We’ve now been in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay for almost as long as we were in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. And the difference between these countries is astonishing.
How is it possible that Bolivia, where homes are ramshackle structures made of rough concrete bricks, and people live off the vegetables grown on their little plots of land, shares a border with Argentina, where the populous sips red wine, eats huge steaks and strolls along shaded boulevards lined with cafes that would be at home in any European city??
It’s been a stark and sometimes disorienting change from the poorer northern countries to the affluent southern countries. The quality of hotels and hostels has improved, the variety (though, not always the taste!) of foods has improved and the prices have skyrocketed!
And it’s not just the superficial things like cleaner streets or yummier menus that’s changed. There’s been a shift in the attitudes of the people down here. In Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia we were approached frequently by people trying to sell us things. It was annoying, but we got the sense that these people were genuinely trying to work hard and earn a living for their families. In the southern countries, we’ve seen a marked increase in out-and-out begging. One morning, while we were walking in the middle of Buenos Aires, a really dodgy man approached us. He stood directly in Andy’s path and said, “Moneda!” When we ignored him he put his hand right in front of us and shouted, “MONEY!” as if by saying the word in English we might suddenly decide to give him a few coins. In Peru we were hit up frequently, but those people were always offering services in exchange for money, not simply demanding money of anyone who looks like a gringo.
Having said that, there are huge pluses to being down here in the more modern northern countries. One of the main benefits is the ability to drink the tap water here. Andy and I are used to travelling in countries where the tap water isn’t delicious, but in places like Bolivia, where the tap water was often pumped into town from the lake… and the pump was right next to the sewage drain… it could be deeply unhealthy. During our first few days in Chile, we continued to buy huge bottles of water every night as had become our habit. Only after a few days did we realise that everyone else was drinking the water straight from the tap! What a relief! We happily refilled our bottles from the kitchen sink and for the first time in more than 2 months drank free water!
The thing is, every country that we’ve visited has had pluses and minuses. When we began our trip, I assumed that things in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay would be “better” simply because these countries are more modern, more like what I’m used to. However, several times in the past few weeks I’ve caught myself craving the simple dinners of roasted chicken in Peru, or the ease of understanding the Spanish spoken in Ecuador, or the friendly and uncomplicated smiles of the shop keepers in Bolivia. The truth is, everywhere we’ve been has been the best in its own way. And everywhere we go, we’re SO happy to be right there.