Overland miles: 12975 Bus hours: 375.5 Empanadar: 80
Half-way through our trip, Prawns For Breakfast, feeling if we are to be honest, just a little sorry for ourselves, published our thrilling top ten list of things we missed most. Now ten months into our trip and careering through the final leg of our Latin American voyage, we bring you a companion piece looking back at our adventure, which features a list of the most useful items in our backpacks. We do this for two reasons: first, in the hope that it might be a useful checklist for travellers embarking on a similar trip in the near future, and second, because many of the items listed were thoughtfully and generously purchased for us by our nearest and dearest. This post is dedicated to all you pretty things: you know who you are.
10. Karrimor Dry-bag
If your mission is to cross a very large piece of land whilst avoiding flying wherever possible, you will undoubtedly find yourself in innumerable sea-based vehicles, some of them less sturdy and more submergeable than others to be honest. We took ’em all on, from a 30 hour ferry making a gas run to Punta Arenas in Patagonia to a lancha making a sea-border crossing with several bags of ice between El Salvador and Nicaragua, to kayaks bobbing about on the stunning Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. Consequently, everything on us or about us got wet at various points. Even when we took land transport, such as overnight buses, our luggage had a nasty habit of coming out of the hold soaking wet. This purchase from our favourite UK discount sports and travel store, Sports Direct, a mere £2.99 (US$5) was indispensable for keeping our valuables bone dry, and the fashionable bright red finish helped us style it out during the many wet seasons.
9. Burgundy “Just my banter (Don’t worry South America, it’s)” Tee
As seen on the deck of the Santana entering Cartagena harbour as we began the second part of our trip across South America, and indeed many breakfasts throughout our travels, it fast became Jovian’s official night shirt. Provoked numerous curious stares and requests for an explanation of this slogan at said breakfasts, which we do not have the space to offer here.
8. Craghopper chic
Proof, if needed, that you simply can’t travel practically and remain in vogue at the same time, the Craghopper range of trekking gear sends two distinct messages to your fellow traveller: 1) “with my zippable trouser legs and stout fleece I am ready for any immediate climactic change I may encounter on this trip” and 2) “I have completely lost my sense of taste, style and identity. Please avert your gaze from my hideous appearance.” Happily, your fellow traveller will be dressed in baggy Thai fisherman’s trousers and a cardigan embroidered with llamas, and will therefore be wildly semaphoring the same fashion crisis signals.
7. Train-driver cap embroidered with Socialist star design
Pros: prevents Clare’s hair turning a bright, brassy orange [don’t you mean naturally sun-kissed golden brown? – Clare] in the strong South American sun. Cons: one Counchsurfing host genuinely believed that Clare was a Socialist.
6. Hot pink plastic cups
For drinking water at night. And looking stupid cool, obvs.
5. Impermeable (Waterproof jacket)
Unbelievably, given how wet many parts of the countries we visited were (see item 10), Clare managed not to bring or purchase one of these at any point. Luckily, I needed to buy a two layer jacket for the Patagonian leg of our trip – having had my stout fleece stolen on a bus to Quito (which reminds me to advise you never to store coats or bags in the overhead compartment of South American buses), at which point I was able to hand over my original mackintosh to a very rain-sodden Clare. We just love a happy ending.
4. Collins Spanish-English / English-Spanish Dictionary (in colour)
If you are seriously considering travelling across Latin America, be prepared to learn the lingo along the way. From mainland Mexico onwards, few people in the service sector spoke English. Luckily, we came prepared with a basic Spanish evening course under our belts, so for the first couple of legs we could get by with a frantic naming-and-gesticulating technique. But it took three intensive stints in Spanish Schools in Guatemala, Ecuador and Peru, including an immersion experience living with a family in San Pedro La Laguna for a month, before we could hope to keep up with everyday conversations. This handy translating companion was indispensable in the classroom and on the road, and includes a set of verb tables, list of common acronyms and useful phrases for key words. Plus, it’s in colour! Spanish Dict is an invaluable online resource, but with limited internet access in many parts of South America, we strongly recommend you c-c-collect a Collins before you leave.
3. Day-bag tools
Every expedition requires the right tools. Specifically, you will need a pocket lighter for all those hostel kitchens where the matches have mysteriously gone missing, and a mini torch for tours that start at dawn, Central American streets with lots of wild dogs and no lighting, and even the odd South American apartment with no lightbulbs anywhere (requires one AA battery, not included). Clearly the Swiss Army Knife satisfies multiple needs in itself, from slicing loaves on picnics in Chile, to opening a cold one at the end of a long dusty trek through the Colombian highlands, to, er cutting Clare’s fringe. Sadly, no horses’ hooves required de-stoning during this trip.
2. Mini padlocks
We’ve lost count over the last ten months of the number of travellers’ tales we’ve heard involving the loss of cameras, memory cards, wallets and the whole gamut of now ubiquitous devices (sometimes all unwisely stored in the same piece of luggage). At number two in our utility countdown, travel security is our watchword, so throw away your cumbersome old Duke of Edinburgh backpack and invest in a decent, two bag model (Jovian recommends the Osprey brand) with zippable pockets. Then purchase a couple of these babies to keep your valuables away from prying hands. (NB: doubles as a padlock for your hostel locker when staying in dorms: most places don’t provide these.)
And at number 1 … It’s PFB’s Diario de Alimentos (Food Diary)!
How do you think I remembered everything we ate and drunk for ten months? Or the daily stats that head up each of our posts?! It’s not down to receiving the overnight gift of photograpic memory en route – or indeed, just making it up (as the haters would claim). Oh no: our Food Diary has been updated every single day on the road across Latin America, and for that reason is without the doubt the most indispensable item in PFB’s rucksack.