Saving and Spending in South America

¡Hola, todos! For the past month, I've been on the road — first at a conference of financial bloggers in Chicago, and then trekking through the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes. For most of this time, I've been without an internet connection. It's tough to blog about money when you're trekking to the top of a 5350-meter (17,650-foot) mountain!

The adventurous part of my trip is over. I'm back with the ten million residents of Lima, Peru, and my wife will soon join me. We'll spend a couple of weeks doing the tourist thing while our brave housesitter herds our five cats.

Now that I'm back in the world of reliable telecommunications, it's time for me to share a few of the things I've seen, to give a glimpse of what life is like in this corner of South America.

Constant Chaos
Peru graffitiFor me, the most difficult adjustment has been coping with the constant chaos. As Kris will attest, I'm not the most ordered and organized person in the world. But I am American. As Americans, we're used to schedules and systems and routine. Those notions don't always work here. Sometimes they don't work at all. I've had to relax and just go with whatever happens. (Our guides often joke about “Peruvian time” — schedules are approximate.)

The most obvious chaos is the traffic. I'm sure there are traffic laws in Peru and Bolivia, but they're not really followed. Instead, there's a complex dance between cars, buses, and pedestrians. It's frightening at first, but exhilarating once you surrender and join the fun. But that's not the only chaos.

For instance, on the night before we crossed from Peru into Bolivia, our guide came to me. “I have bad news,” said Pepe Lucho. “Americans need a visa to enter Bolivia. That means you need to fill out some paperwork. You also need passport photos. And $135 US. We leave at 7am.” It was 9pm.

No worries. I grabbed one of my new friends, and we headed into Puno's crowded streets. Though it was a Wednesday evening, the local university students were parading through town, beating drums, blowing trumpets, and dancing. We never figured out why, but the celebration lasted for hours. Stephen and I threaded our way around the throng of partiers to find a bank machine. We also located a place that would take passport photos. Using my rudimentary Spanish — I've only been learning since the middle of June — I paid seven soles (about $3 US), climbed a rickety staircase, and had my photo taken in a closet. Five minutes later, we were back at the hotel ready to go.

But the next morning, Pepe Lucho had more bad news. “Your photos are on a white background. The Bolivians want them on a red background. It's crazy! But we don't have time. Let's just use these and see what happens.”

What happened was that the men at the border post didn't even want the photos. The shack was crowded and people were pushy and they were frustrated with my Spanish skills (or lack thereof). Muttering to each other, they took my money ($140 US — no change), ignored my photos, and rushed me through the visa process. What we had feared might take an hour only took three minutes. I'm fairly certain that things weren't done “by the book”, but I'm not complaining. I was in Bolivia, on my way to the Condoriri Real.

Having Enough
By U.S. standards, much of Bolivia and Peru might seem poor and unkempt. It's easy to lapse into judgements based on our own cultural values, but I worry that's a mistake. Yes, trash litters the streets. Yes, there are lots of unfinished projects everywhere you look. Yes, the work ethic is different. But different doesn't mean wrong.

“The Aymara people are not lazy,” cautioned Freddy, our Bolivian guide, as our boat motored across Lake Titicaca. The Aymara are an indigenous group predominant on the Bolivian side of the lake. “They don't live like this because they're lazy. It's not that they don't want to work. They live like this because they have Enough.” I grabbed my pen and notepad and began to write.

El Mercado Rodriguez, La Paz, Bolivia
A banana-seller en el mercado Rodriguez de La Paz, Bolivia

 

“If you go to a market and try to buy all the fruit from the vendor, she won't sell it to you,” Freddy explained. “She'll say, ‘If you buy all of this, what am I going to do for the rest of the day?' There's more to the transaction than money.”

“Plus, the Aymara hold onto what they earn. They save. Sometimes they're called the jews of the Andes. You'll see an Aymara work with basic tools and what looks like very little wealth. But then they go to the bank and they have a lot saved. In fact, often they work for months, living with nothing, in order to spend extravagantly for four or five days. They'll spend all their money quickly on a fiesta, to throw a party for friends and family.”

“Why?” asked somebody in our group. “Why do they spend it all at once?”

“Why?” Freddy said. “Because if you've drinked, if you've danced, if you've loved, all of that is yours. Nobody can take it.”

