: Military History Tours

If you are interested in the 2019 tour that is being planned, please click here.

After working with tour groups for 17 years, I began to see that there was more to a successful group departure than a popular leader and affinity between the members. Those were important but another factor became clear: shared interests. I probably got this idea from a great travel catalog of Special Interest tour operators that listed adventure, sports, cuisine, cooking, wine and what seemed like a kaleidoscope array of specialized interests.

To test this out in 1989, I chose my interest in wargames and admittedly it was pretty narrowly-specialized: military history and famous battlefields. I contacted the most famous wargame designer from about 1972-1982, James F. Dunnigan and not only was he willing to try it, he had just again started editing his original magazine, Strategy & Tactics. This meant that I had an advertising vehicle at favorable rates (remember this was before the internet and to communicate, he talked me into signing up for new-fangled “e-mail” via AOL. He suggested the tour name, Millennium of Mayhem since it could cover almost thousand years of military history from William the Conqueror at Hastings in 1066 to present.

Backing up a bit, I had “sold” him on the idea by speaking his language: I had made a ‘wargame’ where the object was to design a tour of battlefields and museum-filled towns rating each major battlefield by Historical Importance and What There Is To See There. The tour coach playing piece moved on the game map between battlefields utilizing certain rules about how many things one could comfortably see in a day.

The way to win the game was to design an itinerary that gained the most point ratings totals in the least amount of time. So I sent a rulebook, colored map, playing pieces (the rated objectives that you would collect on the route) and a pad of tour-design sheets… with several sheets filled in with sketch maps. I don’t know that he set up the game but his being a game designer, he could see the parameters of tour design. To date, he had never thought about taking a tour and said he really only thought of travel in terms of business trips and a resort getaway. So this may have helped him visualize how a tour was not just grey-haired people seeing ordinary tourist sites.

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The master sketch map of WarTour showing various itineraries using highlight markers.

So once we had established an itinerary, I put together a 2-page black & white flier with new Desktop Publishing for the May 1990 departure. Things were going okay until the lead-up to the First Gulf War caused a general fear of foreign travel. Rather than give up, we postponed the tour until September 1990. After the public relief at the war’s end in early 1990 (with Kuwait liberated), we got to booking again. One tour member joined us from Saudi Arabia which was further east of the tour area than we were west of the UK! A fellow historian and game designer, Al Nofi, joined the tour also; he expressed interest while on the coach to leading tours himself and certainly I noted that!

 

While on board the motor coach we even took a day while driving along to play wargames and even design a game about the Dissolution of the Soviet Union which was gaining momentum every day that passed.

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The more polished version of the game designed en route while history was being made as communism was collapsing, now entitled Saving The Soviet Union—an impossible task? Play it and see.

It was not a large group but we had proved that even a narrowly specialized tour with a well-known leader could work. As to nuts and bolts, we utilized American Express’ DSM, Destination Services Management, in London to arrange the ground operations. That company is no longer around but the staff opened a new company after American Express closed the division.

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My buddy, Bob Bledsaw (left), won the Napoleon at Waterloo contest.


I went on to produce some more tours with the battlefield theme:

  1. 1990 Millennium of Mayhem, mentioned above.
  2. 1997 Tanks for the Memories where the tour members got to drive actual battle tanks in England and went to a wargame convention, Triples, in Sheffield, England.
  3. 2003 WYWAE: Wargame Your Way Across Europe was another title suggested by Dunnigan as we included a large miniature wargame table in the back of the bus—not sure one can do that now that passengers are required to wear seat belts! About the only thing that went wrong is that they printed the map (at bottom) on the tour T-Shirts sideways!
  4. In 2010 Tour of Battle with Al Nofi in France and Belgium (an itinerary map is found below this list). We covered a number of periods of military history.
  5. Then, the following year 2011’s Civil War Train had historian Al Nofi providing historical commentary about the American Civil War while all travelers slept in restored sleeper cars from the 1940s and 1950s—en route and in the train station. I figured this concept had a strong pair of interests. The nostalgia of old trains, particularly for Illinoisans and the Civil War as evidenced by the popularity of the Ken Burns documentary series were married. This was a unique opportunity to ride in old trains with fine dining and free-flowing adult beverages. The cars were pulled behind scheduled Amtrak services and the cars unhooked to park in the station “yard” from which chartered motor coaches would take us to sites. After everything was together and the flier nearly done, I realized that it was the Sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of the start of the Civil War. (Map is the second one found below this list.) So from 2012-2015 we covered 4 more years of private train trips to Civil War sites based on the 150th anniversary of various battles.
  6. Meanwhile, another offshoot popped out of the ground. a wargamer asked me if I could arrange his Napoleonic re-enactor group’s air fare and land arrangements as they participated in four 200th anniversary demonstrations of Napoleon’s battles throughout Europe. Between hotel stays, the 21e Régiment d’Infanterie de Ligne, 3e Compagnie had a truly land tour. These guys were “under canvas” for an “intense” experience between their skirmishes with real muskets (thankfully firing blanks). For Jena, the day before travel the Dutch government made new rules requirin paper certificates for each traveler to allow their muskets to be carried in gun cases in the baggage compartment. This require fast action and forwarding on scans to each traveler spread around the USA. I will save the story about the officer’s sword for when you call.
  7. 2018 is a work in progress and called Wargamers Battlefield. The basic, planning map (with stops and features subject to change) is shown immediately below the next paragraph). For more about the tour, click here.
  8. UPDATE 2019’s tour is being planned, click here.

So 13 more custom tours grew out of this unusually specialized tour! The individuals who traveled with these groups could have done something similar on their own but they would not had the ease, savings and camaraderie of traveling with like-minded people. I would guess that for many these were very memorable experiences that they might not have dreamed they’d get to do otherwise.

A testimonial from the unit leader of the re-enactors:

“They listen to your wants and desires and follow through.  Totally professional but friendly all the way.” – Michael Mathews, Sous-Officier, 21e Régiment d’Infanterie de Ligne, 3e Compagnie

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21e Régiment d’Infanterie at Austerlitz 2005. And to think that the they sleep in tents on the “battle” days!


2018 Tour

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2010’s Tour of Battle featured wargames on the coach and at local clubs in Europe

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2011’s Civil War Train feature a private train made up several vintage, restored cars from the 1940s and 1950s. This took painstaking tour design because Amtrak is nearly impossible to work with and always has surprises for you. Notice how the train picked up people at numerous stations along the way. The year we made the grand loop, via New Orleans, Atlanta and Washington DC, I said that each mile further from home we got, we also got one mile closer to home!

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A very ambitious itinerary including two mid-tour flights (Rome-Luxembourg & Paris-London) and the t-shirt maker turned it counter clockwise so phrase at right here would read “correctly”! Our Italian wargamer host, Arturo, provided us an expert guiding of military sites, seven games to choose from and real Italian pizza

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On our Tanks For The Memories tour, Nick Moran accelerated his Chieftain tank into a giant mud puddle. Mark and Mitch jumped aboard to see if he was drowning in the resulting wall of mud but after wiping the mud out of eyes, his smile remained. Later on, after serving in the army, Nick became a military expert for a computer game company and his screen name is The Chieftain.

 

“Was on your 2003 tour. Definitely will recommend this tour to others. Well worth whatever the cost will be. I’m 80 now and just finished a similar 14 day tour in Poland, father’s birthplace.” – Dave Nelson WYWAE tourmember (shown below at left, with John Holtz at right), riding a halftrack in Belgium


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While at Poteau, Belgium we arranged for a ride in a German World War II half-track which the guys  liked. One guy was disabled and didn’t think we’d let him join the tour. I said “Why not? As long as you have someone to push your wheelchair and help you, welcome aboard.” He let me know a few years ago, that he is completely disabled now and so glad he got to go. Another tour member died the following year at a pretty young age; one should not put things off.


 

Travel is more than where you go but also where “from”

Living in South America, I have learned more about diversity. It may be natural to think of yourself as average or normal. But I have come to recognize how different each of us is. Partly the diversity of the locals here struck me but also the expats who have moved here. The expats come from many places and have many different points of view. When you live in the USA, I tended to gravitate to people who thought like me and shared my interests. Here I have come to appreciate people that I really didn’t agree with. After all, if I avoided different people here, I’d have no one to associate with! And really, my views have broadened too.

Naturally we think about destinations, but “from” matters too.

