28 Signs You’ve Been to South America

Llamas in Chile are like cows in the US

Traveling through South America has a way of staying with you.

If you still wear your alpaca sweater everyday or have acquired a hankering for pork rinds, you probably have spent some time in South America.

I find that every time you travel, you adapt a little bit, or a lot, to your new surroundings in ways that may be hard for you and your less-traveled peers to understand. Don’t feel bad. It happens to the best of us. I’ve compiled a list of character traits to help pin down the people who have spent a good amount of time in South America. Leave a comment if you can think of anything to add!

You know you’ve been to South America when…

  • You crave arepas and empanadas when you’re drunk instead of pizza and lo mein.

    Arepa con huevo, a Colombian delicacy
    Arepa con huevo, egg arepa, from Cartagena, Colombia
  • you’ve realized that they weren’t lying when they said that you can’t flush toilet paper.
  • muscle memory has you throwing away toilet paper in the bin instead of in the toilet.
  • you, or someone you know, have a cool Salar de Uyuni photo as your/their profile or cover photo on Facebook.
photo credit- Blake Matich
photo credit- Blake Matich
  • you start calling ketchup “tomato sauce” because in Spanish it translates to salsa de tomate.
  • you’ve either worn, held, fed or eaten an alpaca/llama.

    Only costs a few soles to hold a baby alpaca in Peru
    Holding a baby alpaca in Cusco, Peru.
Alpaca hair makes a warm material for clothing in Peru.
Rocking my warm alpaca sweater from Peru.
posing with a llama in Chile
Alpaca dinner
Alpaca dinner
  • you know how to score prescription pills from the pharmacy, without a prescription.
  • you’ve never been so sunburnt.

    Intense sunburn from an Ecuadorean sun.
    Nearly a year later, and I still have those tan lines.
  • you have, or know someone who has, crapped your/their pants…in public.
  • you have, or know someone who has, been robbed.
  • you recognize the value of the currency instead of having to do math to figure out the dollar amount.
Chilean money
  • you bring along chicharrones for a bus snack instead of Doritos.
  • coca tea becomes an acceptable substitution for coffee.
  • you’ve found all kinds of weird flavors of Lays potato chips.
they really do taste like pollo a la brasa from Peru
they really do taste like pollo a la brasa from Peru
  • you’ve literally been eaten alive by mosquitos.
not as bad as the people who look like they’ve had a herpes outbreak on their calves, but still
  • you’ve had nightmares from malaria pills.
  • if you can’t talk about poops with someone at your hostel, you don’t want to be their friend.
  • you were seriously impressed by the street produce.

    Large avocados found in Medellin, Colombia
  • the thought of putting on shoes other than flip flops or hiking boots is daunting.
  • you’re in a public place and immediately try to struggle with Spanish when talking to strangers, before realizing that you’re home now and can speak English.
  • you don’t fear insects anymore.
  • you hide your iPhone under your pillow before leaving the room.
  • you see a sign that says “areas” and you think “arepas.”
  • someone tells you it’s 23 degrees back home and you can’t believe they’re having such nice weather in December (only applies to Americans using the Imperial system during the winter).
kill me
  • you think it’s acceptable to wear your alpaca sweater daily (after all, there is no warmer material).
  • your cabbie stops at a toll and you prepare yourself to be searched by the police.
  • ponchos are a warm and sensible fashion statement.
being a weirdo with matching ponchos
  • you’ve made friends with at least one stray/hostel dog or cat.
Found a dog to play with in Salento, Colombia
Made good friends with this good boy in Salento, Colombia
Randall, the house pup of HI Arica
Posing with Randall, whom I met in Chile.



by Rebecca Bellan



Packing Update Thus Far

Here is an update to my previous packing guide for South America.

There are the things I brought, and the things I wish I brought…


Almost two weeks into my trip, and I’m already wishing I could make edits to my backpack contents, something I wrote about in a previous post. Below you’ll find my fantasy packing list.


