Why I will return to Europe

Originally, I had planned to spend several years in Latin America to take the time to explore every country from Argentina to Mexico. As an advocate for change, I have however scrapped this plan and I will return to Europe in May 2017 – after only one and a half years in South America.

There are a number of reasons behind this decision, but if I had to put them into two groups, they would be these: first, South America – with the notable exception of Bolivia – did not fascinate me as much as I had hoped. Second, I realized how diverse, beautiful, interesting and easy to travel Europe is by comparison.

Now to the particular reasons, roughly in order of importance:


The noise

In one and a half years in South America, I have easily sustained the same amount of accumulated decibels as in the previous 40 years taken together. Apart from the fact that it annoys the hell out of me, this can’t be good for my health either.

For Europeans, it is impossible to imagine the level of noise prevalent in Peru and Brazil, the two loudest countries. I sincerely believe that the battle at Stalingrad was less noisy than rush hour in Arequipa. But even in smaller towns, you won’t get to relax, let alone sleep.

Cars honk

  • at every corner,
  • when traffic isn’t moving fast enough,
  • when they spot someone whom they know,
  • when they spot a dog,
  • when they drive past the house of someone they know,
  • when waiting for someone,
  • or in the case of taxis whenever they see a pedestrian whom they want to convince to use the taxi instead.

I like walking, which is something that cab drivers can’t understand, so I get honked at like crazy. A hundred times every day. And in my street, there live maybe 40 people, all of whom have 5 friends who stop by twice a day, announcing each of their visits with repeated extra-loud honking. And at the end of the street there is a corner, of course, where all passing cars have to honk. Including at night.

Each car has a stereo system as powerful as I never heard it at any club. The music – and it’s terrible music with lots of bass and little melody or quality – is played at maximum volume. When the car is parked – preferably right in front of my house – the sound system remains on (the engine too, sometimes) and the car windows are lowered so that the owner of the car can continue to listen to this shitty music while having dinner at his mama’s house. (In South America, men are culturally prohibited from cooking for themselves.) All the other boys in the street are doing the same. Simultaneously. And again at night.

Maybe you remember the car with the mega-megaphone on the roof in the Blues Brothers movie?

blues-brothers-bluesmobile

No joke: in South America, people are not even satisfied with one megaphone. They need five or six per car.

car_stereo

In Lencois in Brazil. there was a motorbike with a sidecar for delivering noise to the community.

Moto-Werbung

The cars and motorbikes are cruising around town all day, blasting advertisements for fruits, furniture, restaurants or a new Christian church. When they don’t have paying customers, they are roaming the streets with loud music to advertise their own sound system. Because this is about business, the advertisement/music of course keeps playing while the respective car is parked in front of my house for an hour.

And there is more noise from houses, balconies, gardens and – loudest of them all – from shops and restaurants. Particularly in Peru ad Brazil, shop owners believe that they attract more customers the louder their store is. So they put up 2-meter high loudspeakers in front of their shop windows to disseminate advertisement and/or horrible music all day long. Because there is another shop every 20 meters, you don’t understand anything. Many restaurants apply the same method to make your visit as unpleasant as possible. On top of that, they have a TV in every corner, with all the waitresses huddling around to watch a noisy soap opera or a wrestling match instead of taking orders.

Whenever I was the only guest in a restaurant, I asked to turn down the volume of the TV. This was met with total incomprehension and in half of the cases, the waitress turned the TV louder, believing that I had misspoken.

In Cochabamba, I lived next to a Seventh Day Adventist church. Those Adventists celebrate mass on Friday night and then spend their whole Saturday at church. This goes hand in hand with music and singing, which of course has to be blasted out to the whole neighborhood with loudspeakers. What’s the point of a beautiful garden with flowers and hummingbirds and the best weather, when you have to keep the windows shut all Saturday and can’t leave the house? In Mollendo, I lived by the ocean, where I could have enjoyed a cooling breeze all the time, if only I could have opened the windows without danger. The only time to do that was between 5 and 7 on a Sunday morning. In Peru, the noise was so overbearing, that I went into a store for mining equipment to buy earmuffs, which I henceforth wore when I had to read, write, think and sleep. In my own house!

I used to like fireworks. But when you hear/see a few of them every day and night, the most ardent pyromaniac would become sick of them.

Even worse was Salvador in Brazil. The first night, I couldn’t sleep because of loud drums beating all night. Not just a few, but hundreds of them. Until 3 or 4 in the morning. The landlady: “Today is the Festival of Drums.” Me: “Only today?” She: “Yes, yes, don’t worry.” The following night the same drums, but this time plus loud disco music. The landlady: “Oh, today is the International Day of Dance.” The next day was a samba competition (until 3 or 4 in the morning again, of course), then came the weekend where the noise goes on around the clock, on Monday was some religious festival, then some city anniversary, then a music competition (all participants were equally bad), and then it was already weekend again.

Not that anyone would need extra noise, but in Brazil, it’s a respected profession to push around a cart with a loudspeaker all day.

Particularly in Brazil and in Peru, I realized: the worse the music, the louder it is played. I don’t know why Brazil is known for dance and music. There is no talent. It’s always the same three beats, repeated a thousand times. For days on end. My neighbors in Mollendo played “Shaky Shaky“ by Daddy Yankee at least 30 times every day. That song is so horrible that I don’t even want to listen to it once.

You aren’t safe from noise when traveling, either. Buses are equipped with DVD players, showing – without exception – stupid and brutal action movies. At an inhuman volume. Still, many passengers play additional music from their phones. I could have seen much more of South America in one and a half years, but the buses were such a torture that I just couldn’t tolerate traveling on them anymore.

There will be other points, but to be honest, the noise was the primary and by itself sufficient reason to cut short my South American journey.

At the end of this section, I should mention two exceptions:

  • Chile is relatively quiet and civilized.
  • Bolivia is loud, too, but at least the music is better. If you are woken up every day without asking for it, then it should be with a funny marching band.

Missing cultural diversity

To begin with, I do find South America very interesting, colorful, curious, and I could spend years here without getting bored. But with a limited lifetime remaining, any decision for A is always a decision against B, C and D.

