So after the frankly ridiculous number of incessant emotional up and downs, this adventure in South America has finally come to an end, for a new adventure to start. I’m very conscious of how different the last five months has been for me compared to anyone reading this from their desk at work or from the currently cold and dark UK, and for that, despite what my brain may like to challenge sometimes, at heart I am truly grateful. Something tells me I’ve learned some lessons that will last a lifetime and may not even be clear to me yet. I’ve been lucky on the way to meet some really wonderful people, and that is one of the main things I’ll take away. You know who you are and you deepen my faith in humanity!
Here are some more little fairly inconsequential observations I picked up along the way.
I MISS SQUASH!!!! Not the sport or the butternut variety (actually, that too) but the flavoured water. This was the first conversation I had with the lovely Mary and it still stands! New Zealand, please don’t let me down… On the other hand, I’m now quite partial to milk-free tea.
No-one has any change! Ever! I can’t believe I haven’t written about this before but it’s ridiculous; the cash machines always give out large notes, you embark on an unwelcome round of challenges to convert it to smaller notes or coins, then jealously hold onto that until it all runs out and you have to go to the cash machine and begin the whole tedious process again. Stoooopid system!
People at South American bus stations shouting the destination their bus is going to is actually very helpful!
All the same shops are gathered together in a street or area of a city: 8 tile shops, 20 bike shops, 10 paint shops, 4 bakeries… it’s a whole different concept of competition.
Bathroom floors are often, often wet so you always have to hop about trying to keep the ends of your trousers dry.
Frequently for most days a week I have to set an alarm earlier than I did for work at home, 4am, 5.45am, 6am, to catch a bus or a tour or a plane. Every now and again travelling feels like a job where the reward is not money, but priceless memories and lessons.
Landslides and earthquakes are a real, serious and frequent threat here. It’s very nice that we don’t generally have to worry about that stuff in the UK.
Hostel breakfast is almost always bread and strawberry jam.
Often a grocery/corner shop will have no staff in it, but be wide open. You have to just wait to pay. They just trust people! How about that.
Buying a bus ticket is not enough, oh no; you have to remember to find a separate little incognito kiosk and pay your taxes/station fees before you’re allowed out of the station onto the bus. I still haven’t got used to this and frequently get sent away from the gate to pay more!
Lonely Planet often seemed to have kind of given up on practicalities in Bolivia: “Ask around, someone local will probably give you some of the information you need to get to this enchanting must-see place that makes your eyes pop and your bones ooze with enthusiasm.” (Paraphrased.) Yep, thanks for that genius nugget. I’ve actually learned I’ll have to triangulate vaguely correct info from numerous grumpy sources to compensate for the non-information in this expensive book of poetry!
Wifi, wifi. The password often gets written in crazy handwriting on a napkin with capitals and lower case mixed up and it might be a nine or it might be a ‘g’. They must have to re-explain three times to everyone! Still, if you’re first on, you’re glad about that delay for everyone else, cos 10 more customers on that weak hostel wifi are gonna slow that thing down…
The world over now, slow or unavailable wifi is excruciating, as, somehow, so much of the functionality of arranging life is now dependent on it. It can be stressful, especially when you have no bed organised yet for tonight…
I’ve tried lots (for me) of new and local foods, but I’ve often been ill, and my taste buds do an unmistakeable association thing. So now there’s a lot I can’t stomach! New options didn’t last long. Back to gringo food…
It’s sad but often the people here trying to make a positive difference for the environment are foreigners. Not always, but usually. So many people, so little awareness or motivation…
I’ve been told a few times that younger tourists fresh out of school have no questions, they’re often not really aware of government or environment issues in the countries that they’re visiting. Such a wasted opportunity – the majority of backpackers are this young!
I’ve become more aware of the smaller languages here being at risk of dying out – Tacana in Bolivia, Aymara, even Quechua.
I’ve learned that when something is less of a challenge/becomes familiar to me, I’m more likely to be complacent and let negative thoughts creep in. But too much of a challenge can also do that to me. So I need to maintain a balance! (Revolutionary, I know.)
Let’s see what New Zealand brings!