As our trip nears it’s inevitable (and possibly overdue) end, we’re thinking a lot about what we learned along the way. There are lots of things that we’ll miss about life down here, many things that we would have done differently, and then quite a few daily experiences that we’ll manage without. Concerning the last item, here’s my list:
- Bus rides – I think this one is obvious. We’ll count up how many buses we’ve taken later, but my guess is it’s somewhere around 100. These are mostly long distance, inter-city buses, but then there are those small micros that we took for day-trips, or just to get across a city, that aren’t represented in that number. Probably, we took some sort of “bus” every other day, for one whole year. Ouch. Yes, sometimes they were comfortable, but those were usually the super long distance ones (i.e. more than 8 hours long). Being slightly nauseous, without sufficient leg room, and constantly worrying about our bags getting stolen, for hours and hours is just not something I will miss!
- Living out of a backpack – During our trip we were drawn to certain places/cities more than others, and ended up staying for longer periods of time. This was always a welcome break from the constant unpacking and repacking ritual, but it always made leaving even harder for me. My stuff would be spread out everywhere, nothing fit like it used to, and it was generally hell to have to get everything back in my bag. Damn, I will not miss that.
- Staying in hostels – Hostels can be lovely. I mean, truly, I wouldn’t prefer to stay in any other accommodation while traveling (well, OK maybe a home stay sometimes). But some things wear on you. There are almost always annoying things about a hostel. Maybe the bed sucks (or more likely, the pillow). Maybe the other guests are inconsiderate. Maybe your room is right on the main road. The quest for a perfect hostel is almost at mythical levels for me. We always talk about “that hostel in Sucre” and pine for something like it. Sleeping in my own bed, with my own pillow, will be something close to nirvana.
- “The Queuing Problem” – This one is a bit more involved. To describe my nomenclature, I’ll talk about queuing first. In 90% (yes, not everywhere) of the places we’ve been in South America, queuing is a nightmare. You have to actively fight to keep your spot in line, as others are constantly trying to sneak past you. I was waiting in a bakery once, and I was clearly the next person in line, when an older lady just started ordering. I even called her out on it, and she said something like, “uh huh, isn’t that sweet” and then finished her order… To me, this is indicative of a larger “eat or be eaten” attitude. When you walk down the sidewalk, better keep your head straight ahead or someone is going to run right into you. They don’t care about you. There’s no awareness for the safety or well being of others. If you cross the street, better time it right because that car is not going to slow down. It’s what I imagine New York City to be like, except it’s a whole continent. My favorite “quirk” under this category is how people disembark transportation. When you are 2 or 3 minutes from the terminal, everyone gets out of their seats and starts lining up in the aisle of the bus. They do it in airplanes too. And they don’t let you out of your row easily. I don’t know. Basically, I just don’t understand, but I’m really looking forward to getting away from it!
- Dealing with cash – In Seattle I would rarely have cash. Every once in a while I’d grab a $20 so I wouldn’t have to wait for my card to be run in a bar, maybe. But down here almost everything runs on cash. And sometimes you have to plan ahead when towns don’t have ATMs. This means carrying around large amounts of money all the time. We even trucked around several hundred dollars in US currency so we could get a good exchange rate in Argentina. It was a strange feeling to be comfortable with that much cash spread out among my belongings, not worrying too much about the safety of it below our bus…