All you need to know about Iberian America

The Inefficiencies of Life in Latin America

Published July 27, 2020 in Personal Stories & Opinions - 0 Comments

Ah, Latin America…

A place that attracts foreigners to come here for whatever reason.

Maybe they want that lower cost of living or no taxes.

Perhaps they are sex tourists.

Or maybe they want to save the world and start an NGO!

All equally respectable motivations!

But while there are positives to living or traveling to Latin America…

It ain’t all beer, Latina tittles and beaches down here.

There’s negatives too and they should never be ignored.

So that way if you ever decide to travel or live down here…

That you are not coming in blind to how your reality is going to be.

And while the usual negatives that outsiders tend to think of are drugs and violence.

You know, Pablo Escobar and all that shit.

Those are not necessarily the negatives that first come to mind in my personal experience having been down here for 5 years now as of this writing.

One of the biggest negatives I usually come across has to do with the inefficiency of life down here.

Now what does that mean?

Well, you will end up having your days…

Where you have to deal with stupid shit repeatedly on most days of the week.

I’d venture to say every day of the week but I don’t want to be too pessimistic.

And one of those days all the annoyance built up from stupid shit happening will get to you.

Where you go back to your apartment, grab a bottle of brandy and yell out…

“Nothing FUCKING works here!”

I’ve had enough of my own days down here where I just mutter out “it’s always something!”

Whenever anyway something fucks up again.

Something that shouldn’t have fucked up.

Something that should have been so damn easy to do but yet some local people fucked it up in the most spectacular of ways.

And trust me – the degree to which local people will fuck up something so badly will make you stand back…

Stand back in AWE at just how absolutely fucked up the task was done.

Sometimes it’s impressive.

At times you wonder if some of the locals are competing with each other to fuck shit up in the worst ways of possible.

The Olympics of Fucking Shit Up – if you will.

Whoever wins such Olympics Games will get a brand prize of a bottle of aguardiente.

Why a bottle of aguardiente?

Because it represents just fine the topic at hand – fucking shit up.

In this case where an entire country – Colombia in this case – was convinced that this shitty bottle tastes better than any of the usual liquors – vodka, brandy, whiskey, rum, etc.

I digress.

Of course, it should be said that not everyone fucks up things down here.

And it mostly depends on how wealthy the specific community is.

The wealthier a place, the less things are done inefficiently.

Like how inefficiency seems to be less of an issue in Chile than Peru.

Or Peru is more efficient than say Guatemala perhaps.

And how Guatemala is more efficient in getting things done than, say, *ahem* Venezuela.

And, as I said before, there are plenty of good things about Latin America.

Again, don’t get confused – I don’t hate being down here or else I’d leave.

But let’s not ignore the negatives.

And this negative of the inefficiency of Latin America is widespread – both small and large things being fucked up.

We will discuss some relatively small examples below in 5 different countries that I have seen that reflect well enough

And then get briefly discuss the larger issues that come into play.

So let’s get started!

The Endless Lines of Mexico

Mexico City

Back when I was living in an area of Mexico City called Cuatro Caminos.

My girlfriend at the time and I went to a nearby Walmart.

Once inside, I get my cart and we go find what we need.

She suggests that we get a bag of M&Ms.

I felt that was a good idea but my Spanish was obviously malfunctioning that day because of how tired I was from my long day.

And I said to her “grabalo!”

You know, like “grab it” where grabar sounds a bit like to grab.

So “grabalo!”

Of course, she was a bit confused and I quickly realized I fucked that up the second I said it.

“Wait a second….god damn it, that’s not the right word. Tomar, Matt, tomar!” I think to myself in that instant as I correct myself before she gets the chance to pull out her camera to record a bag of M&Ms at this Walmart.

Anyway, we get our stuff and look at all the lines available…

All of the workers at the cash registers had very long lines.

But there was a self-check out line!

OK, good enough!

We get into line for the self-check out where, in theory, we would have a machine where we can scan everything and pay.

Well, we realize we are standing in line where the person at the front then has to go to another line for one of the machines.

And each of those machines have maybe 5 people at least.

So after waiting in two different lines…

We get to one and start scanning.

And the machine wouldn’t scan the cheese…

Fuck it, we don’t need to buy that now so we don’t bother with it.

Anyway, the machine gives us a receipt.

And we have to take this receipt and stand in a third line to where an employee will have to review the receipt and make sure everything in our bag is on the receipt.

Then we have to pay her instead of paying the machine.

Also, keep in mind this lady had a cash register in front of her and a scanner and everything to basically check us out and take payment.

Is that self-check out then?

Where we stand in three different lines just to get a receipt that is to be reviewed by a worker (who could have scanned everything herself anyway) and then pay her.

And keep in mind this issue of lines is not exclusive to Walmart in Mexico.

It’s more common, from what I have seen, in fancier establishments or government agencies.

