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uruguay flag punta del este
uruguay flag punta del este

Punta Del Este, Uruguay

December 10th 2013. This was the date that the tiny South American nation of Uruguay broke new ground and became the first country in the world to (re) legalize marijuana. Jose Mujica, the leftist now ex-president who pushed the initiative, was hailed as a hero by stoners worldwide, and other countries watched on to see what would happen. As an occasional indulger of the herb and a supporter of legalisation, the country was a must-visit stop on my tour of Latin America. I ended up spending a month in the country and the weed situation wasn’t exactly how I imagined it. So what is it like?

Buying

As a tourist you’re not legally allowed to buy cannabis. That right is reserved for Uruguayan nationals and residents. Still, must be dead easy to pick up in a country where it’s legal right? Not so fast. Because of the incredibly slow rate at which the state is sorting out ‘government cannabis’, buying from licensed sellers isn’t an option because, to date, there aren’t any. This means no dispensaries, coffee shops, pharmacies, or any official outlet where one can go to legally buy cannabis. Sorry to shatter your weed-utopia dreams. Effectively, Uruguayans have to grow their own cannabis if they want to smoke it legally, or be given some by a friend. It’s not even legal for growers to sell their herb as their cultivation hasn’t been overseen to match government regulations. I know, not quite how I imagined the first country in the world to legalize cannabis either.

Update July 2017: Pharmacies in Uruguay started selling marijuana on 19th July. You can read more about it at these links:
Long Lines, $1.30 Grams Mark Uruguay’s Legal Cannabis Debut – Leafly
Uruguay, First Country in the World to Legally Regulate Marijuana, Begins Retail Sales Today – Drug Policy Alliance

montevideo coast uruguay

Montevideo, the country’s capital

With that said, you’ll have to buy weed illegally from a home grower. Yes, still black market! This makes finding weed a little more difficult than you might’ve expected, but not that difficult. Asking around in hostels will likely find you some leads, but its certainly not guaranteed – a friend and I had a few fruitless days searching in Punta Del Este, luckily the remains of his stash held us over until the day we found more – by a stroke of luck, meeting a local on the street. The herb found me on more than one occasion, but usually as being invited to smoke with others rather than as an opportunity to top up my personal stash.

Cost

Because you’re buying on the black market there is no official price and how much you pay will vary. Uruguay is not a cheap country in general and the price of the weed reflects this. Typically you’ll pay more in tourist areas, at the upper end expect to pay the equivalent of UK prices – £6 / $7.50 per gram. The price can drop down to about half that, and if you’re lucky you may well be gifted some by a proud grower or just some friendly dude, as I was on a couple of occasions.

uruguay punta del este joint

Enjoying a J on a fisherman’s pier, Punta Del Este.

Tourists can expect to pay more so if you have a Uruguayan buddy who can buy for you, you’ll almost certainly get a better rate. This happened to me in Cabo Polonio; I first bought some at the equivalent of UK prices then later befriended a local who went to the exact same guy, paid a bit less cash, and got a bit more green.

Choice

Because of the non-existence of official sellers, you won’t find the choice of herb or product that you would in other locations with progressive laws. Menus of strains like Amsterdam? Forget it. Choice of edibles like in Colorado? No such luck. It’s pretty much as it would be anywhere it’s illegal – you can’t be picky, you will get what you are given – if it’s weed it’s weed, and you can buy it or not.

Smoking

This is where Uruguay comes into its own and all the troubles of obtaining the herb are forgiven. As the only illegal bit is the exchange of cash, once you’ve obtained your weed, you’re golden. The shady part of buying is over and you can smoke it anywhere you like. There are no coffee shops or designated chill spaces but really they aren’t necessary because aside from enclosed public spaces (bars, restaurants, offices etc.), you can smoke anywhere you like. Yes, anywhere. With its beach lined coast Uruguay has no shortage of great spots to stop and melt into a stoned haze. Tucked between Brasil and Argentina, the country has a large musical influence from both and weed-infused local drum or music jam nights provide a great atmosphere to get dazed.

Atmosphere & Culture

Smoking freely on the street

Weed is no big deal in Uruguay. It was as novel as it was refreshing to see workers lighting up and sharing a joint with a tea on their break – just as one might see workers on a ciggie break. Noone, besides myself, batted an eyelid. While waiting for a bus at the Montevideo terminal, a middle aged lady came and asked me for a light before smoking her joint nonchalantly in front of, amongst everyone else, security guards. Of course, in terms of where you can and can’t legally smoke, weed and tobacco are the same thing. To me, the scene was peculiar, smoking so casually and carefree in a public space was an alien concept; the dodginess of smoking or carrying weed has been so deeply ingrained in me. I’ve lost count of the amount of sneaky or covert joints I’ve smoked; retreating to rooftops, leaning awkwardly out of bathroom windows, scanning parks for potential sources of trouble. Really though, there should be nothing strange about it; I know too well by now that tobacco and alcohol are far more dangerous than weed, but because of my cultural programming the sight was a novelty. The novelty extended to when I finally had my own weed and was free to smoke without worries. I can’t understate how liberating this was and the novelty didn’t wear off during my month in the country.

The Myth Of Legalising Weed

The notion that everyone will start smoking and the population will become lazy was shattered on my trip to Uruguay. In fact, I was surprised by how few locals smoked during my visit. I guess its like how alcohol is treated in France and other European countries; once the repression and stigma are removed, so is the urge for abuse – it’s no longer a big deal, or ‘cool’ because it’s illegal, it’s just a choice people can make for themselves. I’m not saying there are no potential dangers to smoking weed and that no Uruguayan potheads exist, but it doesn’t seem that criminalizing the drug does any good to minimize them. Legalization bit over, you know my stance.

