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Lago Lacar San Martin de los Andes

This is the view from the hike we took the other day. It’s what Lago Lácar looks like once you get around the bend that makes it look small from San Martín de los Andes. Sometimes I think we take views like this for granted since we’ve seen a lot of beautiful landscapes in our travels.

Which got us thinking about other random things we often took for granted that are more obvious to us now:

  • Customer service. It’s just different. Don’t get me wrong, there have been a lot of very friendly, helpful people in various businesses who we’ve come across. But on the whole, whether it’s buying bus tickets or paying for produce, the vibe is, “I’m doing you a favor by being here,” rather than, “How can I help you?”
  • 911 and other simplified telecommunications. Not every country has a centralized number for emergencies. In Chile, there was a separate number for police, fire and medical. In addition, we’ve found that in both Chile and Argentina, calling phones is tricky! For example, if you’re calling a land line from a cell phone in Chile, you have to insert a 9 between the area code and phone number. Everyone just knows to do that. Or if you’re calling a cell phone in Argentina you have to drop the digits “15” and add the area code. (I think. We still haven’t figured it out.)
  • Change. Back in La Paz, Mexico and here in Argentina, change is precious. ATMs dish out large bills, but very few places can reliably break them. Cashiers are often asking you for coins or small bills because the drawer literally won’t have any.
  • Clean drinking water. So far, in South America, we’ve been close to the Andes which means clean tap water. In Mexico, we had to go bottled because, while the water may be OK in some places, the pipes weren’t.
  • Maintenance. A sink barely hanging on to a wall. Walls in desperate need of fresh paint. Giant holes in sidewalks. There’s also a lot of trash on beaches and the side of the road. At first I thought it was laid-back and refreshingly imperfect. Now it just feels like no one cares. It’s probably a question of budget priorities, both for governments and individuals.

None of these are life-changingly problematic — except maybe 911 — just things you notice when they aren’t there. And in the spirit of balance, here are five other things we notice that we’d like to see more of in the US.

  • No rushing people out of restaurants/cafes. You can take your time. Drink your coffee. If there’s a shift change, someone will politely ask you to pay, but otherwise no one shoves the check in your face.
  • Reliable, comfortable bus systems. Although trains would be way better, the buses go everywhere and they’re cheap. And you just have to show up 15 minutes before it leaves — not 1.5 hours.
  • Big, long lunches. There’s no rush. And it’s better to eat a big lunch than a huge, heavy dinner right before bed.
  • Patience. I haven’t come across any impatient people. The only impatient people are us. I frequently find myself thinking, Why is everyone walking so slow? They are probably thinking, Why is this woman in such a rush?
  • Entrepreneurship. Many people we meet have more than one job, including one they created for themselves. I find that inspirational. Yes, there are entrepreneurs in the US. But many of the people in my generation just think about what company to work for, not how they can build something themselves.

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