I like to keep learning new things. I prefer to know a little bit about many things instead of being an expert in one field. After more than one year in South America, I have the impression that I already know the continent better than I know Europe. This sounds absurd, but it is due to the relative cultural, architectural, linguistic, historical and religious homogeneity of South America (which was admittedly caused by Europeans).

From Guadalajara in Mexico

via Arequipa in Peru

to Santiago de Chile,

it’s 7000 km as the crow flies. But all cities essentially look the same: a cathedral, always Catholic, always baroque. A square in front of it, surrounded by arcaded sidewalks. A city plan like a chess board. A monastery around the corner.

Everywhere, I speak Spanish. All countries have a similar history: Spanish conquest, revolution by Spanish landowners, war, Simon Bolivar, independence, suppression of the indigenous population, more revolutions, military dictatorship, another revolution, democracy. All countries are plagued by brain-crushing Catholicism. The culture is relatively similar.

Of course, I could find differences everywhere, and what I wrote above is an extreme over-simplification. But when I leave my home in Germany and drive 7000 km, I am at the North Pole or in Siberia. And the point is: I don’t even have to go that far. In two hours, I am in another country with a different language, history, culture, architecture. I will be surprised instead of finding the expected. In the Balkans, you reach a new country every 200 km, with different religions and indecipherable alphabets even. In countries with strong regional identities, like Italy or Romania, each region is more distinct from the neighboring one than Argentina is from Mexico.

I miss the cultural diversity of Europe. To hop on a train and to get off after only two or three hours in a place where I don’t understand the language, to explore completely new architecture and to delve into an unknown history and culture, that’s a pleasure for me. The negativists who claim that the EU is making everything the same all over the continent should take a few months off and travel from Estonia to Malta. Or from Scotland to Greece. They will be surprised that our pretty little continent is more diverse than most round-the-world trips.


Europe is more exotic

In that apodictic way, that is of course not true because every continent has plenty of interesting places, people and stories. But I dare to say that for most travelers, Europe is more exotic.

When you spend a lot of time in one country (as I have done in Bolivia) and get in contact with regular folks instead of travel agencies, you can have adventurous experiences in South America, like when I spent three days with the Mojenos in the jungle.

gun.jpg

But 99% of travelers from Europe, North America and Asia visit exactly the same places: Machu Picchu in Peru, Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, Iguazu waterfall in Brazil and then to Rio de Janeiro for carnival. Like items on a list, they check off all the places where they meet other groups of Europeans, North Americans and Asians, where they take photos of each other, hoping that they will be celebrated as great adventurers when they return to their student dorms or offices in New York, Berlin or Singapore. That’s package holidaying. I have nothing against that, but please don’t act as if you are Thor Heyerdahl.

When I bump into such wannabe-hippies, which cannot always be avoided on long bus rides, I sometimes tell them about my travels in Europe. I am aghast that most of these Europeans treat their own continent in the same package-holiday way. They know London, Paris, Rome, Venice and Berlin. The same program as Japanese flash tourists. When I rhapsodize about Romania or Montenegro, they look at me skeptically as if they haven’t yet heard of the European Union’s eastern enlargement. When I talk about Transnistria or Guernsey, they don’t even know these European states. But they are already planning their next big trip: to Thailand, Vietnam and Burma, yet again on a safe trek of Western tourists.

It would be wrong to establish a rule that people should get to know their own continent before taking a look at others. Anyone can do what they want. But I personally see my task more in introducing my esteemed readers to the exotic corners of Europe than in writing the one-thousandth article about Rio de Janeiro. And if I feel the urge for distant travels again, then probably more towards the east. Mariupol, Minsk and Magnitogorsk sound more exotic and alluring to me than Machu Picchu, Maracaibo or Medellín.


Ratio of expenses and rewards

This is a very sober point, but traveling also requires planning, organization and financing.

I realized this on Easter Island. Despite economical planning, the whole trip had cost me around 800 euros for buses, flights and hotels. I read about Easter Island for years and once in a lifetime, I allowed myself the luxury of an expensive trip, for which I had worked for months. When I was there, I couldn’t help but think: “It’s a nice island, no doubt. But 800 euros for one week? In Eastern Europe, I could travel for two months for that.” And I love islands!

Then, I remembered how easy, fast, affordable and free of stress and visa requirements it had been to visit some European islands, which once again nobody will know, from Hiiumaa in Estonia

old church ruin

to Sark

Andreas Moser Sark evening.JPG

and Lipari

cliff Lipari Andreas Moser.jpg

to the small island of Zvernec in Albania.

brüchige Brücke

I bet you never heard of these islands, right? If you are anywhere in Europe, you can get to any of them for 50 euros. And that would make you the real explorers and adventurers among your friends who all have the same shot of Machu Picchu on their Facebook profile. Half of the islands mentioned are already in the EU, so you don’t even need to change any money or your SIM card.

I know, this is a prosaic issue, but I am fed up with all the travel blogs pretending that money is not an issue. More on that in a moment.

One more practical thing: if you ever had to stay on the border bridge between Brazil and Bolivia for 24 hours, like two German guys I met at the somewhat smoother Peruvian-Bolivian border, you will appreciate the EU and the Schengen zone even more.


South America is more expensive than Europe

“What?” I hear many of you exclaim because this runs counter to all preconceptions. Preconceptions which I had, too.

But the logical error lies in equating Norway or Switzerland with Europe. An error committed by South Americans too, by the way, who therefore believe that any European is a purchasing power millionaire. In reality, Chile for example is more expensive than half of Europe. Even Bolivia, the most affordable country in South America, has about the same price level as Romania. But when you fly to Romania from anywhere in Europe, the flight will cost you 20 euros instead of 600 euros. That’s 580 euros more to spend. Or an accordingly longer holiday.

Particularly flights are dirt-cheap in Europe. In Brazil and Bolivia, there are similarly cheap domestic flights, but any cross-border flight in South America costs hundreds of euros. Again, thank you very much to the EU internal market! (Even if I personally prefer trains.)

Another nasty issue that makes South America more expensive is that some people try to charge more to foreigners/whites/gringos. It happened relatively rarely to me, maybe because I always spoke Spanish and because I am quick to say “no thanks” in negotiations. But particularly in Peru, by far the worst country in this regard, almost everyone regarded me as a customer instead of as a human being. People constantly tried to sell or rent me stuff that I had neither asked for, nor needed, and at astronomical prices.

