Now that I’ve finished my four-month adventure, I’ve had a few moments to reflect on some of the things I’ve learnt about travel in South America. If you’re planning to go, you might just want to bear some of these in mind – enjoy!
1. That ‘winter’ means everything from 30 degree heat and bone-dry weather to temperatures below zero, to fog and rain.
2. That overland border crossings can be the most mystical, fun or downright chaotic moments of the trip.
3. That you need to carry toilet roll and hand sanitizer at all times.
4.That heating and hot water, even where nights are frosty, are novelty items
5. That Peru is the most amazing, vast and diverse country, with people who are far too kind and experiences which are far too wonderful, meaning that you never want to leave.
6. That there are dangers, but if you are sensible and sensitive to the culture around you, it is much safer than the guidebooks would have you belive.
7. That in Chile they speak ‘chileno’ at rapid speeds and that in Argentina they change all ‘c’s and ‘ll’s to ch and j.
8. That many cultural events are free or very cheap and take place in the most beautiful theatres – this is the place to get great seats for the opera or ballet.
9. That in Peru, they really do eat guinea-pig – one day there will be four in the family’s garden, the next, just two will remain and two small, headless carcasses will be marinating in the kitchen.
10. That transport rarely runs on time, but that long-distance buses really are comfortable enough to let you sleep.
11. That long-distance bus companies, despite the comfort of their vehicles, employ special torture tactics to deprive you of sleep. These include playing promotional films loud and on repeat, waking you up at one am and shoving a hot coffee into your hands, or stopping at a regional ‘control’ and making you drag yourself and all your luggage off at 4am, where a security guard will barely give any of it a second glance.
12. That the pots of caramel-like gooey sweet loveliness may be known by different names (Manjar Blanco, Dulce de Leche, Doce do Leite) but that South Americans everywhere have a very sweet tooth and an insatiable appetite for the stuff.
13. That in Argentina, simple tasks such as paying a bill, getting a form stamped or collecting mail can take an entire day. If you’re lucky. No, I’m not exaggerating!
14. That in Argentina, it is the norm to begin a night out at 1am and end it some time after the sun has risen.
15. That there is a ‘day’ for everything: friends’ day, empanada day, folklore day, even a day for secretaries. And that people celebrate everything, from the 2nd anniversary of the opening of a social centre to the first day of Spring with drums, whistles and banners. How anyone ever gets any work done is nothing short of miraculous.
16. That people, in an attempt to be seen as helpful and kind, would rather – and often do – give you completely wrong directions, rather than just admit they have no idea.
17. That in Rio, you stand out as a gringa if you don’t wear tiny shorts or a mini-dress – it’s practically the law.
18. That cabs in Rio are not cheap, despite what people might tell you.
19. That it IS easy to get lost in Buenos Aires, grid system or not.
20. That Machu Picchu, seen at dawn after four days of hiking, is more incredible than can ever be imagined, no matter how many pictures you see or stories you hear.
21. That it’s worth getting an airpass of some description, even if you think you won’t take many flights. There will be enough occasions where the distances are just too vast and the buses are barely cheaper than the flights that it makes it an economical option.
22. That many countries tackle unemployment by creating several jobs where really only one is needed: in shops you often have to place your order with one person, take a ticket to someone to pay for it and go to yet a third person to collect it.
23. That the order in which these steps are carried out varies from country to country, making you the obvious gringo when you turn up somewhere new and confidently order something, when you have to buy a token first.
25. That I would find pure happiness on a bus in Bolivia, at the top of a mountain in Peru, in a street in Argentina, in a desert in Chile, on a beach in Brazil and in so many other places that I feel drunk on the stuff.