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Published: March 13th 2015
I met Elizabeth, a Norwegian girl who was staying in my dorm. She arrived last night just like me, she had travelled for a few two months in Australia and she was now travelling for two months in South America. Today was her first day in South America, whilst this week was my last. I gave her as much advice as I could whilst avoiding revealing facts that might scare her and whilst leaving a lot for her to find out for herself. I wanted South America to be just as much an exciting adventure for her as it had been for me, with exciting adventures creeping up on her everyday. Feeling sure that this girl, being Scandinavian, not speaking any Spanish and having just arrived in South America would be a sensible, non-risk taking, travelling companion, I suggested we walk around our neighbourhood, Monserrat together, to find the important places and check it was safe.
The neighbourhood was nothing special. It didn’t seem dangerous but nor was it touristy. It was quiet and average in every other way but it certainly wasn't affluent like Recoleta, the neighbourhood where I’d stayed at the beginning of my trip. Later I went out alone to have ‘Menu Economica’ at a place on my street called ‘Tio Angel’ which literally means uncle Angel. I thought that the name sounded harmless enough and in actual fact, Uncle Angel himself was even more harmless than his name. He was elderly, quite small, thin with grey hair and looked like he had been running his family business for years and it seemed he was still enthusiastic about it. He reminded me of the female version of Gilda, the Italian lady who has been working at Pasta Romana in Leeds centre for years and who would sing along to every Italian song which blared out from the stereo in the restaurant regardless of how tired she was.
Uncle Angel's menu consisted of a first dish which was an empanada with meat inside, a bit like a corny pasty. The second dish was a hake fish filet accompanied with salad. The drink was a coca cola and I had a cup of coffee to finish. I had obviously picked a good place as many local people came in during the time I was eating. I had made a good choice - Uncle Angel not only seemed harmless but he seemed a pillar of the Monserrat community. It is rumoured that most people in Buenos Aires stay in their neighbourhoods and place a lot of importance on their communities. In this case this was true, I could tell this by the warm way in which they greeted Uncle Angel.
This community was what I needed today, not anonymity. I needed to be at Uncle Angel’s restaurant, eating hake prepared by Uncle Angel, watching Uncle Angel’s television, knowing that Uncle Angel had made the food himself and that my tip was going to Uncle Angel and not some big American business or middle man. That list is just what I did, instead of racing through two big art museums and Eva Peron’s museum as I had planned to, I ate at Uncle Angel’s.
Today I began missing so many aspects of Bolivia society. I missed the closeness to nature, the connection which the locals had with the earth, the strong focus on community, the innocence and simplicity people had. Those four factors are what I regard to be essential for well-being. Also, I had liked the way crime in La Paz hadn’t developed to the extent it had in Buenos Aires (i.e ketchup and mustard stayed in hot dogs rather than forming parts of distraction techniques) It seemed that in Buenos Aires people had learned to be distrustful of others. Staying in Uncle Angel’s family run business protected me from crime, whilst I could spend the day plucking up the courage to get on the subway.
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