Note: “Are you a journalist?” Freddy asked me later. “I noticed you took notes about what I was saying.” I told him that I'm a professional blogger, and that piqued his interest. Freddy was a journalist for many years, and even wrote a satire about Bolivian history. Now he writes blogs of his own to document life as a tour guide.

 

Cost of Living
Wages are low in Bolivia, but so is the cost of living. People are poor financially, especially when compared to countries like the United States, but they eat well. “For the cost of one glass of Coca-Cola in a Swiss restaurant, I could buy twelve liters here,” Freddy told us at lunch one day.

And there's no question that the cost of living is different. At the moment, the exchange rate is roughly 6-2/3 Bolivianos (Bs) to one U.S. Dollar. That's fifteen cents per Boliviano. Or, as I liked to think of it, 20 Bs to $3. And twenty Bolivianos goes a long way.

Here are some examples:

    • One morning, I bought a bottle of Coke for 1.5 Bs (about 22 cents). I had to drink the bottle right there and hand it back to the vendor, but it was worth it.

 

    • I purchased a glossy news magazine for 15 Bs (or about $2.25).

 

    • I got a meticulous shave and haircut for 50 Bs (or about $7.50).

 

Haircut and shave in La Paz, Boliva
Getting a haircut and a shave in La Paz, Bolivia

 

    • In a typical cafe, a cheeseburger costs 25 Bs or 30 Bs (about $4 or $5) and a soft drink costs about 7 Bs ($1). (At one cafe, the owner came out to chat with us. He was from New York, and owns several restaurants in La Paz. When he heard I was from Oregon, he raved about how much he loved the state.)

 

    • On our final night together, we had delicious 400g Argentinian steaks for 85 Bs (about $12.75).

 

    • And one afternoon, we stopped to indulge in the two-for-one ice cream deal at a popular store where the locals were queued under the hot sun. For 9 Bs each (about $1.35), we came away with gigantic bowls of ice cream and cookies.

 

  • My favorite: I can buy Bolivian comics for 5 Bs to 10 Bs each (between 75 cents and $1.50).

Here's another example: While wandering the markets of La Paz, my new friend Stephen found a woman weaving small bracelets with individual names on them. “I want to get one of these for my son James,” he said. After waiting twenty minutes and paying five Bolivianos (about 75 cents), Stephen had his hand-made bracelet.

The Cost of Travel
Our Bolivian guide had done some traveling of his own. Freddy has been to England, Denmark, Switzerland, and Germany. “With the money I spent on travel, I could have bought a new car here in Bolivia. But I bought a used Volkswagen instead,” Freddy told me as we walked to the top of Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca. (There are a surprising number of old VW Bugs floating around the country.)

“I think that was the best investment I made in my life. By traveling, I learned many things.”

And while some of you will groan to hear me sing this song once again, I agree. Though cheap relative to my Africa trip last February, my South American adventure is still costing me $150 a day — not including airfare. To me, this is a bargain. The past three weeks have been pure magic.

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu, one of the wonders of the world

 

In October, I've walked more than 120km across beautiful Peruvian mountains, over the high plains of Bolivia, and through vibrant cities teeming with people. I've chewed coca leaves, sipped corn juice, and eaten alpaca. (And guinea pig — guinea pig is delicious!) I've traveled with a group of intelligent, hilarious Australians. I've had conversations with other travelers from around the world.

Right now, at this point in my life, this is money well spent.

Sure, I could stay at home and read about these places. I could look at photos on the internet. But sometimes photos aren't enough. Sometimes words aren't enough. Sometimes the only way to experience a place is to experience it. It's not enough for me to just read about travel. I want to do it.

I write a lot about conscious spending,about how to track your financial health and maintaining your credit report also about cutting back hard on the things that don't matter so that you can spend on the things that do matter. This notion may seem tired or mundane. It's not. The deeper I get into the third stage of personal finance, the more I realize that conscious spending is what it's all about.

Learn what you love. Manage your money so you can spend on whatever this might be. Ignore everything else. Do this, my friends, and you will have all the wealth you need.

Crossing the 4950-meter pass near Salcantay
Crossing a 4950-meter pass near Salcantay — chewing coca leaves

 

Reminder: You can read more about my adventures at Far Away Places.

