Latin America – An Alternative Travel Guide

This traveller guide kicks off with Brazil, before carrying on to Argentina, Chile (Patagonia), Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru and Bolivia, providing answers to many important questions, such as of course “what should I eat and drink, and where?”.

Latin America – An Alternative Travel Guide

Incas, Mayas, Aztecs, the Rio Carnival, Machu Picchu, Spanish occupation, military coups, exploitation, Che, Castro, Chavez,  drug and gun cartels, gang wars, Simon Bolivar, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Borges, soccer, revolutions, colorful people, samba, tango, lively music… This is what many people think of when they hear the words “Latin America”. However, of course there is much more to Latin America than this.

Many people must dream of travelling to this continent and visiting its countries, which are so rich in culture and history. Okan Okumuş is one of those who have made this dream come true. However, he travelled around eleven countries in Latin America not as a “tourist” but as a “traveller”. He preferred alternative routes, stepping off the beaten track to visit non-touristy spots. He witnessed the genuine culture and daily life of the countries he has visited, untouched by mass tourism, and he recorded his experiences on his blog entitled So Long to Borders.

And now, he has collected all of these experiences, along with valuable insights into the history and cultures of the countries he visited, all accompanied by photos,  in the book entitled So Long to Borders 1: Latin America – An Alternative Travel Guide. His observations on Asia, Africa and Oceania, which he visited in the same state of mind, will form the basis for the other titles in the So Long to Borders series.

BACK COVER

Latin America – An Alternative Travel Guide spans a total of eleven countries, and is based on the Latin American travels of Okan Okumuş, author of the So Long to Borders blog. This traveller guide kicks off with Brazil, before carrying on to Argentina, Chile (Patagonia), Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru and Bolivia, providing answers to many important questions, such as of course “what should I eat and drink, and where?”. You will feel closer to the charming atmosphere of the “far away” Latin America with this book which separates itself from the pack of travel guides with alternative routes and suggestions, information on the history of the places visited along with personal observations. Who knows, maybe after reading it you will pack your backpack and hit the road…

“These are my own reflections on life and my philosophy of travelling. This is a philosophy that insists on striving to be part of the daily life of the places you visit, rather than just being a consumer, and trying to understand the past and present of those places”.

Preface

God, Jesus, Family, Dance, Drink, Sex and Soccer…

These seven words which you might not often see side by side comprise a rough summary of life in Latin America. We have to delve into the past in order to flesh out this argument.

Everyone knows something of the harrowing history of Latin America. From Mexico to Argentina, the continent is invaded by the Spanish during the sixteenth century. The indigenous people who resist are slain, but the majority of the population dies due to the unfamiliar viruses brought along by the Europeans, which their immune systems cannot cope with. The remaining locals are forced to work in mines and fields. Those who cannot stand the harsh conditions are slaughtered. Over 100 million die. After a while, the colonists turn their faces towards Africa when they fail to find enough slaves for work.

In the meantime, ancient civilizations such as Maya, Aztec and Inca are consigned to history, and most of their monuments and buildings are destroyed because of their Pagan beliefs. All of the locals are forced to convert to Christianity. The local people who lose heart as a result of the atrocities of the colonists succumb to the God and Prophet of the tyrants. They withdraw and embrace their families. The Latin Americans gain independence at the beginning of the 19th century. However, this time they receive a blow from the inside with the impact of the USA. Dozens of years pass under the shadow of civil wars, military states and coups organized by the USA. The governments who rise to power continue to ignore the people. Many of the presidents try only to fill their pockets while supporting their followers and the upper classes. On top of all this, a ruthless war starts between the drug cartels. Violence hits Colombia first, followed by several Central American countries and Mexico. The ruthless oppression and slaughter continues from where it left off.

The locals, who have lived with death for so long drink, dance and make love in order to cope with the pain, forget and challenge life. They create a second religion for themselves in the 20th century and develop fanatical passion for the soccer teams they support. A unique character that is different from anywhere else on earth emerges when immigrants from different European countries start filling up the streets. A more relaxed, easygoing, tolerant, warm-hearted character.

My Latin America story started with Peru and the glorious Inca civilization. One year later I went to Brazil and Argentina with Hospitalityclub which is an organization for the voluntary hosting of guests. My hosts in these countries embraced me fully. Think of it, you give your house keys to a stranger who has come from a country thousands of kilometers away that you have only ever read a few sentences about. You give the stranger your own bed to make him feel more comfortable or even leave the house completely to the stranger and go off to sleep at the house of a relative. This is how my hosts treated me, first in Brazil and then in Argentina. Can such unconditional and limitless hospitality really be true?

I could no longer resist the tempting beauty of Latin America that embraced me with no questions asked. I continued to visit the countries of these people. I said so long to the borders one by one. In this book, you will read my travel stories, and journey around eleven Latin American countries with me. You will also gain insights into the lives of the people I met along the way and the people who hosted me.

These are my own reflections on life and my philosophy of travelling. This is a philosophy that insists on striving to be part of the daily life of the places you visit, rather than just being a consumer, and trying to understand the past and present of those places. This is how my eyes, tongue and mind travelled around and this is how I wrote, or tried to do so.

This book contains the sorrowful stories of the local people as well as colorful, feverish parties and carnivals where inhibitions are banished. When you finish the book, you will have learned about some of the continent’s most fascinating places and found answers to questions such as, “What do people eat, drink in these countries? How do they have fun What are their traditions and customs?” You will also read the stories of local heroes, of legends passed down through the generations, and learn about the lives and work of important artists from these countries. This book also tries to shed light on the recent history of the countries visited in addition to their economic situations and important contemporary issues.

Another objective I had in mind when writing the book was actually to debunk some of the negative stereotypes about these countries. For instance, the reader will realize that Latin America is not a dangerous destination, contrary to common wisdom. Neither is it actually that hard to travel around Latin American countries, especially for those who manage to live in big cities at home. The reader will also understand that large budgets are not necessary to travel this continent.

I will consider myself happy if I can inspire and guide travellers who already wish to visit Latin America. On the other hand, I believe that even those who have never considered visiting Latin American countries will check out the price of a round trip flight to Brazil after reading this book. They will want to find out whether the Lacandon people of Mexico really were displaced, and see what the weather is like in Colombia. I should warn you.  

Wishing for an earth with no borders…