Friday, August 26, 2011

Things I've Learned in South America

I have learned a great many things.

Please to enjoy.

  • The usefulness of a big friendly smile.
    This cannot be understated. A big charming smile and a bit of Spanish and one will find many pesos cut off their cab fare, maps drawn for them, or even an escort to the bus station through tear gassed streets of a beach side town.
  • The South American personal space bubble differs greatly to that of the Australian personal space bubble.
    This especially evident on public transport and during public events such as Inti Raymi.
  • You WILL get pick-pocketed in South America.
    During my time in Peru and Bolivia, my friends had all manner of things stolen. Cameras, replacement cameras, phones, backpacks, their entire Big Pack. I didn't. Thinking myself indestructable and vaguely non-gringo, I let my guard down. As soon as I got to Argentina, things stolen. Lots of things. I now have nothing of value worth stealing and thus the space around my bunk is a bomb sight of clothes and food and assorted shit.
  • After spending time in Peru and Bolivia, I will never, EVER take a clean toilet for granted.
    For that matter, I will never take for granted free available toilet paper, and a toilet in which one can flush said toilet paper. I think when I return to Australia I'll be puzzled by the absence of a bin next to the toilet for the paper.
  • I will never take a hot shower for granted.
  • But having said that, I am now completely comfortable with not showering for days on end.
    Speeding your way through Bolivia? Pfft, 'sif shower. Can't be bothered showering? You don't need to shower, dude. Haven't showered for a few days? One more won't hurt. I kid you not, I didn't shower for over a week in Bolivia. And I was fine with that. Arriving in Salta (Argentina) however, the presence of wi-fi, cafes and designer stores made me feel like more than a little bit of a bum. I had a shower at that point.
  • If you're a gringo in Cusco, the phrase you will utter more than any other on any given day is, "No, gracias".
    You will be offered hats, llama jumpers, weed, coke and massages at every corner. As well as in between every corner. I mean, of course occasionally you'll say yes to one of these offers, but there's only so much I can stand and only so much money I have to burn. And I'm going to go out on a limb and say that when I'm about to get into a cab with my pack and I'm in the middle of a tearful goodbye, it's probably not a moment when I want drugs.
  • I love travelling alone.
    At first I was somewhat apprehensive about travelling by myself for a few months after hanging with Linc, especially leaving Cusco, this place that I'd come to call my home. My fears turned out to be unfounded however, as it soon became clear how much I prefer doing it solo. Honestly, I don't think I could go back to having a permanent travel buddy on a trip.
    Travelling solo you're forced to introduce yourself, to make friends. You end up getting to know cities better. It becomes incredibly simple making split-second decisions and changes of plans. Stay in Salta one more night to watch the Argentina game with some friends? Why the hell not? Go to Uyuni instead of Tupiza cause I met a cool guy on the bus on his way there? Fuck yes I will.
    Travel buddies picked up for a few days, a week, fun had then good byes said. I tell you what, never have before have I met so many incredible, interesting people in such a short space of time than during these three and a half months. And never have so many comfort zones been barrelled through, so many stupid risks been taken to amazing, lovely, ridiculous results.
  • So on that note, I have learned exactly how goddamn interesting people are.
    They are. Everyone. People are fascinating.  
  • I'm interesting too.
    That may seem like a stupid thing to say, and an incredibly dumb thing to have discovered, but it's true. Apparently I'm interesting, and I shouldn't be shocked when people want to spend extended amounts of time with me. It's a nice discovery to have made.
  • Judging a book by its cover is a bad move.
    Which is not to say that I was a judgemental person before I got here, but certainly occasionally I would look at someone and in spite of myself, make a snap judgement about them. Interesting People come in all shapes and sizes though, kids. I met a bunch of boys in La Paz, who a few months ago I may have dismissed as a bunch of irritating 'Gap Yah' dudds. However, a night spent with them ended up being some of the best fun I had in all of Bolivia. I ended up staying another night in the city (albeit not in a bed for a second), enjoying all manner of incredible conversation, dingy nightlife and weird experiences one can only really have while on the road, in Bolivia. 
  • There are no problems, only solutions.
    Phone got stolen in a crowded club? Wallet too? Don't cry about it, pussy. Deal with it. 
  • Argentinian guys are very often completely gross and disgustingly forward. 
    Walking down the street, expect yells, loud kissy noises, assorted shit, from hoardes of men. 
  • Irritatingly, Argentinian men are also the best looking I've come across in South America.
    Soz, Bolivia and Peru and to a lesser extent, Chile. 
  • Booze is cheap. So are cigarettes.
    As such, it's incredibly easy to succumb to peer pressure. A favourite phrase of my main Chilean pal is 'PEERPRESSUREPEERPRESSUREPEERPRESSURE'
  • Tattoos don't hurt that much. Tear gas does.
  • Cities at high altitude mean that you won't be able to climb a hill in one go, stairs will be a challenge, slight inclines are irritating, and hangovers are excruciatingly horrid.
  • South Americans like football.
    I knew this before. It just became all the more clear upon going to a Copa America semi final in Argentina. It was intense. 
  • Argentinian steaks are incredible. 
  • There is never pepper on the table at Chilean restaurants.
  • Chilean wine is great.
  • They weren't kidding about Chilean smog.
  • There's a lot to be said for a good house party.
  • Climbing a volcano is hard.
    It is.
  • Peruvians, Bolivians, Argentinians and Chileans are some of the most lovely, hospitable and generous people you could ever find. 
    Which one can forget momentarily when your phone, iPod, camera and wallet are stolen in quick succession. One is quickly reminded however, when a lovely stranger goes out of their way to help, or when one meets a group four Argentinian buddies travelling through SA in an old '67 Bedford and one spends a night hanging out with them in said awesome bus.
I'd add more things to this list but I hear goings-on in the kitchen of the hostel I'm in at the moment. This hostel, which has become my home for about three and a half weeks, full of the craziest, strangest little family  of guys that make up the staff. Of all the places I've been, I'd venture to say that this place - the Moai Viajero Hostel - is up there near the top of the Places I'll Miss the Most. 

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