 

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SB @ One Cent At A Time
SB @ One Cent At A Time
8 years ago

Very true closing statement JD. Save money to spend on things you like. Getting the things we like is true wealth, in deed. I was reading this post oand in every line I found similarity between my birth country and Peru. In India we have all the traffic laws, but its not followed. You’ll hardly find a car without dents and bends. Vehicles honk to caution others about their urgency, you let it pass. Problem is every one honks at each other. Like Peru, cost of living in India is lower. We enjoy a good meal for $1 or less.… Read more »

Autumn
Autumn
7 years ago

Thank you very much for the Bolivia information. I’m planning a trip to Bolivia and I had no idea I needed a visa until I read your article. Could you please share with me the hotel where you stayed? Any other information it would be greatly appreciated.

cca
cca
8 years ago

I feel as if i with you! Such good life lessons. Thanks for sharing

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago

Sounds great! Glad you’re having a good time!

KS
KS
8 years ago

Haven’t had a chance to catch up on your blog lately – but loving your adventures! I’m “spending money on the things I love” by writing today at a local pub – with great lunch, hot tea, wonderful music, and a pub owner who remembered me from when I arrived 6 months ago.

Penny Pincher
Penny Pincher
8 years ago

Thanks for sharing! I had a similarly cheap trip to Germany about 17 years ago. What made it cheap was staying at a friend’s relative’s house, and I sang opera on the street to subsidize it. We cooked our own food instead of eating in restaurants constantly (although there were restaurants). It’s possible to travel cheap even in expensive countries.

Pamela
Pamela
8 years ago

Love your description of your trip so far. It certainly convinces me that your use of money on this trip is more satisfying than another dozen pairs of shoes, a new car, and weekly, greasy meals out. 🙂

Becka
Becka
8 years ago

Absolutely. You don’t save money to have a big bank account; you save money so you can use it on things that improve your life. Your trip sounds amazing, JD.

Excellent use of “pique”! 😉

Emily Guy Birken
Emily Guy Birken
8 years ago

One of the things I love about traveling is how it takes you outside of your assumptions and biases and self! There is nothing like experiencing another culture to help you recognize that your own thoughts are following a well-worn groove and that you might need to shake things up in how you do things. I spent 6 months in France when I was 21, and though Western Europe is very much like America, I found that my time there really helped me to understand that much of what I take for granted is not how the rest of the… Read more »

Theresa
Theresa
8 years ago

I know exactly how you feel about traveling, JD. I am leaving in exactly a week to spend a month traveling all around Australia. Next year I want to take a shorter trip to South America, especially Peru and Machu Picchu. That would leave Antarctica as the only continent I haven’t visited and/or lived on. 🙂

Eileen
Eileen
8 years ago

That shaving photo is priceless. I could stare at that photo for hours, years. There is so much in that photo. I’m so glad you guys got that.

Annelise
Annelise
8 years ago

“But different doesn’t mean wrong.”

I think it’s a good point that we shouldn’t go around the world assuming the American (or whatever country’s) way is best and that anything different is wrong. However, at the same time I don’t think we should be afraid to criticize other countries or cultures if our criticisms are thoughtful and constructive. If everybody was content with “Enough” just think of all the technological breakthroughs and social changes that make our lives so much better that wouldn’t have happened because nobody could be bothered to challenge the status quo or strive for better.

Steven
Steven
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

To a point, I’d agree with you…then, how much of that advancement has only been to further the mindless consumer culture?

SEinSF
SEinSF
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

Good point. It goes the other way too, though. There may be things that other countries do differently that might work better than the way we do it in America.

My first thought is the siesta. It is a shame that, by American culture becoming pervasive, the siesta is becoming extinct. I think we’d be so much healthier, and probably less obese too, if we valued sleep and rest here in America.

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago

Hey, if you were looking for a place where traffic laws aren’t really followed and cars do an intricate dance, you didn’t have to go all the way to Peru. Just come to Boston! (extra added attraction–no useful street signs!)

All kidding aside, though, it sounds like a wonderful trip!