Granted, Walmart isn’t fancy but I guess they want to go along with it also.

Where basically you have different lines for people to stand in for no reason.

Like the time I had to pay something at a government office in Mexico City…

And had to stand in line to get a ticket to stand in line to get a piece of paper that I had to fill out…

To where I can then stand in another line to get it reviewed briefly by a worker to then stand in a final line to pay the fucking fee that I had to pay.

Why not just have the paper available somewhere for people to take, fill it out and then have the person taking payment review briefly and take payment?

It is what it is.

Stranded on a Mountain in Peru

Machu Picchu

Going from La Paz, Bolivia to Cusco, Peru…

I took a bus that would take me from one place to the other.

Anyway, it was a long bus ride and I ended up falling asleep once we got into Peru.

I wake up a bit later…

And being a bit tired and sleepy, I didn’t notice it right away…

But the bus wasn’t moving!

And the person sitting next to me was gone…

That’s weird.

So I look around and notice that quite a few people are standing outside the bus.

I get up and get outside of the bus…

And it was sprinkling a tiny bit with plenty of clouds in the sky…

A bit cold and windy also…

And I ask the bus driver “what is going on?”

He tells me the bus broke down and is not able to keep on going.

Oh, god damn it.

So we have to wait for the next bus to get here.

And apparently I was asleep for 2 or 3 hours of this so far when the bus broke down.

And it took about 5 hours more or less for the next bus to get to us.

When it does, I get back on and fall back asleep.

Later that night at around 12 AM or 1 AM…

I wake up and am very tired and sleepy…

When I notice something…

The bus is going crazy fast.

From what I remember, there was something at the very front of the bus that indicated how fast it was going.

And a sign below it that said something along the lines of if the bus is going past the appropriate speed limit if it going past a certain speed and to report it, etc, etc…

And it was.

Now keep in mind that Peru is a very mountainous country obviously.

And when you look outside the bus window, you can see a drop that looks pretty deep.

A drop that, if a crash happened, you know you ain’t surviving.

But, in hindsight, I suspect the bus driver was probably under intense pressure to get us there as fast as possible by company orders or whatever due to the initial delay.

Even if it meant, from what I understood, driving way past the speed limit.

Just to give you an idea of how dangerous bus crashes can be in Peru, check out some videos like this one here

Looking for Food in Venezuela

Maracaibo, Venezuela

Now, to be fair, Venezuela is an easy example of the inefficiencies you can find down here.

Not really fair to bring it up since it is such an extreme case.

But it was a crazy experience for me just seeing how inefficient everything was there.

Granted, it was for only a brief period of 2 months but anyway..

Before showing up, I had a friend in Venezuela.

A woman named Zahira.

Who I met in Buenos Aires, Argentina some months prior and she happened to be back in Maracaibo at the time.

And I was spending time in Colombia at the time and wanted to take a brief trip to Venezuela since it was so close and I knew somebody there.

Not too many know about my trip since it was brief and I didn’t do much.

It was mostly just to see Venezuela very quickly.

And really what I am going to say here is not so much of a surprise to anyone…

And is more of an example of a macro example of inefficiency than a micro one like the other examples.

But the usual problems of course – that no jobs in Maracaibo were paying anything well…

That with the hyperinflation issue in Venezuela right now…

Zahira was interested in possibly trading some USD for the local currency.

Something that benefited both of us.

To the times I checked out local stores and couldn’t find all the typical stuff you would expect.

And all of this is, of course, due to issues with the larger economy and bad economic policy in general.

Among other issues that have impacted Venezuela…

I didn’t leave Venezuela surprised by what I saw but it also reinforced my previous statement.

That countries that are poorer tend to be more inefficient in how they get things done than countries that are richer.

Where, in this case, the ability of businesses to operate normally and be successful here is obviously nowhere near the ability of businesses in other Latin countries like Chile for example.

Taxi Craziness in Colombia

Barranquilla, Colombia

During my time in Colombia, I mostly lived in the city of Barranquilla.

Though I took trips to other cities and areas of Colombia as well.

But in Barranquilla, one thing I noticed was that the driving and the infrastructure were absolute shit.

Now, that’s not a surprise, that’s a common issue in various parts of Latin America.

Bad infrastructure or bad drivers.

Anytime an American goes to Tijuana for example and says the same thing…

Either way, you would get into these taxis in Barranquilla where they had no seat belts.

And where the drivers would often (not rarely but quite commonly) just honk their horns and speed past stop signs and red lights.

Basically a way of saying “FUCK YOU, I AINT STOPPING!”

Of course, question becomes what happens if two drivers have the same behavior at the same place…

Mix that in with the terrible infrastructure.

I remember talking with other Americans I knew at the time about how poorly Barranquilla was developed.

It’s a city that has a very interesting culture and nice people…

But so poorly developed.

Where the roads are so shit that they can’t even handle a little bit of rain.

