As anyone knows, going to South America is fraught with dangers. This is by no means a macabre list; but a few observations of how close one can come to ending their life during their travels in this continent, if they’re not careful. Take heed; these are (my) top ten ways to die in South America.
1. Death by walking
Being a pedestrian is a tough job in South America. You are at the bottom of the traffic food-chain. In the western world, a zebra crossing means a car must stop to let someone cross the road. There; its a mere inconvenience. In Brazil, 38% of all traffic accidents are from pedestrians, in Chile this is 46%. To cross a road in a Latin country, you cautiously step out onto the road into what may be a break in the traffic, close your eyes, run like hell and hope for the best.
2. Death by taxi
I’ve been in many taxi’s around the world, from the polite, knowledgeable London cabbie, to the odour-challenged cabs of Dubai. South American taxi drivers are indeed polite and sweet smelling, however their aggressive driving skills make you wish you would rather be walking instead. It’s no surprise then, that despite the region’s reputation for being the crime & murder capital of the world, traffic accidents are actually a larger cause of death.
3. Death by beef
No, there is no outbreak of Mad Cow disease in South America, but it is very easy to die of meat overload. You wouldn’t want to be vegetarian in places like Argentina; red meat is pretty much a staple and can be eaten at any times of day. And it is an absolute sin to say no to asado.
4. Death by buses
If there’s anything worse than a taxi, its a bus. Particularly in Bolivia. I once took a bus from Uyuni to Villazon for an overnight ride, and made the mistake of peering out of the window. The bus was clinging onto the side of a high mountain pass, in the rain, still doing about 100km/h. You would think that Argentine and Chilean buses tend to be a lot newer, thus safer, however the drivers all must think they are in a Ferrari judging by their driving.
5. Death by Dulce de Leche
The buttery, caramel spread from Argentina (a staple for breakfast) that is oh-so-sweet on the tongue but oh-so-deathly for the arteries. Indulge in enough and I’m pretty sure you could die from the sugar content alone.
6. Death by ATMs
No, ATM’s don’t jump out of the walls and attack you, but there are some horrible stories of attacks that happen inside the glass boxes that ATM’s are housed in. You swipe your card to get in, type away at the machine (sometimes in Spanish so it takes twice as long), and as soon you get out, thieves pounce on you to pilfer your hard-earned cash. Another story I heard around the block is of thugs who stop you at gunpoint on the street, force you to a (or several) ATM/s to withdraw every single cent you have, then dump you in the middle of nowhere. Yikes.
7. Death by alcohol
As any backpacker knows, sampling the local beverages is all part and parcel of getting acquainted with the culture. Whether it is caipirinha’s in Brazil, fernet in Argentina or a pisco sour in Chile – we know to well that too much can lead to a visit to the nearby hospital for a good old stomach pumping (not that it’s ever happened to me!). Know your limits, and never try to keep up with a local!
8. Death by ice cream
I’m specifically referring to Argentina for this one. Their ice creams are unbelievably smooth, creamy and entirely addictive. I think I managed to have one every day in my stay; anymore and I probably would’ve had a coronary.
9. Death by kissing
No, Im not talking about transmitted diseases, I refer to the Brazilian male species practice of ‘kiss rape’. Normally occurring on a dance-floor, a foreign female can be bombarded by over friendly Brazilians who think it normal to surround a girl and try to ‘kiss rape’ her while all she wants to do is dance with her friends. It’s considered quite normal behaviour for men. They like to move pretty fast – it goes from a “Ola” to “I love you” within a matter of minutes. There’s small chit chat for about 30 seconds, they then go in for the kiss. I reject, they try again. I reject twice, three times, they still try. I’ll walk away and they’ll follow me. I go to the bathroom and they are there waiting for me when I come out. How on earth do you get rid of them? Even if I tell them to f!@# off they still give me a dazzling smile (OK, there’s no denying they are cute) and try again for a kiss. Is this what it’s like to be female in Brazil? I’d rather be dead.
10. Death by dancing
You can’t write a post about South America without mentioning dancing. It’s in their blood. Every night, in any country, there is something dance-related happening. If you try to keep up with the locals however (especially the frenetic samba!) I’d say you could probably die. Did you know there was something called the Dancing Plague that killed numerous people in Europe in the 1500’s? I’m surprised Brazil hasn’t had an outbreak of this yet.
All photos in this post were taken by the author and subject to copyright.