In Europe, I never experienced this problem, although I have been to many countries where I didn’t speak the language.

But now to something completely different:


Seasons

I’ll admit it: I love seasons. By now, I even miss winter. A really hard, dark, cold winter like the one I survived in Lithuania.

empty chair on pontoon Grutas.JPG

I feel like the more educated among my readers are getting ready to explain that the southern hemisphere has seasons too, just the other way round.

That is true for the deep south, for Patagonia, but I didn’t get that far – mainly because it’s bloody expensive. I spent most of my time in the Andean countries Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador where there aren’t any real seasons. People do say “oh, oh, now comes the winter”, but that means that the temperature at noon is 30 degrees centigrade instead of 35.

In Cochabamba, at an altitude of 2500 m, it never snows. Close to the city is Mount Tunari, which is a bit higher than 5000 m, and the peaks see snow on some occasions.

panorama snow lady with hat.JPG

Many Brazilians come to Cochabamba to study medicine (because it is cheaper in Bolivia and because they are allowed to work on real corpses there). When there is snow on Tunari, the Brazilian students take a day off, rent minibuses and go to the summit to play around in the snow like little children. There are 25- or 30-year-olds who see snow for the first time. That’s a sad life.

The distinct change between four seasons, as we have it in Central and Northern Europe, as well as in the northern USA, is not only a beautiful spectacle of nature which I will henceforth appreciate more. It also provides a certain rhythm for the year, which is lacking in unseasoned latitudes.

Something else is lacking, too, and it should have been placed higher due to its importance. But I like to keep the hardest topic until the end.


Intellectualism vs. religion

First, let me qualify the following remarks by stating a few caveats:

  • Intellectualism is something different than intelligence. With it, I mainly refer to the interest in intellectual pursuits, information, debates and education.
  • This may be hard to quantify, but
  • when I live in a country for a few months, walk around with open eyes and talk to people every day, my experience may be anecdotal, but
  • then I dare to pass (preliminary) judgment on the intellectual life in a country. Just like after a few weeks in Mexico and in Lithuania, I could say without access to statistics that Mexicans are on average shorter and slightly fatter than Lithuanians, or like I can say after one week in Italy that Italians have a far better sense of style than me and my fellow Germans.
  • Intellect isn’t everything, and it may not even be the most important thing. There are intellectual assholes and nonintellectual but very kind-hearted people.

I do not believe that Europe is generally more intellectual than South America. Instead, there are enormous national and regional differences on both continents. But, many parts of South America are not exactly hotbeds of intellectualism, to put it mildly. You may have already assumed so when you read my ranting about the noise. How is one supposed to study Kant’s Perpetual Peace, when your neighbors with their bam-bam-bam music don’t even leave you in fleeting peace?

Although I tried, I could hardly find anyone in Brazil or in Peru with whom I could converse about literature, history, politics or sociology. Most people are interested in beaches, alcohol, food, music, football and money. Generally, regions with beaches seem to be more dumbed-down than cities in the highlands. I could observe this phenomenon in all the countries I visited.

This is also noticeable from the level of political discourse (although that is rapidly dropping in Europe and the USA, too). I blame football, among other factors, for its simplistic we-against-them thinking which has been transferred to politics. Thus, people are either on the left and dismiss everything non-left as foreign (i.e. US)-financed imperialism (while the “left” is selling off natural resources to Chinese companies), or they are on the right and dismiss all non-right people as terrorists (looking away when the state itself sows terror) without recognizing that the economic and social exclusion of large parts of the population, particularly of the poor and indigenous, is morally and politically wrong.

In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez for example still has followers (despite his death), who blame an international conspiracy, of course orchestrated by the USA, for the lack of food, electricity, medicine and even toilet paper in the country with the world’s largest oil reserves. Evo Morales in Bolivia is another one of those who blames “imperialists” for anything that goes wrong.

This simple, illogical and non-factual way of thinking may have one root in the most illogical thing of all: religion. It is no coincidence that the continent which may be lacking a bit in intellectualism is also one of the most religious. And I am not talking about contemporary Christianity in the enlightened, northern European sense, where there are a few people left who, for the sake of tradition, cling to some vague concept of some “higher power”. No, in South America, Christianity is still the way we were indoctrinated in Catholic kindergarten: with a male, white, old god in heaven and a darker-skinned devil in hell. God is a person who makes specific decisions in the lives of each and everyone. Hence, it is imperative to pray a lot, go to church even more and donate as much as one can. Here, people take the Bible literally (which is funny for a book with so many contradictions), including stories about Adam and Eve, a great flood and similar hokum. Of course they deny that there were ever dinosaurs.

How can critical and scientific thought flourish on such manure? A few weeks ago, I met a girl from Venezuela, working in life sciences (!), who seriously wanted to convince me that one piece of evidence for the Bible’s truth is that it correctly predicts earthquakes. That’s the kind of bullshit I have to listen to. In 2017! It was the first time that I simply got up and walked away from a date.

If you don’t attend (the same) church, you are regarded as a bad person. In Mollendo, I had a neighbor who showed up every week to ask for money under made-up pretenses. Once, he asked for money for a religious procession. I declined and explained that I am an atheist. His mouth opened in shock, he took a few stumbling steps away from me, mumbled something incomprehensible, ran out of my apartment and never visited me again. The poor, who give 10% of their income so that the priest can buy a second car, don’t even bother to think about how rich the church already is.

Religion is always stupid, but this kind of religious practice is downright dangerous. Parents don’t buy books for their children, but donate the money to the church to pray for good grades. When the child is indeed successful, the parents don’t reward the child, but take more money to the priest. When a team of doctors works all night to remove a brain tumor, the survivor’s family will sell all their livestock next day to commission a statue of some holy virgin. The hospital remains under-financed. I myself have experienced a dozen times that bus or taxi drivers cross themselves before engaging in a crazy passing maneuver on a curvy mountainside road. God will take care of it. The side of the road is lined with crosses for the dead. “It was god’s will,” say the bereaved, shrugging their shoulders and donating yet more money to the church, hoping to avoid a similar fate.

