Top 3: Bolivia, Brazil, Romania
After travelling over two years here is a list of our favourite places so far. We have been constantly asked for recommendations and if there are any places where we will return to. Well, there are over 30, but the top three are clearly above all the rest: Bolivia, Brazil, and Romania (in alphabetical order).
Friendly and humble Bolivians
Here is an oxymoron for you: We travelled across the country by bus experiencing a lot of troubles during the three weeks of our stay: delays of 20 hours, mostly because of tyres breaking down in poor road conditions, uncomfortable buses with no air-conditioning nor adjustable seats, stomach problems caused by low hygiene level. However, we enjoyed the trip and the country enormously. Why? The main reason were Bolivian people. Nowhere had people been so friendly, helpful and honest. They never boasted that they would have something to offer that they didn’t have in reality. They humbly stated the things as they were. During the whole trip we were not cheated even once, on the contrary, sometimes we had to make sure that the seller really got his/her share. As to the country itself, it is simply stunning. Lake Titicaca is a beautiful sight even for two Finns coming from a country of thousands of lakes, and the Andes are amazing. Definitely a country not to be missed!
Here is another contradictory liking. We wrote a satire of Brazilian tourism industry describing all the tricks we had encountered, and which had irritated us greatly during our 3-month stay in Brazil. Despite all the cheating, especially in the touristy North-Eastern part of the country, Brazil is one of our top picks where we have already returned twice since the writing of our book. Brazil is such an enormous country that when travelling from the European-style South to the Central American North you will discover everything possible. But wherever you go, you will discover that Brazil is easygoing and a great fun. Brazilians know how to have a good time: there are always a lot of parties going on, people gathering on the beach, and enjoying life. Rio is not in vain praised as one the most beautiful cities in the world, and it hosts the biggest, though over-marketed Rio de Janeiro Samba Carnival. But the next time when we head there, we will learn some more Portuguese. “Obrigado” and “Dois café con leite, por favor” is not enough especially now that we are tea drinkers. Our hospitable Brazilian friends Rosana, Pedro and Ralph make the country one of our top three homes in the world!
Romanians And The Land of Count Dracula
Päivi was tempted by the idea to visit Transsilvania, Count Dracula’s home province. It proved to be one of the most beautiful places we have visited: forests were fairy-tale like with rich vegetation, and everywhere around us the snow-topped Carpathians. The castle which had inspired Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” was of course a megalomaniac tourist attraction surrounded by a big market place, and it didn’t actually have any of the gloomy atmosphere of Stoker’s great novel with its white-painted walls and low ceilings. But the little villages were charming, and the nearby city of Brasov elegant with renovated old houses, little alleys, street cafés and restaurants, and of course the lovely mountains surrounding it all. Our best ever restaurant experience has been in Brasov’s theatre restaurant. The service was suave and attentive but not pushy, atmosphere nicely bohemian and the food and wine rich in taste. Unfortunately Romania is joining the EU shortly, which will make it as expensive and workaholic as any other European country. In summer 2006 the prices were still considerably lower making it even more pleasant. And there was no arrogance in Romanian people about the coming membership unlike in some other former East European countries where people were thinking too highly of themselves and the prices had already hiked even above some old member countries.
What have we learnt to value?
The places we like are actually far from perfect. In case of Bolivia and Romania, it is precisely admitting this state of affairs that is so disarming. It’s enough to try your best. When people are honest and humble, we accept the downsides gladly. We have respect to everybody who respects us in return. And we don’t enjoy arguing with people but in some countries it is the only way to make things happen. The only motivation for us to argue is striving to make a change. If nobody ever complains, more and more people will have to face the same problems over and over again. And everyone will eventually suffer without anyone having a chance to right wrongs. Critique doesn’t mean we don’t like something, but it certainly shows that we care and do not hesitate demonstrating that. It is like a customer in a shop asking price. Some shop owners think that it is bargaining and get offended, while others understand it is a strong signal of interest, and close the deal.
Respect is the underlying theme in our philosophy of the perfect place. In those places we like, we are treated like good customers, and not as guests. Guests are permitted to enter only by the grace of the habitants and the government of the country. And they can be treated however the hosts like. We feel, on the contrary, that we are paying customers who expect to have value for our money.
Every tourist, even those travelling on a shoestring like us, brings a considerable amount of money into the country. Tourism is a business. This business includes not only hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, transportation companies etc. but also government structures like immigration, police, and tourism authorities which are either supporting tourism or using it as a cash cow with their regulations. Going to a country is a transaction in favour of that country’s tourism business. Do you do business with people who treat you badly?
We are currently writing a book on customer service. The countries we have visited offer us plenty of material. Unfortunately bad examples are more abundant than good ones, but they give perspective. When going to countries like Japan, New Zealand, and the ones above, one appreciates the way people respect each other and how in business they listen to their customers wishes and worries, treating them as equals. Nothing more, nothing less.
The whole earth belongs to all living beings. For us the best place is together in each other’s arms no matter where that happens to be.
Country: Brazil, Country: Bolivia, Country: Romania