Tropical Travel Necessities and Suggestions

This page is open for everyone. The idea is to evolve a list of necessities that everyone should take on the trip to Nicaragua and related suggestions. The directors will identify necessities and suggestions that we consider crucial by starring them with an asterisk (*). Other items will be considered optional though highly recommended by the author - please identify yourself when adding a suggestion.

*Personal First Aid Kit

*Personal Medications, both prescription and Over the Counter (OTC) medications that you use in your day to day life. Be sure to bring prescription bottles identifying prescribed medicines for all such medications you bring.

*Sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 30. There are huge differences in sunscreens and the companies are not forthcoming - often the labelling on the product is inaccurate or misleading. Here is a report that will help sort it all out

*Raingear (umbrellas, etc. can be purchased in Granada, but the quality of such items is unknown)

*Bug repellant - the most effective of these contain deet. If you buy such a repellant it should be at least 20% Deet. The effectiveness is coorelated to the percentage of deet present. Many people do not like deet. In high concentrations, deet will melt plastics. If you want to use an alternative product (deet free), it would probably be smart to bring along some deet-laced repellant as a back-up.

*Antibiotics - Many travelers (our guess is 50% of our entourage) will experience a diarrhea flare-up despite the common sense precautions we will be discussing in the orientation. This is a lot of no fun. If it lasts more than 48 hours or if it is accompanied with fever and/or vomiting, do not hesitate to treat the problem with Erythromycin, Cipro (ciprofloxacin), or another broad spectrum antibiotic. Antibiotics are serious medicines and are available in the US by prescription only. In Nicaragua, they are available over the counter in any Farmacia. You can, therefore, use them in a self-medication regime. Do not hesitate to use them. If you take the option of riding out the problem, you will eventually adapt to the common micro-organisms of any locale. This process, however, is likely to take a week to ten days minimum and can involve considerable distress, dehydration, weakness, and lethargy (not to mention humiliation). It is our view that this is not a good way to spend 30 - 40% of the time we have in Nicaragua. The alternative is to subject yourself to an antibiotic regimen. Take the pills as directed and for the period required. Generally, you will need to take the pills for 5-7days. You absolutely must do this. When you start an antibiotic treatment you should not abandon the regimen when the symptoms abate and you begin to feel better (usually within 24 hours after the first treatment). Instead, you must finish the antibiotic treatment and then repopulate your digestive tract with benevolent fauna by eating yogurt.

Mosquito netting head net - this fits over your head allowing you to sleep with your head outside the covers. Available at REI and online .

Mosquito netting bed cover - this will suspend above your bed. Possibly available at REI and certainly available online .

ibprofen and pepto bismal or some sort of other drug for upset stomachs. This was mentioned at the meeting and i strongly suggest everyone bring some. Based on my experiences in Panama the food can be very different and for some, it might take awhile to get used to. Even if you have a stomach of steel, i still recommend bringing some just in case.
Also, if you are worried about how safe it is to drink the water, you can buy iodine tablets. Most tablets are easy to use: all you do is put a few in a bottle of water and let it sit from 20 min to a few hours depending on which tablets you buy. Some of the tablets tend to have a bad after taste so instead of buying taste-neutralizing tablets along with the iodine tablets, you can just buy those powder packets for flavoring water at walmart or a grocery store and save some money. Elena

*Dear all, this is an image of the insect repellant that saved our trip to the redwood forests of California from becoming a massive disaster. I have been in areas famous for mosquitos before (i.e. San Blas, Nayarit, Mexico and the Florida Keys) and had never seen them as bad as in the Redwoods. This spray enabled us to enjoy ourselves in loud clouds of bloodthirsty mosquitos even though my wife and kids have always been especially prone to mosquito bites. If you see a bottle, pick it up; my wife picked some up at the Co-op. If you google 'buzz away' you can find it online. At the same time, I do not wish to cancel the above suggestion to bring back up DEET.