This taxi in Paita in Peru had a sticker that said “God is my pilot”. Yet, the young man didn’t find the hotel in his home town although I gave him the name of the hotel, the name of the street and a description of the way. This god-thing doesn’t seem to work very well.

dios es mi piloto

Not only is the connection between religiosity and anti-intellectualism glaringly obvious (“Why do you need so many books? There is only one true book and that is the Bible,” I have heard more than once), it seems to me that it is even intended. Churches keep the people stupid, so that the flock keeps financing the mansions of the missionaries and priests (who themselves often come from North America or Europe). And nobody seems to care that the Catholic Church has a history of genocide, slavery, rape and exploitation in South America.

But of course there are also non-religious paradigms that kill off any debate before it can be developed. In particular in Peru, it’s the nationalism which does that. I have never seen such blind, chauvinistic national pride as in Peru.

Te amo Peru.JPG

Almost each time I dared to make a less than praising remark about their country, my Peruvian acquaintances freaked out, argued that as a foreigner I didn’t have the right to have an opinion (at the same time they like to quote other foreigners who say that everything in Peru is beautiful and superb), before proceeding to insult me and all surrounding countries. Because weirdly, many Peruvians base their national pride on how bad, poor and under-developed all neighboring countries allegedly are. When I ask if they have ever been to Bolivia, Chile or Ecuador, the Peruvians reply: “No, of course not. It’s terrible and ugly there. And everybody knows that Peru is the most beautiful country in the world. I don’t even need to go anywhere else.”  When I dissent – based on the experience of having traveled in all these countries -, they often got aggressive. “What do you gringo actually want here? Why don’t you go back to Europe?”

Well, that’s exactly what I am doing now. There is a lot to be criticized there, too, but it seems that Enlightenment did leave a more discernible mark in Europe.

Before leaving, I should mention two positive outliers: in La Paz and even more in Cochabamba, there is an intellectual and cultural life with discussions, events, concerts, exhibitions, libraries and political manifestations that make one’s heart melt. Actually, nowhere did I meet as many educated, interested people who were keen on openly debating profound matters as in Bolivia. While my friends in Brazil invited me to the beach and my friends in Peru to have food, Bolivians asked me to join political or academic events, lectures at university, exhibitions or film screenings or simply a hike in the mountains. However, you will quickly find out that not everything in Bolivia is rosy when you travel to Santa Cruz, one of the most superficial, materialistic and non-intellectual cities I know.


Personal reasons

Lastly, any decision also has some personal reasons.

  • More than three years have passed since I obtained my last degree, and I already miss university. More on that in a separate article. Soon.
  • For some time now, I have been intrigued by the idea of a very long hike. Theoretically, that would be possible in South America, too (in Cuenca in Ecuador, I met an approximately 65-year old Dutch gentleman who is crossing the whole continent on foot), but I simply don’t feel like walking 1200 km through the Atacama desert. And in the jungle, I am terribly afraid of snakes. In Europe, on the other hand, I am only plagued by the number of choices.
  • Writing is becoming more important to me than traveling, and thus I am longing for a cozy apartment where I can establish a library and a writing studio again. Based on good experiences in Lithuania and Romania, in my mind this image is connected with a Soviet-era apartment somewhere in Eastern Europe.Savanoiru prospektas Vilnius Krushchovka 1.JPG
  • A few medical problems didn’t solve themselves, contrary to my naive hope, so I finally have to address them. Unfortunately, I have no medical insurance in South America. Maybe I should have prayed and donated more, and Mr Jesus would have cured me, too.

Closing remarks

Mind you, South America offers spectacular and beautiful scenery, from Chapada Diamantina to Lake Titicaca, I have met hundreds of friendly people and I wouldn’t get bored here, either. I can imagine that I may return to South America one day. Actually, I am certain that I will miss many things as soon as the steamer will leave the port of Cartagena on 11 May 2017.

But every decision is a matter of priorities.

(Zur deutschen Fassung dieses Artikels.)

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About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a journalist, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Easter Island, Ecuador, Europe, Health, Life, Mexico, Peru, Photography, Religion, Travel, Venezuela and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

51 Responses to Why I will return to Europe

  1. Pingback: Warum ich nach Europa zurückkehre | Der reisende Reporter

  2. Andres says:

    Sad you weren’t able to make it to Argentina

    • Very sad indeed.
      When I come back, I would particularly like to explore Patagonia.

      But I did see plenty of Argentinian youngsters “working” at intersections in all the other countries. ;-)

  3. Jacqueline Danson says:

    Dear Andreas —

    Fascinating as ever, and often amusing, to read your thoughts. “Apodictic”: great word, I didn’t know it and had to look it up (and I’m a native-speaker with a BA from Leeds here in the UK, and a Berkeley MA, both in English! You’re so cultured and educated – I love it! Thank you for teaching me new words, as well as new places.

    Wrong: I have heard of Lipari. My parents (as you know, German-born) went there on holiday once, and met some Germans there with whom my widowed mother (now 92.5) is still close friends! Opposite her bed in a frame is a huge photo she took when there.

    There are some fabulous islands in Finland. I went to the Opera Festival at Savonlinna a couple of years ago which is in a very remote part of already-remote Finland, in its lake district – and it is BEAUTIFUL. Many summer houses are the single building on a small island (like in the Stockholm peninsula also). I recommend the area and there was a wonderful (modern) train covered in paintings of flying birds (swans) and pine trees, and so immaculately clean you could eat off the floor which I would one day like to return to, to travel for longer on it. It was only about 18 Euros for a journey of around 4 hours – bargain, as well as wonderfully enjoyable.

    The only set back was that I had to buy the train ticket through a perfectly-translated Finnish website – until the payment page, that is, where it reverted without warning to Finnish (an impenetrable language, according to other Scandinavians) and I had to guess which was the ‘buy ticket’ button, with the amusing side effect that it regularly sends me e-mails on which, even with the help of Google Translate, I cannot find the Finnish for ‘unsubscribe’ anywhere!!!

    I know what you mean about the seasons. As a student I lived for 15 months in Northern California (decades ago) and, despite the lovely climate, came to really miss our autumn in particular, although these days, I rather think I might miss the spring more!

    Can’t wait to be introduced to the exotic Europe you say you plan to visit next! So excited to read about your future (and of course, as always, past) travels. I hope the medical issues will also be fully and promptly resolved.

