Breaking the language barrier

I had anticipated difficulty making myself understood in Brazil, and certainly outside of Rio it was hard to find anyone who spoke any English at all. But its surprising how well you can get by on place names, a few key phrases and constant gesturing. Google Translate did also play a role, I have to admit it.

Since moving into Latin America, speaking Spanish has been more fun and fulfilling – most of the time I have at least some idea of what people are trying to say.

There are sometimes when you will simply have to pretend you understand, and sometimes when you both have to give up. Thats okay.

The rest of the time, slowly, I feel like Im learning. Im trying to speak as much as possible, especially to locals. The best tips Ive heard: speak slowly, and say what you can, not exactly what you want to say.

One thing I wont be doing is that old protest: “No, I dont know any of the language at all!” and then go on to have a five minute conversation. I hear so many people say this and I find it frustrating on a number of levels.

Firstly, its almost always a lie. False modesty renders any effort youve put into learning the language worthless, and it also invites the following kind of reply, “Oh, no youre really good!” – whether you are or arent. Forcing people to comfort you in this way is actually pretty selfish. There must be some kind of continuum between complete ignorance and fluency; lets start using that.

A south Peruvian detour: the joys of solo travel

When I went to Arequipa, the city nearest to the majestic Colca Canyon, I didn’t do a tour. I just didn’t go. Despite that being the sole attraction people went there to see, the one labelled a must-see by Lonely Planet.

I simply didn’t feel like being driven around to several tourist attractions before being deposited back at my hostel. I had thought I might go for a day’s trek, but it turns out that only the full-package deal was being offered wherever I looked.

Instead, I spent a sunny day writing postcards in the square. I went rafting on the nearby rapids and had a wonderful time. Then I took an overnight bus to the next town.

I’ve changed my mind, and my plans, a number of times since leaving Bolivia. Actually, ever since I left Rio. I know the general direction I’m travelling in, but the details and the amount of time I spend in each place, are up in the air. It’s really, really nice.

So instead of heading straight to Cusco, I’ve actually stopped in Puno, Arequipa, and now Nazca. With some days to spare, I was drawn by the promise of warmer climates and the lure of adrenaline. As well as the rafting, I got to see floating islands on Lake Titicaca and to go sandboarding in the Nazcan desert.

I’ve finally booked my bus to South America’s most touristic destination, but I’m so excited to see what happens after that.

Month one: finding my feet

So it´s been just over four weeks since I left England. What´s happened?

Places visited: Brazil (Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Cuiaba, The Pantanal, Campo Grande, Curumba) Bolivia (Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, Potosi, Uyuni, La Paz, Copacabana), Peru (Puno, Arequipa, Nazca).

Currencies: Reais, Bolivianos, Nueve Soles

Time differences: -3, -4, -5 GMT. I’m getting further away in time and space!

Modes of transport: Plane, taxi, car, bus, boat, sand buggy

Favourite things: Rio; riding a motorbike; Santa Cruz; finding English books; Death Road, sunny afternoon in Copacabana, rafting.

Worst things: Driving into Cuiaba and at each turn hoping that the taxi wasn´t going to stop there, stomach pain.

Best thing I brought: My sandals! Perfect in every situation, although they are giving me crazy tan lines. Also hand sanitiser and my mooncup. And earplugs obviously.

What I should have brought: A lock. You can buy them here but I could have brought one. Also Rennies or something similar – there´s a theme here.

Items bought: Belt, warm jumper, warm socks, padlock, book, moisturiser, more toothpaste.

Items lost: Grillstock cap! Very sad. Have asked Tom to get me a replacement.

Books read: Under the Dome, The Martian Chronicles, The Time of my Life, Skinny Dip, The Trail to Titicaca, Crown of Swords.

Things (not people) I´ve missed the most: Cooking for myself, Chinese food, hearing English spoken everywhere. Not what I would have guessed before!

Illnesses and injuries: Minor sunburn, major mosquito nibbling, a dizzy spell, mild altitude sickness, cracked feet, one bout of vomiting, severe stomach pain. It sounds quite bad when it’s written altogether like that – I’m fine most of the time.

Strange/ Interesting food: Sugarcane juice, coconut milk straight from the coconut, llama, quinoa, soup (!), the reed that the people of Uros build their islands with.

Best food: rooftop BBQ overlooking the lights of La Paz, grilled trout by Lake Titicaca.

Coming up in month two… more Peru, the Inca Trail, Ecuador, Colombia and sailing into Central America!