The A-Factor and C-Factor: A Travel Guide to South America
I’m not going to pretend I’m the most organized guy. You can usually tell what season it was three months ago by looking in the back of my truck- skis will live there until July, mountain bikes until December, and, for whatever reason, I carry two-stroke motor oil for my sled year round. In fact, I have sleeping pads that I have no recollection of ever owning, and I’m starting to think they came with the truck 100,000 miles ago. The point is, despite my lack of organizational prowess by American standards, I could teach clinics in South America on responsibility.
I sometimes get the feeling that the entire country is one flat tire away from completely imploding on itself. But, somehow, they manage to squeak by, and are some of the happiest people you’ll ever come across. However, dealing with said A-Factor and C-Factor may take a bit to get used to, so here are some pointers:
Here’s a quick translation from South American Time to Greenwich Mean Time
Shortly = within the next 1-2days
One hour = one day approximately
Next week = next month
Eventually = never
Being an American, by default I only know one language. This doesn’t work so well for my traveling exploits. One great icebreaker I’ve found that works in any country is to say something to the effect of how beautiful the people are there. While this works in Argentina and Chile, you’re probably better off going with the phrase, “the Condors are amazing here.” As crazy as it sounds, this phrase will melt even the coldest, most reserved souls.
Don’t be fooled by the locals that are “taking it easy” because they “have to work tomorrow.” Both these phrases need to be considered relative to local customs. “Taking it easy” means going to bed at some point and “work tomorrow” means that they are scheduled to work tomorrow, but always have the option to take the day off (see below).
It is completely acceptable for someone to not show up/quit in the middle of his or her shift, with no real repercussions/explanation. Therefore, expect closures of lifts/lodges/restrooms with no explanation. I was once on an eight-hour shuttle between cities when we pulled over an hour from our destination. When I asked what we were doing, my fellow passengers explained to me that the driver was tired of driving so we just needed to find our own rides from there.
On Being a Gringo:
Despite how good you think your Spanish is, and how sweet your “I-hate-my-dad” facial hair is, you’re probably going to stick out like a redneck at an STS9 concert. Indeed, your outfit/body language/demeanor will scream, “take advantage of me.” My advice: watch your back, and be weary of anything “free.” If nothing else, just say “no nintendo.” “No entiendo” means “I don’t understand,” but “no nintendo” will really get the point across.
South America is amazing, and can deliver the time of your life, but you have to be able to roll with the punches. Expect hang-ups, delays, and closures with little explanation. Don’t let these get you down though, because, it’s likely completely out of your control. Should you find yourself frustrated with the A-factor or C-factor, take a deep breath, a step back, and gaze at a Condor…and somebody will probably come help you.