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
8 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

This is going to sound nerdy, I know, but traffic around the world fascinates me. I’ve never been to Boston, but I’ve been to some other U.S. cities where traffic scares the hell out of me. But maybe that’s how everyone feels when they go to a city that isn’t there own. Here in Portland, we have a lot of pedestrians and, especially, a lot of bicyclists. I know a lot of new drivers here are scared by all the cyclists and afraid of causing accidents. But after a while, you get used to it, and you learn to share… Read more »

Lawyerette
Lawyerette
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

JD, if traffic fascinates you, read Tom Vanderbilt’s book of the same name (if you haven’t already). Great read on why Americans drive the way we do, and some comparative analysis to other places.

bethh
bethh
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I always think something is wrong with me when I drive in Portland after being away for a while (I live elsewhere but visit often). The drivers are so freaking mellow I always feel like some insane road rage person! Of course I learned to drive in Rhode Island and I swear this is true: for years I didn’t realize drivers are required to use turn signals 🙂 That sums up the RI mentality for you! I lived in Boston for 3 years and loved being a pedestrian there – you get to be fearless/insane. OH and I was a… Read more »

Adrian
Adrian
8 years ago

J.D.,
It is my personal belief that your vacation epitomizes the true nature of “richness” behind the concept of “Get Rich Slowly” as this blog isn’t simply a diatribe concerning varied methodology for maximizing financial & materialistic gain, but rather it is often a psychological dialogue amongst readers; encouraging us to define and seek our very own concept of ‘wealth’ of life.

Savor the richness of company, beauty & scenery J.D. — you deserve it.

P.S. The photograph of Machu Picchu is breath-taking! I am also quite pleased with the excellent material written in your absence 🙂

Sandra
Sandra
8 years ago

“But different doesn’t mean wrong”

I wish more people understood this. Judging everything by what we’re used to causes travelers to miss out on so many rich experiences.

I’m glad you’re having such a great adventure. Your descriptions are a delight

Anne
Anne
8 years ago

I guess I’m the only one who finds all this travel duller than dull to read about. Ahhhh yes another pretty landscape picture of a pretty place. (Oh I forgot, it’s halfway across the world so it must an amazing experience worthy of my awe and jealousy.) I’m sorry, but I don’t think travel writing is your strength. I had hoped you’d keep it on your travel blog. It’s not shocking or even interesting that people in different countries and places have different ways of going about their daily lives. Anyone who has ever left his home and gone ten… Read more »

Judy
Judy
8 years ago
Reply to  Anne

The deep philosophical perspective that ran through the commentary is not something that I would expect to find on a travel blog. This definitely inspires me to figure out ways to live more frugally in order to do more traveling. Money does not equal wealth; experience equals wealth. I don’t read travel blogs. I don’t care for spectator sports. I’d rather be a participant. I don’t consider this a financial blog but a lifestyle blog. I want to learn more about how to get the most out of life. This was a very inciteful piece of journalism possibly written just… Read more »

Adam P
Adam P
8 years ago
Reply to  Anne

I agree with you Anne, seeing other people’s travels is boring to me…with a minor “but”, I think the point of: “Learn what you love. Manage your money so you can spend on whatever this might be. Ignore everything else. Do this, my friends, and you will have all the wealth you need.” is a very good point JD makes and maybe showing his enthusiasm for his travel brings this point to life? So therefore it’s relevant here because he brings it back to that good point? Maybe. I dunno. Going to a 3rd world slum to see the Real… Read more »

Mark
Mark
8 years ago
Reply to  Anne

Completely agree anne, JD is a much better money writer then travel writer.

congrats that you are doing something you value, but this really belongs on that travel blog.

Steven
Steven
8 years ago
Reply to  Anne

I disagree. There are a million and one lessons in this blog that are relevent to the site. I’m not going to list them all here because it’s not my job to interpret a post, but I think if you read the post without the prejudice of it being “just another travel post” then the points that JD are trying to relate to personal finance, life, priorities, etc are perfectly clear. I didn’t read this post as a “Hey, look at me” post at all.

Annelise
Annelise
8 years ago
Reply to  Anne

Anne, I did quite enjoy the article, but I understand your point of view. My main problem with the article was the subtle moral relativism angle of it, which crops up a lot in travel journalism, especially when referring to corrupt or poor Third World countries. Another thing that irked me, as I’ve mentioned before, was the use of metric units. I had no idea 120 kilometers is equal to about 75 miles, for example (I thought it was closer to 100). And would any of us know how big a “400g steak” was without Googling it first? Assuming most… Read more »

Allie
Allie
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

It did bug me, but I think it’s not that far out of the realm of possibility to work out a general idea of what 400 grams is if you’ve paid much attention to boxed and canned food packaging, where I see repeated over and over the equivalence between one pound and 454 grams. I can’t do the exact math of 400 grams in my head but I can get a general idea of what it’s close to.