  • 4-5 tank tops
  • 4 t-shirts (some printed/fashion to wear socially)
  • 3 long sleeved shirts
  • 2 sweatshirts, 1 cardigan
  • 1 thin rain jacket
  • 3 pairs leggings (why did I pack so many?? Did I think I would be doing yoga the whole time?)
  • AT LEAST ONE PAIR OF JEANS (one backpacker blog insisted that jeans were useless cargo to have in South America, and I took him at his word. But I wished I had a pair when going out at night in cities like Quito, where the temperature drops when the sun does.)
  • 1 pair comfy cotton pants (instead of flannel pajamas)- wishing I brought my fashionable cotton harem pants to lounge around in.
  • 1 pair transformer cargo pants
  • 3-4 pairs shorts (2 comfy and able to get wet, 2 jeans)
  • 2 swimsuits
  • 1 skirt, 1 sundress (happy with these)
  • 3 sports bras, 1 good VS sports bra
  • 10 pairs underwear (moisture wicking, fast dry, etc)
  • 2 pairs flip flops; perhaps even 1 flip flop and 1 comfy gladiator sandals
  • 1 pair hiking boots (wore these everyday in Quito- not fashionable, but other backpackers know you mean business)

I’m pretty pleased with my essentials. I haven’t gotten around to using everything in the list, such as the sink plug (because most hostels offer laundry services) and my first aid kit (because I haven’t gotten too cut up yet), but I have faith that I will get around to all of my supplies. So far, I am most thankful for my hand sanitzer, my water filtration system, and my ibuprofen.

I briefly wished that I had brought some antibiotics after catching a case of strep throat that is running rampant at the hostel I am working at now, but if you’re good at self diagnosing, it is fairly easy to acquire antibiotics at the pharmacy without a prescription.

Hope this helps any potential travelers! As my trip expands, I’ll make sure to update this list some more.


by Rebecca Bellan

Shrunken Heads: How To

Learn how to make a shrunken head with these step by step directions!

The Shuar Tribe of Ecuador are pros at creating trophies from the skins of their enemies.


Do you want to collect trophies of your conquests? Perhaps gain the soul of your victim, which will enable you to control the labor of the women in your lives? Then this crash course from the Shuar tribe is for you!

Shrunken Head Selfie
Shrunken Head Selfie

Step 1: Kill your enemy…but watch the face!

Step 2: Cut off your enemy’s head.



Step 3:  Remove the skull from the skin. Take care not to tear the skin when you pull it from the skull.

Step 4: Carefully boil the head skin in a mix of secret Shuar herbs and spices for about 1.5-2 hours. This will shrink the skin and hair to about 1/3 of its size.

Step 5: Sew the enemy’s mouth shut to keep the soul (muisak) from escaping. Remember, a shrunken head without a trapped soul is merely a toy.

Step 6: Place hot stones through the neck opening to sear the inside and complete the shrinking process.

Step 7: Cut a hole in the top of the head in order to tie a string through it. Wear around your neck and enjoy the looks of pride and envy!


-Before you begin the process of shrinking the head, make sure you are safely out of enemy territory so that you can work in peace.

-It would be considerate of you to throw the unneeded skull in the river as a gift to the pani, or anaconda.

– Don’t leave the head in the pot for too long, or else you may simmer off the hair.

– When placing the hot rocks inside the skin bag, make sure to rotate them regularly so as to not burn through the skin. For best results, add hot sand to crevices like nose holes and ear holes to ensure total sealing and shrinking.

-Be patient! Don’t rush through the process. You want the head to maintain as much of a semblance to the living victim as possible.




by Rebecca Bellan

Some things to think about before you travel

A few tips for new travelers or backpackers.

Keep these things in mind before you set off on your journey.


So you’ve figured out the obvious things before your trip. You packed your bag, you bought your tickets, you have a place to stay. Here are a few things to think about before you go that may not be as obvious or convenient:

