Final notes about South America
I’m now in the USA and I left Bogotá almost a month ago. Nevertheless, there is a couple of thoughs that I need to put on paper to not forget about it.
I already wrote some post about Argentina, Chile, Peru and Bolivia. Let’s talk now about Ecuador and Colombia.
Peru was a beautiful country but the people there make me feel like running away. In comparison, Ecuador is a pretty country, don’t have any stunning landscape but the people there are so nice that I enjoyed my time travelling around. Ecuador cities in the sierra are all pretty clean : Quito was the prettiest and cleanest capital I have seen in South America. Strangely in Peru like in Ecuador or Colombia, the more you travel close to the coast, the more you see some trash around and the cities look crap. Is the heat makes people too lazy or tired to put their thrash in bins ?
We went around Colombia in kind of a rush because I had my plane the 11th of June. The landscapes in the Colombian Sierra looks great, the people we met were very friendly. The main issue was the fact that hitchhiking was not working and transportation by bus was really expensive in comparison with Ecuador. We tried in many places and waited for hours to get a lift but at the end, we had to take buses. People are scared and they have some good reason for it but still, I can’t imagine how a couple clearly looking like tourists could inspired fear to so many people. The other issue is that no one is helping you to feel safe : locals advised us to not go to that or that place, to walk quickly under that bridge, to not take buses at night on this road and so on. It’s like in every country : there are places where you don’t want to be but in Colombia, it’s seems that there are more places to avoid than in any other country I know and most places are unsafe at night. If you know where to go, it’s fine but it doesn’t help to enjoy the country when you have to consider so often the possibility of an aggression.
It was interesting to see these countries but there is nothing pushing me back there.
To sum up : I loved Argentina, got bored in Chile (but I was too hight after Patagonia so I’ll give it an other go one day), Bolivia was my first contact with sad looking people but the salt flat of uyuni was great (but no reason to go back), Peru is beautiful but it was also the least welcoming country ever and I don’t want to go back there, unless I’m staying around cusco (the people were nicer), Ecuador was a relieve (yes, people can smile and be nice with foreigner, hope !) and I enjoyed the place but not sure that it worth going back. Colombia was nice, I didn’t have enough time to visit it properly but I’ll probably not go back unless they solve their issue with insecurity.
Guess where am I going to spend the European winter this year ? Argentina !
Two points that need to be addressed to save you some disappointments if you plan on going there
Have you ever heard people saying that Colombian girls are incredibly beautiful ? I heard that a lot on my way. I checked and we’ll, that’s a lie or it’s no more true. What can explain this misconception is that people look generally unhealthy all over south America at the exception of Chile and Argentina.
Why ? When a society have a diet poor in nutrient, based on rice, corn, beans and potatoes, all loaded with phytic acid preventing the assimilation of minerals in your body, it’s impossible for any mother to raise a healthy looking child on this diet and the size of the population globally shrink. Studies of Incas skeletons show a drop in size after being colonized by the Spanish which is also when their diet switch from a balanced intake of veggies and meat to corn and potatoes based meals. It haven’t changed since and, it’s actually worse since the introduction of fried food in vegetable oils, and poor diet is for me the reason why the people of Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador are so small, either skinny or obese and looking unhealthy.
Then,it’s no surprise that these men are so enthusiastic about girl’s beauty in Colombia… Locals girls don’t look very attractive and any healthy girl will looks amazing to them. So, arriving in Colombia, I was expecting to see some beauty around and I found just some nicely shaped body, with an average face. Nothing good enough to strain my neck. Now you know and I’ll spare you a disappointment if you go to Colombia after hearing about all these fables about beauty. My advice, If you want to see some pretty girl, go to some big cities in Argentina ( I’m not saying that because my girlfriend is from there 😉 ).
Other tricky subject : food variety in local restaurant.
Asking people in Bolivia, Peru Ecuador and Colombia if there are lots of food diversity in their country and they all get excited and proudly give you a long list of meal you can get in locals restaurant : Caldo de pollo, res, seco de carne, encebollada, sopa de pata, completo…and so on. They maybe want to reassure you that for sure, you’ll find something you can like considering all the choices available.
Now, the truth : take any of this meal and you’ll find at least rice (even in the soup) and potatoes together. Add some corn in most of them, put a piece of overcooked meat (you can choose usually between beef, chicken…pork and fish are only in some places), some onions, two slices of tomatoes and a leaf of lettuce and…that about it. These ingredients composed 80% of the meals on the menu or to be exact, when it’s not a soup, rice will composed most of it and the others are just adding some taste to it.
So how about all this list of meals and this apparent choice ? Well, if you add a fried egg on the top of the rice, your « seco » might now be called a « completo ». If you put some pieces of intestine in the soup instead of an other organ, the name will also change completely. This egg on top is enough to change the name of the meal and make people feel that they have a great variety of traditional cuisine or at least make a long list to be proud of. I had sometimes some homemade meal but it was still the same than in the restaurant. Sure, like everywhere, you can have some good food if you are ready to pay the price and go to some fancy restaurant but that not my budget and the experience I’m interested in.
At the end, for westerners or even Argentinean, you feel like eating the same thing everyday, you can’t see rice anymore and it like being more or less ripped of depending of the ratio rice/real food they put on your plate. Very depressing on the long term.
Funny/sad fact : If you ask a Colombian about Peruvian cuisine he is likely to tell you that the food is way better in Columbia and give you some quite inspiring names. Personally, going to Columbia, I had some expectations because I talked before with a Colombian girl who told me that she was missing Colombian food while being in Argentina. I eat well in Argentina and I was wondering how it can be better. Well, again, in Colombia, different name than in Ecuador and Peru but same ingredients, same taste.
Being so many months without eating nutritious food or eating with no pleasure didn’t help me to enjoy as much the place as when at least I can get some comfort food (I love ice cream)…But then, even sweets in these countries start to be boring because everything is filled with the same kind of jam or cream. I reached the point of being happy to have a Mac Donald to get a Oreo Macflurry while I would never go to Macdonald in France.
Now you know why you probably never heard a lot about south American cuisine 😉
That’s it for this post, my mission was to save you from two deceptions in case you had some expectation about eating well in south america or seeing some pretty girl in Colombia. I’m now in the US and there are definitely stuff I will need to write about on the subject of food and health but it can wait.
See you !