TrixieSF
TrixieSF
8 years ago

When I was in Peru 10 years ago, it was explained to me that houses aren’t taxed until they are “completed”, so that’s why they all seem unfinished, with rebar sticking up into the sky. That plus the rooftop satellite TV dishes make a nice dichotomy.

Lanjha
Lanjha
8 years ago

Sorry JD,

You came off for a bit as a Poverty tourist through some comments in this article.

Jen
Jen
8 years ago

You’ve gotten me all fired up again about doing what I want. Travel is a bug that’s been niggling at me for years. After extensive travel throughout the US and one trip to England, I’ve been stagnant at home for the past 8 years. One of my goals is to walk the Inca Trail, which is very hard if you’re in good shape (which I’m not). So, I’m now exercising to get myself in shape, lose weight and eating better. On the PF front, I’m paying off the last of my CC debt (early next year, baby!), then will split… Read more »

Robert
Robert
8 years ago

Who is J.D. Roth and what is he doing writing for this blog?

Alex
Alex
8 years ago

You could have edited or addressed the implicit stereotyping and anti-semitism in your guide’s comment about Jewish people and saving. It’s one thing to avoid uncomfortable situations by not addressing it when it happens, but it’s irresponsible to write about it to your many readers without comment. I have been a long time reader and supporter of this blog, but this post has made me uncomfortable with my subscription. I hope you will post and address this concern. Thank you.

SEinSF
SEinSF
8 years ago
Reply to  Alex

I disagree. I wouldn’t want J.D. to sanitize the quote from his guide to make it more PC for American audiences. I would prefer to hear the guide’s thoughts in his own words, especially because in this case it wasn’t a negative thing from the guide’s perspective, but a positive quality. I think it would be a bad practice to misquote someone because they used a word you do not like. Also, if we don’t acknowledge the current situation we can’t change it. People won’t stop using “the J word” if we pretend like it never happens. You can’t change… Read more »

Alex
Alex
8 years ago
Reply to  SEinSF

I see your point SEinSF, but I think that not commenting at all implies tacit acceptance of the premise. The natural reaction to the text as it is written is that ‘Jew’ is a benign descriptive of someone who saves money. The fact that it may have been meant as a ‘positive’ is irrelevant. Many harmful and insensitive comments are often cloaked in that veil of harmlessness.

jim
jim
8 years ago
Reply to  Alex

I have to agree with Alex. Lets not assume that guys comment was positive. He may have been disparaging two groups at once with a jolly smile on his face. Historically Jews have been stereotyped negatively in this respect and repeating such stereotypes isn’t good. I don’t think there is a need to repeat peoples racial/religious stereotypical comments regardless of their origin or intent.

A Jew
A Jew
8 years ago
Reply to  SEinSF

Umm… It’s not offensive to use the word Jew in its proper context. I am a Jew. (Not an insult). Using the term “J word” is offensive. It implies the mere mention of Jewishness is offensive.

What is offensive is allowing this man’s antisemitism to be presented as some kind of folksy wisdom.

Dana
Dana
8 years ago
Reply to  A Jew

This is the first time I have ever posted a comment on any blog, though I have been reading GRS and other blogs daily for years. JD, I, too, was saddened to see you repeat this slur so cavalierly. This was an offensive comment based on dangerous stereotypes. It is not a matter of “political correctness”, but recognition of a thousand years of persecution based on exactly this sort of stereotyping, which I believe should have led you either to decline to repeat the slur, or at least to disavow its antisemitic content. Words have power and meaning, and to… Read more »

G. M. N.
G. M. N.
8 years ago
Reply to  Alex

I think that people in this day and age are too sensitive for their own good. There will be prejudice and bad mouthing as long as there are human beings in the world. The only thing we can do to make things better is to act responsibly ourselves and not down others for their views. I do not have any prejudices because I would lose 3/4 of the human race to talk to. But I believe people are the best things God ever made and, if he doesn’t force them to a certain viewpoint, why should I think I have… Read more »

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
8 years ago

“For the cost of one glass of Coca-Cola in a Swiss restaurant, I could buy twelve liters here”

Reminds me of ordering a diet coke in Munich and getting charged 6 euros for it. I just drank beer for the rest of the trip, it comes in glasses twice as big for half the price.

evelyn
evelyn
8 years ago

J.D., I think your account is fascinating. Great photos too! I especially like how you weave your travel experience in with the financial aspect, which ties in so perfectly to this blog. I’m very interested in other cultures’ priorities when it comes to working vs. leisure time, and what those terms mean in different cultures. It always makes me reevaluate my own priorities. I think this was one of your best blog entries yet. Thank you!