When people think of travel, they naturally think about destinations. And yet some think of the mode of travel (cruises, resorts, adventure) first; so the “how” is more important than the “where” and that preference is developed from their hometown experience and referrals. Even those who are destination-oriented have a lot of considerations that an agent may take for granted about “time to the gateway airport”, assumptions about their preference of level of quality, pacing, and style. Having managed three offices in Central Illinois (Springfield, Decatur and Champaign) that were less than an hour apart, the closest gateway airport’s proximity varied completely (St. Louis, Indianapolis and Chicago, and occasionally four hometown airports including Bloomington). Our choice of airline had to vary based on where we thought the nucleus was. Later on our agencies were part of a larger consortium of multi-state offices, so the “from” became more challenging. Hawaii seemed close to West Coast agencies but Caribbean far—the reverse of Illinois’ view. So if you have a desire to grow beyond your own backyard, where your customers are from becomes a great challenge. Back in your local area, finding a motor coach to serve several departure points just a 100 miles apart can be a challenge.

Selling the right trip to the “right people” & the art of coming together

The interests and mindsets of Central Illinois and Chicago may vary too and your mind is really where you start from. Two mindsets on the same coach may not be on the same wavelength. Some people are very welcoming to diversity and others uncomfortable with it. The best tour leaders work at getting all on their side so the group can be a unit rather than splintered factions. These arts of leadership deserve their own blog post! For now, I can say that if people see you working on their behalf and caring for them, they will tend to hang on to you over petty issues.

All on the same flight or are many departure flights straggling in?

Another way that the “from” becomes an important consideration is comparing a group that all starts on the same flight versus various parties arriving on many flights over the course of numerous hours. The former can all board the same coach and be taken a few hours to their first hotel (with a suitable break, perhaps for breakfast if an early arriving flight). But the latter parties are more likely to need to stay in the city of arrival or the earliest flight(s) given something to do besides sit on a coach at the airport waiting for the rest. And if a flight is to arrive very late in the day, consider putting them up at an airport hotel instead and pick them up en route with the early flight arrivals. Finally, what happens if any of these flights are delayed? You need a contingency plan for that because a transfer coach may not be able to wait more than the, say, three hours they were booked for (that coach is probably already booked to head on to another job that afternoon). It might be wise to book that coach for the whole day and use it for sightseeing for the first flight(s) and go back to pick up the delayed passengers.

Contingency planning continues with having Skype or an international phone

Being a good trouble-shooter who can “think on your feet” is important but better to have contingency plans. And a phone to call home and brainstorm when the leader needs to! And that is better done at the point of need than to hear about it when the leader reports, “I didn’t know what to do; so we sat.”

Every journey begins with a single step

Confucius say “Three people come down the road. Certainly I will learn something from one of them.”

This aphorism indicates that one might learn something from more than the rare guru. And importantly, you will “certainly” learn if you are open to it.

I hope that my blog may give you some good ideas or learn how to avoid pitfalls. Having had 45 years to learn how to do (and not do) tour groups I may have some worthwhile suggestions and points to ponder. And if something sounds obvious, then that may help you feel more confident about what you already think.

Even when something is outside your interest, you never know how you might come to use it later. It’s worth being aware of more than your immediate focus. For example, I have come to realize how diverse the travel industry is. For example, for tens of thousands of travel agents their business is sending people somewhere. But have you ever though about another tens of thousands who receive those people? And not necessarily Inbound, Destination Service Management or Receptive Operators—these tend to be packagers and operate the tours or events that hometown agents book. I’m talking now about people who specialize in various styles of sightseeing, activities, and adventures. There’s a narrow focus on travel that deals in volumes of people and repeated events. Very different than the lesser numbers of people and custom planning that most hometown travels perform.

Then pull back the zoom and get eve a wider view. There is an interesting blog that is not travel-related but speaks to what bits of what we do as entrepreneurs. One I want to mention now is the Wizard Of Ads who writes a free Monday Morning Memo email that you can sign up for here (just enter your email address and click the Subscribe button).

The Wizard, Roy Williams, started out as a radio salesman and has since broadened his interest into other media and when each may have its place. Excellence in writing is the common thread in media and he frequently focuses on fine details breaking down elements of persuasive writing and branding (more than a logo). Incidentally, he uses some basic themes like the Three Wise Men (Wise-ards=wizards, see) and sees Don Quixote as a sort of small business person who envisions an “impossible dreams” so he will slip in promotions about courses at his “Wizard Academy is a school for entrepreneurs who have Quixote’s ability to see beauty that no one else can see.”