In this final instalment, I bring you the strangenesses and bizarrities of our four south American destinations. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this mini-series: it’s certainly been fun identifying the things that make a country and its people unique and unusual. If you missed any of the others, here are some links for speedy access:
Curiosities #1 – Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam
Curiosities #2 – Myanmar, Malaysia, The Philippines and Japan
Curiosities #3: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama
★Almost everyone – men, women, young, old – wears hats.
★The official currency is the US dollar.
★Like Peruvians, they eat grilled guineapig (cuy).
★Indigenous people are very short!
★Quito’s transport system, trolley buses, are a cross between buses and trams.
★Traditional hats are something between a bowler and a trilby and often have a peacock feather attached.
★In Cuenca there’s a huge inner-city park, which, despite the cold, was packed with locals using the running track, outdoor gym, play areas, sports pitches and joining in the giant open air zumba class!
★Every town is full of really friendly, unintimidating stray dogs, many of whom adopt you for a while as you walk, especially if you have food!
★In Pucon there are lots of hawks that are completely unafraid of humans and will strut around gardens and sit on walls. There are also parrots and weird ibis-like birds.
★It’s the first place on our trip where kitchens have ovens.
★Display screens in buses (here and in Argentina) tell you how fast you are travelling and sometimes the name of the driver and how long he’s been driving for on that journey.
★Bread is tasty unlike most other places on our trip.
★Besides the obligatory pizza restaurants, sushi is almost the only international cuisine on offer.
★The smoke from house woodburners completely fills the streets of places like Pucon during winter evenings.
★ Grapefruit juice seems far more popular than you’d imagine it should be!
★Llamas and alpacas are commonly farmed whilst donkeys and vicuñas roam wild.
★There is a fleet of library buses where you can select a book for your journey and there are some libraries in Santiago subway stations.
★Prince Harry’s visit caused a huge stir, lengthy news reports and many marriage proposals!
★ It’s more common to hear someone say ‘ciao’ thank ‘adios’.
★Some bus stations have pay as you go TV screens pointed at a few seats in the waiting areas.
★ They have a lot of strange, double sided keys which go into horizontal keyholes.
★Everyone seems to smoke.
★Lots of school uniforms consist of what look like white lab coats, even for very little kids.
★Steak sandwiches (lomos) and chorizo hotdogs are common street vendor snacks.
★A really common ‘meal’ is a huge mountain of chips (to share) with toppings of meats or sauces or onions or fried eggs.
★It’s the only country we’ve ever been to where you’re obliged to let someone lift your luggage on/off a bus then you have to give a tip for it.
★It’s one of the only countries on our trip where we’ve seen babies and children in prams (instead of just being carried).
★Inline skating is all the rage!
★People carry hot water in a flask so they can drink mate – a kind of herbal tea made with leaves, sucked through a metal straw with a flattened end.
★Bus travel is very expensive, probably because of fuel prices and the fact that there are too many companies doing the same journeys with only a few passengers in each bus.
★ATMs only dispense small amounts of money and there always seem to be queues.
★ Night buses can get very fancy. Our most expensive (not by choice!) was £75 each but included lunch, three course dinner with a hot main course, breakfast, beer, wine and champagne!
★Traffic light entertainment and employment is popular: windscreen washers, jugglers, World Cup merchandise vendors, breakdancers, sellers of household goods and, my favourite, red- or green-nosed clowns helping pedestrians over the crossing, squeaking with every step.
★Microwave meals exist!
★Buffet restaurants are very popular for lunch (a main meal rather than a snack) but you pay by the kilo.
★It’s the only place we’ve ever seen where, in addition to pregnant women, people with young children, the elderly and the disabled, you can get priority seating on buses if you’re obese.
★In Portuguese, the words for Monday to Friday are ordinal numbers: segunda, terça, quarta, quinta, sexta.
★Included breakfasts are, in our experience, the best of the trip, with breads, cheese, ham, cereal, eggs, fruit, cake and a range of drinks.
★Toilet seats are sort of inflated slightly providing cushioning!
★Buses have turnstiles at the front, sometimes manned, which can make boarding with large rucksacks very tricky.
★Avocado is eaten as a dessert ingredient.
★Supermarket employees sometimes wear roller skates.