|Tortuga Bay, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador|
1. Be scared, but not too scared
There were some cities where I didn't go out past 9pm for fear of what lurks in the dark. There were hostels with signs up warning of thefts on the hostel grounds. There were travellers with stories of being held up at knife-point in the mornings, and even being mugged with a screwdriver. And more than one story of over-friendly locals turning sour. There were a few taxi rides where it occurred to me that the taxi driver could be taking me anywhere, down any alley way, and could hold me up and take everything. There were even a few times when I took the memory card out of my camera and shoved it in my pocket, to save my photos in case someone stole my purse. There were dangers, there were fears, and there were moments when I really didn't know if everything was okay. Being a little bit scared helped me stay safe, make wise decisions, and keep my guard up when I needed it.
|Lake Titicaca, Peruvian/Bolivian border|
2. Go with someone
Travelling with my friend helped a lot, as our two brains together worked well to keep us aware and safe, and paying attention to the things around us. She and I both had moments of being scared, and usually the other could logically calm down the situation.
We met a lot of couples on this trip, and met far few solo travellers in South America than we had met in Southeast Asia or Europe. We both experienced a few weeks of solo time in South America, and agreed that it was safer and much more fun to travel South America with a friend.
|La Paz, Bolivia|
3. Buy everything
Alpaca sweaters, blankets, scarves, musical instruments, coffee, handmade necklaces, shoes, teacups, ponchos, pillow cases, friendship bracelets, jackets, toys, statues...
4. Trust your instincts
When I arrived by night bus in Buenos Aires by myself early in the morning, I planned on taking a taxi into the city centre. I walked around and checked out my options for "secure taxis" (a safe taxi service company), and also checked out the normal taxi area. When I came outside, a man greeted me and asked "taxi?" and I said yes. I then noticed a row of taxis ready to go, and the man shook his arm no, and told me that all those taxi drivers were on their coffee breaks. I then thanked him and went inside to get a secure taxi.
Why did I do that?
Because, if something seems too outlandish to be true, it probably is. [Were ALL those taxi drivers really taking their coffee breaks at the same time, making the man talking to me the ONLY available taxi driver? I think not.] When strangers come up to talk to you or offer you things, evaluate their behaviour, and listen to your gut if you get a bad feeling. I listened to my instincts on this trip, and more than a few times I'm certain it saved me from a potentially bad situation.
5. Go to South America now
Peru has been a hotspot for South American travel for decades, and in high season up to 5,000 visitors might see Machu Picchu in a day. Colombia, however, is still not too touristic, and neither is Bolivia (beyond La Paz and the Uyuni desert). These two countries will become more popular as more people visit, and they too will become more established stops on the South America gringo trail. And Ecuador? Who knows if tourists will continue to be allowed to visit the Galapagos islands in large numbers. If you go now, you can still feel the warmth of Colombian hospitality, see the magic of people walking in traditional hats and clothes in La Paz, and come face to face with the wildlife of the Galapagos. And yes, Peru is touristy, but it's so beautiful you wouldn't want to miss it.
If you're reading this, you've already got some interest in South America, so why not make 2013 the year to see the Andes in real life?