  • Get travel insurance. World Nomads offers a comprehensive way to buy the travel insurance that’s right for you, in addition to other useful information.
  • Buy travel medical insurance. For this trip, I only purchased the World Nomads travel insurance, which covers emergency room visits. If I feel the need to buy a specific medical insurance, I’ll look here for suggestions of private companies.
  • Get your vaccinations! If you’re going to Europe, don’t worry about it. But much of Asia, Africa and South America require vaccinations, so keep your vaccination information book with your passport. For a more specific list of what vaccinations you might need, check the CDC’s website. http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel
  • Check the travel advisories for the country you want to visit. Nothing cute about trying to be a tourist in a warring country. The US Department of State’s website gives somewhat up-to-date info, but don’t let that scare you off too much.
  •  However, a fellow traveling friend of mine says that he reads the local papers online before he goes to see what’s up.
  • While we’re doing research, it wouldn’t hurt to read up a little on the weather, history, government and economic situation of the country you are going to. Usually wiki has the answers, but guidebooks from roughguides.com and lonelyplanet.com are also cheap and can be downloaded directly to your *insert technological device here.*
  • Figure out how the public transportation works, or if you’ll be renting a car, and what currency the country uses.
  • As a server/bartender during my less glamorous months of the year, I have to say that it is important to understand the tipping procedures in every country you travel to.
  • Make copies of your passport, driver’s license, and credit cards.
  • Let your bank know of your travel plans so they don’t shut your cards down.
  • Find out which ATMs coincide with your bank and may not charge you an arm and a leg for withdrawals.
  • Decide whether or not you want to pay for an international phone plan. I intend to use my iPhone as more of a computer, accessing it only when I have wifi or need to take a picture.
  • If you have an iPad or iPhone, make sure you sync it with someone’s Find My iPhone so your mom or whoever knows where you are.
  • A Tip: If you’re traveling alone (like I am) and if you’re a woman (like I am), maybe don’t embark on your travels with a party mindset. What I mean to say is, don’t be one of those stories. Keep your guard up and a clear head, especially at night. We all know that foreigners stick out. If you’re traveling with friends, try not to be so obnoxiously foreign so you don’t attract unwanted attention.


by Rebecca Bellan

Stuff It In

A guide to stuffing your backpack for an extended trip to South America.

From insect repellant to moisture wicking underwear, I believe I thought of everything I’ll need.

I figure the most important thing to think about before you go backpacking is if you’re really going backpacking. In Europe, I feel like you can call it backpacking but actually bring a small rolling suitcase because the roads are generally paved. I hear that this is not the case in South America, so I headed over to Eastern Mountain Sports during their end-of-the-summer sales and went HAM on some outdoorsy gear, everything from nearly toxic insect repellant to a portable water filtration system to SO MANY wool socks. But first I needed the backpack. After trying on a few adult sized ones ranging from $200-$300, the kind sales associate suggested that I try on the youth backpack, due to my short torso, whatever that means. It fit perfectly and was $100 cheaper. I stuck a pin on it, a gift that was given to me by my Australian friend who volunteered with me in Sicily, and proceeded to buy more things to stuff in it. Here’s my list:

Clothes: (the key terms we are looking for here are moisture-wicking and quick dry. Gotta keep all your junk fresh.) I hear layers are very important in South America, especially in countries like Peru where the weather does what it wants and you either have to remove to keep cool or put on to keep warm.

  • 6-7 tank tops in slimming black and gray
  • 2-3 t shirts
  • 2 long sleeved shirts
  • 1-2 sweatshirts (one stuffed in my bag, another around my waist)
  • 1 cardigan (in case I need to cover my shoulders in a church, or something)
  • 1 thin rain jacket (that my mom bought me from Costco)
  • 4 pairs of quick-dry (there it is again) leggings
  • 1 pair of SICK, SEXY cargo pants/shorts with scandalous removable legs
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 8 or so pairs of undies (if you can’t afford to buy 8 pairs of $20 underwear like the super-hot pair shown below, cotton is also a breathable fabric)
  • 3 sports bras, 1 normal VS bra
  • 8 pairs of socks (preferably wool)
  • 1 pair of sandals (I packed my $2 pair of Old Navy flip flops. Hope I don’t lose them in a swamp)
  • 2 pairs of shorts- 1 jean, 1 workout style (3 if you count my transformers)
  • 1 pair of pajamas (mine consist of a pair of boxers, flannel pants, and a large Irish Yoga tshirt)
  • 1 black skirt, 1 cute sundress
  • 1 pair of ridiculously comfy hiking boots that I will probably wear errday


