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Cono Sur Reflections

I know I’m far behind on telling you about the places we visited, but I will eventually catch up, or at least I hope so. For now I wanted to reflect a bit on the past 3.5 month, which we spent in the Cono Sur (Southern Cone), which according to Wikipedia “has traditionally comprised Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay”.

So, where to start? Let’s say, I always thought of myself as an Asia person. Considering I studied Chinese at university, that may not be surprising, but whenever I went to Asia, I kinda felt at home. Or more so than in Europe at least. But in the last 10 or so years my interest in traveling Latin America steadily increased, and now that I’m finally here, I’m reconsidering the “Asia person” thing. Sure, I love travelling there, but Latin America (or more specifically the parts we saw so far), are very fascinating for a different reason, mainly that some of them feel a lot like alternative versions of Europe. Maybe that isn’t the best description, but what I mean to say is that there’s a shared cultural heritage between Europe and here, which makes it much easier to actually have meaningful conversations with people. On top of that there’s only one language you need to learn (unless you are going to Brazil or the Guyanas) to be able to travel from almost the Antarctic to the Southern border of the US.

But there are also certain cultural differences that I appreciate: first off, there’s a lot of left-wing politics going on, which makes me quite happy. Sure, the left may not always be in power, but it has a good grassroots presence (trade unions, student groups, squats). I also found that people started to consider Latin America as a global player in its own right, which can compete with the EU and the US in the medium term (at least some countries). Anyway, this is not supposed to turn into a political rant… Another thing I like is how open people are and how much life takes place in the streets. Any random walk to a park can turn into an adventure, full of random conversations and tons of entertainments provided by jugglers and other street performers. I’m sure the better weather plays a role in this, but also the general attitude of people to live parts of their private lives in the open makes a huge difference. You also can see a lot of enterprising people in the streets, from shoe shiners, over food stalls, used book sellers, artesanias and fruit sellers to guys peddling vegan brownies or puppet performances for children. I know a lot of them do this in lack of better options, but for others (especially the artensanias) it’s a way to do what they really like while being able to travel. As one girl selling handmade jewelry (and who has been traveling for almost 10 years) just told us a couple of days ago: “┬íNo the preocupes, te ocupes!” (freely translated: “Don’t worry, do something!”). I don’t know how to say this exactly, but there’s a certain energy here that I miss back home. Sure, people here complain a lot too (and they have every right to in some cases), but they still seem to believe in being able to change their own destiny. Probably this has to do with one of my pet peeves about Austrian people, who constantly complain without acknowledging enough that they are among the luckiest people on this planet for a lot of things. The bottom line is that i’m rather fond of people here, and while there obviously are big differences between e.g. Paraguayans and Chileans, the things I mentioned above could be recognized in all the places we visited so far to some degree.

Of course not everything is perfect: One of the most disturbing things is the huge inequality found in basically all societies here. While some people are incredibly rich, others literally live off their garbage. Argentina for example is sliding back into a big crisis, and there’s a lot of very visible poverty around, more than in some Asian countries I visited in the past. Also things don’t always run as smoothly as they could, mostly because in quite a lot of cases you can observe a “good enough” attitude. Sure, you don’t always have to strive for perfection, but sometimes it just seems like someone started out with a great idea, but stopped implementing it at about 95% for no apparent reason. Last but not least people here seem to have a difficult time with silence, so you are quite likely to end up in a beautiful spot in the middle of nowhere, just to have a guy turn up with some bad Cumbia blasting from the crappy speakers of his mobile phone. Seriously people, what’s wrong with using headphones?

Anyway, I’m quite in love with this part of our planet now, the combination of beautiful nature, interesting cities and wonderfully open people is rather hard to beat. We are supposed to arrive in Bolivia in about a week, let’s see how/if my perceptions will change there.

That’s it for now, in case you haven’t seen them before, here are the links to the pictures of the Cono Sur part of our trip: