I am writing this post from the plane as we make our way eastward to Europe—and a completely different world of cycle touring. Over the past few weeks, our conversations have turned many times to the major changes coming our way. Our departure to Europe and out of Latin America marks one of the most distinct changes of seasons we have yet experienced in our journey. It’s a bittersweet feeling really. There’s much to look forward to, but there’s much that will be missed as well. So we decided to do a whole post as a farewell to Latin America, in hopes of giving you a glimpse of what our life has really been like over the past eight months.
Things we will miss most:
1. The cheap lunch.
While not available in every Latin American country, it was an option in most. It’s difficult for cyclists to actually get enough food, and the daily “almuerzo” that most restaurants served became a critical component to our diet. A huge plate of rice and either beans or potatoes, served up with some type of meat, was just what we needed to fuel us through the day. It didn’t hurt that we could split a liter of Coke for about a dollar as well!
2. Speaking Spanish.
Though we took a few weeks of language school back in Guatemala in October, it’s really the constant practice of living in Spanish-speaking countries that has improved our language skills the most. We have gotten quite comfortable with talking to locals about food, lodging, and our trip in general. In Europe, we hope to get around with mostly English, but we’ll miss being able to practice our Spanish all the time!
3. The moto taxi.
Who wouldn’t miss one of these? Pretty sure these guys aren’t buzzing around Europe.
Things we won’t miss:
1. A complete lack of emissions standards.
It’s a bit scary how we’ve grown accustomed to being blasted by a billowing cloud of exhaust from the back of a bus or truck. This is particularly unfortunate when the truck is struggling to make it up the hill… and so are you, thus breathing heavily and sucking in even more black smoke.
2. Toilets without seats.
We’re not sure why, but it is more common to find a public bathroom without a toilet seat than one that has it. I guess they’re expensive? These are the kinds of things you notice when you almost exclusively use public facilities. In several instances, we would check the bathroom and decide it would benefit us to ride out of town and just go on the side of the road somewhere. Interestingly enough, it was not unusual to pay for a hotel room (a cheap one, mind you, but still paid for) and find the toilet without a seat.
It’s truly a shame, but Latin Americans seem to be terrible litterbugs. Not only are there small bits of trash (and often dirty diapers) simply thrown from buses off the side of the road, but it’s normal to see huge piles of trash dumped outside of towns. Often these huge garbage heaps will even be on fire! Not environmentally friendly at all.
Even though Central and South America produce some of the world’s greatest coffee, they export almost all of it. Most local places serve Nescafe–instant coffee. We were a bit surprised (disappointed) the first time we ordered a cup of coffee and were served a cup of boiling water and a single serve pack of instant to mix in ourselves. A “real” cup of coffee became a treat we could splurge on only in big cities!
Hopes for what’s ahead:
In general, we’re expecting a much more cycling-friendly culture in Europe. We’ve been told of the many cycle paths we’ll be able to ride (completely exclusive of cars!), and we’re hoping for fewer car horns blasting in our ears.
Perhaps the thing we are looking forward to the most is being able to blend in. For the most part, we stick out like sore thumbs in Latin American countries. Ever since Central America, we’ve had regular occurrences of children running out to the street to yell “gringo” at us. In Europe, we will look a lot more like the locals!
We anticipate that more people in Europe will understand our trip a little more, as traveling is such a part of their culture and many of them have probably done something similar. On that front, we’ll feel a bit less like targets. In Latin America, you almost come to expect being lied to about the prices of certain things, as many people in these often-poor countries falsely believe that since you’re white, you must be rich—and thus they want some piece of the pie. Of course, in our style of travel, we have an extremely limited budget, so this has created some difficult situations for us. We have tried to find a balance of being generous, but also not being completely ripped off just because of the color of our skin.
It’s certainly bittersweet, our departure. Just last week, we rolled over 10,000 kilometers that we have ridden solely in Latin America (we had cleared our odometers to start over when we rode away in Guatemala). That’s more than just a long distance… for us it is stories rich with difficult riding, beautiful landscapes and interesting people.
But in the midst of our farewell, we have an excitement about what’s to come… a new season, new people, new experiences. We have now been on the road for ten months—it’s getting close to a whole year! We feel ready for this new stage, not tired of traveling or ready to go home yet. It’s nice to be glad that our journey is continuing.