Julie
Julie
8 years ago

“Guinea Pig is delicious.” Well, that solves two financial problems: how much we spend at the pet store and how much we spend at the grocery store.

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
8 years ago
Reply to  Julie

Well, the guinea pig isn’t exactly inexpensive here. In fact, it’s usually the priciest item on the menu. And the tastiest.

Brendan
Brendan
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Guinea pig is expensive. I lived in Ecuador for a few years and it was a delicacy. It was also common banquet food. I went to a few weddings and I was usually served a quarter guinea pig, a quarter rabbit, AND a quarter chicken on top of half a dozen boiled potatoes and a few cups of corn (mote). I was the godfather at a wedding/baptism for one of the poorest families I knew and they had saved 7 years to have that party. They gave away tons of food and it was a great party. They even gave… Read more »

Quest
Quest
8 years ago

Fabulous post. I just love to read about your travels. Conscious spending really is the key isn’t it? I’m still finding that out but it’s beginning to stick. Just this morning, I let the immediate family know that I’m going to London and Paris this spring and that I’m cutting back on expenses until then so that I can afford to go with the spouse. It has become suddenly very important that I accomplish this trip with the spouse because the things I care the most about right now are to be found on that trip. Those ‘things’ would be… Read more »

Piccolina
Piccolina
8 years ago

Good for you JD!! I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself and fulfilling your dreams!

And the overall point of the post is very relevant to personal finance– spend money on the things that matter to you. Whether you’re an American who wants to travel to Bolivia or a Bolivian who wants to celebrate with his friends.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago

JD, Oh, the politics maaaaaan! Whyyyy? Rich country / poor country = politics Indigenous rights = politics Eating little pets = politics Bolivia / Peru = politics Tourism = politics Coca leaf = politics!! Coca-cola = politics!!! The metric system = politics (the French Revolution) Currency exchange = politics Cheap labor = politics Lima vs. The Andes = politics maaaaaan!! Oh I am tired of all the politics at GRS. Why can’t you tell us about credit card rates. Boo hoo hooo waaaaah. 😀 — Anyway, good to hear you’re having fun! Cuy (not a pig, not from Guinea ;))… Read more »

margot
margot
8 years ago

The most powerful idea I’ve heard in a long time = the idea of “having enough” and realizing it. That would truly revolutionize American culture if only people would internalize it – no debt, so much less unhappiness (and mental health drugs), more time spent doing what people love and more free time, more contentment, less stress, etc.

Sara S
Sara S
8 years ago

Hi J.D. Glad to hear you are having a great time! I am a frequent visitor (first time commenter) and reader of the blog and was excited to see a post about Peru and Bolivia. I have traveled in both and spend time in Peru traveling and visiting family. I am also doing doctoral work related to Peru and violence against women. Although as a traveler it may be easy to get the idea that people in these two countries live well with the little money they have, if you did a bit deeper (and leave the positive talk of… Read more »

Sandal
Sandal
8 years ago

JD – enjoy the blog and like the travel post but you are doing a terrible disservice to the travelbugs out there: traveling in the developing world for $150/day? I’ve been to S. America twice, and learned Spanish (very poor Spanish) along the way and lived without a guide to sanitize the experience. Kids – do not, not, not feel you need a guide – buy a LP book, a Spanish for Dummies + dictionary, and get moving. You’ll figure it out, trust me. Have a great time but please find an author who can help teach folks how to… Read more »

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
8 years ago
Reply to  Sandal

Hey, Sandal. I don’t feel the cost is outrageous for the level of service I’m receiving. Remember: This is the first time I’ve done anything like this (trekking), and I’m a bit of a chicken. I’m a small-town boy from Oregon, and just learning to travel. Having said that, I’m eager to try something like this again on my own in the future. Doing this once gives me the confidence that I can make my way on my own in the future. Right now, my travel isn’t the cheapest, and I know that. But my goal is to travel for… Read more »

Vince Thorne
Vince Thorne
8 years ago

Amazing post. You make me want to be there. Keep it coming!

