From the turquoise waters of the Whitsunday Islands to the grandiose geological formations of Milford Sound, there’s a magical world to explore Down Under – a world boasting not only mesmerising views and endless activities to get your heart racing, but one that also gives an unique opportunity to meet new people.
While backpacking through Australia and New Zealand with my Dutch friend Janneke, we did just that: we met new people every single day. After asking someone what’s their name, you proceed to ask where they are from, and that’s a striking peculiarity about Down Under – most backpackers are European (mainly British, German and French). There were a few backpackers from the US, Canada, Holland and Italy, but guess what kind of backpacker was hard to find? Yup, Latin American backpackers. And since I’m one of them, people I met never missed out on an opportunity to point that out.
Feeling like an outsider was not an issue for me since I have a tendency to blend in the crowd, particularly because I was travelling with my Dutch friend Janneke, which made me feel more comfortable. The struggle of being a Latin American backpacker is that you are probably the only one that these backpackers have ever met and they are not going to use all of their misled preconceptions on you.
People ask you for drugs. Either as a joke or as a desperate call for help – backpackers have actually asked me if I can point them towards a drug dealer, which have led to very awkward situations, particularly since I’ve never tried hard drugs (If you are asking yourself, “oh really?”, then I’m sorry to tell you, but you are one of them). Not to be vague, but it usually goes like this and it happens too often:
Drunk European backpacker: “Hey Claudia, do you know where I can get some cheap coke around here?”
Me: “There’s a grocery store down the street”
Backpacker: “I mean, you know… The hard stuff” WINK. WINK.
Me: “What makes you think I know?”
“Because you are…Well…” and he starts pointing at me from the bottom to the top.
“Come on, full sentences, big boy!” Suddenly Janneke is pulling my arm away from his throat. Well, in anticipation. I never came close to hitting anyone. If these Europeans go ghetto on me, who is the police going to arrest?
You are loud. My European friends keep telling me to lower my voice and they keep making jokes about me being loud. However, that is nothing compared to when I’ve had one too many. Then I make a great impersonation of the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character. Epiphany alert: perhaps that is why people think I know where to find drugs.
Things get even uglier on the bus, though. That is where you can’t speak at all because your friend will probably hush you. In a flash, all of those years of playing Mortal Kombat show their imprint on my brain. SKIKT! BAM! KAPOW! FINISH HIM! But then I’m stopped by the realisation that if I hit him, he’ll probably make a comment on how violent our culture is and how perhaps that is why there are so many conflicts in our region. So I just brush everything off because one thing I know for sure – I don’t want to go to jail.
You are paranoid about breaking any rules. One of the times I travelled to Melbourne with my German and Dutch friends, they ganged up against me to get their own way. My friends know me as a goody-goody too afraid of doing something I’m not supposed to, but from my perspective, that is not how the police officers would see me. Granted, I had wisely declined to be drawn into any infraction, no matter how minor it was, given that I’m Latin American and I don’t want to end up getting sent on a malfunctioning boat across the Pacific back home.
Therefore, they resolved to lying to me. If you’ve ever been to Melbourne, you might know that the tram within the confines of the city centre is for free. However, once you exit the area, you have to pay a fare. Well my friends lied to me and told me not to tap yet every time I asked. I felt like the donkey from Shrek asking “are we there yet?”. Instead, I kept asking “Can I tap already? Are we out of the free zone yet?”. They kept giving me a “no” while enjoying their inside joke. Once we got there, I realised how they tricked me and thus I complained: “Do you guys realise how much of a cliché I would be if I get a fine?”
But the deceit didn’t end there. And yes, I do realise I’m very naive, particularly for a South American. They came up with the idea of buying beers to play a drinking game in St Kilda. I wanted to make sure that was legal, so I asked them, and they didn’t even flinch when they assured me that it was legal to drink in public spaces in Victoria, unlike New South Wales.
I believed them for a really long time. I didn’t find out that wasn’t true until I travelled to Cairns a few months afterwards. I asked the lady who worked at the liquor shop if it was legal to drink outdoors in Queensland as it is in Victoria.
“No, it’s not allowed, and I don’t think it is in Victoria either,” she replied.
“But… Oh those bitches!”
People have a great interest in your background. Since you are probably the first Latin American backpacker they’ve ever met, out of the blue, they have tons of questions about your story. Sometimes those questions are on point, but occasionally you end up begging the universe for a lighting bolt.
Backpacker: “You are from Venezuela. People are starving over there, aren’t they?”
Me: “Yes, I was about to go on a diet, but going home for holidays instead might be more effective”
Backpacker: “Is your family in trouble?”
“Yeah, I’m travelling and having the time of my life while they are in a concentration camp”
“Oh that’s so sad”
Where is Wile E. Coyote where you need him? I could really use an anvil just about right now.
People don’t get your sense of humour. I appreciate it when people play a prank on me. I play pranks on them too. However, if you are South American, things might turn sour quite quickly. For instance, when someone plays a joke on me, I laugh and then joke saying “I’m going to kill you”; in an instant, everyone falls silent and their facial expression shows the fright men manifest when their girlfriends suggest Twilight for movie night. It’s not till I tell them “I’m not serious” that they stop holding their breath.
People expect you to dance like Shakira. Despite being Latin American, I wouldn’t be able to dance properly if my life depended on it. I’m a Punk Rock child, for Christ’s sake. Some people have even said I’m just a punk. I’m sorry to disappoint but I don’t listen to Reggaeton and I don’t think anybody who has any respect for women or a functioning ear should.
Whenever I’m at a Club, and a Latin tune starts playing up, so help me God, I know there is someone who is going to ask to see my moves. I try to explain that for security reason, I shouldn’t attempt to (once I took a Salsa dance class in the UK and I caused a domino effect – it’s still remembered as the 2010 Latin fiasco), yet they don’t believe me. They argue that Latin music is in my blood and my addiction to Iron Maiden is some passing Anglo- Saxon Demonic Possession, but hopefully one day I’ll return to my roots and live happily ever after. They still hope that will happen.
One day my German friend Laura who is into Reggaeton music and can dance like a true Cuban hoofer (If you see us together, you might think we pulled a Freaky Friday), was playing her music and our common friend made a comment about my iPod playing.
“THAT IS NOT MY PLAYLIST!”
- written by Claudia