When you first flew in, you had no idea what to expect, but quickly found yourself discovering a part of the world that buzzes with more road blockades, schizophrenic weather systems, and opportunities for llama selfies than you could ever have imagined.
These are 34 of the things you learn after a long time spent making your slow and merry way through South America.
- You repost an old photo of yourself on Facebook as your profile picture. It’s the last time you were wearing a nice dress and had brushed your hair. It was dated 18 months ago.
- You’re almost got over the fact that South American “Milky Way” chocolate bars are actually mars bars. Almost.
- You prioritise camping equipment over clothing in your rucksack. Walking socks and a tent are always more important than clean underwear.
- People offer to pay for your dinner because you point blank refuse to spend £2 on a three-course lunch. You could literally feed a family of five on £5 here.
- You could probably run for a bus, loaded down with all of your gear. Except at altitude. No one can do anything at altitude.
- Six hours on a cramped bus was once your idea of a nightmare. These days, it feels more comfortable than your former commute.
- You’ve forgotten what a normal dog looks like. Apparently it’s not a cross-breed with an Alsatian head and sausage-dog body.
- Speaking of which, you’ve turned into the Pied Piper of Hound-lin and will whistle for your mangy, flea-ridden friends at any possibility. Wherever you go you’re trailed by a pack of enthusiastic, itching dogs.
- Llamas in the street are no longer anything remotely remarkable. Neither are those wearing woolly hats or knitted pendant-style necklaces. You might just about stop to watch two llamas being loaded into a taxi. Maybe.
- You’ve stopped visiting laundrettes and will pointedly wash your clothes in the shower when you have the opportunity. They come out slightly less clean, but significantly less stained with blue splodges.
- Someone leaves you a new plug power adaptor and you nearly cry. Your last three have all exploded thanks to dodgy plug sockets in dodgy hostels.
- You leave the house in shorts, with an umbrella and waterproof coat in your rucksack. Just in case.
- Your pockets, the bottom of your rucksack and your purse are swollen with ten different currencies. You still can’t identify very easily which is from which country as they all look a bit too much like monopoly money.
- You’ve learned never to bother trying to pay for anything with a note larger than the equivalent of five pounds. Good lucky getting anyone to accept it.
- You’ve had five sim cards for each country you’ve visited in almost as many months. You wish you could remember your current number. Or what happened to those sim cards.
- The clothing section of your rucksack hosts a bizarre mix of garments for each and every climate. It moves from thermal underwear to bikini and back to a down jacket, still accounting for every other season in between.
- After travelling through far cheaper South American countries, Chile and Argentina feel like you need to re-mortgage your (non-existent) house so you can actually pay for them. To cut costs, you’ve seriously considered camping in -7 degree Celsius conditions: who cares if you wake up frozen into your tent, right?
- Bad driving no longer even fazes you. As long as they’re not drunk, you’re reasonably happy. Particularly if the vehicle actually has seatbelts.
- You have friends from Couchsurfing, or friends of friends in all of the main cities and towns in the continent. You know you’ll never be short of a place to stay, and you probably won’t be expected to pay for it. Winner.
- Mountains and lakes are BEAUTIFUL in South America. You’ve seen so many of them you’re starting to get a little ‘meh’ whenever you go somewhere new. You still muster up enthusiasm for each and every one, but can’t help comparing it to how incredible the scenery was in *insert country here*.
- You have a competition with yourself about how cheap a bottle of wine you can buy. It has to be something drinkable for less than £2. You always win.
- You can legitimately say that you’ve eaten quinoa because it was super cheap, not because you’re a Chorlton-Cum-Hardy* hipster.
- You’ve forgotten what cheese tastes like. You know, actual West-Country British cheddar that tastes like day-old unicorn breath and slightly sweaty rainbows.
- Another road blockade and protest? There’s not been one of those in, ooh, two days. How wonderful! More excuses for you to stay put in the hostel, or go down the local and have a few more paceñas.
- You know how to produce an excellent brew of mate. Still doesn’t mean you like it.
- Ditto to coca mate. And coca leaves. No need to try that shit twice.
- You’ve seen enough Inca ruins to last you a lifetime. Yes they built some incredible walls. No you don’t need to see any more of them.
- You’ve encountered enough terrible examples to know that you don’t want to be that person who leaves South America with a badly tattooed llama on your foot/shin/arm/penis. Just no.
- You’ve realised that you can just about listen to anything anyone tells you in Cusco about why they’re using drugs (LSD for medicinal purposes anyone?) with a straight face. Or when they talk to you about their crystals needing to be recharged. You’ve nailed the “wow, this must be true” look.
- Your bag on a night out always contains hand sanitizer, toilet roll, and sunscreen: for any possible eventuality.
- If you’re feeling low, you’ve realised that finding a tiny, local bar will most likely make you feel at home. Or you’ll just get pissed on cheap wine, find a local party (there’s always one somewhere) and that’ll make things so much better. Until tomorrow.
- Yup, you bought a llama jumper. Well, two actually. Yeh, alright, you bought three. Three of them.
- You genuinely can’t remember what a train looks like.
- What is that alien concept known as ‘fast WIFI’ again?
*Yes this is a real place in Britain. No, as far as I’m aware it is not infamous for the locals having above average sex lives. They just really like quinoa.
What other lessons have you learned long-term travelling in South America? I’d love to hear your stories and reflections below!
Featured image: James McIntyre
Sim cards image: Stock photo from Public Domain Pictures under CCo 1.0
Mate image: “Mate” by Marcos Cousseau licensed under CC by 2.0