Saturday, December 13, 2008

Things That Deserve a Mention

One or two things caught my eye over the last few months, and before they cease to seem strange in any way, I feel I should just give them a mention now. Some are funny, some ridiculous, some just curious, but all are noteworthy to my mind, and almost without exception, none of them will have been photographed, as I'm just not that organised. Sorry about that. So, without anymore ado, and in no particular order of preference or occurrence:
·The bicycle "backy"- from old blokes giving a side saddle backy on the luggage rack to their equally old wife, to the standard, kids-only-rear-footpeg backy, to the side saddle crossbar backy, to the toddler-on-the-handlebars-and-third-person-on-the-back backy, to the highly complicated and very technical passenger-on-the-crossbar-steering-with-driver-seated-and-pedalling, it seems to be the only way to travel.
·The overloaded scooter- maximum load so far witnessed is 4 on a scooter, arranged in order from handlebars to back as: small child, male driver, slightly larger child, female backstop. There have often been examples of mother on the back holding very small baby, and one photo in the album of Dante, Millie and Nadia with full camping gear. Crash helmets optional. The only other way to travel.
·Crash helmets - optional, but if worn, often only perched on the top of the head, no further down than the ears, very possibly back to front. They found the loop hole in the law.
·Dogs. Everywhere. Except (hopefully) on restaurant menus. And cats. Same.
·Cars that in any other place on earth would have been condemned and retired to a "bits" pile at the back of some lost garage. I have no idea how they continue to run, but they do. Often crazily overloaded with people or cargo.
·Pick-ups full to bursting with people in the back, presumably on their way to work or market. Possibly an alternative to buses.
·Buses. And trucks, come to mention it. Big, fast and in total command of the road. Move or be run down.
·Speed limits - there at the side of the road purely for decoration, or possibly as the minimum required speed to be travelled. The aforementioned buses and trucks work on the " as fast as possible" theory, assuming that when they have to slow to 10kmh on the ups, they can make up time at 110kmh on the downs. With no brakes, I suspect.
·Mullets, everywhere. And in some cases swapped for a single dreadlock at the back. Mmmmm.
·Crap breakfasts. The Argies just haven't got a clue when it comes to breakfast. A small quantity of stale bread, possibly toasted but left to go cold before serving if so, and maybe some strange tasting jam, or more likely ham and cheese. If you are very lucky, and for no particular reason, you might get a pastry instead. The Brazilians have a better idea, with lots of tropcial fruits, but still with the ham and cheese and bread.
·Maté, or more accurately yerba maté, the local drink in Argy that supercedes coffee by a country mile. Small maté gourd with silver straw in one hand, packed full of maté leaves. Thermos for hot water held under the armpit of the same hand. Water is added to the mix at regular intervals and sucked up the straw, not in the manner of tea, but more as a damp sludge. Highly social, with the gourd being passed round a group, each particpant taking a refill and total sip from the same straw. The Argies are unable to function without it, and the addition of a flask to their armpits does not seem to hinder their day to day activities too much.
·Town plazas. Even the smallest, dustiest, most remote towns have a plaza, often called after General San Martin, which the try to keep green and full of trees (often with the bottom 5 feet or so of trunk painted white). Regardless of water shortage, the plazas get squirted. Similar, I guess to the village green in the UK, but given more respect by the locals.
·Change in shops. If they don't have the right coins (which often they don't) they either let you off, charge you more, or give you sweeties instead of money. I think everything balances out in the end.
·Electrical wiring. How every building in South America hasn't burned down yet I really don't know. Talk about living on a prayer.
-Buying things in Chile is very complicated. You enter a shop where all the items for sale are behind the counter, select your purchase, point it out to the man behind the counter who writes you a ticket. You take the ticket to another counter to pay. They give you another ticket to take back to the first man, who then hands over the item. Not easy when first encountered with limited Spanish. And following on from this:
-Make sure you address the right person in the shop at the right time: if you try to ask the cash til lady for an item, or even worse try to give your money to the item getting woman, you are likely to start a fight behind the counter. You have never seen mild old ladies snatch things as quickly as the mild looking lady who is in charge of the til when you hand the money to the wrong person!
- The man kiss! My favourite strange sight, and a sign that you have been accepted as a true friend if it is bestowed upon you. Male friends in the street greet each other with a handshake and a kiss to the cheek, and leave each other in the same way. It is not even remotely considered "gay"to do, although often they are generally fairly homophobic, excluding, of course, the Man Kiss. We have been lucky enough to have been considered close enough friends on a couple of occasions to have been sent on our way with a kiss, which is actaully very touching, in a good way! It has become one of our mottos, if you like, when we see it, to comment to each other that they are "taking back the Man Kiss". More power to them!
And while there are no doubt many more, my brain is sleepy so is refusing to voluteer the information. As and when I think of, or witness, more, I will add them in a later entry.
Take care out there, and remember: Keep 'em peeled!

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