Today we are halfway through our Latin American adventure, 109 days down and still 109 days to go (luckily)! We’ve had a blast so far and are looking forward to the second half. This post contains some of the things we’ve learned so far traveling.
Be open to new people and experiences! We’ve met so many interesting people on the way, both fellow travelers and locals, and this has really made our travel that much more fun. We’ve learned to be open to the people we meet and the new experiences that sometimes result from the encounters. This has lead to our itinerary changing every other day and developing on the way, leading us to some places we hadn’t heard about just a couple weeks or days before. (NB: in some places, like bigger cities, you should still be a bit careful with who you talk to on the streets as there are a lot of hustlers out there trying to fool you..)
Don’t plan too far ahead! Ref. previous point, you will want to change it due to new information, loving where you are, bad/good weather, or new friends. We try to look one week ahead, but don’t book a hostel until a day or two before we need it, just so we’re sure that’s where we want to go. The downside is that sometimes we don’t get our first choice and/or have to pay a little more..
Learning a little Spanish is both very useful and a lot of fun! To be able to buy tickets, get a taxi, ask directions, order (the right) food at restaurants, book a room and have a simple conversation with a local will really enhance your travel. We spent 8 days in the beginning at language schools (in addition to duolingo.com and some audio-courses before we left), and it was so worth it. There are surprisingly few who speak English, even in the hostels.
Buses in Central and South America are excessively cold – so put on your pants and sweater/fleece and bring a blanket! It seems having A/C is such a luxury here that they use it as much as possible.
Time in Latin America is relative – if it says a bus takes 4 hours, it most likely will take 5 hours or more. Therefore we never plan bus rides or planes back-to-back. It’s kind of like money in the USA – you need to add 25% to the quota to find out how much you’re really going to spend.
You can never be too sure that what you think you’re paying for is what you actually get – check every detail and don’t assume anything. Travel agents will sell you the sunshine story and don’t tell you the things that can make you reconsider, so ask about everything that is important for you. For instance: a “direct bus” isn’t necessarily the same bus all the way.
5 things we’re really glad we brought:
- Fleece jackets: they can be used whenever it’s a little cold (ref. the cold buses) and weigh almost nothing compared to how much heat they give.
- Waterproof bag (the thick kind): it has saved our electronics many a wet boat trip and doubles as a portable laundromat together with some travel soap and a small clothes line.
- Sandals: we both bought some just before we left (Mathias didn’t think he needed them at first) but we’ve used them almost 80% of the time on travel (at least Mathias), as closed shoes gets too hot/cramped and flip-flops are not always the best to walk a long time in.
- Packing cubes and mesh pockets: both bigger cubes and smaller pockets that you can close and still easily see what’s in have really made our packing much faster and more efficient. It makes it easy to find the stuff you need and put it back in the right place. A time saver when we pack our bags almost every second day to move on.
- Kindle and iPad: perfect for long buses/flights/waits, when you have nothing to do but sit. Tuva has so far read more than 25 books, which would amount to a really heavy bag if she opted for the physical kind instead of a Kindle. Also, the iPad doubles as photo editor and blog-reader.
That’s it so far. Today we came to Santa Rosa de Cabal in the coffee region in Colombia, after 5 hours on a roller coaster of a bus through beautiful scenery. We’ll spend tomorrow soaking in the thermal pools nearby and getting some nice, relaxing spa treatments :)