Although we may be all about staying well clear of the beaten track and going off deep into the heart of these beautiful countries, we would also love to see you returning safe and sound from your adventure. Therefore, we feel like we may need to get in touch with our inner Grandmas and give you a few words of warning.
Yes, we know that the reason you are taking part in this rally is because you get a kick out of dabbling in a bit of danger. You do not like things being too safe and take great pride in getting out of shady areas unscathed and with everything intact. As do we. Our resident nutters at the Inca Rally have partied till the early hours in favelas, walked around jungles and city centres at night with no problem and travelled extensively through these colourful countries without losing a single penny.
If you use the same wonderful common sense that brought you here, you will be fine. But we know that, sometimes, you may also get caught up in all the excitement of the trip and forget some of the basics. Therefore, we would like to remind you of a couple of golden rules. Yes, you may know them all already and may not need to hear them; but this way we can sleep easy at night. So please humour us.
First and foremost, do your research. Think of this trip as a skydive over a beautiful jungle. Before getting on the plane you would have (hopefully) learnt how to pack your parachute, confirmed which size canopy you would need for your altitude, be aware of the weather conditions and would have a backup plan in place should you land in cayman infested waters. Once you are prepared and aware of every potential risk, you can hurl yourself off the plane and enjoy the thrill knowing that you will come out of it unharmed. This is exactly the same. So it would be great if you could look into which areas you should avoid whenever possible, what common scams you may encounter on the street and find out how the locals deal with these. We are not big fans of reading the scared stories of the all-inclusive hotel crowd; who would rather hide in the overly safe confinements of their luxury accommodations than venture outside. We often prefer instead to trawl through backpacking forums to see what other fellow travellers encountered in their trips and learn about as many experiences as possible before arriving.
Secondly, back up this research by talking to the locals. Most of the people you will meet along the way will be more than happy to share their knowledge with you and will often go out of their way to make sure you remain safe. Because you are undoubtedly a friendly bunch, you will make friends with some of the locals and will probably get invited along to some of their parties. This is always a great way to learn what to look out for, how to behave in certain situations and, more importantly, will give you access to areas you would often be wise to avoid on your own. Some of our best adventures happened in areas deemed unsafe by most travellers, but which were perfectly fine because of our local companions.
Thirdly, dress low key. Think more pigeon; less peacock. Petty thieves love Ralph Lauren shirts and limited edition Nikes as much as you do, so please do not add to their collection. Luckily, this is an adventure rally so you do not have to worry about looking your best. In fact, you will probably get that little bit more kudos from your fellow travellers if you rock up looking like a cross between Pete Doherty and Gandalf. So go to your local bargain store beforehand and stock up on clothes, like those amazingly cheap multipacks of plain and simple T-shirts. Not only will these bargainous unbranded garments allow you to blend in and go unnoticed but, because they are so cheap you will probably not think twice about using them to plug that pesky oil leak in your motor.
Fourthly, keep your real essentials safe and hidden away. As attached as you may be to your SLR and iPhone (which we obviously recommend that you keep tucked away as much as possible), the two real indispensible items are your passport and access to money. Should anything kick off, you should always have a way of leaving the country. No matter how many officials tell you that you need to have your passport on you at all times, leave it behind along with a spare bank card. It is often easier to deal with overeager policemen on the street than with unmotivated embassy clerks. Also, whenever you are out and about, make sure to keep your money hidden away in different pockets, socks, secret pouches and the like. No matter how swift and crafty the pickpockets may be, this will ensure that you always have some backup funds on you.
Fifth...Quint...Additionally, send updates as much as possible. Of course, you may have your reasons for hiding every so often, but updating your location on a semi regular basis allows us to know that you are all fine and dandy.
Here are a few useful links to get you started on your research:
The National Travel Health Network and Centre - Funded by the Health Protection Agency, they are a great source for detailed, country-specific information. Very useful when looking into the different vaccines that you will need and being aware of other potential health risks.
British Foreign & Commonwealth Office – Think of them as your mother. They will always be overprotective and slightly paranoid of all the possible dangers out there. They would rather you did not go out there and stayed safe (but bored) at home instead. But, as overly cautious as their advice may be, it is always good to have it in the back of your mind. Do not let their paranoia put you off though...
Drive the Americas – Our friends at Drive the Americas share our passion for driving through South America. They have produced a number of handy articles around common risks that you may encounter on the road, such as how to deal with run-ins with the police, border crossings and road conditions. They are a bit scarce on some of the more remote countries that we will be visiting, but they are still useful nonetheless. If the FCO is your overprotective mother, DtA is your cool, yet safe, cousin.
Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree – The ever-reliable Lonely Planet forum is a maze of useful knowledge and unanswered questions. Great for picking up a few safety tips from fellow travellers, it is also useful for getting some ideas of potential routes that you could take and places to see. In the weird family tree of advice sites that we are creating, they would definitely be your former hippy, now very sensible, uncle.
Wikitravel – This is often very hit and miss. Sometimes some keen traveller may submit a flurry of useful updates around safety and current road conditions (we found out about a recently closed bridge in Venezuela once) and others it may be plagued with outdated ramblings. This would definitely be your crazy grandmother; often mumbling to herself about days gone by, but every so often slipping a little golden nugget of wisdom.
There are more and better sites out there for information that you can check out. This is by no means an exhaustive or recommended reading list. The main thing is that you are aware of the inherent risks of going to a developing country. Not scared, just aware.