I am back in English. The last two posts were in German and I kind of enjoyed writing in my mother tongue. You can let me know below, what you prefer?! But here we go with what I have to say for today:
You know that feeling when somebody is generalizing places like Europe and you are just thinking to yourself “Well, Europe is much more than just one thing!” But to be honest I often do the same thing with Africa or Asia, but even Eastern Europe. It’s because I haven’t really been to any of these regions, and I think that’s a normal behavior if you are not familiar with the distinct countries. You might have heard some clichés or preconceptions and that’s what you go with. The same applied for me when I was thinking about South America. There are a couple of countries, but they are pretty much the same, right?
Of course traveling here taught me otherwise. There are some drastic differences I recognized in the three countries I’ve been to in South America. They are based on my personal experiences and also the people I talked to that inspired me to think about a few things from a different perspective.
To be honest, until now I have been experiencing mostly the same vibes/mentality throughout the countries. However, you know that this is not something to generalize because we met a bunch of people that were actually completely different, especially when you get on a personal level with them. But talking about the every-day interactions on a market, for example, or in a bus we encountered a lot of ignorance. People care a lot about themselves, and only about themselves. No queuing up, no keeping out of someone’s personal space (ie touching, running into each other etc.), no consideration about the well-being of others, no patience or understanding if somebody obviously need some help or assistance. Not just with tourists – I guess they still don’t like tourists that much – but also they tend to deal with locals like this as well. I am not saying this kind of chaos and self-centeredness is necessarily a bad thing, but if you are coming from a more organized part of the world, you may feel a little offended now and then.
A biggie for me! It is really important when getting to know a place to get the food-side as well. We only ate three or four times in Chile but needless to say it was the best food we had in South America so far. But I think that is mainly due to the fact that it is the most European-like food we had. Some seafood, some pasta, and great sauces. You won’t find that on a traditional menu in Peru or Bolivia. You will find cheap lunch menus that will basically serve you all the same throughout the two countries. The first part is a soup which is based on rice (YES, rice!), quinoa or lentils. The main course is usually for you up to choose between 3 or 4 different dishes. The thing is they all come with rice AND potatoes, sometimes noodles as well and if you are lucky you will get a few vegetables or lettuce with it. So the part of your meal you are actually able to choose is which kind of meat you want with it. Fried chicken, grilled chicken, fried trout, grilled trout, beef, pork and sometimes they add a sauce to it. Sounds really monotonous and in fact it is if you eat it every day. We heard from some people that if you go to the better restaurants they will also serve you better food, but even then we realized that putting rice and potatoes on the same plate is not a sin like it would be in Austria. But being the place where potatoes originated and where they are growing thousands of different kinds of potatoes it is understandable that most of their dishes are based on it. Ceviche seems to be one of the few meals that saves Peru’s cuisine. It is a dish from the North serving raw fish bathed in a spicy hot lemon sauce with onions and I think it tastes amazing!
This is one thing that made a bigger difference than I thought it would. But infrastructure in terms of decent streets, restrooms, information, etc. we found that this also ranks by the cost of living/traveling of each country, ie Chile was the best, Peru in the middle. So far Bolivia has been the cheapest country and throughout Bolivia the streets where miserable. There are only a few connections that actually have asphalt streets. Therefore traveling in Bolivia can be quite dangerous, especially at night, because the thing is that those bad streets are not just straight but lead through the mountains with sometimes up to hundreds of meters of free fall just by the streets. A few heart-dropping moments included! The complete contrary is Chile where we were greeted by nice smooth streets all the time. Funny story: One time we heard a Chilean guy advice a Bolivian driver that asked for the way, that here in Chile he had to stop at the stop signs and his seat belt always had to be fastened in case a police officer stops them. Otherwise they would have to pay a large fine. The Bolivian was surprised. Which leads me to the next and last point…
In general don’t expect anyone to follow any rules or laws in Bolivia or Peru. Streets are chaotic, the fastest or “strongest”/biggest vehicle wins the fight. Crossing over to the opposite lane in a curve is totally acceptable as long as you honk a little before going. The same goes for driving over a cross road. “Let’s just warn them, so I don’t need to break!” So this means being really careful when walking in the streets because they will run you over, no matter what! If you are at a hostel and want to use the shared bathroom or sometimes even the bathroom in a low-class restaurant, well then be prepared and take your own toilet paper, because they won’t provide it for you. Their excuse is that if they put toilet paper in every bathroom people would steal it. So it is kind of a chain reaction. If everyone would equip their bathrooms with toilet paper nobody would have the need to steal it. At least this makes sense to me! Peru ranks in the middle therefore it is not as chaotic, low-standard and anarchic as Bolivia but still requires a lot of understanding and adjustment from someone coming from Europe.
That’s it for now, hope you had a great weekend!