Conclusion

The situation around obtaining weed makes Uruguay far from the stoner’s utopia. That being said, I can’t understate how nice it was to be smoking out and about without looking over my shoulder or some paranoia creeping in. My buddies and I continually used the phrase ‘sin prisa’ to describe our experience of life in Uruguay. It means ‘without hurry’, because when we were cycling around and stopping off for joints, that’s exactly how we felt; totally relaxed and without haste. There was no sneaking down quiet alleys or rush to ‘burn the evidence’, and to me, that’s exactly how weed should be enjoyed; in the moment and savoured. (And as a medicine for those that desperately need it too of course!) And that is why the experience of smoking in Uruguay was unique, in the best way.

lake titicaca lsd
lake titicaca lsd

Sophie standing in Lake Titicaca, on her first LSD trip

An acid trip on the Bolivian Isla Del Sol? Yeah that was a pretty sweet one. It was also my new friend Sophie’s first time with LSD. Figuring that you yourself may never have tried psychedelics but may be interested in LSD, this post will centre on how the experience was for Sophie; a first-time tripper. She kindly wrote about the experience from her perspective for me upon request, and I’ve included her writing in sections precluded with and S: and in blue, and interspersed them with my own account of the experience. Also, indented, I’ve put a few comments on aspects of the psychedelic experience typical to LSD.

  • N.B. This is by no means an exhaustive or complete account of an LSD experience, or even our experience that day, rather a fun piece that I hope will pique your curiosity and perhaps make you consider LSD and other psychedelic substances differently. There’s also some resources for first timers at the end.

Background

S: Apart from our adventure in the Bolivian jungle, I’d had no experience with psychedelics. As soon as John told me all about the effects of acid and his experiences, I knew I would like to sense this myself too.

As we headed east leaving the Amazon and our ayahuasca chapter behind, I revealed to Sophie that I had a few tabs of LSD and we could take some together. Having both just been told that our next destination, The Island Of The Sun, alleged birthplace of the Incas, is ‘the most beautiful place in Bolivia’, it didn’t take long before we’d decided that it would be a more than opportune time and place for some consciousness experimentation. I’d long wanted to help guide someone through their first LSD experience and figured if I was to ever fulfil my vague and lazily pursued pipe-dream of one day becoming a shaman/psychedelic therapist myself, it would be exactly the type of experience I should be notching up.

Though I’m still no expert, I’d like to think of myself as a fairly seasoned tripper these days and reasonably capable of dealing with any difficult situations which may arise. Besides, and much more importantly, Sophie felt good about it and was very positive.

The Day Of The Trip

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The bay we arrived in to

Lake Titicaca is mahoossive so it was only after a 2 hour boat ride that we arrived to the eastern side of the island. After finding a room at a place that was essentially sheds built onto the side of a mountain, we headed in the direction of where we’d heard quiet beaches could be found.

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Heading down to the beach

S: As we explored the eastern side of the island by foot, we found an idyllic small hidden beach. We walked down a rocky hill, past a small abandoned cabin, and reached a 300 foot wide beach with no one and nothing else to be seen apart from the dry landscape and clear water. We sat down in a little dune. We took the acid and sat in silence, with our faces turned to the bright warm sun.

It was just after midday when we took the acid, 3/4 tab each. I estimate that each of our doses were about 50-100 micrograms each (current drug laws make it very hard to know what you actually have – let’s fight for legalisation! OK, more on that in another post). I figured it was a good idea to take less than a full tab after others’ feedback on this batch; one example – a few weeks earlier I’d given a tab to a curious Korean girl I’d met in Sucre advising her that half the tab might be best for her first time – she later contacted me telling me she had tried half and that the trip was strong, much stronger than she’d expected and had lasted more than 14 hours(!). So anyway…

The Trip

After about an hour we both began to feel lethargic and sluggish like just we’d eaten a fat and heavy meal (we had in fact eaten a sandwich and were probably sensitive to the digestion). We lay back and relaxed and it passed after about twenty minutes as the trip began. As the psychological effects came on, Sophie told me that she had the sensation that her body wasn’t ‘hers’. Looking at one of her feet she dug it into the sand a few times, as if it were numb with pins and needles, and testing her sense of touch. She was smiling and seemed to be enjoying the novelty.

‘It’s so weird – it’s not mine!’

Looking bewildered, she picked up a small stone from beside her and threw it at her foot.

‘Yes, but it is useful, you’ll need it later’ I smiled.

  • The ‘this body is not my body’ sensation is not an uncommon sensation for people to experience on psychedelics. For this reason, looking at yourself in a mirror is weirdly fascinating.

We lay back and relaxed as you would do on any day at the beach. A little scraggly dog appeared and decided to chill with us, I happily appointed him mascot for the trip and Sophie named him Sam.

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Me and Sam: a dog’s life

S: After a little while, I started to feel very relaxed. The sun on my skin felt very nice and comforting, and there was nothing else I wanted in that moment. I was sensing a lot, but emotionally in a very stable and positive way. The more I allowed myself to just take in the moment, the more I felt happy, content and at peace. I’ve never experienced myself being so present; my thoughts did not drift off to the past or future, I was able to fully feel how it was to be there.

  • Happy, content and at peace – Yes, this is why we trip!

S: I decided to go for a swim. Even though the water was very cold, it felt very nice around my body. I couldn’t get enough of the water and stood there for a while, just feeling the water with my fingertips, legs and belly. I stared out towards the sun and felt good. My feeling was that it was the perfect place to be at that exact moment.

  • Presence – the feeling that there is nowhere else you’d rather be, and nothing that you would change; that everything is as it should be – also not an uncommon effect of psychedelics. Nice.

Sidenote: the water was actually freezing, like really cold. I’d dipped in myself a short while before and at that point was comfortably dried off and happily chilling on my towel again. Crazy girl.

S: There was not much more than the beach, the water, the sun, John and the little dog that came and joined us. The world felt like a little place in those moments.

We passed the day there, simply enjoying the view and listening to music as we lay in isolation from the world and any nagging thoughts of it. That afternoon our bodies and minds were there on that beach.

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I spent long periods of time just gazing at this beauty

After the Peak – Coming Down & Hiking Up

There was no intense peak on this trip and after a few hours we could both feel the effects diminishing. As the effects started to wear off we decided to leave the beach and start heading back to give ourselves time to find our way back to our room before dark. We left the beach and climbed back up to the hiking trail, marvelling at the outstanding beauty from our new vantage point.

Sophie told me that her body felt different again, that physically she felt light and rejuvenated. I didn’t find it hard to believe as she was joyfully bouncing around with a spring in her step and a blissful smile on her face. Looking at our new surroundings we saw beauty from all sides and were charmed by some wild goats trotting freely on the mountain beside us.

