Travelling While Black: South America

Fast becoming a popular travel destination, Latin America (specifically, South America) is dripping with culture, flavour, variety, beauty and wonder; and is a place that everyone should visit at some point in their lives. As you’d expect, travelling to this part of the world as a Black Brit and to be honest, travelling in general, brings about different experiences, nuances, challenges and revelations that you’d not typically find explored when reading a Lonely Planet guide or browsing reviews on a travel forum. Using my experience and the experiences of others, I’ve come up with 5 random things (generalisations) you may find when you travel to this neck of the woods being Black and being British.

1. There are natives that look like you.

You can get so used to travelling to new places, being met with stares from people confused by your skin tone and coily hair (who may stop and take a secret picture pretending they’re talking on the phone), that when you see people who actually look like you outside of your hometown, it can be quite a pleasant surprise. But, if we think about it, Brazil is, in fact, the country with the largest population of Black people outside of Africa, with other places such as Colombia and Venezuela featuring in the top 10, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. Experiencing this really reminds you of the true diversity that comes with being black, and the different meanings it has depending on where you were born.

2. …Not many travellers will look like you though.

I don’t think this is entirely surprising or anything new to be honest. It’s quite rare to go to another country (outside of Africa, The Caribbean and the US) and find loads of people that are visiting just like you, who look like you.

However… I believe there may be an upside to this.

Although we hear so much about this part of the world being dangerous (especially to visit alone) with stories about armed robberies, kidnappings, drug trafficking and the general feeling of being unsafe, my personal experience was largely different to those I met whilst travelling. I never felt unsafe and thankfully I didn’t experience anything like the above. I’m convinced this had something to do with the fact that I was often mistaken for an Afro-Latina and didn’t appear to be a “gringo”. Of course, take this with a pinch of salt as I may have been lucky, but something tells me you’re less likely to rob a native than you are a rich American who you expect to have a flashy phone and fancy camera. Just saying.

3. The food is full of sugar, spice and everything nice. Literally.
When speaking to people about their travels, a topic that always comes up is how the food was.

“It was okay but I’ve had better in the UK”
“Honestly, it was disgusting we didn’t find anywhere nice”
“I just stuck to fast food chains because I didn’t trust it”

Eating out can really be hit or miss when you travel as you never know what to expect and there is always the potential for food to be bland or unseasoned, which doesn’t typically align well with Black British taste buds. That being said, food being flavoursome is no issue for South America. The food is primarily meat and carb heavy, is cooked beautifully and is usually very filling. As risky as trying out a ‘local spot’ sounds, those are usually the most gourmet tasting of them all and the Caribbean influences that appear in some of the coastal dishes provide more spice, with their beloved fried sweet plantain or ‘platanos’ making an appearance.

4. People will struggle to understand your British accent, even when they understand English.
Is it me, or is our accent problematic no matter which part of the world we go to? I mean, I know that the American accent is easier for most to understand because of TV, music and the way it’s taught in the majority of schools where English isn’t the first language but… bro. You could find yourself repeating the same word so many times that you end up questioning whether or not it’s actually a word. On the other hand, when you go to Spanish-speaking countries and people are pronouncing things slightly differently to the way your teacher pronounced it in school (maybe missing out letters or extending vowel sounds), you start looking at them like they have 5 heads too.

5. You can spot a Brit a mile off.
Even when we haven’t spoken or we’ve stocked up on all the latest fashions from whichever country we’re in, you can spot us with such ease. It doesn’t matter if we’re living up to our bad reputation of being drunk and disorderly, or we are being quiet, reserved and doing our own thing; the Britishness just oozes out of our pores and we can’t help it. The way we interact, our demeanour, our gestures, you can just tell.

As cliché as it sounds, “home is where the heart is” and this part of the world definitely has a lot of heart to make you feel at home. Being of Ghanaian descent, the happy people, their kindness, the way of living, the warmth and the vibe reminds me a lot of Ghana. From the old men showering young women with compliments in the hope that they flash them a smile, to the endless bumpy car rides riddled with potholes, I couldn’t help but be transported to Accra in 2009.

Whether ‘back home’ means the place your parents/grandparents were born, or the place you’re living right now, this place will remind you of home or make you feel at home in some way. It’s welcoming, it’s comfortable and it’s stunning, I’d definitely recommend.