South America: 50 Surprising Facts About Its Past & Present

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26Confederate Colonies in S. America

Confederate Colonies in S. America

After the American Civil War, many individuals who supported the Confederacy emigrated to Mexico and other parts of South America. Many people from the American South decided to relocate to Brazil, where they founded communities with names like "Americana" and "New Texas."

27. There are still 6-foot-long giant otters that exist in the wild, but they are secluded to just three river basins in South America. They are capable of taking on crocodiles (Caimans specifically) as a pack, and they hunt in large numbers.

28. The South American continent was formerly home to enormous sloths (Megatherium). It was the largest known bipedal mammal, with a potential weight of 4 tons (about the same as a modern elephant) and a height of 3.5 meters (12 feet) when standing on its hind legs. It existed between 400,000 and 8,000 years ago.

29. It's impossible to drive to Iquitos, Peru's largest city. You'll need an aircraft or a boat to get there.

30. Today, there are more than 100 uncontacted people worldwide. Most of them call the remote rainforests of South America and New Guinea home.

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31Walt Disney's Tour of S. America

Walt Disney's Tour of S. America

As part of an anti-fascist and anti-Nazi "goodwill tour," Walt Disney was sent to South America by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He worked with Jose Carioca on the film "Saludos Amigos" to improve ties between the United States and South America.

32. Mount Everest, when measured in terms of its elevation above sea level, is the highest peak in the world. However, if you measure from the planet's center, where it bulges slightly near the equator, the Chimborazo in Ecuador is the tallest mountain in the world.

33. Some time after the initial airing of "War of the Worlds," a similar hoax was attempted in Ecuador. When the public discovered it was a hoax, they encircled the radio station and burned it to the ground, killing an estimated 100 individuals inside. A few lucky folks jumped out of windows, but about 20 people perished.

34. In 1865, the dictator of Paraguay launched an ill-advised war against Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. Over half of Paraguay's population, and as much as 90 percent of its male population, died in just five years. It was probably the worst military defeat a modern nation-state had ever faced.

35. From orbit, you can sometimes actually watch a massive amount of sand moving from the Sahara Desert to South America. The Amazon rainforest is nourished by this nutrient-rich sand. It's a major factor in the area's extraordinarily high biodiversity.

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36Takanakuy Fight

Takanakuy Fight

On the 25th of each year, the residents of one Peruvian village celebrate a holiday known as "Takanakuy," during which they challenge each other to a fistfight to settle any unresolved grudges from the past year. After that, everyone gets drunk to forget the past year and welcome the new one.

37. Around 50 beavers were first introduced to Tierra del Fuego, an island at South America's southernmost tip, in 1946 to boost the local fur trade. While no such fur trade ever materialized, Patagonia's forests have been irreparably damaged by the beaver population, which is now estimated to be over 100,000.

38. There are 90 distinct microclimates in Peru, representing 30 of the world's 32 climates, making it one of the most climate-diverse countries in the world.

39. In an attempt to break the grip of colonial elites and establish a mestizo society, Paraguay's first dictator, José Gaspar Rodrguez de Francia, established a decree in 1814 that restricted the marriage options available to colonial residents to blacks, mulattoes, and natives. Because of this regulation, the country is one of the most racially integrated in all of Latin America.

40. Tierra del Fuego, located at South America's southernmost tip, is technically an archipelago separated from the continent by the Strait of Magellan. One of the languages spoken on this archipelago, Yaghan, has lost all but one of its native speakers as of the year 2019. When Cristina Calderon's sister-in-law, the only other known native speaker of Yaghan, passed away in 2005, she became the language's sole surviving speaker.

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41Banana Massacre

Banana Massacre

In 1928, the United States threatened to invade Colombia to put an end to a strike by employees of the Chiquita Fruit Company. In what has been dubbed the "Banana Massacre," the Colombian army opened fire on unarmed protestors, including men, women, and children, resulting in between 800 and 3,000 deaths.

42. Surprisingly, French Guiana, an overseas region of France, is home to the European Union's and France's largest national park. This protected area in Guyana is known as the Guiana Amazonian Park.

43. In South America, the maned wolf is the biggest canid. Rather than a wolf, it resembles a fox with long legs. Studies of its genes indicate that it is a separate species from both foxes and real wolves. It is the sole member of the Chrysocyon genus.