And I’m not talking a hurricane necessarily.

There were days where the city took in a minor bit of rain and still had major flash floods in various points of the city.

And where I’d be stuck in a taxi waiting for the flash flood (arroyo) in front of us to be less dangerous.

Bad Food in Argentina?

Posadas, Argentina

Argentina has some of the best food of Latin America in my opinion.

Those steaks and their wine make a great combination..

But it’s not always all steaks and wine when you are living down there.

Back when I spent some months in Buenos Aires, Argentina…

I took a quick trip up to Posadas, Argentina.

There, I went to some local market to buy bread, chicken and a few other ingredients.

Mostly to buy some stuff to make a nice sandwich.

Not only did I find out that the chicken I got was way past the recommended date for consumption…

It smelled like shit and looked like shit when I took the plastic off.

Obviously, I should have looked at it better when I bought it but I assumed Argentina wouldn’t sell me a ruined chicken breast.

On top of that, I opened up the bag of bread and there was mold all across it.

So I took it back.

With the receipt in hand.

I explained nicely that the food was no good to a worker I found.

And believe this – she didn’t want to take my money back or even offer me new food.

At least initially.

She was giving me a hard time about it – not confident that I am telling the truth.

Ultimately, they agreed that I can exchange the items for something less rotten.

So I go to the chicken area and inspect it and the date of expiration – all good.

Then to the bread – and the first few bags of bread also had obvious signs of mold!

I probably went through 4 or 5 different bags until I found one that didn’t look like it had mold.

Where then I explained to a worker the issue I found about the other bags and that person took the bags away.

Fortunately, the new bag of bread and the chicken I got wasn’t bad.

But it was a pain in the ass to exchange.

Larger Societal Issues

Mexico City

Keep in mind that the inefficienes in Latin America are not just with bad local markets, crazy taxi drivers or managers at Walmart and government offices that enjoy seeing people wait in endless amounts of lines…

It also is an issue with the larger aspects of society as well.

When you are talking about, for example, corruption at government offices or terrible practices by larger businesses that don’t go punished.

To, in certain countries like Mexico, issues regarding organized crime as well.

Going back to Mexico a second to bring up an example of what I am talking about…

Way back on September 19, 2017…

It was my birthday that day.

And, funny enough, it was also the day of one of Mexico’s more destructive earthquakes that they have had in a while.

I was in a Starbucks at the time near the Angel of Independence Statue when it happened ordering a cup of ice black tea.

The earthquake happened and we all ran out.

There was some obvious damages to buildings around us…

Where there was even one building that had like a smaller building on top of it that looked like it was about to collapse.

Which, by the way, if you want to read about how building code standards are not always well respected in Mexico City, then read this article here.

Just one example of the larger scale corruption at work…

To another issue after..

Where obviously a lot of people were badly hurt by this earthquake…

And in the aftermath of the earthquake, many had concerns about donating to help the victims due in part because of the history of corruption where funds for other causes have been stolen or misappropiated.

As you can read about in this article here

Corruption as its finest.

And just another example of the larger scale inefficiencies at work in Latin America.

And, keep in mind, every country has inefficiencies to be fair.

The United States, where I am from, is no stranger to corruption and inefficiencies either.

But being an American living in Latin America…

It is quite clear to me that the inefficiency issue in Latin America, on a small and large scale, can often be way too much.

Even though most of the examples you will likely come across will be minor like having to wait in an excessive amount of lines or issues purchasing stuff that isn't ruined or broken...

It all adds up over time where the constant annoyances from shit not working will get to you.

And you might get annoyed pretty fucking quick if you have to deal with a lot of dumb stuff in only one day.

As well that some of this stuff, like the excessive lines, is just so stupid that it doesn't even make sense.

But it's part of life here -- get used to it.

It comes with the territory, I suppose you can say.

And as I said before, it varies quite a bit by which part of Latin America you are living in and how developed that area is.

But it also depends too, in my opinion, on how deep your roots are in Latin America.

If you are just a tourist here for a week, you probably won't notice as much of what I am saying.

A resident or non-official resident who has spent years here but doesn't have a house, children, wife, etc?

You will be more exposed to it obviously.

And, based from what I have heard from other expats in person and online, the inefficiency issue becomes notably worse when you start establishing stronger roots.

Like trying to purchase a house for example or start a business....

Then things can get really fucking annoying from what I have heard.

Which is something I go into more detail in this article I wrote here...

Either way....

Obviously, for me, the benefits of living down here outweigh the negatives, such as the inefficiencies.

But, as I said before, just don’t walk into Latin America thinking its all perfect.

Don’t be naïve.

Understand some of the issues or annoyances you might face so that you can be more prepared for life down here..

And also so that your expectations are not unrealistic.

Now if you have any of your own thoughts on this topic..

Just leave a comment or reach out to me by email or my Twitter here.

Thanks!

Best regards,

Matt

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