Planning the Alaska – Ushuaia trip? The first time in South America can be a bit of a culture shock, and while it’ll mostly be positive – the hospitality of the people and the stunning landscapes are guaranteed to blow your mind – some things are just different, and can be a little tricky to navigate. Here’s what you’ve got to keep in mind when riding South America:
Time Is Relative
Regardless of whether t’s Colombia, Bolivia, Argentina, or Peru, time is perceived a little differently in South America – and it’s actually very liberating once you get used to it. However, for a lot of Westerners, it can get pretty frustrating in the beginning. If you come across a road closure due to roadworks and the workers tell you it’ll be about twenty minutes, it might actually take forty, or two hours, or just five minutes – or, in some cases, the promised twenty, but there’s just no way of knowing. If you left your bike for service at a shop and were told it’ll be ready tomorrow, it might – but it also might only be ready on Wednesday, or in the afternoon. If you need to cross a river somewhere remote on a rickety old barge and you’re told the ferry leaves at 4 pm, it could potentially leave at 6 pm, but also at 3 pm if there are enough passengers… You get the picture.
To avoid frustration, just be as flexible with your routes and schedules as you can, be prepared to wait, and don’t try to rush things: you simply won’t be understood. Smile, relax, and have a cold one – most of the time, there’s just nothing you can do.
2. Border Crossings Are Easy
There is a common myth that border crossings in South America are very difficult, the officials are corrupt, the process is unclear… But that simply isn’t the case. In Central America, perhaps. In South America? As long as your paperwork is in order, you haven’t overstayed your visa, and you roll up to a border earlier in the day in case there are queues, most border crossings only take some twenty minutes or so and the process is absolutely painless.
3. Bolivia Does Have Fuel
Bolivia has a policy of subsidizing gas to locals, but this courtesy is not extended to foreigners. This means that you will be paying for fuel a little more than Bolivians do; and because gas station attendants are required to fill in some extra paperwork when you show up, sometimes, they just don’t feel like doing it. It’s a bit of a hassle, but you absolutely can get fuel in Bolivia, you just might have to:
- leave the bike parked outside the gas station and show up with a canister. No number plate, no extra paperwork for the gas station people.
- ask a local to help you get fuel
- fill up in bigger cities where gas stations are used to dealing with gringos
Again, this is a bit of a hassle, however, fuel is available and the myth that Bolivians won’t sell you any gas is just that, a myth.
4. You Do Not Need To Pay Bribes
Another common misconception is that most police and military officers in South America are corrupt, and you better have some extra cash for bribes. In total, between 2013-2014 and 2017-2019, I have not been asked to pay a bribe once in three years in any of the countries I traveled through.
5. The Infrastructure and Roads Are Developed
South America does have some vast, remote regions that are extremely hard to access such as the bigger portion of the Amazon rainforests, some parts of the Andes, and parts of the Atacama desert. However, you won’t be going to those places. You’ll either be riding the Pan Ameican Highway or, even if you get off the beaten path, you’ll still be following smaller backroads and off-road trails not far from civilization. Even doing the notorious Lagunas Route in Bolivia, you’ll come across villages and find food, fuel, and shelter. In all of the bigger cities and towns from Cartagena, Colombia all the way to Ushuaia, Argentina, you’ll have everything you need from motorcycle mechanics and dealerships to Starbucks, supermarkets, ATMs, air-conditioned hotels, Uber, and AirBnB. In addition, most paved roads, especially in Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina, and Chile are in very good condition and there is no shortage of gas stations equipped with espresso machines and fast WiFi. South America sounds like it’s this exotic, faraway place where it’s all Wild West, little infrastructure, and no Walmart, but that just isn’t the case.
6. Locals Are Among the Friendliest People on Earth
Everywhere you go in South America, you’ll be greeted by hospitality, curiosity, and friendliness. Make sure you respond with the same and connect with locals as often as you can – it will make a huge difference to the way you travel and see the world.
Featured image: Pixabay