44. In 1862, Peru commissioned the construction of a hospital ship, which is still in use today. The original steam engine is still in use, and it is still powered by dried llama dung.

45. Scopolamine, sometimes known as "Devil's Breath," is a hallucinogen popular in Colombia. People under the influence of this drug appear normal, but they lack the ability to exercise their own free will, making them easy prey for thieves who can convince them to hand over their money and possessions and then forget about it the next day.

46Paraguay's 100% Hydroelectric Power

Paraguay's 100% Hydroelectric Power

The South American nation of Paraguay runs entirely on hydroelectric power but only uses around 10% of the electricity it creates, sending the rest of it abroad. Almost all of this energy comes from the Itapu dam, which is the source of about 25% of Brazil's electricity.

47. During a naval fight between Argentina and Uruguay in 1841, the Uruguayan ship eventually had to retreat due to a lack of ammunition. The captain gave the order to load the cannons with the hard balls of cheese they had on board and shoot them. The Argentinean ship lost two sailors when the cheese tore holes in the sails of their ship.

48. Only Uruguay, besides France, is allowed to freely use the term "champagne." This is because of a debt owed by France to Uruguay following World War 2. All other nations must use the word "sparkling wine" when selling this kind of product.

49. The Charra were the original inhabitants of what is now Uruguay and its neighboring countries. In 1831, Uruguay's first president, Fructuoso Rivera, led an effort to completely wipe out the indigenous Charra people. They are now considered ethnically extinct.

50. Uruguay is the only sovereign nation in the world that does not extend north of 30 degrees south latitude. All other nations include at least some land further north than all points in Uruguay.



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  1. RE: Fact# 2 – Oldest Mummies:These mummies were a part of the Chinchorro community. When a family member passed away, they would remove the entire body—including the bone marrow—and replace it with sticks. The Inca continued to mummify their deceased and bring them out for festivals thousands of years later, but they created separate homes for them rather than residing with them.

    • they created separate homes for them rather than residing with them.

      When it came to the royal mummies, they went beyond just having a seperate home. Because of the belief that the mummies still contained the spirit of the person, the old emperor kept the properties they possesed in life. Their mummies would keep their palaces and money ,which would be used by a sort of regent/caretaker to make sure the mummy stayed well preserved.

      This meant that new emperors were pretty poor when they were crowned, and had to go on the warpath to collect their own wealth and estates.

    • We’re talking about a sizable raft and A fruiting trees The article includes a video of what they think it would have looked like in the past.

      • Although I’d prefer to think otherwise, this video is on a river. If we had some proof that a raft could span the ocean now, or at least manage whatever the distance was that many years ago, I suppose the water would be much harsher. likely less as a result of tectonic action. The distance was approximately 930 to 1100 miles, as stated in the article

  2. RE: Fact# 3 – Mapuche People:Before you continue to think of the Mapuches as a helpless, peaceful tribe that was “massacred” by “evil whites,” you should know that they were aggressive conquerors who frequently and violently murdered other peaceful tribes.

    For instance, the Tehuelche tribe, who was tranquil and friendly with the Spaniards, first occupied the Patagonian regions of Argentina. The mapuches arrived from Chile, where they were originally from, killed everyone, and then took over the territory. Remember that they did this in the 1800s, after colonialism and the use of firearms against unarmed people. The “Conquista del Desierto” campaign was carried out as vengeance for this, and it wasn’t only to kill local people as many revisionist historians suggest; rather, it was to defend against an invading force that had essentially wiped off our original tribes and inhabitants.

    Despite the fact that they are not at all an indigenous tribe, they continue to assert their ownership to Patagonia in Argentina. Many years prior to them, Europeans had already established in Argentina.

    • People tend to portray the natives as saints who only sought good for the earth.

      The problem is that if everyone is truly equal, we have to assume that many of these tribes weren’t like that and were content to plunder, rape, or enslave others.

      People have said that white people are the most terrible race in the world, but the truth is that white people are simply fortunate to have mastered long-distance ship travel and early organization. And certain white people in recent history—not all of them—English, French, etc.—used this to their advantage to essentially conquer the world.