MJ
MJ
8 years ago

I agree on the remark about their being “the jews” of the region. This stuck out like a neon light in this otherwise interesting article. I don’t think quoting people’s casual anti-Semitism is innocuous. This surprised me because this blog is normally so level-headed and thoughtful. But that remark was beyond the pale.

Harmony
Harmony
8 years ago

I have to say I think this belonged on his travel blog not GRS. The main point was about travel not money. It didn’t even qualify as an article about how to travel frugally (3 weeks at $150/day = $3,150 not including airfare) How is this helpful? You could argue that the article is about conscious spending, but that topic has been done to death lately. JD, please try to write an articles without using this term for a few weeks, because at the end of the day conscious spending is still about SPENDING. It is like a weightloss blog… Read more »

Kristen
Kristen
8 years ago

Boy. Seems a lot of people put on their cranky pants before reading the article. Sheesh.

PMAISKI
PMAISKI
8 years ago
Reply to  Kristen

Thought so too, but then I have always thought americans in general are overly concerned about political correctness.
oh well maybe dats wat make them unique?

Maggie
Maggie
8 years ago

I’m really surprised that you felt the need to point out that people in South America are “not lazy”. It implies that you thought they were lazy before. That and referring to Jews in terms of their money making abilities suggests that perhaps you need to take a long hard look at your stereotyping of ethnic groups that you do not belong to. Also you are surprised by the presence of Volkswagon bugs, but please realize that they were made until the mid-2000’s in both Brazil and Mexico.

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
8 years ago
Reply to  Maggie

Maggie, I didn’t make the remark about jews, and I didn’t stereotype South Americans as lazy. Somebody else did. In truth, I haven’t found the people in Peru or Bolivia lazy at all.

jim
jim
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Yeah we know you didn’t say it. Thats not an excuse to print it. You don’t have to write down and then report in your blog every stupid thing your tour guide says. You choose what to share with us and what to filter. I think you chose wrong in this case.

The comment about Jews doesn’t really add to the article. It could have easily been omitted. Its clearly offensive.
I don’t see a good reason for including it.

Cesar
Cesar
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

JD keep on doing what you do exactly how you do it. Continue to publish your articles raw and uncensored. The idea that you have to censor what someone else said is absurd. If that’s exactly the way the tour guide said it then that’s exactly the way I want to read it. If I can’t handle that then the problem lies with me and not the author.

JCC
JCC
8 years ago
Reply to  Cesar

I agree that it’s not offensive for JD to report what the guide said. It’s factual, doesn’t mean he agrees with it. What kind of narrative would a non-fiction narrative be if the writer left out awkward moments, dumb comments, etc.?

Melissa
Melissa
8 years ago

JD, I don’t want to pile on abuse, but I would also like to voice my concern that you’d include the “jews of the Andes” comment here. It seems clearly, extremely inappropriate to me; what was your perspective on it?

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
8 years ago
Reply to  Melissa

My perspective on the comment is that we’d never use it in the U.S. because we’re concerned about political correctness, but everyone in the group understood what the guide meant, and it wasn’t appropriate to challenge him on cultural stereotypes at that moment. It was, however, a little ironic, that he was using a cultural stereotype while trying to counter what he perceived as a cultural stereotype of his own people.

midwesty
midwesty
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Would we never say it in the U.S. because we’re concerned about political correctness, or because some of us realize it’s offensive?

Debtheaven
Debtheaven
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

“My perspective on the comment is that we’d never use it in the U.S. because we’re concerned about political correctness” But, by quoting it, you did indeed choose to “use it in the US”, since your blog is based in the US. By the way, Jew takes a capital “J”. If you’re going to be “politically incorrect”, at least use proper usage. That comment saddened me greatly. I expected more from you JD. Looks like maybe you can expand your horizons even from home. Personally I think one of the primary joys of travelling is to help dispel prejudices and… Read more »

Anne
Anne
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Roth, now you are coming off as an asshole.

Stop trying to defend the inclusion. Take your licks. Be a gentleman and apologize to your readership and especially your Jewish readership.

