Friday, December 25, 2015

South America: Until Next Time

While everyone in Canada cleans up after a long Christmas day filled with presents and turkey dinner and hopefully, a whole lot of laughter and love, I've been spending some of our Boxing Day in Australia catching up on my blog. Here's my last post on South America.

South America

I think it's a pretty fair assessment that soccer is popular.

The first third of our journey has ended. After 3½ months of travelling through parts of South America, it's time to say good-bye and move on. But, I'll be back someday.

Kerry and I were in South America 15 years ago - much to the horror of some family and friends. One workmate of Kerry's stated that we'd never get out of there alive. Well, we did, and since that time we've talked frequently about how much we enjoyed it and wanted to get back. What better time than now.

We visited four countries: Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and Chile. I know there are many more, and that each country is unique, but I'm going to make sweeping generalizations anyway.

Each country has an interesting history filled with unstable or collapsing economies, military dictatorships, hyperinflation, left-wing politics, poor people being enterprising trying to get ahead, the super rich, and underlying it all - corruption. For the most part, today the region is stable, yet every country seems teetering on the brink of something: a riot, an economic collapse of some sort, or a military takeover.

As a result of teetering - or at least how I saw it - the people are quite laid back. They know that today things might not be working out, but tomorrow they might. They move along at their own pace. Things get done when they get done. They seem to shrug and move on accepting many situations that we as North Americans would never endure and would complain loudly about. We saw many examples of this:

  • Wifi. The bars are there, but the internet connection is not, at least right now. In a bit it the connection will work again. This is South America after all.
  • The morning tv shows. You can set a clock by our morning tv. At the top of the hour there's news, followed by traffic, weather and sports then a human interest story. Repeat every half hour. We found no such routine anywhere. The stories are long and the hosts chat for a long time over repeating video about the story that can include big news, or even just the amount of garbage on a city street that's grown.
  • When protests occur (for workers' rights, free education, indigenous rights, street selling bylaws were the ones we saw), no one is up in arms about any disruption to their lives with closed streets and a great police presence. They simply go around it or change their route to avoid it - even though a protest can suddenly turn ugly.
Protest in front of Quito's city hall
  • The love of paper and bureaucracy. You go through passport control when you enter the country, and then again when you leave it. Remember that slip of paper you got when you entered, please turn it in when you leave. Want to check into a hotel - make sure you have your passport to handover so they can copy it. The more paper you need, the more important the task. 
The Chilean piece paper you get when you enter and hand in when you leave.

Yet, surprisingly, some places have daily garbage collection. Put your garbage out at the end of the day and it's picked up first thing in the morning every day. 

Much of the food is quite good as well and there are a few things I'm going to tackle when we get home:

  • Fruit juices with a variety of combinations of fruit, and sometimes a bit of mint added.
  • Empanadas - Every country has their own way of making them, and there's a huge variety of fillings. I'm going get serious about learning to make decent pie crust and pastries so that we can enjoy this delicious treats and other pastry delights at home.

  • Mayonnaise - Fresh mayonnaise is quite fabulous. I'm certain it's easy to make; I've just never done it. Goodbye Hellman's & Miracle Whip, nice knowng you.
  • Sauces for steak from Argentina. Nothing like BBQ sauce, but different herbs with oil that added so much to the steak.

I will not be drinking instant coffee on our return to Canada. Argentina had fantastic coffee, but the other countries, not so much. Plus, if our place didn't have a coffee maker, it was much easier to just pull out the instant coffee for our morning pick-me-up.

Coffee is not a very big deal in Ecuador or Chile, but drink it we must. We stayed so long I started to look forward to my cup of Nescafé every morning.
The people are so very kind and helpful. They accepted my poor Portuguese and Spanish and willingly worked with me to figure out what I was asking. If they could speak English, they weren't shy about chatting away to improve their skills.

Best of all were the kids with a soccer ball. Eamon had such an easy time joining in to play with them even with the language barrier. I guess soccer is its own international language. None of these boys know it, but they all made Eamon's day anytime he found a group to join. Plus, they were accepting of Meaghan anytime she decided to join in. As an aside, I do have to admit that I wondered why these kids weren't in school when we came across them on school days. 

On a different note, I couldn't help but note that in many places, though less so in Argentina, I was tall. I towered above some of those people. Even Meaghan was taller than a chunk of the population. Of course that means Kerry was more like a giant, but that made him incredibly easy to follow in a crowd.

And no post would be complete with a mention of the dogs that roam everywhere in every country. While not every dog has a home, in many places the dogs do have homes; they just roam free during the day, returning home to greet their owner. While roaming, they are loved and fed by a variety of local people who have clearly gotten to know the dog. Without exception, every dog we saw was well behaved. We never did figure out why the dogs don't travel in packs or attack people. Maybe they do, and we just didn't see it, or hear about it.

Dog houses in a public park in Santiago

Even after spending 3½ months there, we easily could have stayed longer. There's so much to love and so much more to see. Plus, being there makes me want to get serious about learning Spanish so that I can communicate in actual sentences and move beyond speaking in the present tense with a smattering of other words. And it would be nice to understand what was being said beyond picking up the general gist of things. I think we'll just have to make a point of returning someday.

But in the meantime, we've got the rest of our journey to go. At the moment we are hanging out at the Gold Coast of Australia to celebrate Christmas and see in 2016.

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