      However, it’s crucial to keep in mind that any group is capable of mass murder, genocide, and land theft if we honestly think that everyone is created equal. A lot of folks don’t seem to get this for some reason.

      • It’s referred to as “noble savage,” and it’s just another form of racism with some historical illiteracy mixed in. Simple good versus evil narratives are cozy, and we all have a propensity to automatically order reality into them.

      • It’s simply impossible to apply our standards to it because it’s a different time. I discovered that the history of the US Great Plains can be summarized as follows from Empire of the Summer Moon;

        Everyone was an arse. Comanche would kidnap your kids, skin your family alive, use them as targets, slowly cook their carcasses next to a fire, and leave them out for you to find.

        The Texas Rangers and other indigenous tribes would then traverse valley after valley, hill after hill, and kill every man, woman, and child they could locate. steal their own offspring, “eradicating” the Indian.

        Ask me not which is worst. I’m not sure.

  3. RE: Fact# 1 – Only Continent Without Monarchy: Until a military coup deposed the Emperor of Brazil in 1889, Brazil was a monarchy.

    After Emperor Pedro II abolished slavery in Brazil, he was overthrown by the country’s landowners and the military.

    In an effort to safeguard the Imperial family, some emancipated slaves formed a covert paramilitary organization. They were known as the Black Guard).

    • Brazil’s history is really bizarre. In addition to being a monarchy, our nation also took in Portugal’s entire royal family and court in 1808, when they escaped the Napoleonic Wars that had overthrown so many European monarchies. The Portuguese Empire was ruled from Brazil for 12 years before they finally returned to Europe. Dom Pedro II, the son of Prince Pedro I, ruled the country until his peaceful overthrow in 1889. Dom Pedro II had declared independence in 1824 but abdicated a few years later.

      Following the overthrow of the monarchy, the aristocracy had remarkably little of their wealth taken from them. Family members of the deposed royals continue to assert their legal right to a portion of the meager assets they were able to salvage. A large portion of the land that is still owned by politically influential families today was granted by the king during the era of colonial rule. In the history of the Brazilian state, there has never been a true revolution that succeeded in toppling the current elite.

      • leaving the throne to his son, then a kid, Dom Pedro II, who was peacefully deposed in 1889.

        He enjoyed a great deal of public support, the unwavering devotion of the Imperial Navy and their terrifying Imperial Marines, as well as the fervent backing of groups like the Black Guard. So, if he had wanted to, he could have refused, and, to be completely honest, he probably would have prevailed in the end. Pedro, however, promised to renounce all claims to the throne and go into exile in exchange for the abolitionist statute not being overturned because he was tired of seeing the tragedy of the American Civil war repeated on Brazilian land.

        • It should be mentioned that Pedro II had developed into a little of what we now refer to as a doomer in the later years of his reign when it came to the future prospects of the Brazilian monarchy.

    • Surprisingly, the treatment of Native Americans was a recurring theme throughout the various Independence movements.

      Native Americans had safeguards from the Spanish Crown, including land rights that were upheld by the Crown, because it saw them as its subjects. The fight for independence was mostly led by the white local elites, and one of the main motivations was to destroy the aforementioned land rights in order to evict the indigenous population and erect plantations. The majority of Mestizos and Native Americans support the Spanish, and many of the terrifying tales you heard about Spanish officers chopping off hands when gold quotas weren’t fulfilled or other things were independentist/British propaganda.

      In the US, the same fucking thing happened as well, so let’s not act like Americans are superior here. Only those Native Americans who signed treaties guaranteeing their countries’ independence and the security of their territories allied with the United States against the British. And have a look at how well it fucked up for them.

      • In the US, the same fucking thing happened as well, so let’s not act like Americans are superior here.

        The American landowners’ desire to invade territory that the British had publicly acknowledged as belonging to the native Americans led to the declaration of independence in major part.

      • In terms of minority rights, monarchies frequently outperformed the early liberal republics. More important to the feudal system than a non-existent national ideal were religion and monarchy allegiance. The French revolution, in the spirit of equality and unity, overturned the local autonomy that the Ancien regime had granted to Basques and Occitans in France. Since then, all minority languages in France have essentially been wiped out in a cultural holocaust.

