How to Travel a South American Country and Survive a Witch Market
September 22, 2007
One of the currencies that one can operate with once he/she begins to set standards within their life and mold it to fit their liking is the all valuable aspect of time. With the majority of individuals “locked into” a certain time lynching box by the majority of jobs or careers, once is not given the freedom to dream of travel outside of a “vacation” to Panama Beach for one week. Please spare me, ill just sit in the office the extra week and save myself the extra weight I would put on by eating too many crab legs dipped in oooooooh so yummy tartar sauce. I digress.
To individuals who have learned to alter life and its perceptions, travel once again becomes a possibility to aspire. Take one of my good online associates, Michael, of Familyhack notoriety. Michael is a married man with children who , from what one concludes after reading his blog, is able to provide for all 3 of the members of his troupe, pay the bills, and still travel the earth(with family in hand). I suggest checking out his site and reading up on some of his adventures(specifically if you think that you cannot travel while raising a family).
With that said, and with Michael now owing me for the shout out, I take on the subject of traveling one of my favorite continents in the world….South America. Its saucy flavor combined with equally saucy culture is something to be admired. And the food, as you will see, is worthy of a blog site all of its own. Through times I have allotted myself freedom to travel I have spent an equality of one years time traversing through South American countries, with a 3 month stint exploring Bolivia with no sign of traveling elsewhere. So with that said, here are a few tips of survival to anyone who wants to dream or is now living the dream of a travel-bound professional. Get pencil and paper appropriately ready.
1. PACK LIGHT – Remember you are going there to visit and enjoy a culture, not move in for the rest of your life. The more luggage you carry, the less you will want to travel. The majority of clothes that you think you need, you really do not and the formal ones that you truly are in need of can be packed in a very simplistic design such as this. It saves you space, avoids the need for a carry on iron, and leaves your clothes wrinkle free.
For t-shirts and jeans I suggest the army folding method. You will be shocked how many t-shirts you can fit into one suitcase using this method. I suggest no more than one piece of smaller luggage per trip and if you are feeling adventurous try only one backpack full of clothes. It is doable despite many naysayers.
2. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE FLUENT – Contrary to popular belief, I don’t believe that one has to be able to speak a language fluently if you are planning on stinting in a foreign country. I took a year of Spanish classes in high school and the only thing that I learned in there was how to pronounce my name…Bernardo; and how pronounce dog and cat. It wasn’t until I touched down in Santa Cruz, Bolivia that I began to become fluent in Espanol. By associating and communicating with culture and individuals I was able to pick up on what my 11th grade teacher could not embed in my noggin.
For those who want to learn or brush up on a language that is great! A carry on English to Spanish dictionary always has been a fav. And with new tools such as Mango becoming readily down loadable to individuals, the need for paper dictionaries is lessening. For diehards who must feel adequate in their language skills before setting foot on a plain, check out this newest post by uber-guru Tim Ferris on brushing up your memory.
Remember, knowing a language is very important; and one should have a grasp of the basics of communication to make your way about. However, don’t let a lack of not knowing how to ask “Where is the pee pee hole?” restrict you from adventure.
3. YOU ARE A GUEST - Act like one. Alot of countries have had a bad perception of Americans for awhile now. Don’t give them more reason to think so. Don’t spit, don’t talk loud, don’t point at people, and guys don’t scratch your privates in public. Use essential rules regarding decency and manners.
Be willing to adapt to cultures. You are accustomed to eating dinner @ 6 PM, South Americans tend to eat it @ around 10 PM. Grab a light snack and wait until later to dine. Just use a napkin, don’t devour and don’t pick your teeth at the end of the meal.
4. BE AWARE OF CURRENT EVENTS - As much as I love almost every aspect of Bolivia, at this moment I would be quick not to travel to Sucre or La Paz simply because there is a large amount of social upheaval occurring at the moment. The majority of South American countries are deeply affected by politics and the corruption of. Be quick to study any social climates of any country you are thinking about visiting. Even if there is a sign of tensions heavily rising you may want to hold off for a bit….chances are that there may be an outburst while you are there. Just use common sense.
5. DON’T ACT LIKE PAPARAZZI – You are allowed to take pictures. That is what makes traveling so memorable. You are not allowed to take pictures of anything and everything. Avoid the “tourist” mindset and be polite. Ask before you take someones pictures. Did you know that the natives up on Alte Plano believe that by taking their picture you steal their soul? Or that the witches at the witch market lining the side of the La Paz market place will supposedly hex you if you take pics of them or certain items on their shelves?
I chose not to take a pic of the leper on the side of the Cochebamba sidewalk for obvious humanitarian reasons. Most should learn to do the same.
6. TRY THE FOOD - I had no idea how much I loved Spanish food until I ate real Spanish food! You will be surprised by what you actually like……who knew that fried pig intestine actually tasted decent, although chewy. Likewise you will be surprised by what you do not like….as romantic as cheese and wine sounds, the Spanish version I tried did not hit the spot. As long as it is cooked the majority of vendor stands sell wonderful authentic items. However I never could pull myself to buy some of the meat hanging from some of the market places. If there are flies swarming around it in the open or it is raw, walk away.
7. HAVE FUN - Be willing , as you adapt to a culture, to become part of it. You will not only be appreciated by others for it but will have more fun by doing so. Ride the taxis and the micros (thanks to freevicente). You will be able to see more of the country, get a better feel for the people, and become one of the people. Just be sure to find out where the micro is going before you board it.
Its just a short laundry list, but they are 7 (to what I believe to be) vital tips pertaining to actually enjoying a country while abroad. Keep in mind that these are just a fraction of a much larger list; and as you see regulations do apply. I learned all first hand or by trial and error, which usually didn’t help the fact.
Feel free to comment or add any other tips of your own, possibly even tweak these if you see fit. Is there any other vital information one should know regarding traveling in South America when it comes to enjoyment or safety? Speak your voice and have your say.