A few weeks ago, I answered some of the questions you had asked me about my travels. Several people told me that they enjoyed it, so I decided to put together part two of "Questions Answered." Here goes:
1. Why are you still in Bolivia? Aren't you worried about the elections and the riots that most likely will follow?
It's true that I would rather not be in the country during election time. There's a good chance that there will be roadblocks, riots, and possibly even violence against foreigners. However, the exact date of the elections was one of those areas where it was difficult to get accurate information from outside the country. Everyone I talked to seemed to think that the elections were in mid-November, but I found out when I actually got to Bolivia that they won't be until mid-December. I have been in the country longer than I thought I would because of this fact. So far, I haven't experienced any political violence in Bolivia.
2. Why do you wear your jacket so often?
Other travelers have asked me this more than my friends back home, but I'll address it here anyway. Usually, I wear my jacket. The only times I don't wear it are when it's really hot and when I go out late at night. The reason I wear it so often is because it has inside pockets. They are where I keep my wallet and anything else I don't want to get stolen. It's much easier to pick-pocket someone who has money in an outside pocket, even if it's their front pants pocket, than someone with money on the inside of their jacket, which would require unzipping two zippers to steal. I generally don't carry anything valuable in any outside pockets for that reason.
3. How's the beer?
It's not too bad. Most of the beers here are watered down (similar to Miller Lite), but they still taste pretty good. It seems like every big city has its own brand of beer. Cusco had Cusquena, Arequipa had Areaquipena, Sucre had Sucrena, etc. The only thing I don't like is how foamy it is. Whenever you pour a glass, it's almost all head. The main theory as to why this is amongst people I've discussed it with is that the beer is brewed at a low altitude and shipped to a high altitude, so there is more air pressure inside the bottle than outside, causing it to foam up. That might just be complete BS, though.
4. What have been your favorite and least favorite meals?
Food generally tastes better the more you pay for it, so my favorite meals have also been the most expensive ones. I'd say that the best-tasting meal I had was a seafood and pasta plate with a brilliant sauce from the first night of my trip. The plate alone cost $5 (probably the most I've paid for a meal so far), though, so I don't think I can call it my favorite meal. That award goes to a simple, but good spaghetti and meat sauce meal complete with asparagus soup, bread, and mate (a tea-like drink made with coca leaves), which I got in Copacabana, Bolivia for about sixty cents. It's funny that right down the street from that restaurant was a trendy tourist place where most of the food was ten times as expensive.
For my least favorite meal, it's a tie between the fried guinea pig I ate in Huaraz, Peru and the infamous empanadas with chicken and beef I ate in La Paz, Bolivia. The guinea pig tasted bad and the meat was really tough, but at least there were no repercussions later. The empanadas tasted fine going down but did not feel good coming out. I don't think I'll ever eat either of those again.
5. Which foods from back home do you miss the most?
The single most food item I want more than any other is a Big Mac. I haven't seen a McDonald's on my trip since my first day in Lima. Back then, I didn't want to have anything to do with American food, but now I crave it. I have been to cities with more than a million people, but I still haven't seen any American restaurants since Lima. I guess I can understand why. A basic meal at McDonald's costs $5, but a basic meal here is only fifty cents, and it's a lot healthier. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll find a McDonald's in Chile.
The other food I miss is cold milk (I know, milk is actually a drink). The only types of milk you can get here are straight from the cow (or goat, or llama, or whatever), or in powdered form. The straight-from-the-animal variety is hard to find in the cities, and I've been too afraid to try it anywhere else. The powdered kind, as you can probably expect, tastes horrible. I used to drink about a gallon of milk per week, but I haven't had any since leaving. My bones are about to start breaking apart as I write this.
6. Do they have pizza?
You can find pizza in just about any city here, but it's not the same as at home. Pan pizza doesn't exist; everything is hand-tossed. Sausage and pepperoni, which are practically requirements on American pizzas, are almost impossible to find here. The main ingredients they do put on pizzas are ham, mushrooms, olives, anchovies, and tuna, so for the most part, they are pretty disgusting. The only pizza type I normally get is Hawaiian, which includes ham and pineapples. That's always a safe bet.
7. Is coffee the same there?
They have something called "coffee" (cafe in Spanish) here, but that's where the similarities end. Generally when you order a black coffee here, you get a cup of hot water and a cup of sludge. The sludge is a very concentrated coffee that, if drunk by itself, would turn anyone into Cornholio in seconds. You are supposed to combine the right amount of sludge with the right amount of water to make the best tasting coffee for you. The problem is that it tastes bad no matter which combination you choose. At least they still have sugar, though.
Things get even stranger if you order a coffee with milk. In that case, you get a cup with a combination of hot water and lots of powdered milk with your sludge. The milk itself tastes like chalk, but when mixed with sludge, it tastes like a piece of chalk dipped in a combination of lemon juice and Pepto Bismo. I still have a hard time believing that one of the world's biggest coffee producers could have the world's worst tasting coffee.
8. What does a typical lunch and dinner consist of?
Most of the smaller restaurants in Peru and Bolivia have a menu. This is not the same as a menu in English; that's called a carta. The menu is a single dish that the owner of the restaurant has decided to cook for that meal. He or she will cook enough for several people and serve it to them as they ask for it. It almost always includes a soup and a main dish, and sometimes it also includes a drink and/or dessert. Since the dish is cooked beforehand, it's usually ready within a couple minutes. That is the typical food that locals eat here.
There are also regular restaurants that have large menus (the English word "menu," that is). These restaurants tend to be much more expensive, and usually only tourists eat at them. It's very common to see a nice restaurant packet with tourists right next door to a small, basic restaurant filled with locals that serves almost the same food for 10% as much money.
Next "Questions Answered" session will include questions on the economy and other odds and ends. Keep firing away the questions!