We’re going to be eaten by cannibals. Nobody gets eaten by cannibals in Europe, you know.*
*Very slight paraphrasing of the actual words spoken by our moms when we told them about our trip plans. Two wonderful women, whose primary jobs are to think of every possible thing that can go wrong, regardless of how statistically improbable, then caution us strongly against it out of an abundance of love and worry. Love you, Moms!
But seriously, outside of our traveler friends, fear for our safety is the most common response when learning about our trip. Specifically, fear for Montessa’s safety. And not her safety in the sidecar rig, but her safety as a cute little kid in a mysterious far-away land. Aside from the cannibals (?), there are malaria, jaguars, and oddly plentiful and particularly ruthless bandits to panic about. Suddenly all the people who were wringing their hands about Monty riding in the sidecar and totally fine with her being in a sidecar, as long as the sidecar remains on North American soil. Which begs the questions: IS South America safe? Why don’t we just travel around North America?
Statistically speaking, yes – South America is quite safe. And that’s a pretty broad generalization, because South America is an ENTIRE CONTINENT, but several South American countries are actually ranked above the United States according to the Global Peace Index. Regardless, people with no first-hand knowledge just LOVE to say things like, “Oh, I heard about this scary thing that happened in Nicaragua a few decades ago!” Well, that’s in Central America, although I know you’re hoping to impart a sense of dread and are not necessarily looking for a geography lesson, so we’ll just roll past that.
Yes, there has been some unrest in some areas of the planet. But think about this: If there were riots in Washinton DC, would that stop you from visiting British Columbia? We’re talking about totally different countries, with the potential for small, isolated areas of unrest. Heck, if there were riots in Washington DC, it’s very possible that you wouldn’t even be deterred from visiting another part of Washinton DC. When I was in high school, the Los Angeles Riots happened quite near us – only about 20 miles as the crow flies. Other than the news coverage, you wouldn’t have had any indication that anything was amiss in our town, or even towns much closer. We were concerned about the issues behind the riot, but we stayed away from the unrest and as a result we never had any concern for our safety.
As with anywhere else in the world, including our own backyard, we try to make wise choices to have the best chance of staying safe. If you go wandering drunk late at night, flaunting a wad of cash in a bad neighborhood, well… you might just be inviting trouble. If you spend most of your time camping at an isolated spot in the woods, your risk of encountering malicious humans diminishes significantly (although your risk of tangling with a bear or a badger may increase somewhat). The reality, both in travel and your day-to-day life, likely falls somewhere in between those extremes. So we stay aware of our surroundings, make informed decisions about which areas to avoid, and make wise choices about how we handle ourselves.
The interesting thing is, when you talk to people who have actually traveled to these countries, you hear the same things over and over: People as a whole trend towards being wonderful, kind, generous and open all the world over. What you hear on the news is generally a sensationalized account of events that are limited in scope, designed to get views or clicks. Venture just a bit outside the camera’s lens and you’re likely to find good folks who enjoy the opportunity to interact with visitors and welcome your tourism dollars. We’re unlikely to truly convince the people whose job it is to worry about us, but our first priority in the world is to keep Monty safe. That’s true wherever we may roam. OK, so if we assume all things are roughly equal as far as the potential for danger, why not just stay in North America? This installment has run a bit longer than intended, so stay tuned as we delve into that question in Part Two of “Why South America”!