‘I will never fob off a foreigner in Boganburbia again.’
In the time I have been travelling I am constantly amazed at how friendly and helpful South Americans are. Even sitting in an airport terminal, there is always a local traveller who wants to befriend you, to try out their English as you attempt some Español. Email addresses and promises are exchanged: ‘When you find yourself in [insert country here], look me up…’
Tonight at Quito airport a lovely, warm, Colombian woman named Martha used my Latin America phrasebook to find the word ‘trust’. ‘When you come to Colombia,’ she said, ‘you are welcome to sleep and to dream and to eat in my home.’
There is an openness and a warmth here that I admire. ‘You are travelling solo? Strong!’ Martha tells me, motioning Popeye-like with her arms.
Some places have felt warmer than others. Chileans are open and eager to adopt you, while Peruvians get there in the end, even in down-town Lima. The people in Quito, Ecuador, seemed a bit more wary, but probably with good reason. Even the locals will tell you Quito is riddled with crime and corruption. Engage an Ecuadorian in a political, philosophical, or ecological debate, on the other hand, and expect to be bailed up for hours.
On the plane from Chile to Argentina, the people beside me – South Americans – are helpful and considerate in a way their Western counterparts (also on the plane) are not. And yet when it comes to queues and the endless push-barge-give-way system, an entirely different cut-throat etiquette operates.
Each country, each city, has been distinctly different. Until now (I’m currently in Iguazu on the border of Argentina and Brazil), something each place has shared, has been the way their children and pets (mostly dogs), have behaved. Both are allowed to roam free, to mix and to play, and seem happy and well-behaved in a way I’ve never encountered. Take an Australian kid on public transport and expect whinging and harsh words and for everyone around them to be inwardly groaning. In South America, the children have been all smiles and quiet (when they’re not begging or scamming – but that’s another story), and the dogs keep to themselves, quietly curious and free from aggression.
Parents here don’t use prams. They carry their children in their arms or in blankets upon their backs or let them walk. In traditional towns you can expect to see children piling into three-wheeled taxis with alpacas and lambs in arm, negotiating available seat-space, while dogs and other domestic animals roam about unrestrained (when they’re not being carried in the same manner as the children), presumably going home at some stage for meals.
Argentina has been a bit different. I have spotted the first prams. The children here are noisy and whinging, while dogs are locked behind fences, and bark aggressively as you walk past. It could just be that I’m in a tourist town or that it is prosperous here in a way it has not been in the other cities I’ve seen, but the feel is definitely different, more Western, more commercial, and less friendly.
Having said that, when you can get someone’s attention, they will help, even walking you to your destination when you get lost, it’s just that time moves differently, and people have their own schedules where the push-barge system is the only way to get by.
One thing is for sure, I now appreciate how hard it can be to navigate new places, new people, and new languages, and I will never fob off a foreigner in Boganburbia again!