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Published: August 17th 2010
¨Travel is the best form of education. Personal encounters with people who are different from ourselves make us feel more sympathetic. Intolderance often arises from ignorance of another person´s needs and way of thinking.¨
So says my little book of Buddhism
that was randomly gifted to me in Chinatown, Singapore by someone who assumably thought I looked like I needed help... But I´m inclined to agree...
But thus far, still under two weeks into my three month excursion through South America
, I must confess that I have felt very much on the periphery out here. And I think it can be attributed to one factor... Language.
And the problem is mine and very much an English one. Not Spanish
As someone who grew up in the Home Counties
, a part of the world where many people still share the broad view that anyone ¨slightly dusky¨
should be immediately deported and that British foreign policy should involve annexing France
, learning a second language is not high up on the priorities list...
The British rightfully have a dire reputation with foreign languages but, in our defence, the fact is that it is by far the most widely spoken
language on Earth, spoken in 57 different countries, and that invariably when you try and talk native in continental Europe the reply comes in disgusted English... Rude Parisians with a superiority comlex a prime example!
But regardless of this English curse, after only a breif time on this continent I have already convinced myself that the only way to make any contribution out here is to gain a reasonable Spanish ability. This may sound like a obvious statement but I never anticipated how much more of an issue it is here to talk native than, say, South East Asia...
So, after a whistle-stop dash through Santiago
, a city so European I briefly wandered whether I had got on the wrong plane, a day trip to Valparaíso
, and the greatest bus jouney I have ever taken - on winding mountain roads through the snow capped Andes
to Argentina - my first few days were a fast-paced but civilised induction to South America...
The reality is that my first 4 weeks in South America were always going to be very hectic, and considering that my preferance in Asia has generally been to take my time and travel fairly slowly,
I cannot say that this approach really suits me... But after deciding to volunteer teaching English as a foreign language at a school in Cuzco
, Puru for two months, I have a fairly limited time to work my way north from Santiago...
And so, to Mendoza
... A town that everybody raves about - famous for its vineyards, cosmopolitan cafés and leafy parks and plazas - which is, er, nice... But if ever there was a place where I felt I missed something this is the one... Take Parque San Martín.
The Lonely Planet says ¨...lakeshore and snoozing in the shade of the rose garden in this beautiful 420-hectare park is a great way to enjoy one of the city's highlights...¨
Right. Ok. Yes. It is huge. No question. But imagine if you took one of the Royal Parks
in London, intersected it with massive grey concrete roads (not paths, f*cking roads), with all the fragrant flowers, herb gardens, grandiose statues, charming walkways and little water features removed... And instead used this souless grey expanse as a small refuse site... It´s total shite
Still, the wine tour is ace and Argentina lives up to its reputation for
the best steak in the world, although I think the only vegetarian option in this country is to starve to death to be honest... The night life is pretty good too, introducing me to Pisco
, a Peruvian liquor drank throughout South America that briefly convinced me that I could fly but later convinced me that the only way to feel better was to try and climb inside my own shoe... Strong stuff. Won´t be trying that again!
But it´s Salta
that has made the big impression... Rising early on Sunday morning, I wander arround the charming stone streets, admiring the opulent catholic churches, essentially gate-crashing Mass on four seperate occassions... *rock n roll*
.... self-taught Spanish lessons on the plaza-side cafés, enjoying the outstanding Museum of High Altitude Archaeology
, displaying Inca mummies found preserved in the surrounding mountains, and watching the colourful processions passing through the streets....
But the truth is I don´t feel like I have even got started here yet...
Without the language personal encounters are pretty much out. Instead my ¨intolerance and ignorance¨
is only being tested by native or secondary speakers of our glorious language, many of whom only seem interested in drinking their
way around South America...
But that´s still an education... It´s convinced me to learn and I am aiming for a week long intensive Spanish course before I start my volunteer programme, during which time I will live with a Peruvian family and continue to study the language...
Until then, I will have to work through any issues I have towards some on the ¨Trail¨
... I´m doing pretty well and only really consciously aware of the odd prejudice that the experience of travel hasn´t purged from my Middle England
users whose relationship status is, or ever has been set to ¨In An Open Relationship¨
or ¨It´s Complicated¨
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