    Best wishes, Jackie

    >

    • Dear Jackie,

      thank you very much much, also for your corrections!
      As I need to learn a new language almost every year (I am wondering which one will be next), I have found it useful to rely on Latin- and Greek-based words like άποδεικτικός because they are almost always similar in most languages, and even without looking them up, I can take the risk of using them, only changing the ending. In German, it’s “apodiktisch”, in English “apodictic”, in Spanish “apodíctico” and I am certain it would be “apodictique” in French.
      Particularly in Spanish, I have found that works very well. So I go around and use fancy Latin-based words, making people believe that my Spanish is exquisite, but I don’t know the words for “curtains” or “carpet” and can’t form the future tense. But it makes me feel more confident. I guess it’s also easier with a Latin language because I had previously learned French and Italian.

      I am glad to read about mother having a photo of Lipari in her bedroom. It’s one of a number of beautiful islands north of Sicily. The whole story of my exploring the island is here: https://andreasmoser.blog/2013/12/23/lipari-day-1/

      Thank you for the idea of the Finnish islands!
      As I was thinking about Europe, I noticed that I still haven’t even visited about half of the countries of Europe, including all Scandinavian countries. I shall remedy this gap of knowledge and experience in the coming years.
      I was in Estonia once, where the language is somewhat similar to Finnish but not to anything else. Probably, my trick with slapping on endings to Latin words wouldn’t work there. I couldn’t even tell which toilet was for men or women unless they had pictographs.
      Funny story about you registering on the Finnish website! :-) I had to register on some websites while I lived in Lithuania and have the same experience. But if there are not too many e-mails, they serve as a pleasant reminder of times past when I lived in a country with a funny language.

      Regarding the seasons, I even miss autumn with all its gloom. At least it’s a good time to study, read and write. The good thing about seasons is that you can visit a place twice and it looks completely different.

  4. Mattej says:

    Followed you for ages and also have lived in SA, Colombia and Argentina. That was enough. After 3 decades in Asia where work is their whole life, I found that CE Countries like Hungary and surrounding areas I can have a great life. Excellent produce. Educated people. Walking in beautiful areas and bus/train to the next country. You had to go through this long venture to come to a conclusion in your early 40s. Healthcare, freedom and ease of movement together with living on a budget is essential. Spring in the EU is fab. I am off to Budapest and then driving to Slovakia next week. I agree with all of your points and do “get it”. Safe travels.

    • In my mind, that Central/Eastern European region is very beautiful, particularly for nature lovers, but also historically interesting, yet relatively easy to travel, affordable to live, yet high standards.
      I am always saddened by how Western Europeans still look down on Eastern Europe, usually without ever having visited, let alone lived there for a while. It’s like many people have the Iron Curtain in their heads. I even noticed that in South America, where for many people “Europe” is Western Europe like before 1990, with the possible addition of Berlin and Prague. It’s one reason why I want to write more about that region.

      Enjoy spring! I will miss this one, but I am looking forward to the next one.
      And enjoy Slovakia! One of the countries where I haven’t been yet, which, based on my policy for selecting my next destination, could be where I will move to. :-)

      • Matteo says:

        As a digital nomad as well as a man with a cigar in his mouth and a book in hand under a tree in a breezy forest, you could easily live in HU SK PL of the V4 and have a lifestyle of freedom to do what you love and on less than €500/month. Interesting part I found in my 20+ visits to both SK and HU is how people were begging to pay me €20-30/hour for private German lessons or English lessons as well as rewriting contracts or lawyer’s docs/court warrants. I add that as you mentioned finances. We are not that different in age but I saw endless freedom and opportunities there.

      • I am glad about this information because I want to combat the myth that everywhere in the EU is expensive. A lot more people from around the world could afford to visit, travel and live there if only they looked beyond Rome or Paris.
        For me, it does indeed mean more freedom. I get enough clients and jobs online, so I am absolutely independent of the local demand.
        Are you also a lawyer and translator?

      • Matteo says:

        I’m a Japanese English interpreter.
        I inherited grandparents’ land in SK through 7 years of lawyers, notaries…you name it.
        During that time I noticed I had so many people asking me to proofread, rewrite, teach etc in SK as I was was there 2-3x a year for 8 years. I lived 2 months last year finalizing everything and that’s why I can say in all truth that living in SK, you can find a flat easily for €200- and fruits and veggies everywhere.
        I lived in Budapest as well and beautiful apartments where €300/month near the Duna and I went to the market daily for fresh veggies and fruits, yogurt etc and it was so incredibly cheap.
        I wanted nature I just had to go 30 mins away to these secluded lovely lakes. Very clean and clear lakes! Naked and the water was warm.
        I was shocked that there was no pollution.
        In Kanada where I was born the lakes are filled with chemicals and yet the heart of the Hungarians and their gentle kindness and honesty was such a beautiful surprise after dealing with the land BS in SK.
        I fell in love with Hungary and became a citizen. They love us Germans and then all these offers for English German jobs started but I had not yet finished my life overseas.
        I could easily live there. Safe. Kind. Quiet. Spas. Fresh produce. Culture galore and proud strong but gentle hearts. I’ve been 8x in the last 10 months and yes, I love it there.
        Poland was also incredibly cheap with kind and intelligent souls. I don’t know about the working situation though. My first would be HU without a doubt. Hope this helps in some way.

  5. List of X says:

    Have you considered visiting Central America? My personal experience is limited to Mexico and Costa Rica (including places both on and off the beaten path), and neither place struck me as particularly loud.

    • I have been to Mexico once, but only to Monterrey and to Guadalajara. It was actually my first Latin American country, and I remember it as very friendly. But I didn’t find it that exotic, either. Particularly regarding contemporary culture, it was like a Spanish version of the USA.
      I have a feeling that when I will visit Georgia or Armenia, it will be far more exotic to me, even though geographically, these countries are closer to home.

      On this trip, I didn’t have time/money to go to Central America, unfortunately. But another thing I noticed is that I am not really a big fan of the tropics, neither of the climate, nor the vegetation, and definitely not the bloody snakes and mosquitoes. I prefer mountains. When I was deep in the jungle in Bolivia (it’s on the edge of the Amazon), I realized that it looks beautiful when you fly above it, but when you’re inside, it’s just a green and wet mess. There are no hills or mountains, so you never have a vantage point from which you have an overview. You always see the little picture only, and it’s always just more trees and another river to cross.
      In the mountains, on the other hand, there is a new view behind every ridge, and the weather changes more dramatically, too.

