It has been a while since we posted a story in our series, Friends Abroad. Today we introduce you to our aunt Trudy who has been living in France for over 30 years now. She travelled through South America in 1980. A time completely different from now because back then you only heard about South America on the news when a coupe or so took place in one of its countries. And that makes this story so educational. Read and enjoy.
Why did you go to South America in the beginning of the eighties?
For that I first need to go back to 1976. I went on an Interrail holiday with a girlfriend to the south of France, to the Mediterranean (Canet plage). On July 13th we went to a bar with a bunch of friends to grab a few drinks before we would go to the ‘ball’. On the other end of the table sat a boy and when I saw him it was love at first sight. I got hot and cold at the same time. Butterflies filled my stomach and I could not keep my eyes of him. And hooray, he did as well!
At the ball we danced till sunrise. I did not speak one word of French, he could only speak French so our communication was limited. He was just there for the weekend and after he went back to Paris. I went on with our Interrail holiday until 10 days later we came back to Paris. We had a quick call and we found each other back totally in love.
We travelled back and forth between Paris and Hengelo (city in the east of Holland). I finished my studies and he worked for a bank. But his biggest passion was folkloric South American band he played in and where he performed with in the subway, small parties and in restaurants. This also interested me a lot. A life with fun music and folklore, an artist’s life.
Because of these experiences we more and more wanted to experience South American life in South America. He wanted to discover new music, practice new instruments and buy cheap cloths. Moreover after four years of travelling back and forth, learning the French language we both wanted to live together. So we decided to make this dream of going to South America happen.
What did these travels bring you in live? How did it influence your live?
Travelling back them was completely different compared with now. The distances where a lot longer, calling home was real expensive and organizing the trip costed a lot of time. Best sources for information were organizations like Amnesty International who organized conferences about the situations in certain countries. And they asked people to talk about their travels in these countries. Travel books also provided us with information on best ways of travel and how to travel with a backpack. I also worked with Amnesty International which gave me a series of documents for free. In return I gave a lecture about my travels in South America after my return. My travels taught me how to organize and to follow a schedule.
I became very positive about people due to my travels. Most people are better than you might expect beforehand and you really get a feel on how people really are. In the end there are very little bad encounters with people and when your instinct says to you, ‘leave!’ believe it and do it. And when you do end up in a critical situation follow your sense and it will get you through it. It will build your confidence. Even now when I am in certain situations I think: ‘Well you did it back then, so why not know!’
What are the must see in South America?
I could write pages about this question. But if I have to choose then these areas and places I enjoyed the most:
- Trinidad, Recife, Rio de Janeiro and Foz do Iguaçu;
- Bolivia, Argentina and Chili;
- Belem in North Brazil and I also wanted to go to Manaus.
- Machu Picchu in Peru (Take the trail because the moment you reach Machu Picchu at sunrise it truly magical!).
- The pyramids in the north of Peru.
- The Galapagos (We found it too expensive at the moment but I still regret the decision we did not do this).
But in the end it are not the places you visit but the people you meet along the way that stay with you a lifetime.
Where have you met the friendliest people in South America?
In the North of Brazil and in Bolivia. In both areas live very poor people but they were are all so hospitable. I especially remember our four days on Lake Titicaca during Ascension Day weekend. Unforgettable! But we have met so many good and friendly people along the way and this are them memories that I remember the most.
Where can we find the best food in South America?
Everywhere but food is very personal and it also depends on your health. I could eat everywhere, on street corners and at markets and I never got sick. But my friend then did. Remember to take medicine along on your trip and make a list of the Latin names of the medicine. This way you do not make a mistake in the pharmacy. Contact the Dutch embassy or consulate in case of trouble. They can point you to the right doctor (or hospital). So also make a list of all the consulates in the countries you plan to visit.
What do we need to watch while travelling?
Leave a trail of pebbles everywhere you go. In my days we went to a consulate in every country we arrived in to let them know we were in the country. Or we would send a message to American Express in which hotel we stayed. And when we left again we let them know where we would go to. Back then you simply had to fill in a register they had at the counter. Nowadays a simple email to your parents will do the same. Please do this because when you disappear for whatever reason this will save precious time. And please keep in mind that your phone will not work all the time and a credit card is not always accepted.
So keep cash at hand everywhere you go. American Dollars are always accepted. And make a copy of your important documents. Hide them somewhere safe like a money belt. When I was in Trinidad I literally lost everything and with the copies of the documents we could quickly get money and new papers.
Ps, great giveaways for people you would like to say thank you to where European change or stamps. These were great gifts for people where we spend the night.
Why did you immigrate to France?
This was a difficult decision after we came home but I learned French in the meantime and he did not speak Dutch. And leaving of music alone was easier in Paris then in the Netherlands which meant I left for France.
What is the hardest part of living abroad?
Having your family so far away and the costs of travelling back and forth. Luckily I had two real nice parents who sometimes paid this for me because otherwise it was not possible. But you slowly slip out this family life because you do not always share everything.
And when you are on your own you do not talk about the little choices you take. I always found it funny to hear my family talk about which curtains they wanted to buy and they asked my parents opinion about it. My thoughts at this moment were, “That this is none of their business. Why do they give their opinion?”
Also you children bond differently with their uncles and aunts. I did not succeed in teaching my kids the Dutch language so there was a language barrier between the nieces and nephews. It was really nice that my parents brought the whole family together twice a year.
After a few years you will also lose your friends. But you will make new ones everywhere you go. Do keep in mind to talk friendly about the country you live in. French people this is really sensitive and you can read their thoughts. It will probably be something like, “If you are not satisfied, go back to your own country”. And this even worsened the last couple of years.
The strange thing is, you will always remain between two cultures. For the French I will always stay the “Dutch one” due to my way of responding to things. And the other way around is the same. Even you try so hard. You will never fit in all the way.
Where do you see yourself living in 5 years? Back to downtown Paris or maybe Hengelo again?
I still dream going back to downtown Paris but with the real estate prices nowadays this will never come true. At this moment I want to stay in St. Michel, close to my children. I hope to help them with their children in the future. Be there for them in case of illness or holidays. This is something I missed the most for myself.
“Friends abroad” is inspired on “Bloggers on the road” of Hasta la Proxima.