What I will and won’t miss about travelling in South America

When we were on a tour of the Amazon basin in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia, with two crazy Australians, we started using the phrase ‘mozzies and monkeys’ to describe the downs and ups of the trek, as we’d be eaten alive by mosquitos one minute, but upon seeing a monkey swing from a tree the next, our annoyance immediately lessened. Until another cloud of mosquitos attacked. And then we saw another monkey. And so on!
This then became a metaphor for our entire trip; if we ever got annoyed at something, or missed home, we just had to remember all the incredible things we were experiencing every single day, and the itching went away.
I’m back in London now, and everything feels a little surreal. I miss so many things about travelling, but in a reverse move, I need to remember the things I’m thankful for right here. And so I decided to put together a little list of my personal ‘mozzies and monkeys’ that I’ve come to appreciate after my trip!
Monkeys in the Amazon basin!
Monkeys:
  • Meeting interesting people every day. Everybody has a story to tell, and some of them were truly remarkable. We met people from all across the globe, from so many different walks of life, but each of them shared our interest in discovering the amazingness that is South America, so there was an instant bond. They all had their quirks; there was somebody who designs video games for kids in order to educate them about indigenous tribes, a sloth-obsessed Australian, a unicorn-obsessed German, a self-proclaimed pirate who ‘arr’d’ his way through Chile, and an engineer who helped design a dancing robot (waltz, not salsa) in Japan. This trip also instilled in me a renewed faith in humanity, as we encountered so many generous and open-minded people who were always willing to lend us a hand.
  • Breathtaking landscapes. I didn’t quite realise how big South America was until we started travelling around it (and took endless bus journeys, many of which were over 15 hours long!). Of course, it takes up a lot of room on the world map, but I simply didn’t expect the diversity of landscapes that we saw. From deserts to jungles to mountains to beaches to canyons to waterfalls… this continent has everything, and then some. It is almost impossible to pick a favourite, but we loved the Iguazu waterfalls (Brazil and Argentina), Patagonia in Argentina, the salt flats in Bolivia, the Caribbean coast in Colombia, Machu Pichu, and of course, the Galápagos Islands.
  • Doing something different every day. When backpacking, routine becomes a thing of the past, as every day poses the question ‘What should we do?’, ‘Where should we go?’ and of course ‘What should we eat?’ Our schedule was subject to our whims of the day, and no two days were ever the same. It was incredibly liberating, active, and exciting all at once! My Swiss self sometimes struggled with a lack of planning, but this quickly dissipated after I recognised the merits of spontaneity (we booked a last-minute bus ride to Rio de Janeiro and had the craziest 5 days of our trip)!
  • No decisions. What to wear? There are only three clean T-shirts available, so I’ll just grab whichever one is at the top of the backpack. Where to sleep? Even with Hostelworld and tens or hundreds of hostels available, there are only a few within our price range, so let’s pick the highest rated one. Where to eat? That place around the corner looks clean and well priced. Where should we go next? Those people told us about a great hike nearby, so let’s do that!
  • No responsibilities. We had no bills to pay, bosses to report to, or chores to take care of. We were free agents, responsible only for ourselves and our own health, which, luckily, was never under serious threat apart from one bout of food poisoning!
  • Speaking Spanish. As both of us have lived in Spain, we were very comfortable with the language already, but speaking it every day in a variety of situations improved it immensely. In addition, every country had its own expressions, words, and idiosyncrasies that we grew to learn and love. I loved interacting with people in their native tongue, and everybody was so happy to help us, even (or especially) when we struggled for words. For example, whilst getting a £4 pedicure in Bolivia, I helpfully learned the word for ticklish (cosquilloso)!
  • Fruit juices and general fresh fruits. Ah, the advantages of being in tropical climates… I got addicted to maracuya (passionfruit) on this trip, as it was so easily available and utterly delicious to boot. Avocados were crazy cheap compared to the UK, so smashed avocado on toast became a standard dish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We also discovered a variety of new fruits, some (granadilla, a sweeter version of passionfruit) more favourable than others (tuna, a cactus fruit). In addition, every cafe, bar, and restaurant does fresh juices as a staple, as they simply whack them in a blender with water, and then charge about £1-2 for it!
  • Letting yourself go. Why wear tight jeans when you know you’ve got an 11-hour bus journey? What’s the point in wearing a nice jacket when you know it’s going to rain? Why wear makeup when it’s 35 degrees and you know it’s going to sweat right off? It was liberating to simply focus on comfort and practicality, and it just did not matter that we weren’t what most people would deem ‘well-dressed’.
  • Bargaining. Prices are never fixed in South America – in Colombia, you can even negotiate your bus fare! It’s often a friendly conversation, a game, even, with smiles and perhaps a hug or a kiss exchanged at the end, with pleas to come back soon.
  • Reggaeton. There’s a phenomenon in South America whereby the top 5-6 Reggaeton tunes are blasted out of every restaurant, cafe, bus, supermarket, and pretty much anywhere with a speaker. We got annoyed at it when we were there, but now that I’m back in a country where all these places are very quiet, I really do miss hearing ‘Despacito‘ five times a day!
Fresh sugarcane juice in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia
Mozzies:
  • Being sweaty ALL THE TIME. We left the European winter to spend summer in South America, and whilst it was glorious to have sunshine nearly all the time, I’ve never sweated so much in my life. As we were often carrying our huge backpacks, the feeling of a morning shower never really lasted more than an hour before we were soaked once more. Deodorant has never been so valuable!
  • Constantly packing. We never really stayed anywhere for more than a few days, and so we were forever unpacking and repacking our backpacks. As soon as we arrived somewhere, our belongings would explode all over the room, and getting everything together again was always a frustrating chore. We inevitably left things behind in various places, and although we went through the same thing every couple of days, it just never got any easier!
  • Cold showers. Not such an issue when we were in very hot places (Galapagos, or the north coast of Colombia), but still never entirely pleasant! I will never again take a hot shower for granted… every time I step into one, I am insanely thankful.
  • Lack of privacy. Travelling on a budget means we were nearly always in shared dorms, and whilst they’re great for meeting people, and often a lot of fun, after six months of getting changed in the bathroom, listening to people snoring, getting woken up at night by people coming home late, and worrying about sheet cleanliness, having my own room and bed is pure and utter bliss.
  • Delhi belly and unsatisfactory toilets. Having an upset stomach became absolutely normal as we slowly adjusted to different water and foods. Neither of us were at 100% throughout the entire trip, and the fact that most public bathrooms in South America have neither toilet paper nor basic cleanliness didn’t make things any easier…
  • Saying goodbye. To places and people. I wrote a little bit about this in a previous post,  but we met so many kindred spirits on this trip, and visited so many beautiful places, that it became exceedingly hard to say goodbye. Although we knew we’d meet more people, and see more places, it was difficult to move on from some of them. This is when we are incredibly thankful for Facebook and WhatsApp, which allow us to keep in touch in some way.
  • Actual mosquitos. These little buggers were the death of us, along with sand flies, bed bugs, and any number of other biting insects. My entire body is covered in scars, and it was common practice for us to smack each other to stop scratching! The worst was in the jungle in Bolivia, but the Caribbean coast in Colombia proved a valid second, as I often looked down and simply spotted drops of blood on my legs left by those pesky sand flies!

All in all, any ‘mozzies’ we faced were certainly far outweighed by the ‘monkeys’, which is just how it should be. Writing this list has helped my Fernweh, but I also know that now, when I miss the thrill of travelling, I can just comfort myself by taking a hot shower and resting in the privacy of my own room!

Looking down at Machu Pichu from Huayna Pichu, Peru
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