American actor finds himself in one of the best digital nomad cities during the pandemic
When actor, Chris Roe, locked the door of his New York City apartment on December 28 he could never have imagined that it would be the last time he would ever see it and that a round-the-world trip would end in a small South American nation with a new international career and a whole new set of friends.
Chris, 38, arrived in Punta del Este on March 1 after globetrotting to Mexico, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Australia and Rio for carnival. Uruguay was on his travel itinerary as an “open, inviting and liberal country” he’d been intrigued by for a number of years. His plan was to stay a few weeks and then move on to visit a friend in Buenos Aires and another in Peru. However the decision to move on was taken out of his hands. On March 15, both friends called to inform him that he was going nowhere–the borders were closed.
Despite not knowing a single soul in Uruguay, Chris felt philosophical about the news. He speaks Spanish and was keeping abreast of the news by reading El Pais. From the start, he was impressed by the way that both the government and citizens responded to the COVID-19 situation–especially when he compared it to the response in the US. What did feel strange was the abrupt halt of a lifestyle of constant world travel. “I went from just being able to pick up my backpack and move country, to suddenly–BOOM!–you can’t leave,” says Chris.
Feeling lucky to have a place to shelter, health insurance and an income working online, Chris decided to let fate take over. He would sit back and watch how things unfolded.
a safe place to shelter in uruguay
But back home in the US, his parents who live in Indiana were very worried. Sharing their concerns with their neighbours, by happy coincidence one was a Uruguayan lady whose son lived in Montevideo. This kind man–a total stranger–contacted Chris via WhatsApp and became his surrogate family through the first month of lockdown. Chris and Luis would talk for hours on the phone, especially in the evenings, and Luis would give Chris advice and tips.
In April Luis passed Chris a link to an article on Medium.com–There’s no place I’d rather be in a pandemic than in Uruguay. It was a piece that I had felt compelled to write in the face of the zero coverage in the English-speaking international media regarding Uruguay’s exemplary handling of the pandemic at that time. Chris,–who was totally alone other than this new friend at the end of the phone–also felt the same gratitude and appreciation.
“Everything that you had written in the article was what I was feeling,” he says.
Finding a community in one of the best cities for digital nomads
At the end of the article there was a link to the Guru’Guay website. Chris devoured the content, especially the recommended restaurants pages and Guru’Guay’s updates on which restaurants were delivering and when they started to open up.
Even though he was mostly sheltering in place, when he did venture out onto the deserted streets of Montevideo, one of the best digital nomad cities, Chris was fascinated with the architecture and the beauty of the city. He marveled that if he was enjoying Montevideo under (Uruguay’s voluntary) lockdown, how amazing it was going to be when things started to open up.
And through Guru’Guay’s social networks, Chris found a community. On our Discover Uruguay Facebook page, he met a fellow traveler from England who invited him to a birthday party where he met “a beautiful group of people on a farm in Sauce” including Uruguayans, a Mexican, an American, a woman from the Ukraine and two dogs. Chris joined a football team made up of other foreigners and found a Uruguayan tennis partner.
“Thanks to Guru’Guay, my social network just kept expanding and expanding. Now I really literally can’t keep up,” he laughs.
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Moving out of his NYC apartment via WhatsApp
In the meantime the weeks that he had planned to spend in Uruguay had stretched to almost half a year. Chris was renting an extremely expensive apartment in New York. His subletter wrote to inform him that unfortunately due to the pandemic her salary had been cut and she would be moving out.
Having discovered that the immigration system in Uruguay is far more welcoming than in the US, Chris made the decision to stay at least for now in Uruguay.
So he needed to move out of that apartment. He hired a professional organizer and using WhatsApp audio and video he moved out of his apartment with her help. “Thankfully I had gotten rid of a lot of stuff to make room for the subletter,” he said, “so over two days we literally went through every item in my apartment and I just sat there in this apartment in Uruguay as the organizer went through my life. In two days, we sold, donated and gifted everything.”
“When I locked my apartment door on December 28 I definitely didn’t think that this was the last time I was going to see any of my belongings or my home. So now I have no permanent home,” he laughs.
Bringing new business to Uruguay
Chris is exactly the type of immigrant that Uruguay would do well to attract. His background is in the theater. He’s an actor (with reviews in the Wall Street Journal and Time Out!), director, runs his own production company and he’s certified to teach English.
Combining all areas, now he teaches entrepreneurs to prepare their pitches and presentations in English. Last year conference organisers from Germany hired him to prepare their opening speech. They would introduce the main speaker, Barack Obama, in English to a 8,000-strong audience. “It’s like directing actors, or working with them on a monologue,” says Chris. He also helps improve accents.
The business was created in the last quarter of 2019 and launched officially in March from Punta del Este. Since he’s been in Uruguay, Chris has trained entrepreneurs in Spain and Germany. He’s potentially going to bring new business to Uruguay, as well as help local business people pitching and getting investments abroad.
No travelling plans for now
If there’s one thing that Chris doesn’t love about Uruguay, it’s the garbage in Montevideo. Waste is a particular bug-bear of his. His one-man show–Whales & Souls–is an environmental cautionary tale about the effects of climate change and pollution.
He says his friends from Uruguay have told him the rubbish used to be much worse (and I agree!), but he laments that dodging the poop on the sidewalks is a daily hazard.
I asked Chris what his plans are, for when the borders open. He says that assuming he’s managed to get his Uruguayan residency papers, he won’t be surprised to be spending Christmas in Uruguay. He doesn’t plan to go back to the USA anytime soon.
“I feel so lucky every day I open my windows and reflect on how fortunate I am to have ended up in this situation,” He adds, “Been here for half a year and this entire time I never felt like a stranger. I felt safe and so welcomed.”
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The Guru in El País newspaper
This article was originally published in Spanish in El País, one of the most important newspapers in Uruguay. We recently partnered for creating original content about foreigners traveling or living in Uruguay to inspire the expat community and Uruguayans themselves to explore their country. You can follow Karen’s column in El País on Wednesdays, both the digital and printed version. We are also publishing the translated English version of these articles here in guruguay.com:
Read other stories about travelers stuck in uruguay for the pandemic
Photo: JJ Ignotz
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