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The trail, sorry – didn’t get a pic of the goats

Attempting to capture the beauty of the landscape, Sophie took out her camera and snapped a few pics, but each time, upon glancing at the photo upon her screen, ‘less beautiful!’. Reality just couldn’t be matched.

As we continued walking along the trail, we noticed that we could see our spot down on the beach, where we’d spent the previous five hours or so. We’d been totally oblivious of how exposed the beach was; from the shore we’d only been looking out, and not behind us and up the hill behind. Whilst we were down there we felt totally secluded and had been in our own little universe, but now we could see that the spot was clearly visible to anyone walking the trail. Being one of the top tourist spots in Bolivia, there was a decent number of people hiking around that day. We imagined tourists hiking along that day and seeing us down there – myself sprawled on the towel and Sophie standing topless and motionless in the still cold waters of the Lake – and doubled over in hysterics. People don’t typically visit the Isla Del Sol to have a beach day, it’s more of a hiking/Incan ruin tourist pull, so imagining what people might’ve been thinking as they saw us on their way round was hilarious and we continued cracking up in bursts of laughter for a good ten minutes. Even thinking about it now brings a smile to my face.

  • Uncontrollable laughter is also not an uncommon occurrence when tripping, and quite frankly, an absolute joy. There is something so liberating and joyful about free and unrestrained laughter; it’s one of my favourite aspects of tripping.
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Night falls on the island

As the laughter died down we made our way back and went for dinner at the only restaurant in ‘town’, a small family place with 4 tables and a 10 year old kid as the waiter. We talked about our day and the trip together – a classic ‘debrief’ over dinner. After arriving back home, we perched on the mountain beside our room and gazed up at the stars, a tree dancing with the wind in our view. Tenderly, almost wistfully, speaking of the native’s beliefs, Sophie let out:

‘You know, sometimes I understand why they believe in Pachamama’

Me too Sophie, me too.

Final thoughts from Sophie

Are you glad you tried LSD? Was it a positive experience?

S: Yes and yes, it was even better than I expected, I’ve never felt so truly in the moment, not being distracted by thoughts, the surroundings, past or future.

Was it how you had expected it to be? And how was it different from what you expected?

S: Honestly I expected it to be less fulfilling, I mean, I expected to feel a happy and relaxed feeling, but not so much the capability to let go of all thoughts about past and future, and therefore the feeling of being totally relaxed. I also didn’t expect to feel so alert yet relaxed and open at the same time.

Delving Deeper: LSD as a Tool

I would definitely describe this first time trip on LSD being a success. However, we didn’t delve into any particularly deep areas of thought, or have the induced psychoanalysis that I associate with acid. As on this trip, it can be quite easy to simply pass through an experience in wonder and enjoyment of your surroundings without probing deeper territory. Psychedelics may indeed lead to deeper questions and revelations (as with my own first experiences), but as in this case, it’s not guaranteed. This may have been due to the strength of the dose, it may not have been enough to push us into that realm, or it could have been the captivating view that pulled us into the outer sensual world rather than our own internal worlds – honestly I’m not sure – but if you are hoping to learn some kind of bigger lesson from your experience it might be worth having a list of things/obstacles in your life with you to think about, and setting aside some time during the trip to do this. Doing this whilst tripping can help to see things from a new angle and get a fresh perspective on how you might approach and overcome problems in your life.

Notes From The ‘Guide’:

To be entirely honest, no difficult situations reared their heads and there was nothing I needed to do. Everytime I asked, Sophie told me how relaxed and good she felt. I honestly believe that the potential dangers of psychedelics are overstated. If you are sensible with set and setting and don’t have a history of mental illness, my personal view is that you will not only be fine, but stand to have an incredible experience with much to gain – not only during your adventure to new territories of consciousness, but also beyond the experience and in your life after the trip has ended. Finally I would recommend that you don’t resist or fight against what you are experiencing; accept it and go with it – that’s my first advice to anyone intending to take a psychedelic of any kind.

Due to the smooth nature of the trip, I don’t think there is much useful advice I can pass on as a guide other than the obvious: be positive, supportive and calm.

For first time trippers or trip sitters – there are some fantastic books and online resources, here are a few to get you started:

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 

That’s it! Potential trippers, I hope you’ve found this post useful. See you around 🙂

microdosing in bolivia

The wilderness of Bolivia – where the trip took place

Background

I first seriously started considering my multi-microdose wilderness trip immediately after I’d booked the three-day tour to the Salt Flats of Bolivia- the day before it started.

A multi-day trip through desert past lagoons, geysers and other natural wonders was fairly calling out for a psychedelic and despite having read a few online articles on the positive effects of microdosing, I’d never actually gotten round to it. This struck me as a perfect opportunity; the landscapes surely couldn’t be hurt by a bit of chemical manipulation but I also didn’t want to trip so hard when I’d be spending a lot of time in a packed 4×4 nor feel uncomfortable with my fellow travellers.

I didn’t tell anyone of my psychoactive ingestions; I didn’t want to be that guy who shows up and does acid everyday, well actually I did, obviously, but I didn’t want to be treated any differently.

Admittedly this ‘experiment’ wasn’t conducted under the strictest lab controls. It was the first and only time I’ve ever been on a tour of this nature, to altitudes that high (up to 4000m), or even in Bolivia – quite a few incomparable variables then. To add to the scientific rigour, or lack of, I couldn’t measure out my doses, so I just used small pieces of a tab, ranging between a tenth and a fifth of a tab each time, with the tab containing around 180μg. I’d read that it’s not effective to dose on consecutive days but I figured I’d see for myself how it works – at least that makes it an experiment right? Well, I guess this is more of a trip report then, but I’ve also tried to write analytically of the effects I felt and there is a summary of them at the end of each day.

Having never microdosed before I thought I’d do a little test run on the afternoon the day before the tour started. The fact that I was also going star viewing at an observatory with telescopes that night threw in a tasty motivator only elevated by the cool fact that my location, the Atacama desert, is one of the best places on the planet to stargaze. Realizing that it’d be more crazy not to take acid in this circumstance, I went to my room, took out my nail clippers, trimmed off a corner and chucked it down.

Day 1 – San Pedro De Atacama

[Apparently there was a decent amount on that corner and it turned out to be more of a semi-trip than a microdose.]

