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How to Be a Latin American Hippie

Central America
by Laura Yan Mar 26, 2014
1. Talk the talk.

Get rid of your glaring gringo accent and learn to talk like an artesano. Greet other artesanos as amigos, even when you’re meeting for the first time. Use buena onda to describe anyone (or anything) you like. Throw around the English word “hippie” (pronounced with a Spanish accent: he-ppy) as an adjective.

Learn some regional slang to quickly understand your Latin American friends: parce means friend from Colombia, che is the ubiquitous greeting / salutation / word to insert after a sentence from Argentinos and Uruguayos, chévere sounds way cooler than “cool” and is often used in Peru and Ecuador. And learn to recognize curses: mierda, carajo, cabrón — just refrain from practicing them on your newfound amigos.

Get a soundtrack.

If you haven’t listened to them yet, get familiar with Calle 13, and fast. The group hails from Puerto Rico but are spokespeople for hippies all over Latin America. Their music is an eclectic blend of everything, from throbbing reggaeton and hip hop to jazz and tango with a sprinkling of indigenous instruments.

Latinoamérica is the de-facto anthem that celebrates the spirit of the continent in all its beauty, pains, and contradictions. Sing along to the beautiful chorus: “Tu no puedes comprar al viento, tu no puedes comprar al sol, tu no puedes comprar la lluvia, tu no puedes comprar el calor”…you can’t buy the clouds or the colors, and you can’t buy my happiness or my pains.

If you’re more of a romantic, listen to La Vuelta Del Mundo, which is all about how you should ditch your office job (“la renta, el sueldo, el trabajo en la oficina: lo cambie por las estrellas y por huertos de harina”) and travel the world with the lover of your dreams. It’s sweet and inspiring, and will also win over your hippie sweetheart.

Pick a craft (or a few).

You can’t be an artesano without an art. Mastering one will take years of dedication, but you can at least sample a few of the more popular options and see which catches your fancy.

Don’t know where to start? Try macramé — bracelets (and other jewelry) woven from patterns of knots. The simplest bracelets take just a few minutes to make, and the more complicated resemble art pieces and can take hours of concentration. Ask the artesanos where to buy hielo, a versatile, waxy macramé material from Brazil, and start learning on the road. Just make sure you can find a mentor who is as excited about imparting knowledge as you are to learn.

If you’re musically inclined, carry around your instrument, be it a miniature guitar, a djembe drum, or a set of Andean panpipes. Practice in the proximity of the artesanos and inevitably one will ask to play your instrument or join in. Learn new songs as you travel and practice in your abundant idle afternoons.

Have great hand-eye coordination? Learn malabares. Whether it’s juggling with balls and clubs, or something with more bite (like knives or fire), anything goes as long as you can make it a good show. Adopt a distinctive costume (maybe a red clown nose) and develop the charisma to be the star of the show.

Learn to hustle.

Now that you’ve learned how to make beautiful macramé jewelry and can successfully juggle five balls while singing Calle 13, it’s time to put those skills to good use: making money. Oh yes, traveling hippies have to work! In fact, being an artesano IS a job. Set up an elegant display for your jewelry on the sidewalk of a tourist-laden street or the plaza of a city, or wander around and offer your wares to locals. Do malabares at stop lights and sing your Spanish ballads in welcoming cafes for tips.

Clever artesanos can sell anything, even things that don’t fit the usual criteria. An artesano from Buenos Aires talked the owner of a restaurant in Samaipata into paying him to create a version of the menu in spotty English. A frighteningly friendly Colombiano in Popayan had been traveling for years selling cheap, pre-made Colombian souvenirs and stapled copies of his own poetry about love and God. An Australian girl and Latino hippie sold vegetarian and vegan dishes and desserts in Plaza Bolivar of Cochabamba. Artesanos can travel for years as hustling nomads.

Become a collector.

If you’re a true artesano, your backpack will be big, and you’ll be toting other things besides: a tent, a sleeping bag, the supplies for your crafts. Your changes of clothes may be few, but you’ll be gathering and carrying more important things than that. Become an avid collector of natural wonders — stones and crystals, feathers and bones. Keep an eye out on your next hike for unexpected treasures. Use them to make jewelry or as props to display the jewelry.

Meet a hippie-artist friend? Tuck the sketches she draws you in your journal. You’ll also be collecting recommendations: names of places to visit, shamans to look up. It may not be entirely practical, but what part of your wandering life aspires to that? Trade or give away your collection to other artesanos or uninitiated backpackers, and keep a few as mementos of your journey, far more meaningful than digital photographs.

Find the hippie hot spots.

While artesanos are fairly ubiquitous in most major cities in Latin America, there are a few spots with an especially alluring buena onda. Hippies don’t only pass through, but stay for a while. These are perfect spots to hone your craft, befriend fellow artesanos, and get tips on your next destination.

Cuenca, Ecuador is a beautiful colonial city that’s also an artesano hub. The loads of American retirees and young backpackers make eager clients for your crafts, and you can bond with fellow artesanos from all over the world on the steps off Calle Hermano Miguel, admiring the sparkling river in Cuenca’s lush spring climate.

For a vacation from the hustling life, head to Samaipata in Bolivia. Stay at one of the camping / hostel sites — Jaguar Azul or El Jardin — and spend your nights drinking wine and smoking mota around a campfire. Have lunch at the tiny pizzeria with unpredictable hours run by two settled hippies, and go for breezy hikes in the sensuous green mountains that surround the small town.

Travel slow.

You can’t be an artesano with a packed itinerary, rushing for your next flight. Hippies take their time, getting to know each new destination by spending a few hours sitting in its central plaza and chatting up fellow artesanos. Forget about constant adventure tours and sightseeing — you’re better off spending leisurely afternoons sitting in the grass and making macramé.

The low costs, vast distances, and natural wonders of Latin America make it a hippie wonderland, so dive in and savor the artesano lifestyle. And when you get tired of your wanderings, you can always take your craft home and start an Etsy shop.

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