The thing I learned about nature and hiking is that you really don't need most of the fancy REI equipment. My first proper hike was 8 hours at high altitude in Colombia-and I wore a pair of cotton F21 leggings and sneakers that had never seen the floor outside of a New York gym. I survived! (I swore never to go hiking again and then months later became super into it) I've done lots of long hikes in normal tshirt and jeans and $30 outdoor shoes with a little bit of traction, and a plastic bottle of water. I think outdoor sports has just become such an industry in the U.S. When I go into REI it always seems like a good idea-so much useful stuff! But when I think of how little I actually need and actually used...totally different story.
@Clara I think I meant artesano actually, but my iPad did some sneaky auto correcting.
@seaermine I appreciate your point-and I certainly didn't mean to suggest that economic issues are unique to (or defines) South America. These were things that especially me as a traveler from a more priviledged country, since most fellow travelers I met tends to focus on how fabulous and fun and cheap SA is and ignore its economic history and current problems. I also think SA is a beautiful and amazing place and love the people-my apologies for not writing/conveying any of that!