Because Carlos Paz is a tourist town, our summers look radically different from the rest of the year. Not only do we suddenly have to contend with a flood of visitors, this is also the busiest time of year for a lot of the people who live here.
For instance, Julio and Cookie. They own a lot with a house in front, and a two-story building in back with an apartment on each floor. They rent out the upstairs apartment to a young couple year-round, and one of their sons lives in the downstairs apartment. But every summer, they move in with that son and rent out their house by the week to tourists. As a retired couple on a very limited income (you'd cringe at how little they receive in retirement benefits), the rent from a summer season makes up probably 80% of their total annual income. Between fielding phone calls from prospective renters and keeping the place clean and tidy, they stay quite busy.
They're not the only people we know who do this. In fact, most of our friends rent either their homes or apartments on their property during the summer.
Others work in the many stores, restaurants and theatres. Our next-door neighbor, Felipe, cooks and serves as a waiter in a restaurant that runs live folk lore programs year round. Off season the restaurant is only open Thursday through Sunday for dinner; during the summer they are open every day for both lunch and dinner. We rarely see Felipe these days, because he's always at work!
With everyone else so occupied with seasonal responsibilities, it means our summer is very different too. In order to spend time with anyone, we have to work around their schedules. Sometimes that means waiting until late at night to get together; people rarely eat dinner until 10 or 11 p.m. in the summer. Or we might get together with them late afternoon, during what we call merienda (a light snack) that falls right after siesta and before everyone goes back to work. Most work from early morning until 1 or 2 p.m., take a siesta and then work from 5 until 9 or 10 p.m. Sometimes we connect on a rare day off.
There's definitely a different rhythm to summers in Carlos Paz.
Traffic compounds the problem. The infrastructure really wasn't built to handle the flood of tourists we're now getting, so traveling across town becomes a challenge. Thankfully we've learned how to use the side and back streets to get around, but gridlock is still an issue whenever you have to cross a main road. You quickly learn to avoid main roads whenever possible during January and February!
I've given directions often enough to people looking for a certain street, that I now have it almost memorized. I've mentioned before that the city put in a new costanera that runs right along the river and ends at our street. Out-of-towners come tooling along and suddenly the road ends, so they stop and ask how to get to Gigantes Street (where there's a bridge to the other side of the river, and a popular beach area). There are quite a few twists and turns to get there, and I'm never sure if my directions are fully understood, but no one has ended up back here, so either they found Gigantes -- or someone else to ask for better directions.
January is the worst month, since government offices close to give their employees a vacation, and a lot of factories and businesses shut down as well. On our way to church Sunday, February 3, we noticed a significant decrease in the amount of people out and about, compared to Sunday mornings all through January. February is still a busy tourist month here, but not nearly as bad as January. And honestly, the season doesn't end when school starts the end of February. Lots of young singles and retired folks wait until then to take their vacation, so we see plenty of action around town in March too.
I'm just glad this is a seasonal issue, and not one we have to deal with year-round. We always breathe a sigh of relief when summer is over and things get back to 'normal'.