(Part 1: Prior continued)
What do we NEED to know?
After some research, and recent contact with on of our connections I’ve been able to answer many of our need to know questions.
#1) Is it a peaceful, safe place?
South America has definitely not been known as the safest place to travel, but fortunately it is getting better. With the fear of drug lords, sex trafficking, and dangerous criminals painted for us through Hollywood movies, we know that there is a dark side to a majority of the countries over there. However, these crimes are typically in the large cities or untamed jungle areas that we will be staying away from. Most of the information on safety I found said to be ware of pick pocketers and small thefts. Typically they see Americans flaunting their gold watches, expensive clothes or shoes and those are the easy targets for criminals. Trying to blend in is always a good idea no matter where one travels to, so we will leave our Louis Vuittons and 10 Karats at home.
Another suggestion was to check the local news before leaving and also while staying there. It’s good to stay informed, and it will be helpful in case of transportation closures or other public services that we may need while in South America. Columbia, one of our main choices definitely has some safety concerns, but we have a good contact that we trust. She has already addressed the issue of safety and assured us that she would make sure we stay in a good neighborhood with people we can trust. Having this local contact helps immensely, and we will be asking her lots of questions before getting there.
#2) Will there be extreme weather?
Our plan is to go in the October/ November time frame for a month. Looking at the weather patterns for these dates, we will be hitting the end of their springtime. It may be a bit rainy some days, but the temperatures still average around 70-80 degrees. Unless God decides to send a natural disaster it looks like a good time to explore South America.
#3) What is the language and do we know it?
The most widely spoken languages in South America are Spanish and Portuguese. Brazil has the largest population density and that is where the majority of Portuguese is spoken. Elsewhere it is primarily Spanish. However, there are 80 other languages or dialects within the continent including English. It will be somewhat of a challenge, but we do have a heads up with our previous Spanish education. We are also preparing by studying Spanish this summer. Our study program includes flash cards, listening to Spanish tv, listening to Spanish radio/music, reading Spanish books, and speaking to each other in Spanish.
#4) Do we need a passport, visa, or other special priviledges?
The general answer is we only need a passport, however, there are stipulations to traveling as foreigners in South America. There is a maximum 90-day visitor period, and a return ticket must be purchased to prove that. They require you to fill out a customs form when you land, and a hotel address is typically requested. Other than those stipulations no visa is required unless staying for longer than 90 days, and no other special privileges are necessary.
#5) Are there any cultural practices/festivities happening?
From October to the end of November I only found a few South American holidays. In Columbia there is the Dia de la Raza on October 12th, the Independence of Cartagena City on November 11th, All Saints Day on November 28th, and in Argentina the Dia de la Tradicion. None of these seemed to cause any conflict with travel or other tourist situations, but it will be fun to be a part of their cultural celebrations. Hopefully we will be able to learn a lot about each of these different holidays.
After this PRIOR-inspection of the countries we are interested in, we have discovered that our trip checks out for the Need to Know questions. Therefore we will continue with preparing for our trip.
A major advancement we have made is the connection with Amparo, our local contact to Columbia. She is currently visiting family there and has gotten a hold of us through skype and email. She is providing us with useful information on Columbia, specifically Santa Marta. She has a rental property in that area of the country and has graciously offered to help us with our accommodations planning and also direct us to certain areas of interest. Through email she sent me some great links of videos to watch. They depict the area of Santa Marta and surroundings. We are very happy to have her local expertise to help us out in our planning process. Here is one of the spectacular videos she shared with us. Let’s just say we are now even more excited!