  4. RE: Fact# 15 – Colonia Tovar: In actuality, Latin America is full of this kind of thing. Germany has made a significant musical impact on a lot of traditional Mexican music. I’ve traveled through Costa Rica on occasion. My brother and I couldn’t help but notice the German architecture while we were driving around Lake Arenal. (It appeared to be in Bavaria.) We made a pit break for bratwurst and sauerkraut in one location. I would have easily believed I was in Garmisch if it weren’t for the extreme temperatures and humidity.

  5. RE: Fact# 8 – Blood Type O: Malaria resistance is also partially conferred by type O blood. Which, I’m certain, is not an accident.

      • Yes, but during the Columbian era, malaria was introduced, and many people perished. Therefore, is this still a coincidence?

        • In regions like the Andes and Alaska’s North Bank, which neither support Anopheles, there were also millions of indigenous people. This is a mapof the Anopheles range, which does not completely encircle the Americas and not all of which may transmit malaria. Even if non-O-type American Natives were 100% lethal to malaria, many would still never even be exposed.

  6. RE: Fact# 5 – S. America’s West of Jacksonville: Also interesting:

    There are 6 US State capitals west of Los Angeles and Rome is further north than NYC.

  7. RE: Fact# 7 – South American Mountain Lions: Mountain lions were just “extirpated” 10,000 years ago, according to the source. There is no mention of human being responsible of this.

    • Around the time that humans arrived in the new world, almost all of North America’s megafauna died extinct. Although it’s possible that the mega-fauna just went extinct at this time, it’s also highly likely that human communities discovered a new source of calories that hadn’t evolved in tandem with human demands and was a very simple diet. This also parallels the extinction of the megafauna from Australia 50,000 years ago due to human expansion. It’s possible that humans’ reduction in the variety and richness of huge cats’ prey species in North America caused pressure that the animals couldn’t withstand. It is really difficult to make a completely conclusive judgment when studying matters like these, but the coincidences seem to indicate that there are pressures on humans. Before humans arrived on the scene, megafauna in North America had survived multiple (about 20) glacial cycles. Coincidentally, I just finished reading a chapter of Guns, Germs, and Steel yesterday that talked about the extinction of mega-fauna.

      I also wanted to note that this is speculation. There are various hypotheses for the extinction events, and the wiki article includes a link to the Pleistocene extinction event (several of them being human caused). Despite the fact that this opinion is “informed,” readers should not take it as scientific truth.

      • This is something I’ve heard before, but what precisely is this “labor”? I consider labor and the effort put in to produce an outcome. Even the southern slave trade produced something. What is the jail industry’s final product? Although they may generate some license plates or other items, I don’t see an end result for all of this “work.” Does anyone know where the prison population is produced?

        • “The Left Business Observer claims that all military helmets, ammunition belts, bulletproof vests, ID badges, shirts, pants, tents, backpacks, and canteens are produced entirely by the federal prison industry. Along with providing 98% of the market’s total equipment assembly services, 93% of the paints and paintbrushes, 92% of the stove assembly, 46% of the body armor, 36% of the home appliances, 30% of the headphones, microphones, and speakers, and 21% of the office furniture, prison laborers also provide war supplies. Prisoners are also breeding seeing-eye dogs for blind people in addition to farming airplane parts, medical supplies, and much more.”

  8. RE: Fact# 11 – South American Slave Trade:
    Brazil had to import so many because they kept dying from disease and being worked to death

    • United States also didn’t need to import as many because the gender ratio was kept at a relative equal in order to keep up the birth rates of new slaves. Source

      • Not long after the constitution was ratified, the USA prohibited the importation of slaves, forcing those who relied on them to feed, clothe, and house them rather than causing their deaths from overwork and neglect. The practice of using existing slaves until they died and importing new ones persisted in South and Central America. Africans committed to the plantations and colonies ruled by the Spanish, French, and Portuguese were essentially given death sentences from malnutrition, exposure, and tropical diseases.

  9. RE: Fact# 2 – Oldest Mummies:Mummies are fascinating because most of them may be found all over the world.

    Pre-Incan mummies that were chosen deliberately to be sacrifices and fed a particular diet in their final days can be found in South America. They were discovered in low-oxygen, high altitude environments. Even though they probably had no idea how, the ancients were aware that this preserved the bodies.