While you are doing all this world travel to expand your mind (as if you were some teenager), you might want to stop at a Holocaust museum.

Brendan
Brendan
8 years ago
Reply to  Anne

Anne, you many have a valid argument to make and I am always able to respect well-reasoned points of view with which I happen to disagree, but you don’t help yourself by taking petty shots. Also, when people are trying to carefully express their opinions on a controversial issue, being the first to call someone an asshole kind of makes everyone else want to hold up a mirror.

Anne
Anne
8 years ago
Reply to  Anne

I don’t think Roth is an asshole. I think he’s coming off as one. I used the phrase deliberately.

His response was rude and cruel.

michelle
michelle
8 years ago

I read everyday but have never commented before. I, for one, am tired of reading about how tired and sick to death of certain topics commenters are. While I can appreciate the value of feedback and the opportunity to voice your opinion (I’m doing it right now!), I feel like some readers are trying to force J.D. and this blog to retain its initial vision. That’s just not realistic. We all know that the only constant in life is change. If we want this blog to retain J.D.’s authentic voice – which is probably what attracted most of us to… Read more »

Andrea
Andrea
8 years ago

1. Cuy– you ate Cuy??? I couldn’t do it in Ecuador- I saw three guinea pigs skewered together. Probably I would have been even less likely at one of the places where they filet the piggy whole and fry it with potatoes

Brendan
Brendan
8 years ago

Wow, all of you who are judging JD and saying he needs to grow or mature or you are disappointed in him are truly pathetic, irritating people. I have been in Peru and a number of other countries and spent enough time in them to learn about a lot of our cultural differences and that absolutely includes views on race, religion, gender, and politics. You don’t really get into a culture and walk around in it when you are “on vacation” or a business trip. I lived in South America for years. The world is a very diverse place. JD… Read more »

JCC
JCC
8 years ago

What an unbelievable experience and opportunity! I would love to be able to do that. Who cares what it cost – it’s not like JD is spending massive amounts of money while he’s doing it, and this is something that he will treasure forever. (I am very jealous!)
There’s more to life than worrying about money.

MikeTheRed
MikeTheRed
8 years ago

I find a lot of comments on this thread in particular interesting as they illustrate something that has bugged me about American culture for the last decade. The idea that offensive topics, thoughts, words should not be acknowledged or allowed to be brought up. As if ignoring them will make the bad things go away. Racial stereotypes and biases (especially antisemitism) exist in the wide world beyond our tidy suburban enclaves. It’s out there, and it’s been out there for all of human history. To try and turn a blind eye to it, to just not speak of it doesn’t… Read more »

Brendan
Brendan
8 years ago
Reply to  MikeTheRed

Very well put.

Anne
Anne
8 years ago
Reply to  Brendan

I disagree. Very poorly put IMO.

I’ve experienced foreign racism of various types. When encountering it, I don’t fight it. Though I have often be rendered speechless. I wouldn’t casually perpetuate racist language by passing it on to others without comment. It gives the impression that this is something appropriate. It’s not.

Unless of course Roth approves of the comment. Maybe he does. Who knows?

jim
jim
8 years ago
Reply to  Anne

“I wouldn’t casually perpetuate racist language by passing it on to others without comment. It gives the impression that this is something appropriate.” EXACTLY. Nobody is saying we should shove our heads in the sand and pretend that bigotry doesn’t exist. But don’t mix the bigotry in with other things stir it up and then slap it on the web in a personal finance blog as if the bigotry actually belongs there or is relevant. If the tour guide cursed like a drunken sailor would JD have repeated all the cursing verbatim? No I don’t think so. Thats an example… Read more »

bethh
bethh
8 years ago

I’d like to hear a practical suggestion – if he chose to include the guide’s comment, yet wanted to do a disclaimer, how could it have been written that would feel okay to the readers? Is there any way to include that anecdote that would make it “okay” or is dropping it out of the story the only acceptable option? I’m genuinely curious here.

Erin
Erin
8 years ago
Reply to  bethh

It wasn’t so much that JD quoted this guy that bothered me, it’s that he quoted it without comment, which made it seem acceptable to him. If he had said parenthetically after the quote what he said in his response in the comments, which is that he found it ironic that the guide was perpetuating one stereotype while trying to dispel another about his own culture, then it would have been clear that he himself realized that what the man said is very offensive to many people.

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