  6. timburford says:

    As I get older – and as you know I’m a professional traveller – I also find more and more that I want to see more of Europe. It changes so fast, just a hundred kilometres takes you somewhere cultirally distinct. And you can never see it all. I don’t agree that you can always get a 20 euro flght. 100, maybe. Sorry that you have medical issues to deal with, however. Anyway, I hope to see you in Europe soon.

    • Oh, don’t worry, the medical issue is nothing dangerous, let alone lethal, just annoying.

      I am glad that far more experienced and professional travellers like you – and let me insert the link to your blog and to your guidebooks here – have the same feeling. For I already feared that I was being culturally ignorant, or even imperialist. But then, when I think back to the Roma village in Transylvania, where we met, it’s just one of many examples in Europe that are overlooked even by most Europeans, which I personally find more interesting and which deserve to be written about more than another sandy beach with palm trees and drinks.

      Regarding the flights in Europe, if you are very flexible with the dates, there are really good deals. My best one so far was a flight from Cluj in Romania to Israel and return for 50 euros (WizzAir).

  7. Anonymous says:

    I guess that I made the right decision in 1986 to go to work in Cochabamba, Bolivia (to computerize the first school library in South America). Got married, have two children. My daughter spent two years in Ecuador in the Peace Corps and then three years in S. Korea teaching English. After three months in England (and visiting various European cities) she is coming home in May. Then …?

    • I know that’s completely subjective, but I never felt as genuinely welcome as by the people in Cochabamba (the only town that comes close is Targu Mures in Romania). From day one, when I couldn’t even speak Spanish yet, people treated me as a friend, invited me, introduced me to their families. I felt completely integrated, not at all like a stranger or a foreigner, even. After a while, when I traveled in other regions in Bolivia and people asked me where I was from, I said I am a “cochabambino”, not a German.

  8. Bill says:

    Too bad! For me, I mean. I mentioned in a previous comment that I’m moving back to Bolivia later this year (yay!) but to Santa Cruz (noooooooo!!!!!). I was hoping that I might run into you in La Paz or Cochabamba where my wife and I have agreed to spend at least one month each year to escape the disgusting, dreary, drenching, depressing, grey, humid cold of winter in Santa Puej in order to reactivate our brains after the time spent in the otherwise vapid green hell of the Bolivian Oriente.

    I wish you all the best in your future endeavors and travels and look forward to reading about them. Your reasons to return to Europe remind me of the lyrics of an Argentine chacarera which state “estaba donde nací lo que buscaba por ahí”. Good luck!

    • Thank you!
      Although, regarding “donde nací”, I won’t move back to Germany, which I don’t find as fascinating as most other parts of Europe. Even in Europe, I will be walking around parts that most Central/Western Europeans would never dream of visiting.

  9. Adri Takács says:

    Hey, Andreas!

    Wow, I didn’t think you’ll decide to get back so soon. Still it will be nice to have you back on the Old Continent, because I’ll get some great off-the-beaten-track travel inspiration from you, like before. Don’t worry, Romania’s Soviet-era blockhouse apartments’ doors are always open to you (figuratively, but also literally). Hope you’ll be OK health-wise.
    Buen viaje! See you on this side ;)
    Best,

    • And I still have that dream of traversing all of Romania on foot. It’s such a beautiful country for hiking!

      • Adri Takács says:

        Yep, but you know. The DOGS. You should get a partner to avoid any incidents.

      • I am actually a bit less scared of dogs now because I ran into so many in South America. Picking up stones is usually enough to scare them off. Sometimes I had to really throw the stones, though.

        Also, I noticed that dogs are more respectful to me when I wear my Gabor hat. Maybe because I look like a shepherd or a farmer. I will see how that works in Romania.

  10. My worst memories are of waking up on Sunday mornings in Geneva when the only sound you hear is your heart beating. In the years I spent in Europe I never got used to the silence and lack of crowds (except on metros). I knew I would have to come back to Asia eventually. I know a couple who made a six hour recording of street sounds in Mumbai and took it with them when they moved to Zurich. They lasted three years, and they’ll move back at the end of this month. So I agree, your reaction is subjective, but you have to listen to what your heart says about what it can hear around you.

    • I also know that I will for example find the streets at night too empty in Germany. I don’t approve of the ghettoblasters, but I like the fact that in Bolivia I can go out at midnight and get a hamburger, a freshly pressed juice, toilet paper and a light bulb from vendors sitting on street corners.

      While you cannot replicate the crowds of Mumbai or Lahore or Kuala Lumpur in Europe, you can at least listen to the radio or TV at home. So I think eerie silence can be overcome more easily than deafening noise. (I still heard it despite the earplugs, also my furniture was jumping up and down with every bass.)

  11. I think there might be some connection between latin genes and noise… even in Tg-Mures you can see that German and Hungarian people are more quieter, they tend to themselves, trying not to bother anyone, while Romanian and especially Rroma are way more louder, at least that’s my experience. I even saw this in the kids playing by my flat… I never understood why do you have to bother everyone around you just to have fun…?

    Unfortunately the Orthodox church does the same here, keeping their followers as stupid as possible (see the kids dying because of no vaccinations). In larger Transyilvanian towns you won’t see it as often, but in tiny villages, and mostly across the mountains, the priests do exorcism and other creepy stuff, and even encourage people to believe in superstitions. Even one of my colleagues does believe in them and even performed some weird ritual at work! When I saw it, I thought I jumped back in time to the middle ages…

    Sorry to hear about your medical problems, I hope you get cured quickly!

    • Don’t worry, it’s nothing that will kill me, it doesn’t even hurt.

      And anyway, maybe I can try the exorcism. ;-) Hahaha, I had to laugh about your colleague’s ritual! Actually, it would be interesting to read more about it. It might even give people more confidence in the weather forecast. ;-)

      But the anti-vaccination drive is really scary. It even got Romania into the newspapers in Bolivia. To imagine that South America, which is much less developed in large parts than Europe, is measles free (at least free of epidemics) and in Europe, people are dying because their parents are stupid, that really hurt.

