The scene: Me in the cookie aisle of the grocery store. I’m staring at a wall of cookies with brands and varieties I don’t recognize. It’s the first time I’m buying cookies in South America. It’s both exciting and a little overwhelming.
Whenever we enter a new country it takes us a few days to adjust, figure things out, get our footing. There are always small differences that may seem inconsequential but once we have a better familiarity with our new home, things go much smoother. Here’s a few things that we reconsider when entering a new country:
- Currency: So far $1 US dollar has been 13.1 Mexican pesos, 2 Belizean dollars, 7.7 Guatemalan quetzal, 19.1 Honduran lempira, 25.7 Nicaraguan córdoba, 548 Costa Rican colón, and 1940 Colombian pesos. I’ve become much better at doing math in my head.
- Banking: How easy (or difficult) is it to find ATMs? This determines how much cash we need to carry. Nearly all of our purchases are cash transactions. We ran out of money in Mexico and had to take a 3 hour bus ride to the nearest ATM. We also need small denominations because many stores and food stands will not have change.
- Language: Accents change as do some Spanish words. A few examples: There’s no consistent word in Spanish for road shoulder. It started as “acotamiento” in Mexico but then seems to go by a different word in each country. Coconut is “coco” everywhere except Costa Rica, where it’s “pipa”. Tap water is “agua de grifo” or “agua de llave”, depending on where we are. Banana is “plátano” in Mexico, but “plátano” is plantain everywhere else.
Road conditions: Is our planned route paved? Is there a shoulder? How are cyclists perceived on the road? In Mexico, all the toll roads had wide shoulders, while the old roads were narrow, though more scenic. First class buses are typically the worst offenders for passing too close. Though overall, the worst drivers we’ve encountered were in or from the States (most of our encounters with bad drivers in Mexico had US plates).
- Camping: What is the feasibility of stealth camping and what are the other camping options? In Guatemala, gas stations were a great place to camp because they had showers and 24 hour security guards.
- Hotels: About how much do budget accommodations cost and what are the usual amenities (air-conditioning, wi-fi, private bathroom, toilet seat)? In El Salvador, we learned that if we were desperate, there were always love motels dotting the roads and they had the coldest air-conditioners.
- Food: What are the local cheap eats? Nothing can ever beat the tacos of Mexico, though we did enjoy the papusas of El Salvador. Most of the food stands don’t have menus. They’ll give us a rundown of what they offer but if we don’t recognize the names of the new dishes then it’s a bit of a surprise when our food comes.
- Grocery stores: We need to learn the names of the major grocery stores so we can find them on the GPS or ask for directions when we get to a large town. While we prefer to give business to the small local tiendas, it’s easiest to do major stock-ups at the large grocers. We also figure out which ones have air-conditioning. We rarely shop at the same store twice. This means going grocery shopping takes twice as long as it should because we never know where anything is.
Cookies: Cookies are what got me thinking about all the things we relearn when entering a new country. I have a sweet tooth. I love cookies. Each country has its own variety of cookies. Occasionally we find imports, but they’re expensive. My cookie consumption necessitates buying local. Since leaving the US, Mexico had the best cookies and fresh baked goods. Emperador cookies were our favorite. I was largely disappointed with the cookies of Central America. Colombia has impressed me with an excellent Oreo knockoff, called the Recreo. Of course, it’s been so long since I’ve eaten an actual Oreo, I’ve probably forgotten what they taste like.
water buffalo water buffalo
Since arriving in Colombia we’ve learned that the hotels en route to Medellín are a deal. No more camping for us! We’re in our second $10/night hotel. Our room comes with a private bathroom (with toilet seat), semi-functioning wi-fi connection, AND air-conditioning! It’s set for 72 degrees and it feels so COLD! I’m freezing a little bit. Scott is making fun of me because I’m wearing my fleece pants. I guess my blood has thinned after being in 90+ degree heat for a few months.
To top it off, I just looked outside and it’s pouring rain. I’m SO glad we’re not camping tonight!