With its narrow dusty streets the small town of San Pedro De Atacama was like the set of an old Wild West, but lightly charged with the modern day atmosphere that tourists quietly milling around provides. Walking around with a spring in my step I felt coolly elated and couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. Thoughts slowed down, and my awareness of the spaces between them grew; there was an absence of typical mental background noise which gave a lightness to my inner being – it felt more spacious. My cognition was more focused, there was a crisp quality to my thoughts and more lucidity in my mental navigation.

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The main strip of San Pedro De Atacama

Back at the hostel I got chatting with my two roommates, a couple of friendly European girls. Socially I felt very comfortable, even probably more than normal. Chatting with them I felt calm and content, they’d just come the other way from Bolivia and we shared some stories. At one moment I saw a twinkle in the eyes of the German; she looked alive, I mean really alive. I was in that rarely visited field of experience where you once again realise that other people aren’t merely characters in your story- something within the depths of her pupils had revealed to me the easily forgotten fact of her being an actual living being with a life as vivid and complex as my own. As we looked into each other’s eyes I felt a deep human connection. Even though we’d just met I felt close. Both she and her friend seemed like genuinely good people and I felt an instinctive trust towards them.

Leaving the girls I went alone to the edge of the desert. Gazing out at a huge mountain lying before the tangerines of sunset I felt an underlying peace and stayed out there in peaceful contentedness, returning to town only after darkness had fallen. Lit up by small streetlamps the town looked magical by night, the scene coercing in me that feeling when you feel like you’re in a movie, when everything seems so scenic and atmospheric, and beauty seems to be more readily sprouting and observable in typically mundane scenes. Unfortunately the stargazing tour was cancelled due to clouds so, bumping into them again, I went out for dinner with my two roomies. I didn’t feel particularly hungry and could’ve easily skipped the meal but ordered something anyway thinking it healthy to eat something. The evening with the girls was a pleasure, I again felt at ease and had a thoroughly enjoyable time with them before we said our goodbyes.

Summary

  • Elation
  • Absence of typical mental background noise
  • Clearer thinking & lucidity in mental navigation
  • Socially felt very comfortable and positive
  • Easily felt human connection (increased empathy and trust)
  • Magic & beauty perceived much more readily than usual
  • In-a-movie feeling
  • Overall felt pretty damn great

Day 2 – Into Bolivia

After yesterday’s significantly stronger than expected dose I thought it wise to wait until after the border pass before dropping; the prospect of simultaneously dealing with a come-up and a customs official didn’t particularly appeal so I’d prepared a piece of tab, put it in a folded receipt and tucked it in my wallet ready for deployment. Stamped out of Chile and into Bolivia, it was about 8am when I was leaving the customs control shack and with the ink still drying on my entry stamp for Bolivia, I administered the first dose of the desert-drive sessions.

[The dose was fairly strong again. Yes, I know microdosing should be sub-perceptual amounts and the effects this day certainly weren’t that, but hey, I’m still learning this game.]

The Tour Starts

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Tour crew

The other 5 in my tour group were good company, I sensed good vibes from them and felt at ease and open. I was interested in their stories and I chatted and joked with them in high spirits as we passed lakes, mountains and geysers, occasionally bumping into other tourists on other versions of the same tour. We took a thermal bath in the middle of nowhere in the freezing chill and it was awesome! Everything felt fresh and new, everyone was in good spirits and there were good vibes all round. Excellent morning!

holdb.jpgAfter lunch we had some long stretches in the car to make it to our place for the night. During these stretches I felt more or less comfortable in the experience of a light trip and never once felt nervous. However, I also never felt totally relaxed. This was a strange reversal for me as normally on a long journey I feel settled and find it easy to relax. I suspect it was at least partly due to the jagged rhythm of our almost constant movement; driving from one especially picturesque natural phenomenon to the next, jumping out for a bit before jumping back in and then heading onto the next one.

Despite this, when we were in the car, I never felt like I was ‘waiting’ for or in anticipation of the next stop, I still felt very present, enjoying looking out at invariably awesome views. I suspect driving through such landscapes may well have pulled me into present awareness minus the acid, but I could definitely feel it adding a nice little edge, gently but noticeably.IMG_1223op.jpgOutside the car the wind was pounding so hard that it was seriously chilly. Being smashed by the wind however, was exhilarating, at least for me; at some stops the others didn’t fancy it and stayed in the car. Myself and one of the other guys got out at every stop, always sadistically eager to get out into the pounding gusts – we agreed that it made us feel alive!

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Shaun, at one of the stops only the two of us got out

In the second half of the day I had a soreness in my lower back, a common side effect for me after the peak of an acid trip. We had long stretches of driving and being stuck in the car for most of the day wasn’t ideal as I couldn’t use my go-to cure of stretching. Luckily I was sat up front in the seat with the most room- the others had been travelling together and as the newbie to the group they insisted I take the prime seat for the whole day. As everyone else drifted in and out of sleep I breathed and meditated calmly through difficult moments and the pain never became more than a slight discomfort. Arriving to the accommodation in the evening I stretched out on a bed which helped my back but still felt a little off physically – I figure the change in altitude (+2000km) had a fair part to play in this. For the evening I had a vague tired restlessness but didn’t have much problem going to sleep.

Summary

  • Life had an extra vigour – more animated and stimulating
  • Again, felt not only comfortable but enthused and cheerful in social situations
  • Vague restlessness – never totally felt relaxed. It seemed to be a weird mix of surface level presence with an underlying uneasiness, a background hesitation, that despite feeling fine and in positive spirits, for whatever reason something telling me ‘you can’t totally relax’
  • Sore lower back after halfway mark – typical for me on acid
  • Good mindfulness through physical discomfort

Day 3 – Deeper Reflection

[This day was much more comfortable physically, I didn’t suffer from any back pains and had no need to meditate through discomfort. Also I remembered I had my windbreaker and ditched my layers, much better – 90% of the chill was coming from the wind. Without resisting the nippy gusts I felt much easier.]