It was the kind of ‘unplanned’ thing that I had ‘planned for’. Instead of going to Salta for new years, I decided to follow a travel friend I had met in Bariloche to Valparaiso in Chile. He’d said that it was THE place to be for New Years Eve in South America. I was in Mendoza at the time, 2 days before the end of the year, and convinced Chile would be a better choice than Salta. Why the hell not, I thought.
So off I went that afternoon to book a bus ticket for the next day to Valpo. When I arrived at the bus station, teeming with people, I approached bus counter after bus counter looking for a ticket to Valpo via Santiago. It seems they were all booked out. For a fleeting moment I became panicked at the thought of spending NYE on my own… but to my relief I eventually found a bus company that would take me directly to Valpo – the catch was that the bus was leaving in a few hours. More panic set in. I quickly paid for the ticket and ran back to the hostel to book my following nights’ accommodation. I quickly discovered that all hostels in Valpo were at least $50 a night over the new years period. $50! For a BED! in a DORM! It was daylight robbery! But I had no choice… I booked 3 nights in the same one my friend was staying in and proceeded to hurriedly packed my bags. I had been in Mendoza a good 10 days and had crap everywhere – the area surrounding my bed and locker was a disaster zone of clothes, shoes and toiletries. I didn’t get time to say proper goodbyes to all the great people I had met (starting to become a speciality of mine!), I simply paid my bill, jumped in a cab and was back at the bus station in no time.
The bus station was even more packed than before – there were literally dozens of buses all going to Chile. I eventually found my bus and settled in for a nice overnight sleep. The ride was meant to take 7 hours – but it actually took 12 after an inconvenient and very annoying 5 hours at the border at 3 in the morning.
Arriving in Valpo I was greeted with heart-attack steep hills (my hostel was on one of them), and bohemian charm oozing from the streets. I found my travel buddy and we headed to climb these hills (with the help of an ascensor – a railway/lift that takes you up) to find a place to have lunch. He describes Valpo so eloquently: “like a mutation of Buenos Aires after a favela and a toilet exploded in its middle” – but this is said in quiet affection, for despite the ‘toilet explosion’ (of which the million dogs and their resulting excrement contribute to the polluted streets), the town really is charming.
On new years eve, after a few drinks at the hostel, we headed up to the lookout at about 10pm. Knowing we’d be out-and-about until who-knows-when, we set ourselves up with a travelling bar – a bottle of champagne, a dozen beers, and a few bottles of spirits, all in clear plastic bags, the backpackers handbag: cheap, mobile and expendable.
After wandering aimlessly lost in the hills of Valpo, we eventually made it to a lookout with an amazing view of the bay; we scored a free slice of quiche from some Swiss people, and settled into our spot to watch the fireworks. The countdown was a bit of an anti-climax – we were about 20 seconds off – but when the fireworks started it was a magical sight. These fireworks are world famous; they launch fireworks off no less than 5 barges around the bay with the biggest ones right in front of us. For like an hour. Normally when I get to see new years fireworks, I have to look above me – this time, for the first time, the fireworks exploding in front of us, not above. I almost had a seizure from the flashing lights – one of the best shows I’d seen in a long time (sorry, but Sydney still tops it!). We popped our bottle of champers, exchanged Feliz ano nuevo’s and the celebrations began.
After the show, we followed the crowds (chanting ‘Viva Chile!’ the whole way down) and sounds of music back down to the main part of town. There were crowds everywhere and you had to push and weave to get through. The streets were building to building full of people – I eventually lose all of my friends and find myself dancing to the sound of drums with a bunch of Colombians. We kept dancing until who-knows-when to the sound of these drums – I remember the sun starting to rise and the sky turning blue. The roads on the walk back to hostel were paved with broken glass and streamers; the sight of drunk people in the daylight almost made them look like zombies. I arrived at my hostel, where the party continued with the help of the hostel owner’s ‘mystery’ blended drinks.
Most of new years day was spent in a lazy haze, lying on the crowded beaches of Vina del Mar. Our last evening was topped off with a lovely dinner at a posh restaurant in the hills, where I had my first meal of seafood in a month, and the bartender tried to pick me up. During dinner conversation that night, we decided we would treat ourselves to a nice ‘luxury’ hotel stay for a night in Santiago. We arrived in Santiago the next afternoon to a hotel which was amazing – rooftop pool & jacuzzi with views all over Santiago. After spending the afternoon laying around drinking beer and chatting up locals in the jacuzzi, we made dinner and drank ourselves silly, dancing around the hotel room, celebrating the start for what we all knew would be a great 2011.
All photos in this post were taken by the author and subject to copyright.