  • fast-drying towel
  • a first aid kit/personal pharmacy
    • lip balm with spf, sunscreen 30spf or higher, cough drops, neosporin, PEPTO BISMAL, hand sanitizer, rehydration salts, PAINKILLERS, flu meds, bandaids, Emergenc-E, etc.
  • tampons and pads…amrightladies??? Also birth control packs…ain’t nobody got time for cramps
  • insect repellant with deet
  • some makeup- I’m mostly going au natural, bringing along a tinted moisturizer with SPF for smooth skin, mascara for my utter lack of eyelashes, concealer for my other bags, and some lipstick
  • Sunglasses and a hat (imma buy the hat down there so I look like a local)
  • eye mask and ear plugs (so I don’t hear myself or other travelers snoring and rustling with their plastic bags)
  • Shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, deodorant, razors…
    • I also bought some special pH soap that I can use as anything from bodywash to laundry detergent
  • flashlight, lock, money necklace (I still have mine from famous Long Island water park SPLISH SPLASH)
  • small messenger purse for my passport and other things
  • a sink plug so you can do your own laundry
  • universal power adapter
  • headphones, chargers, a good digital camera (mine is an Olympus E 420), iPad, and an iPad camera connection kit so ya’ll can see my pretty pics
  • notebook and pens (for the sentimental stuff I don’t want you all reading)

I’ll let you guys know how this worked out for me! Wish me luck.

my limited attire
my limited attire, rolled up to preserve space
bundle of bras (and socks and undies)
bundle of bras (and socks and undies)
ooh la la
these ExOfficio undies boast being able to last for “17 countries. 6 weeks. One pair of underwear (ok, maybe two).” I’ll let you know how that works out for me.
fancy pants
fancy pants
a gift from a friend
a gift from a friend
a youth backpack
a youth backpack
“I open at the close.”


some other things
some essentials, including (whore) wipes, a waterproof bag, quick-dry towel, notebook, hand sanitizer, lock, mini water purification system, sink plug, first aid, and some games.
a great gift from family
the cash and journal were much needed gifts from family. the red thing is my money necklace from Splish Splash water park


by Rebecca Bellan

The One Way Ticket

If you’re as restless as I am, buying a one way ticket is the best way to start your journey.

Nothing inspires and ignites me like getting ready to travel.

A wise man at a sticky dueling piano bar in Boston once told me that there are two types of people in this world: those who know their culture and try to push the limits of it, and those who don’t know their culture, and explore unfamiliar worlds in the hopes of finding somewhere they belong. I suppose am the latter, absorbing the parts of different cultures that I like and rejecting those that I don’t. I consider myself to have a chronic and recurring case of wanderlust, otherwise known as “the travel bug”, which makes me hunger for new experiences. It all started when I studied abroad in Madrid, Spain junior year of college. I got my first taste of what it feels like to be an individual in a new society, and I became addicted, booking as many weekend trips around Europe as I could.

Last year, I felt it was time for another spontaneous adventure. I booked my first one way ticket to Sicily, Italy and decided to the figure the rest out once I got there. Of course, I wasn’t completely irresponsible; I frequented the site http://www.workaway.info/ to find someone to host me in exchange for free labor. I find sites like this one, helpx.net and wwoof.net (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) to be great outlets to find people who encourage travelers to stay for a while and get to know their culture through mutually beneficial relationships. In Sicily, I worked for two months at CCly Hostel in Catania, where I slept in an 8 bed dorm with other travelers and volunteers and basically ran the hostel, doing everything from making breakfast to checking in guests to cleaning toilets. While I was there, I met so many awesome and inspirational fellow travelers, and I was able to really get to know the island of Sicily, while also taking a long weekend trip to Istanbul, a few weeks teaching English in Poland, terminating in a few more weeks touring the south of Spain (more on last year’s trip in another post).

Now, my restlessness has gotten to me again, and I feel the need to visit the uncharted (by me) lands of Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina. My bank account will probably only allow me to stay for three months or so, despite rarely having to pay room and board because I will be volunteering my way through the four countries. But experiences are worth more to me than almost anything else. As skeptical philosopher David Hume said, the self is “nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions…”  I intend to experience this trip hard and fast (thank god for adderall), absorbing as much as I can as quickly as I can.

Check out my next post to see what and how I packed my one backpack. I don’t want to call it a “packing tips” post just yet, because, as I’ve never been south of the northern hemisphere before, I have no idea if I’m doing this right. Trial and error, folks!

**UPDATE- Instead of Argentina, I went to Colombia, and couldn’t be more pleased by my decision. I felt that Argentina was too large of a country to try to fit into a few weeks, and I also wasn’t pleased with the idea of paying for an expensive visa to enter the country, an oversight in my prior research.

September, 2014

by Rebecca Bellan