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On this day the stops were magical, the most beautiful of the tour, easily topping the first day. I had feelings of calmly blissful euphoria during moments spent out under the sun in these marvellous surroundings. I relished being out in these remote spots of natural beauty and each time the call came to get back in the 4×4 and move on, I felt a tinge of disappointment; I could’ve happily stayed longer at any one of the spots. Reluctant to go on, I was always last one back in.

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I could’ve stayed here for days

As the day before, the afternoon had some long stretches of driving. Long stretches of silence filled the car as everyone else dosed off again. With the territory devoid of any signs of humanity the long quiet drives lent themselves to reflection. There was a difference in the quality and themes of my thoughts compared to normal, and I slipped more readily into alternative perspectives, thinking unusually deeply about choices in my life, the roots and causes of things, why I am who I am, the movement of everything within the great stream.

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Gazing out felt kinda like time travel, I imagined our ancestors thousands of years ago treading this same unchanged landscape, nomadic tribes of hunter gatherers wandering this rough terrain for days and weeks on foot in search of a place that might be a settlement.

I tried to imagine how they perceived reality, disconnected from the matrix, no society-at-large to keep pace with, no news narrative to keep up with, zero sense of official history – only stories handed down from relatives or through tribes. As one of them, your reality would be the land and sky infront of you; the curves at the edge of turquoise lakes, the patterns within robust rock formations, steam dancing out of geysers. Following the stars for directions, counting the fingers until sundown, scanning the landscape for plants or movement – of prey, predators, and perhaps other people; an old alliance or group of wanderers speaking an alien tongue – this is what I imagined to occupy the minds of those wayfarers, this is how I imagined their reality.

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What a different world we occupy than that of our cousin adventurers who made their way across this same land. For those nomads, lack of modern media and technology meant the impossibility of constant news and reminders of events happening miles away in places one’d never go; no disturbing news of the latest natural catastrophe or political scandal, no feeds of photos of other people living an entirely separate life, no bombardment of commercials or the desire for needless things that they create. No hunter gatherer ever looked at a screen and read of the latest buffoon to be made president or moved their finger to give approval of an image by or of someone they’d never meet; the only source of information outside of direct experience would’ve been the mouth of a living being standing in front of them.

Imagining their simpler existence I envied their lack of the moral dilemmas that we are faced with in the consumer society of today: What tech products can I buy without causing child labour in the congo? What clothes can I get without endorsing sweatshop slavery? Should I stop eating meat to lessen my carbon footprint? What should I do about the corrupt political system – vote for one of a choice of crooks, or not vote for anyone? And then, what can and should I do to play my part in positive societal change? None of these thoughts would have passed through their minds. Though they might still have had deeper thoughts about the more far-reaching ramifications of their actions, they were free of the overt madness that faces us in the modern globalised world as their basic actions for survival wouldn’t have had the same clearly traced consequence on the lives of people the other side of the world. Utilitarian considerations would surely be less labyrinthine and confounding. They would never have been forced to be made aware of the upshots of their actions so explicitly before being seemingly left with no option but to continue living in the very society that is the cause of these problems, therefore also contributing one’s own share to the evils of the world.

But there, I could see land untouched by civilisation. I peaked into the land and life of the past, saw ancient formations and structures that outdate the ancient cities of Athens and Rome. Staring out at the landscape I imagined those drifters and with the raw plainness of pure nature before me, tapped into their freedom from this modern psychological bind.

Summary

  • Physically more comfortable than previous day
  • Euphoric moments when outside under the sun
  • Incredible beauty
  • Wanted to spend more time at most stops
  • Peaceful contemplation
  • Enjoyed expanse of nature

Day 4 – The Last Day

[This was the first day that I felt diminishing effects from the D and therefore the weakest of the 4 days. I figure this was due to my body building tolerance.]

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We rose early, driving out over miles of salt flats to see the sunrise from what used to be an island where the Incas made offerings to the god of the sun. After getting there and climbing to the top I took a seat facing the mountains to the east. It looked pretty cloudy so I didn’t think we would see the sunrise and after a while figured it wasn’t coming so got up to go over and chat to the others. Moments after I’d gotten up, Shaun called over to me ‘John!’ and pointed as if the sun had just popped up behind my back. I knew he was fucking with me so I flipped him off. ‘No really!’ he pointed again. I turned around and there it was; the tip of the orange arc peaking over the mountains. I’d missed the split second moment of appearance – but I didn’t feel disappointed, the inevitability of it seemed obvious; clearly I was never meant to see the sunrise on that crisp morning. I laughed to myself and took it as a lesson on patience.

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I was in good spirits and seeing two guys chucking an American football on the flats went over to join them. I enjoyed the simple joy of chucking a ball and sensed a freeness amidst the disconnection of being in the middle of salt flats. It felt like being in the middle of an ocean. It wasn’t a typical experience of what I would consider being in nature: surrounded by trees in a wood or forest, or amongst towering mountains – there I could see flat endless pure white terrain to the horizon in every direction. It was the most distant I’ve ever felt from organised society, even being with other people.

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At the end of the tour our driver left us in Uyuni, my first experience of Bolivian society. Walking through the town I felt excited to be in a new place, but not noticeably more so than how I normally feel arriving in a new place. Having taken the dose on this day around 5am, I suspect that the acid had actually worn off by the time we arrived. With a few of the others I grabbed a bus to Potosi, I was heading northwards towards the Amazon in my quest for ayahuasca.

Summary

  • Diminished effects on the 4th day. This was probably the first actual ‘microdose’
  • Positive outlook – didn’t feel disappointed missing the moment of sunrise
  • Physical activity felt good – tossed that pigskin like a pro

Conclusion

Am I glad I did it? Absolutely. At the end of the tour my feeling was gratitude; for the opportunity to see nature on such a scale, the cheerful company of my fellow tourers, the magical places, and all of them combined. I imagine that most who are fortunate enough to go on such a tour, dosed or not, also feel grateful, but personally I know the experience wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t.

Though the doses may’ve been more effective if I’d taken a day’s gap (or 3) between each one, speaking from the other side I can say I still felt obvious effects for the first three days. However, there was a clear and significant dimishing on the 4th day – interestingly I’ve also read online of someone reporting likewise; not feeling any diminishing effects on consecutive days until day 4 (and they actually microdosed).

