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Latino Mysteries That Still Keep Me Awake at Night

“Yesterday night, for the first time in seven weeks, I realized I was missing you,” I told Feng on Skype. “I really wished you were there.”


“Oh, yes, I did. See, I squeezed the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube in the morning. Bad timing to run out of it since I’m leaving in two days and I’m not a big fan of Chilean toothpaste. I mean, it’s a bit of a waste to spend $2 on a new tube I’m probably going to leave behind. But if you had been here, I would have used yours!”

We both laughed. Feng understands the struggles of the last few days of a trip—both the practical issues and the mindset.

For the first time in weeks, I woke up without a goal and with time to kill. I’m wrapping up the trip, I can’t start new projects or travel anywhere. I’m just… well, enjoying Santiago, I suppose.

All of a sudden, it hit me. I’m tired. Maybe a bit sick of travelling as well—I’ve been on the road since late December, after all. As usual, it’s only when I stop moving, working, writing or whatever keeps me busy that I crash (and this is why I also never stop, why should I?).

I spent the day walking from one market to another, looking for a gift for my father-in-law. This is a daunting task in Ottawa and an impossible challenge in Chile since he probably isn’t a huge fan of cannabis products, religious artifacts, Andean pan flutes or Colombian fashion (think stretchy, butt-shaping jeans).

“Maybe something with one of the good-luck symbols from Chinatown,” Feng suggests. “Like ‘longevity.’”

“But Chinatown is basically a giant dollar store! If you want a new kitchen drain, tableware, party supplies or stationary, that’s the place to go. But shops are full of made-in-China products, not Chinese souvenirs!”

I’m not the only one feeling a little melancholy, the mood changed subtly in Santiago. Kids are back to school, people are back to work, the holidays are over and fall is unofficially starting. Santiaguinos assure me that it will get rainy and cold in April but I half suspect Feng bribed them to scare me—so far, the weather still makes me feel like I’m living in the Truman Show, every day I wake up to a beautiful blue sky and it’s 30⁰C or 20⁰C at night. Yet, people are buying winter jackets and I hear them talk about upcoming rainy days…

If I think about what I’m going to miss from my backpacker life, I’m going to cry.

If I think about being away from Mark and Feng much longer, I’m going to cry.

Let’s focus.

I see. Perfect time to finally write about these Latino mysteries that still keep me awake at night—things I noticed in Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile that don’t make much sense to me.

Why do Brazilians use their skin as a memo pad? I’ve never seen so many inked people, from the respectable-looking grandmother to 18-year-old kids, and the typical tattoo is the name(s) of family members of something super deep like “I love Jesus.” Guys, use a paper and a pen, seriously.

If you ever want to start a business in Brazil, Argentina or Uruguay, I highly suggest import bedding. I love a well-made bed, I make mine like I wrap a present. It involves a perfectly stretched, wrinkle-free fitted sheet, a top sheet locked in place under the mattress and a light duvet just for the comforting touch (yes, even when it’s hot). But in this part of South America, there are no fitted sheets. The bottom sheet is just a regular sheet, often too short for the bed. It always slides off, especially on plastic-covered mattresses. Occasionally, if the sheet is big enough, you can keep it in place with knots at the corners but it still would be much easier to use a fitted sheet. The top sheet is also invariably too small for the bed so you can only tuck in one side. It drives me nuts! Brazil is a big producer of textiles, so why the weird bedding?

It sounds like I’m holding a weird grudge, but I have to mention the Pao de Açúcar chain of supermarkets in Brazil. By all means, I’m not saying you should avoid it—just make sure to add an extra thirty to sixty minutes to your routine grocery shopping because that’s how long the checkout process will take, regardless of the number of people in the queue. I don’t think I have crazy high North American checkout speed standards, but this chain of supermarkets has the slowest employees ever in all locations from Rio to São Paulo. Seriously, I almost suspected there were on strike, sabotaging their employer on purpose—but if they are, it’s been a few years. Other supermarkets work at normal speed, which makes it even more puzzling.

Is there anyone left in Venezuela? I feel I met half of the country in Uruguay, Argentina and Chile.

Can an Argentinian or Uruguayan explain me the logistics involved with the mate ritual? Like, do you think, “mmm… gonna go to the beach, better boil water, fill up a thermos, grab my gourd, my straw and all?” Isn’t it inconvenient to carry around a litre of hot water? I know, I know, North American can often be seen holding a giant cup of hot coffee and French always have a banner ready in their bag just in case there’s something to protest against…

Chile, can we talk about your hot dog obsession? I love you, but I’m not sure I’d be proud to be known on the culinary scene for completos, i.e. a twice-the-normal-size hot dogs with chopped tomatoes, avocado, mayonnaise, sauerkraut, sauce, chili, green sauce and cheese. Yes, I know, the Brazilian version comes with mashed potatoes on top…

If you can explain any of these cultural mysteries—not the Venezuelan one, I know why so many people left the country…—feel free to do so!

Santiago from my window, barrio San Isidro
Santiago from my window, barrio San Isidro
Santiago from my window, barrio San Isidro
One day left in Santiago…
One day left in Santiago…

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