This article has been updated in September 2021
First of all, I would like to make it clear that this highly subjective piece isn’t about slugging Latin America off against European standards or something like that. Except for few hardcore hangovers, I’ve personally enjoyed pretty much every second I spent in Latin America and that I’d go back straight away, only if my bank account allowed me to. In fact, there are far more things I miss from the Latin World as opposed to the 8 things I won’t miss from Latin World, I’m about to list below.
Leaving the Latin World
To be honest, this post is more of a desperate attempt to look for positive things about finishing my long trip around the Latin Americas in order to feel less sad about leaving this beautiful and full-on region. Generally speaking, the Latin World is not better, nor it is worse than Europe. It’s just different.
Please note that some of the things or issues I’ll list below would be of a serious character, while the first few are just funny observations. So let’s get on my little 8 things I won’t miss from the Latin World list 😉
While traditional Latin American music is often very organic, lively and enjoyable, in recent times it is reggaeton that seems to be an indivisible cultural factor in the Latin Americas. I am not entirely sure what part of reggaeton is more irritating. Is it the fact that the whole genre is based on one silly single beat only? Or is it the primitive 3-4-tone harmoniser singing? The lyrics? Well, perhaps it’s the whole package and the fact that reggaeton sounds like music for 3rd graders…
What makes it even worse is the fact that in the party districts of Latin cities, the bars are all blasting various reggaeton tunes at each other from just a few yards like if there were some silly competition of whose sound system is louder. As a result of that, you’re constantly surrounded by numerous reggaeton tunes.
The worst thing about it is that the only way to reduce this multi-reggaeton nightmare is to sit down by the loudest speaker so you can only hear one tune, instead of four of five. Sometimes you’re lucky if one bar decides to throw some traditional music into the mix, which extends your genre choices by 100% 😉
2: The noise
Well, this is a simple point, connected to the one above. Basically, the Latin World is very very loud, which is OK, for a while but here it’s loud almost everywhere. It’s louder than in Asia. The loudspeakers, the car horns, the spoken word, even the Pacific and the birds are loud.
3: Rice and beans
I actually don’t mind rice and beans but if it’s a part of pretty much 90% of the meals, then it can get a bit boring. In other words, if you like eating local dishes, in some Latin regions, the meals are very often down to rice and beans with something, which is normally chicken or pork or beef. Even breakfast often contain gallopinto (rise&beans) with eggs.
4: Thinner subculture scene
Well, this is a different one because not everyone is seeking alternative crowds, music and so on. And it’s not entirely true that there aren’t any subcultures in Latin World. For example, Buenos Aires wasn’t any different to any other European city when it comes to subcultures and non-mainstream music bars. There were also some cool bars with cool people and music in some places, like Bacalar, Cusco, Bogotá or Antigua, to name a few.
But overall it was rather difficult to find non-mainstream culture spots. Because of reggeaton’s utter dominance – I have really made massive efforts to find places similar to those I would go to in Berlin, London or Prague to enjoy the eve’s soundtrack as well – but as I said above – all with very little success.
Well, in every town in the world there’s always the last sanctuary guaranteed and it’s a Reggae Bar. They are everywhere, aren’t they? And while I am a sympathiser of reggae, especially the old school reggae&ska goes down well, but after a while, if the music is reggae only, it can get a bit like “rice and beans”, innit?
Yes, you could also come across occasional cheesy-ish tech-housey kinda events in some places, you would otherwise not even bother to consider but when it comes to some indie music, good techno party (except for Bogotá and few spots in Ecuador) – or pretty much anything other than reggaeton, traditional music, or the 80s and 90s pop – it was very difficult to find a place that played something else.
As for the subculture crowds, around Latin America, mostly there were the usual dreadlock people, usually selling their jewellery in touristy beach towns. In addition to the rastas, each capital city had its classic stereotypical punks on a tiny street somewhere near the centre who drunk, juggled, begged, showed fingers and sold their smelly weed. And then there were some rockers in Argentina, quite a few actually 🙂 But that’s it, well, unless the hipster cafés count. But are hipsters a subculture?
5: Being a gringo
In Latin America, there are often multiple prices for the same item, journey or service, depending on who’s buying. I understand why there are multiple economies as it’s only natural that the locals can get things a bit cheaper than a Westerner. In many places popular with travellers, shops simply don’t display prices, the shopkeepers make them up depending on who’s buying, while the assumptions are often based on the way you look (foreign or not, AKA gringo or not) and the consequent alleged economical status it comes with, however awful it sounds ):
This whole thing could sometimes work like some sort of “anti-gringo conspiracy” with a dash of Robin Hood’s values. For instance, you get yourself a hot dog, you pay and wait by the kiosk. Then the person behind you also orders one and the cashier refuses the payment, saying (without knowing that you understand him) that “for you it’s free – this gringo already paid for your hot dog” with a little victorious wink 🙂 I mean it’s great to help each other, on the other hand, I’m not sure if I like the racial profiling element here ):
Not to create some wrong impression, I must add that in the vast majority of cases, I was treated with respect and people were kind to me. The “anti-gringo conspiracy” stuff only occurred a handful of times (as far as I am aware off) and it mostly took place in the tourist hotspots, only by locals that work in services around the tourism industry. Furthermore, it’s not that racial profiling goes one way only, that would be an incredibly hypocritical thing to say because we all know of numerous negative stereotypes Westerners often spread and/or believe in about Latinos…
6: Street vendors and taxi drivers
Interconnected to the previous point, here we’re venturing into more serious subjects. Everyone is doing what they can to survive and in Latin America, it’s often not easy for some people, many of which try their luck as street vendors. I understand that they are just doing their jobs to make some money and I always try to show some respect for their work. However, showing too much respect could have a certain negative aftertaste.
It’s because the more respect one shows, the more hope of a possible purchase it gives. There’s a thin line between respect and hope and it’s up to everyone to find where it lies and what works best for them. To be honest, if I vaguely need something these people sell, I do my best to support them by buying their products.
However, if you drink your coffee on a terrace and you are approached by many street vendors at an interval of about 30 seconds between each approach – which isn’t that uncommon in some popular tourist hotspots such as Cusco – it can get a bit annoying, especially if they deploy the emotional blackmail selling tactics…
But it isn’t always about emotional blackmail. Sometimes it’s all just a little bit of bad business tactics. Like for instance trying to sell me sunglasses while I’m wearing a pair. Or the taxi drivers asking you if you need a taxi, the moment they see you stepping out of another taxi. “Yes mate – I got off this taxi because I just felt like swapping taxis.”
I must say that except for two minor incidents when I was successfully tricked to lose some money – which is btw a good statistic, considering the number of attempts to do me could be counted in hundreds, if not thousands – I haven’t experienced any real danger. However, just from the visual perspective, one doesn’t need huge observational talent to see that security here is taken very seriously.
The precautions here are taken to a different level if compared to Europe. I’ve never seen signs that say “no guns/no knives” in European shops. And I’ve never seen so much presence of guns (police, military and private security) like here, in Latin America. It’s a sad truth that should be remembered by those whinging about Europe. Too many people take too many privileges for granted in the old continent.
∞: Begging children
This is a sad reality. Not that Europe doesn’t have their own economically challenged people but here there are more of them and they are more “challenged”, especially after “the socialist” Maduro completely wrecked Venezuela, which was previously the richest country in the region, while currently there are millions of bellow the poverty level poor Venezuelans spread across Latin America and the rest of the world ):
It’s heartbreaking, it’s horrible and it shouldn’t be like that. Children should be in school, they should play with their friends. Children shouldn’t be forced to beg because they are hungry.