This was an entirely new experience for me; it was my first time on a tour of that nature, first time taking a lower dose, and first time taking acid on consecutive days. This obviously makes it very difficult to make any cross-comparison between the variables.

Does that render all of my observations as totally invalid? I don’t think so. Even if I’d taken nothing away from this wonderful experience it’d have been worth it on its own merit, but beyond the joys of the trip itself I do feel I’ve gleaned some useful info on the effects of acid at lower doses. I found that it’s totally fine for me to be around other people and can actually make me more talkative and open, enhancing interactions and conversations.

The experience has also led me to believe that in certain potentially stressful situations, ones that may therefore seem especially inappropriate on a psychedelic, a lower dose could actually be an aid of great benefit. An aid in staying mindfully calm and focused, and to lessen the chance of spiralling into negative thought patterns or ‘freaking out’ – interestingly something that high doses of psychedelics are often believed to increase the odds of. Obviously this requires more investigation and I intend to try microdosing again in a more controlled environment. Stay tuned.

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If you’re planning a trip to Mexico or Central or South America, the first piece of advice I would give you is: learn Spanish! Unlike travelling a region like South-East Asia where every country has its own language making almost everything you might’ve picked up useless every time you cross a border, almost the whole of Latin America (nearly 20 countries) has Spanish in common. Speaking the local language is incredibly useful anywhere but the fact that in Latin America you can continue using it and building on your previous progress as you pass from country to country should only fuel your motivation.

‘Sure, speaking Spanish would be great, but it’s hard work and will cost me money. Can’t I just get by with English?’. Learning needn’t be a costly chore on your trip; you can do it in fun ways, totally independently and for FREE.

Admittedly you could survive on English, but here’s why you really shouldn’t…

Day-to-Day Convenience

Fairly obvious but it seems to go over many traveller’s heads. Want to ask the price of something? Directions? Where to get the bus? With Spanish you can, without you’ll have to mime your way there and occasionally be typecast as an ignorant disrespectful gringo (which admittedly will still happen even if you do speak Spanish, but it’ll certainly lessen the odds).

Going Beyond Convenience… When The Fun Begins

❝The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.❞
‒ Ludwig Wittgenstein

Imagine a foreigner going on a trip to the UK or US and not speaking English. Sure they could snap pictures of Big Ben or the Statue of Liberty, but their experience of the country outside of taking selfies at famous landmarks and getting drunk with other travellers who share their language would be extremely limited. This is being a tourist, which, by-the-way, I have nothing against – it’s pretty fun actually – but if you’re planning on being in Latin America for a while and want a more authentic experience of the place, learning the language is the best place to start, and totally worth it.

Going Deeper Into The Culture

❝Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.❞
‒ Rita Mae Brown

Speak to the Man on the Street: Hear the Voice of the People

English is widespread worldwide but in Latin America, like many places elsewhere, learning English is a privelege and mainly limited to those with money; the middle classes and above. Without Spanish, conversations with locals will be restricted to those from a certain economic background (and even then to the percentage within that stratum who can speak English). Finding a fluent English speaker from a working class background would be a very impressive feat, from poverty, closer to a miracle. When talking about anything from the history or politics of the country to the local neighbourhood, the information and opinions you get – which will inform your impression and perception of the place and its people – will be skewed and unbalanced because you’re missing the voice of a huge part of the population. In a poorer country like Bolivia, where 60% of the population live below the national poverty line and almost no one speaks English, it’d be impossible to get a balanced view of what Bolivians as a whole feel about their country.

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Protestors during Obama’s visit to BA this year

In Buenos Aires Spanish allowed me to ask protesters at the Plaza De Mayo about their indignation against President Macri, in Bolivia it enabled me to understand my hairdresser as she told me about her enormous family (1 of 18 siblings!) and their hairdressing lineage, about how her father cut the ex-president’s hair, and their migration from the countryside to the whitewashed capital of Sucre. Anywhere you go it will allow you to speak to the man on the street, literally and figuratively.

People & Conversation

This isn’t only the case with locals; on your travels you’ll encounter countless people and other travellers from other parts of Latin America and Spain who also don’t speak English, and why should they? They already speak the language of the land, and if you do too the number of potential friendships and human connections you can make will multiply massively.

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More than just the information and insight you’ll gain, oftentimes the conversations will be unique experiences in themselves; like the crazy porteño in Cordoba who was constantly trying to usher me to the bar with him to guzzle more fernet, or the wizened Peruvian anthropologist who enlightened me on the multitude of tribes in the Amazon. ‘But I want to DO and SEE things when I’m travelling, not just talk to people’. Well, the conversations that you’ll be able to have will also open you up to…

More Experiences

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Hitchhiking to Patagonia

Beyond conversation, being able to speak to more people will also open you up to more experiences. If I’d lacked Spanish, would I have been invited by a Bolivian woman I met on the bus to go and stay at her home on the edge of the rainforest? Obviously not because the conversation would never have started. Could I have hitchhiked to Patagonia with an Argentinian buddy to stay with her family friends for a couple of weeks? Understood the dedication made to me on local Chilean radio? Been invited to the weed-infused drum night in Punta Del Diablo? The fleeting romance with the local girl from Asuncion? I’d have missed out on all of these experiences because Spanish opened the door.

Tourist Activities

Tourism is under-developed in a lot of areas which is typically a nice thing as it means less crowds. It also means there are plenty of museums without English object labels or placards and tour companies that only employ Spanish-speaking guides. You’ll have more choice not only of things to do, but in ways you can do them too.

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Weathering the winds on an alternate Salt Flats Tour

Fulfilling my tourist agenda and booking a place on a tour to the Salt Flats of Bolivia, I was able to choose an alternate route which meant seeing a wider variety of natural wonders, gentler progression to the higher altitudes – which also meant a warmer first night in the desert chill – and a better price. This was because the only company that offered this version of the tour didn’t have English-speaking guides. Employing bi-lingual staff raises costs for a company and the cost to the consumer – you – goes up with it.

Negotiation & Escaping Tourist Tax

You’ll get a better deal on most things because you can barter and negotiate prices and conditions for anything from taxis to rooms to tours. Also, anywhere that has English-speaking staff is likely to be after tourists which invariably means worse value for money; tourists always pay more than locals – it’s tourist tax.