      You may be right about the Latin culture, because when I described South America, I was sometimes reminded of how I felt in Italy. – Such a shame that Germans and Austro-Hungarians were not the ones who colonized South America, following on that logic. ;-)

      • Your wish is my command, so here is the story: I go to the kitchen of the weather-station, there is my colleague, sitting at the table, a glass of water in front of her, she is lighting matches one after another and extinguishing them in the water. I just stood there open mouthed, didn’t know what to think! She says that her head hurts, our earlier visitors have given her the evil eye, actually they gave it to me too, so she’s now curing herself! I just slowly backed out of the kitchen…
        The problem is, that way too many people believe in these nonsense, and many orthodox priests are making o fortune by performing “cures” to these kind of curses, as there is a big demand for these practices. And we wonder why is this country going the wrong way… these people are easy to be manipulated, and they vote with the one who can lie more smoothly. :(

      • Wow.
        You really have to wonder how the mind of such people works. I mean, what is the way they think that matches in a glass have an effect on their brain?

        I was actually really a bit shocked by how many people in Romania have esoteric beliefs. Even among otherwise educated people, I met many who went to numerologists or palm-readers or bought certain stones with healing powers, etc.

        And then religion. Once, I went to a doctor in Targu Mures and among the books on her shelf was the “Noul Testament”.

  12. Dayna says:

    I’m Bolivian (Cochabamba), expat 17 years and now living in France. I agree with everything you said and specially appreciate what you said about people in my town, but some comments are:
    How cold your view is about how culturally almost all south america is the same, sadly for you, we weren’t conquered by Romanians, Italians, Polish, etc so we could be more entertaining.
    Yes, we are behind intellectually for generations, and that is one big consequense of European occupation, all 3rd world coutries in all continents (some exceptions of course) were colonies. While french revolution was happening, the enlightenment you mentioned, South America was not even close. Our campesinos got the right of becoming land owners in 1952 only, so….come back in say.. 200 years LOL.
    Good read.

    • Hola Dayna,

      1) I did mention that the Europeans, meaning the Spanish and the Portuguese primarily, are to blame for the relative cultural and linguistic homogeneity that I describe.
      It’s good that you didn’t include Germans in your list of potential colonial powers because based on the few German colonies in Africa, the treatment of locals by the German authorities and military was barbaric.
      One country in South America that I didn’t have time/money to go to, but that would have interested me a lot because it seems very multicultural, -religious and -linguistic is Suriname. So maybe the Dutch were a little bit less overbearing and more open to immigration from other parts of the world than the Spanish and Portuguese.

      2) I wouldn’t want to generalize that South America is behind for generations because there are many intellectual people here, while in Europe there are also whole areas that are not particularly intellectual. I lived in Malta for half a year once, and wow, that felt like pre-Enlightenment!
      But the lack of a real revolution from the bottom up is really a problem. Simon Bolivar was one of the top landowners and a millionaire already as a child, after all. He and his mostly Spanish friends wanted independence, but they didn’t want a land reform. I guess we really only had that in Haiti, and then in the 20th century, like you mentioned in Bolivia in 1952.
      On the other hand, even the French Revolution didn’t work out smoothly either.

      I also concede that economical factors can’t be underestimated. When people are slowly moving from poor peasantry or day laboring into the middle class, they are more concerned with buying a house and a car and a fridge than with reading books and studying Greek philosophy. That’s the same all over the world.

  13. Very interesting and entertaining to read people’s motivations to make a move. I can relate to the rant of the noise, I find it annoying. I imagine for a German this is amplified as I hear my German friends complain that brits and aussies are too noisy even (German culture is the most anti-noise I know). They even think talking on the celphone in public transport is rude which is something completely acceptable in UK. It’s important to know as, for Brazil, it’s not just a country that you go to a couple of places and review it as just one country. It’s bigger than the US mainland so you do find many countries in one and would need to live for much longer to understand it. You can find countless civilized and intelectual areas and also countless enlighented people to talk with. Sadly not in the streets as they hide and have their own subculture. And definitely Argentina and Southern Brazil is where you find a lot more of the cultural-intelectual experience there.
    But even that for me, even tho I was born in Brazil, I always found myself displaced when going to the streets hence I migrated out to NZ, but from the places I have travelled there’s no place like Europe.

  14. I must admit that my feeling about Peru is quite similar. Now back in France, everything is quiet, I enjoyed the winter and now the spring, and the changing weather. I don’t have to say every time why I’m an atheist, and I don’t have to deal with unpleasant reactions.
    After living so far from home, I now want to explore more of my country and Europe. Have a safe return !

    • And I forgot another issue that we spoke about in Peru: people constantly asking “Why aren’t you married??”
      I will miss this spring, but I am looking forward to the next one.
      On my long walks in Europe, I hope I will cross through France once or twice.

      • Oh yes that’s true ! And also the reaction if you say that you don’t want to have children or that you don’t like them !
        Luckily we have spring every year :p
        If your trip ever brings you to Normandy, tell me !
        Thanks to your article, I’m now planning to go back to the channel islands this year :) I’m looking for low-carbon destinations, since I took so many planes last year -_-

      • I am fascinated with the idea of walking the E9 European Coastal Path.
        If I do that, I would spend a lot of time in Normandy indeed.

        Good point on taking fewer planes! At least I am returning to Europe by boat, although I still haven’t been able to calculate if it’s really better for the environment.

      • Oh, I had no idea it existed ! It must be really great ! That’s a really loooong hike :o
        Well I’m not lucky enough to be close to the sea in Normandy, I’m in the part with no access to the beach :(
        I’m pretty sure it’s better to take a boat than a plane ^^ How long does it take to reach Europe by boat ?

      • The boat from Colombia to Portugal takes 2 weeks, but with day stops in Sint Maarten, Antigua and Madeira.

      • Make sure to have enough books to read :p !

      • Shannon says:

        Because you are so handsome and tall. Most important you are so knowledgeable. It is difficult from them to image you are not taken. I wish I can marry you :) Are you looking?

