There are many different types of traveller and out here on the backpacker circuit in Latin America I have met a fair selection. They have various reasons for travelling and they are following different routes and experiencing life in a variety of ways. Many have taken time out from college, university or work and these people are galloping around as much of the continent as they can, before heading back to where ever they call home before knuckling down to study or work again.
There are the potential ex-pats roaming around and hunting down potential places where they can put down roots. There are sub-groups within this pack which include those who simply want somewhere cheaper/hotter/cooler to retire to, and those who are beginning to resent the rat race or the economic or political situation in their home countries and want to escape with their money and their sanity. whilst they are still able to.
The adventurers are covering the continent on motorbikes, bicycles or hitchhiking and pushing themselves to cover as much ground as they can whilst earning money by busking, working on farms or blowing a lottery win. There is a hard core element here who are bungy-jumping, parascending off the side of volcanoes or mountain biking down Death Road.
I mustn’t forget the people who have come to Latin America to learn, whether it is how to salsa, how to cook or to learn Spanish or Portuguese. Lessons are far cheaper here than at home and hey, if you want to learn to salsa then where better than somewhere where even the three year old children appear to know the moves
And some of us are actually working whilst moving around. I have met people of all ages who are working whilst living a semi-nomadic lifestyle. Some have put down tentative roots whilst they volunteer for an NGO, teach a foreign language or work in hostels. Others are completing their books or are travel bloggers. There is a whole realm of work that can be done digitally and supporting websites are popping up all over the place. Writers, programmers and even virtual admin assistants are out here, pitching for projects and working. Good old Paypal comes into its own as earnings are paid into bank accounts where it can then be accessed via the ATMs
But what am I doing?
I write a travel blog but it is not all wall-to-wall pleasure and fun. Well, it is for me but it may not be the sort of pleasure and fun that you might welcome or enjoy. In exchange for free or discounted accommodation and other benefits I write reports or include links on my blog. I take these seriously and they can be very time consuming, so rather than doing touristy, interesting things, I can be found chained to a desk or a table somewhere. Granted, I usually try to find a table with a view or preferably a hammock, but I still need to knuckle down and produce some quality (I hope) articles.
I am also doing various kinds of volunteering work which tie me into a place and, shock horror, a timetable. To date, I have volunteered and worked for three months at SKIP where I was mostly teaching English. I have worked in a hostel on the beach in Ecuador, I have lived with a family in Cali where we are all learned about our different cultures and I hope that I went some way to helping the daughter of the family who is at university to improve her English and I have spent five weeks working on a perma-culture farm and teaching English to children in the local school in the countryside close to Medellin
I am supplementing my feeble attempts at learning Spanish with formal lessons when I can find them cheaply enough and I have also done some salsa and yoga lessons, but apart from one dance lesson from an amazing professional dancer in Cali, these have all been free – via friends or in hostels.
I have finally got my act together and I have enrolled on some of the virtual workers websites and I am confident that I will find some writing projects sooner rather than later. Along with the book that I am writing these will find me tied to a desk or a hammock again. And nice though it sounds, I can’t work on my little netbook in the sun because I can’t see the screen so I have to stay in the shade.
And then I have to factor in the travelling. Getting around in Latin America is relatively easy with its amazing network of buses, BUT for me, at any rate, who is not fluent in the language, travel can be most traumatic. First you have to find the Terminal Terrestere. Then you have to winkle out the correct and best bus from a swarm of touts who yell and push you around, whilst trying not to be parted from your rucsack. Then get on the bus, wait, work out where you are supposed to exit the bus and then even more trauma while you run the gauntlet of cabbies – real and rogues all look the same, dodge potential hi-jackers and find a hostel.
So why do I do it?
Even after I have factored in the air fare I can live so much more cheaply out here. Money goes a long way and although it has been getting progressively more expensive as I travel north, it beats living in the UK. I still have to do the sums but I reckon I am saving more than half of what I was spending to live day to day in the UK. Which is just as well as because I wasn’t one of the lottery or inheritance winners.
I enjoyed my last job in the UK, but hey, who wouldn’t choose to be their own boss and to work for themselves? You can decide what projects to apply for and, contracts permitting, when to move on. If you have a day with no deadlines you can weigh up whether to get a bus up into the mountains, swing around in a hammock and chat to other people or take off to a coffee shop and watch the world go by.
I am seeing sights that I only ever dreamed of like Machu Picchu and sights that I never knew existed such as the Quilotoa crater lake. I am learning a foreign language, I have done yoga at sunrise, slept in mixed dorms and courtesy of some very kind hoteliers I have stayed in some very nice hotels.
The distance between here and my home country is a double-edged sword. On the one hand I miss my friends and family with a vengeance but on the other, the distance makes my loss slightly less painful. I am NOT here in Latin America because I don’t care about those that are left behind, but sometimes when you have nowhere else to go you have to move forwards. Every so often I have a major melt down when I think about my children and I would love to share my life and experiences with them. The sheer scale of the continent and the totally different way of life, language and cultures, not to mention landscapes that I have never dreamed could be so jaw-droppingly beautiful, enclose me in a bubble that suspends reality and cocoons me, nurturing me and giving me strength and a determination to find peace.