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Delicious Mexican Food in Oaxaca. Photo by Zoe Kerslake

When going out to eat you’ll have more choice as you won’t be limited to restaurants with English speaking staff, picture menus or ordering one of the two local dishes that you already know. I like to ask locals or waiters for recommendations of dishes specific to the area; the culinary variety is staggering and I’ve tried local specialities that I didn’t even know existed nor can be found in any guidebook. A few times I’ve had people want to go to dinner with me so that I can talk them through the menu; going on their own they’d just pick something they recognised or knew was a safe bet, missing out on what might be the most delicious discovery they’ve made in months.

Finally… it’s a Great Chance to Learn a Foreign Language

Learning a language is a trip. If you haven’t yet learnt a second language then you are going into an amazing journey of discovery which will not only improve your memory and increase your brain size, but it’ll also change how you think and see the world. What’s more, language acts a bridge that allows you to go to previously inaccessible places. More than 410 million people speak Spanish as their native language, more than English, that’s 410 million doors you are opening. Spending time in Latin America will give you the magic ingredient in learning a language: immersion! You will continuously have the chance to learn, why not take it?

How? See How To Learn Spanish Whilst Travelling Latin America (For Free)

Still not convinced? Check out these 10 Inspirational Quotes for Language Learners at Voxy Blog

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If you’re planning a trip to Latin or South America and don’t yet speak any Spanish, now is the time to learn. On a basic level it will make your day to day life much more stress free and you won’t have to play charades every time you go to the shop. If you speak a little but want to improve, this is the perfect opportunity. Going beyond the basics is when the real fun begins and you can start conversing with people and entering their world. Either way, this post is for you.

I’ve met so many people travelling here that wish they’d spoke more or any Spanish, and hope to just ‘pick some up’ as they go. Beyond a few survival phrases and swear words, it doesn’t work. Before I came I’d decided that I wanted to learn, and not feeling naturally gifted with languages (C in high school Spanish), thought about how I could learn before I set off. In 6 months, I’ve gone from competently buying food in a shop to discussing American politics with Mexicans over a beer: using all the techniques that are listed below. Travelling in Latin America might be the best opportunity of your life to learn Spanish, here’s how you can do it without spending a dime…

Hit the Ground Running

Landing in the continent with a few basics and survival phrases will not only help you massively but also enable you to start using the language from day one. Learn some vocab before and fix in habits that you will use on your journey before you leave; this way you can get a headstart and establish some kind of a learning rhythm. What habits? Read on…

Keep a Daily Diario

I advise this to everyone wanting to learn. Even if you have been hanging around English speaking people all day you can get some practice by yourself. Writing a short passage about what you did each day only takes about 15 minutes but you get practice constructing sentences in a zero-pressure situation and they will come out much easier when you come to say them in conversation. If you don’t know a word you can look it up on google translate; a chance that you wouldn’t be afforded when chatting to someone without the inconvenience of halting the conversation.

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Memories of Uruguay

If you find yourself without internet, underline an empty space for the word with the English beside and fill it in later. You can also choose the tense you write in; start writing in the present, then move on to writing everything in the past. Later, you can start planning things and writing in the future tense. Occasionally asking a native speaker to read an entry and correct it will help you from falling into the trap of making the same mistakes over and over. People are easy to find, if you have a diary, others are nearly always curious to read. Doing this you’ll also keep a diary of your travels that you can read back in years to come – two birds, one stone.

Start Every Conversation in Spanish

When you meet anyone new, open the conversation in Spanish. The language you start in sets the precedent for the rest of your conversation with that person and potentially all of your interactions with them. You have a chance to practice all your basic phrases and small talk: your name, where you’re from, your travels plans etc., and as you learn more and more, your conversations will become longer, more detailed and more interesting. If they don’t speak Spanish, you have lost nothing. One time in Uruguay I was chatting to a guy for 10 minutes in Spanish before we found out that he was from South Africa and myself from England. We laughed and switched to English, but we both got speaking practice that we wouldn’t have if I’d greeted him with a ‘hey, how’s it going?’. Moreover, in the beginning it can be easier to get speaking practice with other non-native speakers who are also learning as they will speak more slowly, use basic words instead of slang, and be understanding of your mistakes and crappy accent. Take every opportunity to speak and with every encounter, however brief it may be, you will be clocking up practice time.

Make Notas

Get a pocket-sized notebook and pen and take it everywhere with you. EVERYWHERE. When you overhear a word or phrase in conversation that you don’t know, write it down immediately. Later ask a local what it means and then write down the English. You can go over the words in your free time – walking to the shop, with your morning coffee – and then start using them yourself. My vocabulary exploded doing this and I learnt words that I knew local people actually used.

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My trusty tattered notebook

At the start of my travel I was a total outsider in so many group conversations. Argentinians, Colombians and Spanish all bantered and chatted with each other whilst I was sat with them barely understanding a thing. But I sat listening, writing, and learning. With time I understood more and more, could join in more and more, and by the time I got to Argentina (after 3 months in the continent) was holding my own in discussions about the Falklands (touchy subject – be careful with it if you’re British!).

Ask Locals

Many locals will be impressed if you speak any Spanish and if they know that you’re learning will be delighted to help you out. Throughout my journey I’ve had a string of teachers; every day is a chance to learn something new and everywhere you go there are people who can help you. During extended stays in Argentina and Mexico I’ve had porteños and chilangos proudly versing me in the local slang and received help with new words and pronunciation everywhere I’ve been.

Avoid Your Compatriots! (…Or Travel Alone)

When you are hanging out with English-speakers; you’re gonna speak in English. When you hang out with people that speak only Spanish; you will be forced to speak Spanish. Fairly obvious, but I meet a lot of people who spend their whole time hanging out with other travellers and then tell me that they wish they knew more Spanish (‘didn’t realise how useful it would be’ …duh).

At various points of my trip, anytime I spotted foreigners or overheard English being spoken, I headed in the other direction and went to find Latin Americans. Result of this; more practice and a better insight into the culture. I didn’t come all the way out here to meet other English people; I wanted to learn about the people of the place: their language, their food, their lives – you’re going to get a much deeper and more authentic experience of the country you’re visiting if you’re doing this. If you miss speaking in your mother tongue or a slice of home, just skype someone or find another traveller – if I had to actively avoid them then they can’t be too hard to find.