    There are two different ancient mummy preparations in North America. Although this may be because there was once a massive Rome-sized civilization in the Southwest US during Mesoamerican times and their culture may have been a branch of South American Mesoamerican cultures, the Anasazi peoples had a mummification ritual that was similar to that of the South Americans.

    Additionally, researchers have discovered that tribes would travel great distances to bury their dead in the wetlands of the southeast US 12–15 thousand years ago. They effectively resembled bog bodies.

    Speaking of bog bodies, there are two different kinds of mummies in Europe. Bog bodies refer to cases in which individuals were dumped into bogs or deliberately deposited there. Similar to Siberia, many tombs in Russia are constructed in frigid temperatures to preserve the bodies of the deceased.

    Egypt is another example, and I was just thinking how terrible it is that mummies were crushed up and used to make paint. Countless amounts of knowledge have been lost due to centuries of history-destroying theft, desecrating, and looting. Other mummies have been discovered in Africa, but we don’t know much about them.

    Buddhist monks were also mummified. Long periods of time were spent on a certain diet, followed by lotus position meditation till death. There have even been well-known accounts of a Buddhist statue made of gold being discovered to contain a mummified monk. Tradition holds that they are still alive, they are simply hibernating for a very long time. Creepy.

    In addition to mummies and pyramids, China once undoubtedly possessed some of the most sophisticated preservation practices in recorded human history. We are unable to excavate the Pyramid of Qi, the site of the Terracotta Warriors, in large part because after the high quantities of mercury in the soil were discovered, researchers recognized that not only were the old tales about the pyramid genuine, but it also included ACTIVE BOOBY TRAPS. There are other additional crossbows that almost sound mythological, like pressure-activated crossbows with mechanisms that have been maintained in resin to ensure they continue to shoot even now. Very interesting material

    There are mummies from the Persian civilization, the Pilipino people, the Vikings, the catacombs of Europe, and even mummies from island settlements all over the world.

    We did this for what?

    • Pyramid of Qi

      Do you have a link to any of these “booby traps” or crossbow traps? I remember reading an article specifically about whether such traps ever existed anywhere outside of stories, movies, TV and books, and the answer was: no. Years ago, I read about some ancient text describing a tomb which was built with portions that would collapse if it was ever broken into, but nothing like that had ever been found in real life.

      I’m not saying you’re wrong or lying, but I remember reading that such ancient booby traps have never existed.

      • First off, the “Pyramid of Qi” does not exist.

        The Qin Shih Huangdi mausoleum is designed with the tomb itself laid out as a scale representation of his former empire, covered by a huge, tiered pyramid with a truncated top.

        The legends of booby traps (summarized here in this pop history article) come from The Records of The Grand Historian, about 500 years later.

        We won’t know if there were any traps even though some things (such the dam and the mercury lake) seem to be real until further studies are conducted.

    • The phrase Mesoamerican is being misused here. In South America, there were no Mesoamerican ethnic groups. Mesoamerica especially refers to the societies and cultures that existed in Central America from northern Mexico all the way down to El Salvador and northern Costa Rica before the Spanish conquest. Precolombian is probably the correct phrase to use in this context.

      I would also like to see a source on how South American peoples settled in or perhaps influenced Southeastern US communities like Cahokia. Despite their extensive distribution, which extended as far north as the Caribbean, I’ve never heard of any Arawak effect on the US mainland.

      With this comment, you’ve got some misleading info floating around, like the notion that China produced terracotta mummies. I’d go over some of the references from which you drew some of this data.

      • Even so, Mesoamerica’s geographical expanse is still quite broad. The bulk of Mesoamerican civilizations that are addressed and are unmistakably Mesoamerican are found in Guatemala and Belize as well as the lower half of Mexico.

        While Mesoamerican characteristics can be seen in some cultures and sites in Northern Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and possibly Nicaragua and Costa Rica, those regions are more commonly regarded as belonging to their own cultural regions, namely Aridoamerica for the former and Central America for the latter.

    • If the area is small enough to make this possible, they should, even if only as a test to determine how useful/effective it is.

      That being said, I suppose it would be constructed elsewhere and put in on one of the quieter days. But would you want to be the one in charge of its setup, upkeep, and other things?

      I imagine that this suit or this might be sufficient to protect you (or might not … lightning is perhaps more than these are designed for) but even so … sounds like scary stuff.

