Nomadic Life in Latin America

by on March 8th, 2015
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To become a nomad in Latin America, you first have to learn Spanish. A one year course is sufficient if you apply yourself diligently. Since Spanish is a phonetic language, you probably can learn it on your own. If you do not learn any Spanish, you will have difficulty. There are people who understand English south of the border, but it is difficult to find them when you need them the most.

Save a little money. Ten thousand dollars was sufficient in 1988. However, because of inflation and because Latin American currencies have become stronger and more stable, you perhaps will need more at the present time.

Divest yourself of most of the comforts of civilization. Quit your job; give up your house, your car, and most of your possessions, keeping only the most important things that you can carry with you, and perhaps a few extra things that friends or relatives agree to keep for you. It is advisable to cancel your credit cards and checking account since they cost money. Put your money in savings accounts so that it will earn interest, partly in long term deposits and partly in a passbook in which withdrawals can be made without penalty. Buy enough American Express Traveler’s Checks to last at least a year. One thousand dollars will probably be sufficient. Unless you are rich, you will have to cancel your insurance policies also.

If possible, put your savings in an account that has an ATM card that can be used in Latin America. If this is not possible, be prepared to return periodically to your bank to get more traveler’s checks. This will be easier if your savings accounts are just north of the Mexican border. But perhaps you will find it preferable if your accounts are in a bank near relatives that you would like to visit on occasion. The writer of this account was able to open an account in Mexico, but now with more stringent regulations this will be more difficult. It is easy to open a savings account in Guatemala. At least, it was easy when I was there.

In case you find yourself in an economic pinch, it is a good idea to acquire some marketable skill that will please Latin Americans. The writer of this account became proficient in writing original Spanish poetry. Other marketable skills are clown acts, fire-eating, singing, art work, and the like. These things can be done right in the street. But there is one caveat. The laws seem to be getting stricter everywhere. If you plan to engage in economic activities even on a small scale, it is advisable to obtain the proper papers from the immigration authorities.

Divest yourself of any vices that you may have. Nomads are admired in Latin America, provided that they do not smoke, drink, or gamble. Besides, vices cost money, which you will find to be scarce.

Arrange for cheap travel. Hitchhiking is the cheapest, but it is becoming increasingly more dangerous. Unless you are rich, avoid air travel, and use bus, train, and boat. When you get to Latin America, do not be afraid to ride in second class buses. And if the train goes where you want to go, you will find that it is a real bargain.

Search for cheap hotels to stay at night. If you are about to make a long trip, go at night and sleep on the bus. It will save you the price of lodging. If you are planning to stay in a certain city for quite a while, look around for a cheap room or apartment which you can rent for a couple of weeks or a month. Be prepared to do a lot of walking with all your earthly possessions on your back. Cheap lodgings are available, but sometimes they are hard to find. If you find it necessary to sleep outside under the stars, look far a secluded place.

You will find that your permit to stay in one country is usually limited. In Mexico it was always six months; in Guatemala it was usually three months. Belize and El Salvador allowed only short stays, while Honduras was far more generous. Be prepared to move from country to country when your permits expire, unless you want to go through the unpleasant and sometimes futile process of getting an extension.

Since nomadic life involves some risk, take your Bible along, and commit yourself to God’s care and protection.

Finally, take advantage of the numerous benefits of nomadic life. No other style of living offers such freedom and independence. And the educational opportunities are abundant. Libraries are omnipresent and usually free. Museums are cheap. In Mexico, the Casa de Cultura of various cities offer varied cultural programs to the general public. Above all, you have the opportunity to study a new culture from the inside, and you will be intellectually richer as a result. Besides, you have the opportunity to meet a lot of people. You might even find a good wife.

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