Questions Answered

About a week ago, Rohit asked some interesting questions. I don't think everyone will see the answers if I responded by commenting, so I'll create an entry just for the answers.

1) what people(hostel and places you visit) think of US of A?
Generally, most of the travelers I have met don't have a problem with Americans. They understand that it's a very big country with lots of people, and they don't judge you by where you're from. I've learned to do the same with them.

Local people seem to like us too, but of course, we also support them with tourist dollars. However, I don't think they differentiate much between western cultures, either. I have a really hard time convincing them that I'm not rich, though. They see someone who could afford a plane ticket so South America and assume that they are made of money. Still, it's a touchy subject. In many ways, we are rich. We have so much more than most people I meet. People just don't understand how expensive our country is and that most people in the US are barely getting by.

The thing I don't like is how a lot of people dress up in traditional clothes just to try and make a living when tourists take pictures of them. I worked hard at a real job for several years to save up for this trip, and a lot of people think that I somehow owe them money just because they are dressed a certain way. I actually have caved and payed off a few of the people in some of my pictures, but usually I avoid taking the photo altogether. Once again, it's a touchy subject, one that I don't normally discuss with people I meet, but most tourists seem to resent paying for photographs when so many people here work so hard doing real jobs.

2) What people think of George Bush
This may come as a big surprise, but most of the locals I have met don't really talk about him one way or another. They'd rather talk about their own country's politics.

The few who have talked about Bush have said that he's crazy. One taxi driver in Arequipa told me that a private company in the USA was contracting with Peruvians to go to Iraq and help out. They were offering work Visas in the USA if they stayed in Iraq for a year. A lot of local people were killed because of the temptation of a better life. Of course, a lot of it might not be true, but it was still an interesting discussion.

The travelers I talk to, including the Americans, almost universally hate him. It's almost become such a given that he's a horrible person that it doesn't even come up in discussions often. The only thing that bothers me is that a few people I've met have said that they won't travel to the USA anymore because they don't agree with the politics there. Of course, they still are willing to go to Peru, where Fujimori, the country's last president, is now in exile in Japan after getting caught stealing millions of dollars. I just don't see how you can exclude ever going to a country simply because you disagree with its politics.

3) Iraq war comes to discussion?
The answer is almost the same as the Bush answer, except there is more of an "I told you so" attitude among the Europeans I talk to. The Brits sometimes say something like "What's done is done, leaving now won't help," but almost everyone I talk to is against it. This doesn't exactly mean that everyone in the world is against it because I haven't met a microcosm of the world. People who travel to South America for several months at a time generally have a more hippie-like attitude towards world politics than people in general.

So generally, the answer to the first three questions is that most people don't have a problem with Americans in general, but they do hate Bush and are very against the Iraq war.

4) Any regrets, yet
I wish I would have started in Ecuador instead of Peru. Apparently, Ecuador has everything Peru has, and it's in a lot smaller area. Also, I completely missed out on the northern part of Peru, which still has a lot to see and is less touristy than the south. Still, I had a good reason for choosing to start with Peru: I had to be in Cusco a month after I started my trip for the Inca Trail. I didn't want to be too far away and risk missing the deadline, so I started in Lima to be safe.

I also wish I would have visited Ica between my visits to Pisco and Nazca. I thought it was just a desert town without much to see, so I skipped it. However, everyone I've talked to who has been there has loved it. Riding the dune buggies and going sandboarding have been the highlights of most peoples' trips. I guess you can't do everything, though. Or, maybe I'll still get a chance to do those things at the end of my trip.

5) Any light bulb or aha moments? something like intresting thats what they do because….(I agree may be I overread some of this, but some stuff you run into that is just different and you will remember)

The biggest thing I've noticed is how labor-intensive this culture is. What I mean by that is that a lot of stuff that would be automated in our society is done manually here. For example, in the bus-vans they have here, there is always one guy driving and another guy shouting where they are going out the window and collecting money. This guy wouldn't exist in our culture, but labor is so cheap here, you might as well have him.

Another example is the number of police officers whose only job is to change the traffic lights from red to green or even to stand still and watch people walk past them. The only times cops direct traffic in the US are when the traffic lights fail and at very busy intersections during the busiest time of day, but here they are everywhere, all the time. I don't think it has to do with crime, either. Sucre, Bolivia, where I'm writing this, feels as safe as anywhere I've been in the US, but there are still traffic cops all over.

A final example of human labor being important is doing laundry. There are no laundromats here; there are only "lavandarias." Instead of having a big room with lots of washers and driers, there is just a lady who has one washer and one drier who does your laundry for you. All you have to do is drop off your clothes, and the next day, they are washed, dried, folded, and neatly put into a bag for you. All of this only costs about $1 per kilo, too. Of course, you have to wait up to a day to get your clothes back, but you don't have to do any work, either. Once again, I think it comes down to cheap labor. In the First World, we'd rather cut back on labor costs by automating jobs, but in the Third World, automation would mean less jobs available, and it wouldn't save much money because labor is so cheap.

Now that I've answered those questions, I'm going to take the liberty of asking and answering a few more questions.

6. What is your favorite part of the culture you are in?
I love how available everything is. On every block in every city I've been to, there are at least two general stores, one restaurant, and one Internet cafe. When I need something, I can almost always find it quickly. And if I need to go further away, taxis are everywhere. I've never had to wait more than thirty seconds for one, and I rarely have to pay more than $1.

7. What is your least favorite part of the culture you are in?
There are two things that I equally can't stand. One of them is the difficulty in changing money. When I get money from an ATM, it gives me all 100's, and maybe a few 50's if I'm lucky. Then I try to buy a bottle of water:

Him: "That'll be one sol."
Me: "Here's fifty."
Him, with disgusted look on his face: "I can't change that."

My business has actually been turned away several times because the cashier couldn't make change. I've even had trouble paying with a ten sol note a few times! It's also very difficult to spend flawed money, especially in Peru. If there is even a small rip, crease, or smudge in the bill, it becomes worthless. That goes for American money, too. Spending money has become such a problem that every day, I go through a painful guess-and-check process of trying to spend my worst bills first.

Me: "Will you take this perfect, crisp, new 100 sol bill?"
Him: "No, I don't have change."
Me: "How about this slightly used fifty?"
Him: "It's barely in good enough condition, but I still don't have enough change."
Me: "How about this twenty with a tiny tear on the bottom?"
Him: "I can change a twenty, but I won't take that one."
Me: "Fine, take my last five sol coin. Now I'm completely screwed for the rest of the day."

Luckily, this problem is not nearly as bad in Bolivia as it is in Peru, mainly because the Bolivian 100 is only worth $13 or so, and because Bolivia doesn't have as big of a problem with counterfeit notes as Peru has.

The other problem I have here is that it seems like every doorway, table, and chair are designed to destroy my head and knees. I can't enter a room without having to duck considerably. I've hit my head on doorways countless times. Tables almost universally have a bar underneath them whose sole purpose is to break my kneecaps when I sit down. Seriously, you could remove the bar and the table would be just as stable. And buses are the worst. On almost every bus I've ridden on, my knees are already pressed against the seat in front of me, even under the best possible conditions. But that's not enough. The seats all recline, and everyone takes advantage. I either have to put my knees in the isle or press them against my face, but they still end up getting smashed. This society has a secret hatred of tall people.

The runners up for the award of "Things I Don't Like Here" include how loud it is, and how the concept of standing in line has not yet emerged.

So, what other questions do you have for me? I'll try to answer anything you ask as I get time to do so. Just post a comment in this, or any future blog entry.

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