Six months in South America

Here we go again. My wife and I just quit our jobs. We’re heading to South America.

Over the next six months, we’ll basically make a big circle (see super specific map above) visiting five or six or ten countries across South America — we’re not exactly sure yet. We have a very loose itinerary, if you could even call it that. We’ve been doing a lot of research and planning, and we figure it best to keep things fluid. More on that later.

These are definitely our most ambitious travel plans to date, even if most of the planning part is lacking (it’s not lacking so much as fluid, remember that). While we did manage to spend a month trekking across Europe last summer, this excursion promises to be different and more challenging for a number of reasons.

1) We don’t speak Spanish very well at all. Okay, we don’t really speak Spanish at all, but we’re learning. ¡Estamos estudiando mucho!

2) We don’t really know anybody in South America, unlike the awesome cast of characters who hosted us across Europe. (thanks y’all!)

3) We’re not rich and neither are our parents, so we’ll have to stay on a tight budget if we’re going to make it the full six months. We’re budgeting $25 a day per person, so there’s not much wiggle room.¡Salud! to free walking tours.

4) We quite honestly have no clue what we’re doing. Fake it until you make it, I guess. We’re going to try.

But for all the challenges and scary unknowns, I think there’s enough upside to take the gamble and make a go of it. Hell, why not? We’ll be chasing summer south of the equator, then heading back to the U.S. as the snow starts to thaw. Our flights are booked. We leave Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. We’ll come back in March, I guess, unless the money tree shrivels too soon.

I listed all the downsides, so here are a few positives:

1) We’re going to see some really cool stuff and learn a lot. Hopefully we’ll learn a lot about ourselves and the world and humanity and the existentialism of existence… or something like that. Maybe we’ll just drink a bunch of beer, but that should be fun too.

2) We’ll drink a bunch of beer! Okay, but maybe not too much. I’m 30 now and need to kind of maybe act like an adult.

3) We’re bound to meet some cool people just like we did on our last jaunt in Cartagena, Colombia. But I hope to do more than just kick it with other tourists the whole time. This is about exploration, about getting off the beaten path and learning a thing or two from the locals.

4) There will be penguins.


Something of a plan:

Okay, we’re not going in completely unprepared. We’ve done a lot of research and put together this map of things we might want to possibly see along the way:

Open full map to view legend.

There’s no set itinerary, as I said, but hopefully this outline gives us options and ideas to take up at a whim. And I’m sure we’ll learn a lot once we’re there. Some of our best experiences in the past have come from recommendations offered by friends and strangers, including a trip to Carnaval earlier this year.

The basic plan, however, is to fly into Medellin, Colombia ($150 one-way from Atlanta) and make our way down the west coast: Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile, following it’s spindle all the way south to the far reaches of Patagonia, where we’ll cross into Argentina and start back north along the east coast: Argentina, possibly Uruguay, then Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname, and Guyana. We’ll fly back from Georgetown, or perhaps hope over to Trinidad and shove off from there. We’ll see how well we stick to budget.

One outstanding question is gaining entry to Brazil. As U.S. citizens, my wife and I both need a visa ($160 ea. U.S.), but to apply for one while in the States we need to know our itinerary, and be able to show arriving and departing flights. You can apply without it, but the Brazilian consulate keeps your $160 application fee whether they issue a visa or not. No bueno.

This intrepid traveler and some others online have said it’s possible to obtain a visa at or near a border crossing into Brazil, in this case at Iguazu Falls, a potential crossing point for us. So we’re going to risk it and try to figure things. What other choice do we have? And in the end that’s part of the fun of it all.

So there it is: our non-plan. Anyone with any insight is welcome to comment suggestions or slap us with a reality stick. Check back for updates from south of the border.



Clay Duda is a freelance journalist and photographer. People usually pay him to write things. Here he does it for free.