      Good TIL material!

  10. RE: Fact# 3 – Mapuche People: That is incredible because it suggests Colombians, not the Spanish Empire, were responsible for their conquest.

    And I observe the Mapuche resistance and the Mexican Yaqui uprising; they only “surrendered” after the government began bombing them from the air in the 1960s, and their resistance is still going strong now.

  11. RE: Fact# 19 – Simón Bolívar a.k.a. Iron Butt:Simon Bolivar was a very fascinating man. If anyone is interested, Mike Duncan has a fantastic podcast about him and the South American revolutions that is both entertaining and incredibly educational. I believe this is the fifth episode of the “Revolutions” podcast series.

  12. RE: Fact# 27 – Giant Otters of S. America: Ammmmmaaaazing. I learn about new things every day there hat I never would have thought about.

    • When I read that “after the jaguar, the giant otter is South America’s largest and most capable predator,” it really blew my mind.

    • My dad once showed me a documentary on the Amazon that mostly focused on these otters. I used to watch it constantly, and I vividly recall the loud clicking sounds they produce. They are among my favorite creatures. I believe that children should be exposed to the whole range of biodiversity that this planet has to offer from a young age. It contributes to the development of a deep-seated love of the environment and a desire to protect it for the benefit of its inhabitants. I believe that not enough individuals are exposed to this important sense.

      • The evolution of pterodactyls, which were extremely high-altitude floaters that fed on air algae or plankton yet were so translucent and light that they never left their fossils. Info on this subject was touched on by Stephen Baxter. Baxter is great yet his hard science fiction usually hurts my brain.

  13. RE: Fact# 6 – Rio Pact: It’s interesting to note that Venezuela also left the alliance in 2015 before returning in 2019. Every country indicated in the fact was formerly a member of the alliance but has since either left or been expelled.

  14. RE: Fact# 18 – French Guiana in EU:It also serves as the primary launch site for the ESA, which is the European Space Agency.

    • To dissuade them from declaring independence, France gives the area a ton of money.

      Even closer to the equator than Florida, the launch site uses less energy to deploy geostationary satellites into orbit. For polar orbits, it is not particularly important.

      • Yeah, mate, Guyana’s independence movements are completely gone. When asked if they desired additional autonomy, there was a referendum in 2010, and the No side triumphed with 70% of the vote.

  15. RE: Fact# 28 – Prehistoric Giant Sloths:In South America, large ground sloths constructed huge burrows thousands of years ago that are still there now. The largest ones are 2,000 feet long and nearly 6 feet tall.

    • The species went extinct when humans with spears arrived, like the majority of megafauna.

      The Mega-Sloths were exceedingly successful; as a result, the species spread and lesser sloths evolved from them over the course of millennia, giving rise to the sloths we see today.

      It’s a shame that MegaSloths are extinct because if they were, we could train them to dig for us.

  16. RE: Fact# 29 – No Road to Iquitos:I have been there! Carts pulled by motorbikes are the most common form of transportation pver there. Gaudi designed one of their buildings. There is the depressing slum of Belen, and there is also a burger joint named Ari’s serving up delicious yuccas fritas and excellent PISCO sours.

  17. Even in South America, Suriname is a peculiar duck because very little there appears in the media. Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, and of course big guy Brazil are frequently mentioned when I’m in Argentina. Also frequently mentioned are Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela. But from Guyana and Suriname? Nothing!

    • In comparison to the rest of the continent, Suriname (Dutch Guiana), Guyana (British Guiana), and French Guiana (which is technically a part of France) are unquestionably strange ducks. The reason for such nations’ isolation is that they all share borders with the Brazilian bush. I have only ever traveled to one South American country, which is strange for me as well. I want to travel the world!

      Funny story: of all places, Hawaii is where I first acquired a little bit of Argentine (Argentine?) Spanish. Many foreigners worked in one bar/restaurant where I spent a lot of time chatting with an Argentinian woman. I jokingly inquired as to how to communicate, “I’m a flirt,” in their own language. Chamuyero! Like, I guess, “charmer” in English. Another woman, who was Peruvian, advised me to use the word “mujeriego,” or womanizer. I’m neither, but I learned a few words I can use later.



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