Posted by The SoleSisters on -
Traveling solo in Latin America as an Asian woman can be quite a challenge at first. Get used to people staring and scanning you from head to toe. You’ll stand out like a sore thumb because obviously you look and act different from everyone else!
Here are some tips to make your travels a tad bit easier:
Latinos might call you any of these things even if they don’t know you at all. These are everyday terms of endearment for them and should not be taken too seriously. Just smile and say buenas! I walked around the gorgeous colonial town of Cartagena, in unbearable 32 degree Celsius heat in my tiniest shorts and yoga top and heard catcalls from every corner, of course. I came back to my hostel, sick to my stomach and almost in tears. But I realized, I will never get anywhere if I let it get to me. So breathe, my sole sister and suck it up.
2 Hola, Chinita!
If you look the slightest bit Asian, even if you have darker skin, most people will think you are from China and everyone will refer to you as Chinita. The word chinita usually refers to a feminine person with smaller, chinky eyes. Don’t be offended when people call out to you, “Hola, Chinita!" on the streets. It could happen everyday, so get used to it. Just say “No soy Chino, soy de ___________ (wherever you’re from)”. You will also find out that many people think that every Asian country is part of China; don’t take offence and explain calmly where your country is in terms of geography. You’ll also probably be the only Asian in every hostel and everyone else is always so curious to chat with you.
If you are being introduced to some locals, a cheek-to-cheek kiss is the usual way of greeting. There have been times I’ve stuck my right hand out for a handshake, but some people didn't really know what to do with it! In the Philippines for example we only give a beso when we greet people we know quite well, but over here, it’s customary to give a kiss on the cheek. Give a big smile, say “Mucho gusto” and “Como estas?” and you’ll be fine!
Latinos are known to be very expressive of their emotions. You will see couples, young and old in sweet embrace, gazing deep into each other’s eyes and making out in the strangest locations — in a fast food restaurant, the crowded metro, in the Botanical park next to the crocodiles, on the beach next to kids running around. They are very comfortable with public displays of affection.
5 Café, café, café
I liked coffee before coming to Latin America but I wasn’t very picky about it. Now I drink it like water throughout the day! The smell of freshly brewed coffee is everywhere, from Juan Valdez coffee shops to tinteros selling little plastic cups of coffee on the streets all day. Café negro o tinto por favor! They will look at you in a strange way if you ask for some milk. Coffee is meant to be enjoyed black.
“Filipinas! Manny Pacquiao!!! Wohoo!” said the rare albino Kuna tribesman in the far off San Blas islands of Panama.
Translation: “Philippines? I have no freaking idea where it is and I don’t care, all I know is that Manny Paquiao lives there!"
They may have no clue where the Philippines is geographically located but all the men will know who Manny Pacquaio is and the women will know Miss Universe 2015. The Colombian President was interviewed live on national TV. It was a national disaster.
7 History lessons
Older generations will know that Las Islas de Filipinas was once a Spanish colony. They’ll know who Imelda Marcos is and that she had 3,000 pairs of shoes, of course. But younger generations don’t know that. So you’ll have to give them a lowdown on how we were colonized by the Spanish for almost 400 years, about the same time they were in Latin America so review your history lessons well. They’ll feel some sort of a connection and will want to visit The Philippines out of curiosity.
8 “Entonces, tu hablas Español?" "So you speak Spanish?"
Err.. not quite! Our grandparents spoke it fluently, Spanish was the official language until 1973 when the government changed it to both English and Pilipino**. You’ll have to tell them that the Americans came and tried to conquer us after the Spanish, thus the change in our language in one generation. But wait! You know how to count and tell the time in Spanish! It was a required subject in college until 1987. About 4,000 Spanish words remain in Tagalog and 6,000 in other Visayan dialects***.
Whether you are traveling for a week or a year, it’s always a good idea to have some basic knowledge of the language. Everyone will speak to you in Spanish even though you look Asian. Carry a small phrasebook or download Duolingo on your mobile device and start learning words and phrases.
If you have the budget to take Spanish language classes for 150 USD per week, by all means invest your time and money. Spanish isn’t the easiest language to learn because it requires frequent conjugation, masculine/feminine articles, singular/plural articles, formal/informal structures, etc. You can’t just “pick-up” these rules as you go along, unless you are a genius or learn from a very early age. It’s definitely easier if you stay in one place longer, but if you are backpacking, it’s better to have some formal structure to guide you. Every country has their own generational slang and regional accent as well.
* History of the Philippines
** Spanish words in the Philippine Language
*** How much Spanish remains in Filipino languages?
Sole Sister Adi escaped from the corporate world so her life now happily revolves around yoga and travel. She lives a simple, eco-friendly lifestyle and inspires those around her to do the same. She shares her AntiGravity and yoga practice everywhere she goes and dreams of building rustic Secret Spot hostels in beautiful tropical destinations. She just ended her Southeast Asian adventure and is currently exploring Central America. Follow Adi's adventures on Love the Search and on Facebook and Instagram.