One of our loyal readers asked about currencies and languages since Tara and I generally pretend like all of our conversations are in English and all of our money is in dollars. Those are definitely not the case. Each country in South and Central America has its own currency, except for Ecuador, which adopted the American dollar about 10 years ago. To make it more confusing, each of these currencies has a different value. So, Trinidad uses the Trinidad & Tobago dollar, with each TnT dollar worth about 15 US cents. So, if something there costs 10 "dollars", it is really about $1.60 in US money. However, Brazil uses a different currency called the real (pronounced ree-aal) and each real is worth about 50 US cents. So, if something cost 10 in Brazil, it is equivalent to about $5. This is often confusing when we travel between countries--Tara has a tendency to think about them all the same, so if something cost 10 in Trinidad, then 10 in Brazil is about the same. It takes a while to adjust.
Venezuela, the third country we have visited so far, uses the Bolivar fuerte as its currency. Bolivar is the currency and is named after Simon Bolivar, a famous leader. Fuerte means strong in Spanish, and that is because Venezuela replaced the regular Bolivar a few years ago with this new one to try to stop inflation. At that time, they also set an official exchange rate with the dollar at 2.15 Bolivars per US dollar. Unfortunately, it is not really worth that much and a huge black market exists. All of our money in Venezuela came from trading US dollars that we brought with us into Bolivars on the street or in small shops. It is technically illegal, but I have never heard of anyone being arrested. We would always start the conversation by saying,"Do you know where we might change some US dollars?" Only one person told us that was illegal and all the others either did it for us or took us to someone. On average, we got about 6 Bolivars per dollar. We met several people who did not know about this before coming, which means it cost them 3 times more to come to Venezuela than it cost us. We will add the currencies as we do future country posts.
On to languages. Trinidad was easy because they speak English. Most of them have an accent that sounds a bit Jamaican, so other than them using a bit of slang, it is very easy and funny to talk to them. In Venezuela, they speak Spanish, but they have a different accent than most people learn in Spanish class. They tend to leave out all the 's' sounds, which makes it hard to understand. They also speak fast. However, our Spanish was improving rapidly, and Tara has been really good speaking it. I understand a surprising amount, but am not so good at speaking. Brazil speaks Portuguese. To me, Portuguese sounds like Spanish spoken with a French accent. Many people understand individual Spanish words here, but rarely full Spanish sentences. It has been a bit tough, but many people also speak some English in Brazil. Almost no one speaks English in Venezuela.
Next, we are off to Guyana, another English speaking country. Then to Suriname, where they speak Dutch, which we do not speak at all. In French Guiana, they speak French, which Tara speaks. Then back to Brazil for more Portuguese. After that, the rest of South America and Central America all speak Spanish except for Belize, which is the last country we will be in. As a result, our Spanish skills should be decent by the time we are done. Well, Tara's will be. My hand gesturing is already really good, but it will probably be even better.