      • Not very actively, but I am open to applications. ;-)

  15. Excellent writing. I can very much relate and often think about returning to Europe. Greetings from Colombia

    • Thank you! – There is a boat leaving Cartagena on 11 May, two weeks on the sea until it reaches Lisbon. It’s a nice, slow way of returning to Europe. ;-)

      • It’s also a nice way to get some reading and writing done (I am sure this was your idea). Looking forward to more of your writing. Is there a boat company / contact you would recommend? Which one are you using? I think I’ll stick South America out for a bit longer (just bought a motorcycle to explore)… but eventually I’d enjoy returning to Europe by ship, a nice and slow way, and I dislike long flights (they involve too much food in plastic (have you ever counted the ridiculous amount of plastic cups, cutlery, plates and aluminium lids that a long flight brings about and that times the passengers times the flights per day around the world?!) and ironically they seem too fast, as if we were cheating the world, jet-setting about and not fully appreciating distances). Having “house-sitted” a tucked-away farm at the foot of the Andes for almost 2 years, I have lost the ability to cope with flights, noise, plastic and sometimes people. I am sure you can relate. But even here the waves of bum-bum-bum of the nearby town reach me… and a sticker that says “my faith is in Jesus” in the local hospital’s emergency room just didn’t give me peace of mind last week as I waited for them to review my nearly cut off finger. I could go on and on but will stop here and thank you for your blog article, which I enjoyed reading. I chuckled throughout and I think in the end there was a little tear of nostalgia for Europe in the corner of my eye. See? Writing moves others like nothing else ever could. Keep it up!

      • The slow journey was the main reason I picked the ship. I wanted to feel the distance and the time.
        And yes, it’s perfectly quiet for reading and writing. I already came to South America by ship – https://andreasmoser.blog/2015/03/24/moving-to-south-america-by-boat/ – and I could have stayed on it for months. Some people got crazy because they didn’t see land and even more people got crazy because they couldn’t afford the internet. I was happy to be offline for a week and am looking forward to the two weeks in May.

        As to companies, I am going with Pullmantur, a Spanish cruise company. The operate plenty of ships in the Mediterranean in summer and in October/November when the European season is over, they send them to South America and the Caribbean. Then in May, the ships return. These cruises are cheaper than normal (one week Gran Canaria-Brazil cost 150 EUR and the two weeks Cartagena-Lisbon cost 550 EUR). You can find more if you look for “repositioning cruises”. This one is not super cheap, but roughly the price of a flight and I get to see some islands on the way. And two weeks of good food are included as well.

        I eel the same like you about airline food. The amount of packaging is really shocking.

        Thanks for the anecdote about the “my faith is in Jesus” sticker! Sometimes people don’t believe my descriptions because I am such a die-hard atheist. But today, I went out for Eater and took some photos and videos to post tonight. Crazy stuff.

        Thank you very much for your encouraging words about writing!

        Ich habe gesehen, dass Du zum gleichen Thema geschrieben hast, was hier durchaus mal verlinkt werden sollte: https://buschmannpr.wordpress.com/2015/04/05/5-dinge-an-die-ich-mich-in-kolumbien-nie-gewohnen-werde/ Ich kann Dir auch meinen deutschsprachigen Blog http://www.andreas-moser.blog empfehlen. Als deutscher Muttersprachler sind meine dortigen Artikel sprachlich natürlich ein bißchen besser.

  16. Dany Sobeida says:

    Continúa viajando, me gusta leer tus aventuras y espero te recuperes pronto! Buen viaje.

  17. I read it all and loved your post so much!!!

  18. discoverchiapas says:

    I think you shouldn’t come back to Latin America. With your arrogant “back home everything is better” attitude you missed the thing I love here most: The people are not as cold and individualistic here. The Peruvians were absolutely right to get pissed of with you, what gives you the right to come to their country and criticize their lifestyle. Off course Europe has a history of travelling to these countries and claiming that they should live like us. One more reason they are right to be like that.
    Some thing I love about Latins is that they still value family. They help eachother and generally are the most friendly and welcoming people. (Obviously this will be different if you are so negative around them).
    I have lived in Mexico for 2 years now, in chiapas, where you have probably only seen San Cristobal and palenque. Because you also just follow the tourist path. I have traveled most of central and south America and have loved trying their different foods and exploring their cities.
    A lot of their recent history is very similar this is true, this is because of the European explorers that like you thought they were better than them. If you look a bit further into their history tho you find out about many different cultures and civilisations. Off course much of this has been destroyed by judgemental Europeans like yourself.
    I am from Holland and I would like to ask you to please leave your arrogance in Europe where people have experience dealing with your German attitude. Cause yeah sorry the people I have met travelling that I see you attitude in are generally Germans. This based on my personal experience of course.

    • Actually, I don’t think that “back home everything is better”. I haven’t lived in Germany for 8 years and I am not planning to move there. In contrast to most other places, I find it a bit boring and sterile there.
      I have written about Europe in contrast to South America, not about my “home” (whatever that is). Many South Americans share my sentiment that Europe is more culturally and linguistically diverse and more quiet and less stressful. And I haven’t even touched on the constant fear of crime that people have in many parts of Latin America.

      What gives me the right to come to a country and have an opinion? Hm, I guess freedom of speech. Or the fact that I am a human being in this world of ours. You seem to have an opinion, too, don’t you? So, why shouldn’t I? What you wrote is a perfect example of what I encountered in Peru so many times.

      I haven’t been to Chiapas at all, and if you read where I live now, you might want to revise your opinion about me “traveling the tourist path”. Did you read about the places that fascinate me in Europe? I don’t think many people visit Moldova or Albania.

      I am not negative. I find positive and negative and neutral things everywhere. And I talk and write about all of them. But this blog post was dedicated to the reasons for leaving South America, not to the reasons that made me love Bolivia, for example.

      I have mentioned in my article that I attribute the standardization of Latin American culture to European colonial influences. By the way, I don’t think I am better than anybody. I explained this in the part about intellectualism. I just have different interests from most people. This has nothing to do with me being European. Most Europeans haven’t studied philosophy, either, and prefer football over constitutional law.

      I would take your “family values” part with a huge grain of salt because (1) if you are gay, your family may quickly turn away, and (2) the social pressure to marry and have children as soon as possible deprives people, particularly young women, of other career paths.

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