Volunteer or do a Work Exchange

Find a work exchange on workaway or helpx, or just ask around when you arrive in a new area. You can usually get an idea from a host’s profile which languages they speak and use. Tell them you speak a little Spanish (even if you don’t – then you will have to learn) and are eager to practice and improve.

workawayWorking with people in Spanish forces you to use it. I worked in a hostel for a month in Cordoba and needed to use Spanish to check people in, sell beers and answer the phone. I wasn’t too keen on phone calls, the lack of the use of my hands to mime or draw myself out of tight spots worried me but the job required it and eventually I got comfortable taking calls. By working as a volunteer you will be surrounded by the language and making local friends too.

Use CS for Language Exchanges and Meeting Locals

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Couchsurfing isn’t just for staying with people, lots of people use it for meetups too. Find your location and start a thread in the discussions section saying you are searching for a language exchange – your English for someone else’s Spanish. English from a native speaker is sought after in nearly every corner of the world and I have always had numerous responses and a handful of options in every city that I’ve done this. Before you meet you can arrange how you’d like to do it; you can bring a sheet with any questions you have and some phrases you want to learn, or you can just chat casually and have some conversation practice. Post in a city’s discussion forum before you arrive and organise to meet up on your first day in the city. Aswell as your language lesson you will invariably get some handy local knowledge too.

  • Alternatively, in many cities, there are weekly language exchange meetups that are open to anyone. Have a look through and go along if you don’t want a one-on-one appointment.

Tinder

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tindbetHave a bio in Spanish, message them in Spanish, then go on a date! To start with you can meet up with locals who speak a bit of English too, and in a few months you won’t be limited by your language skills. If you like them you’re gonna have serious motivation to learn more, and if you end up with a romance or a boy/girlfriend, well, your learning curve will steepen dramatically.

Use Language Apps

[Set your phone and facebook to Spanish – you’ll pick up some useful vocab]

Duo lingo

duolingoEveryone knows about duolingo now so all I need to say is; use it! I’ve met so many travellers who have it on their phone but don’t use it. Set a daily goal on the app and build up a run of days. It isn’t time consuming, meeting your target can be 5 minutes a day. Install it, use it, it works!

Memrise

memrise-smallerAnother very useful app, Memrise has fun ways to learn vocab which actually work. There is a course with the 250 most common Spanish verbs – massively recommend it. This is the backbone of the language and these verbs will be used in at least 80% of your interactions. When you learn how to change a verb depending on its tense, having these 250 verbs will begin to open you up to exploring deeper topics of conversation.

Listen to a Podcast

Download a free podcast and listen to it when you can (read: regularly). Coffee Break Spanish has a free podcast course that I’ve learnt a lot from. Each episode is like a lesson and only 15-20 minutes. It starts with the basics and goes on to more advanced things. If you already have a bit of Spanish you can quickly find your level and jump in on an appropriate episode, after the basics they have another course for intermediate level.img_2915
Always carry unlistened episodes downloaded on your phone so they are ready to go and you’re not reliant on internet connection or phone signal. I used to listen to them on long bus journeys and as I was going to sleep; all I needed was my phone and my headphones. I relistened to episodes to catch what I’d missed or revise things.

Supplement with Films…

Watch classic films from the place you’re visiting. Listen carefully for words you know, it feels great to catch newly learnt words and phrases. Whilst getting a feeling for the accent, you’ll see films set in places you’ve visited and hear characters talk about the history and politics of the place. Also, watch films in English with Spanish subtitles, this will train your reading and writing skills too. A hostel in Asuncion I stayed in always had the movie channel on in the lounge – American films with Spanish subtitles. I would sit with my notebook and pen and write down little phrases that were funny or useful – many of them I still use today.

…and Music

Get recommendations of music from the country and when you find something you like, get it on your phone. Learn the words to a few of your favourite songs and you will see your level rise (starting with rap might be tricky but if you can rap a song to speed you’ll impressive any native). Staying with proud Argentinians in Buenos Aires, I was taught all about their fathers of rock: Spinetta, Cerati, Garcia. One of them sat down with me and went through the lyrics of a Spinetta song that I liked, line by line, explaining words I didn’t know and the meanings in the expressions; I realised that Spinetta was a poet as well as a musical genius and listened to his masterpiece album Artaud so many times that I started singing the words and understanding the songs.

Keep Trucking

So this one isn’t especially concerned with being on the road or in Latin America but I think it’s so fundamental to learning anything that I decided to include it anyway. Sometimes your progress will be great, you will feel good about learning, be using more and more Spanish and feel like you’re going to be fluent in no time. Other times it will be tough, you might have moved to a new place with a totally new accent or spending all your time with speakers of other languages. Your progress will slow but if you’re still writing your diary, catching new words when you can and taking opportunities as they arise: you’ll still be going in the right direction. As they say out here: paso a paso – step by step.

Best Of Luck!

To my mind, having taught English for the last 4 years, the winning combination for effectively learning a language can be simplified as:

(Immersion + Practice) x learning smart

Being in Latin America and surrounded by the language is immersion and presents ample opportunity for practice, and how you learn is up to you. This post has all the techniques that I’ve used and have worked for me. Find which of these work for you and adapt your own. Work diligently, patiently and persistently, day-by-day, hop back on the horse after you’ve been slacking for a bit, and you will be bantering with the guy at the corner store and haggling like a pro before you know it. If you have any extra tips that have worked for you, please leave a comment below.
Buena suerte!

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A Final Note: Going Further…

For the sake of brevity this post was primarily concerned with ways that are focused on learning Spanish while you are travelling in Latin America, based on techniques that have worked for me. Of course it’s possible to learn in your home country and there are loads of other techniques out there (like mentally saying to yourself what you are doing as you do it throughout the day; ‘Estoy caminando a la tienda’ – I’m walking to the shop), but if you are wanting to really hit the next level I’d advise doing a little investigation into more techniques and the process of learning itself; there are tips and tricks to hack your learning experience and make your learning more efficient, helping you to learn more in less time. Here are a couple links to get you started:

12 Rules for Learning Foreign Languages in Record Time – Benny Lewis

How to Learn Any Language in 3 Months – Tim Ferriss