One thing I love most about travel is noting the difference between Australia and the country I’m currently in.
While living in Spain, my particular fascination was jamón (Spanish ham). I was endlessly entertained by this omnipresent meat choice and the assortment of apparatus which were necessary for its enjoyment – special knives for carving it into impossibly thin slices, and wooden stands for holding it while doing so topping the list.
Here in South America, several other objects have been making me chuckle as I imagine the Australian population receiving them with a confused face, not knowing how to use them.
Here are some of my favourite Rad and Ridiculous Things Made Necessary by Life in South America
1) Special tools for enjoying mate
I love mate (pronounced mah-tay), Uruguay and Argentina’s answer to the traditional cuppa. I love its taste and the fact that you need to take a chunk of time out of your day to prepare it. But what I love most is how its popularity has prompted the invention of odd little gadgets to facilitate entire countries’ addiction to the stuff.
Like this kettle:
…which has an additional setting for heating water to 80 degrees Celsius, the optimum temperature for serving mate.
And bags like this one:
…which have special compartments for carrying your mate, thermos and the yerba (herb) itself with ease.
And these publicly-located hot water dispensers:
…which allow you to purchase hot (but not boiling, as we just learned!) water with remarkable ease.
2) Information on what to do in an earthquake
Dotted around cities located within spitting distance of the Andes, you’ll see a lot of signage telling you how to react if an earthquake was to hit. Of course, with minor tremors occurring constantly and big earthquakes hitting within most peoples’ lifetimes (Chile’s 2010 Concepción earthquake and Peru’s in 2001 in Arequipa still vividly remembered) this is not an overreaction, but a necessary addition to life in this part of the planet.
Signs likes this one:
…tell you to gather near them if found outside during an earthquake.
…remind you where the strongest beams are in all apartment buildings and many local cafés. You see, being under a beam is a good place to take shelter, or “…the last place which will collapse,” as my good friend Giuliana, a civil engineer, put it bluntly.
3) Milk sold inefficiently in plastic bags and the jug needed to actually pour it
In many places on this continent, milk is not sold in cartons, bottles or jugs but in floppy plastic bags. Difficult to handle and manoeuvre, holding one and attempting to pour milk from it is like trying to manipulate a burstingly full milky bladder which does not want very much to be handled (if you will).
Trying to use the bag alone is an impossible and downright frustrating way to serve milk, an irksome problem to which some genius came up with the invention of…
These plastic jugs:
- Photo Credit: http://omegadelta.net/2009/05/14/milk-jug-style/
Of course, they could be used for just about anything. Yet in these fair parts they clearly often made with the sole purpose of accommodating this kind of special plastic bag milk. The dairy company’s name may be emblazoned across the jug, or it may be of a “cage” style variety with so many holes and gaps that nothing could be put in it that wasn’t already safely embraced in a bag of some sort.
4) Lemon squeezers in such a particular shape
Yeah, I know we have lemons too – but really, the Peruvian relationship with lemons is a passionate one, bordering on the indecent.
But first, even defining what a lemon IS, is a task in and of itself.
What does this look like to you?
Wouldn’t you say it’s a lime? Cos it’s green, right? I agree.
But no, this is a limón (lemon). Upon learning this, I was prompted to ask what the bejesus a lime was, and was told it’s something like this:
But no…isn’t that a lemon? It’s yellow! And large! But no, evidently not. Not in Peru, at least. Yep, I’m confused.
Well, lemon/lime semantics aside, the little ball-like green ones are sold in crazy abundance in all corners of the country. It’s not at all strange to see someone walk out of a supermarket with a couple of kilos of them…which lead me to think that there was a lot of behind-the-scenes alcoholism going on at home, delicious mojito style. But, it seems, I am wrong. Limones, to the Peruvian mind, is as salt is to the European. Chuck it on your food and let the good times roll.
The fact that so much of the stuff is used by so many people so often requires that one be able to extract juice without doing oneself harm (we all know how lethal citrus fruits can be). Which is where my next Thing Made Necessary in South America comes in…
This very really quite small lemon squeezer:
Look at how it’s way too small for us to get juicy with what WE think a lemon is. It just wouldn’t work. It would have you in tears trying, even before you’d squirted yourself in the eye with fresh acidic juice in the attempt.
But I am impressed. Its way of reducing a juicy (green!) lemon to an inside-out mini citrus frisbee is baffling and makes me dang proud of the person who invented it.