*I had a long conversation with Lilian Gorman, my colleague who has taken students to Casa Xalteva the previous six summers (this is the first time she's not going for many years). Here are some useful suggestions and facts that she gave me:
  • Gifts: UNM stuff is appreciated but has been abundant over the last several years. She suggests items representative of New Mexico. She has taken down things such as tin farolitos (luminarias for non-norteños). A student of hers made enchiladas for the family.
  • Casa Xalteva accepts and appreciates donations of the following items: Kids books in Spanish, school supplies of all types, and laptops. If you have an old laptop and wish to donate it, Casa X staff are capable of refurbishing them and getting them to run nicely. Also, Ken Carpenter can give you a receipt for tax purposes.
  • Pre-paid cel phones are available for relatively cheap and you can get calling cards for calling the US. Calls are also very affordable from many computer cafes.
  • Do not pet or feed the street dogs no matter how badly their pathetic state pulls your heartstrings. One of Lilian's students got bitten by one.
  • The farmacias down there are pretty decent and there is one nearby where you may actually consult with a doctor. At the same time, the names of all medications are different and it can cause confusion. For the women, take feminine items such as tampons with you as they are more expensive than one would expect and you have to ask the pharmacist for them.
  • The families do a good job of staying stocked up on drinkable water and make wonderful fruit drinks.
  • Traveller's diarrhea and some short-term upset stomachs were not uncommon. At the same time, not everyone suffered. Gatorade and Saltines were available in Granada for the afflicted.
  • The families are wonderful and caring. In the unexpected event that a particular family is not working out for a particular student, Casa X will be happy to make changes.

I look forward to a GREAT trip and grow more excited by the day!
Damián ( aka 'lost3in3pecos'

Thanks for all the tips, guys. I'm excited! In case you're interested, there's this AMAZING biodegradable soap at REI called Dr. Bronner's Magic Pure Castile Soap. 18 USES- like hair, body, teeth, shaving cream, aftershave, even your car. IT'S AMAZING! (It'll save a lot of room in the bag b/c of it's multiple uses.) The peppermint version is the best -it'll leave you feeling fresh & tingly :) but there are other neat flavors. Available in several sizes; 24oz for $15=great deal. It's concentrated and a little goes a LONG way so maybe split a bottle with someone. or not.
Thanks for all of the advice! I was just wondering if anyone knows what kinds of clothes we will need to bring. When I went to the doctor to get vaccinated, the doctor said to wear clothes that cover up your entire body, but I assume that it will be relatively warm. I just don't know what variety of clothing I will need. Any suggestions??

Erin, I hear it's HOT so bring tank tops and capris/skirts. My aunt went down there a few years back with UNM and said shorts for girls are kind of frowned upon so wear light capris (maybe linen?) or skirts (which would probably be most fresh). I'm going to bring light summer dresses, capris, skirts, and tank tops. And of course a swimsuit! :)
Also, does anyone know if the plugs/voltage are different??

I'm pretty sure the outlets are the same, at least that's what people who've traveled to other parts of central america have told me. I was also thinking that one or two really lightweight long sleeve shirts to protect from the bugs/sun would be a good idea. And thanks Shavone, I was wondering shorts and other less concealing clothes are acceptable.
And is anyone bringing mosquito bed netting? I just don't know how necessary it is. Emma

Yah, good call, Emma. Lightweight long sleeve would be wise. I'm also bringing a rain pancho, a durable umbrella, a head lamp, quick-dry towel, good waterproof shoes, and definitely mosquito bed netting. My friend who was just down there recommended packing light on clothes as to support the local economy down there by purchasing some awesome central american apparel.

Thanks guys! That helps a lot. I had no idea about the shorts thing! How are you guys planning on changing over your money? Are you going to do it beforehand or in NIcaragua? Or just use traveler's checks or something like that?

I ahve questions about the money thing too. I know that a lot of places will accept US dollars, but will there be ATMs that we can use or do we need to bring a lot of cash with us?

About money. Travelers checks are a bad idea. The only place you can reliably cash travelers checks is at a bank and banks only cash travelers checks during certain hours of the day and there are always huge lines that move at a snail's pace. It's likely that check cashing hours conflict with our class schedule and spending hours in bank lines is not the way we want students spending their precious time. Luckily, there are ATMs and you can use an ATM card to draw money out or US accounts - you can also use credit cards to get cash advances but card companies charge a hefty fee AND impose high interest rates on cash advances while pushing the cash advance ammounts to the end of the pay-off line, so if you get a 500.00 cash advance, the money you send in to pay off your credit card balances will FIRST be credited against your usual lower interest purchases so that any remaining balance will include cash advances and thus maximize the interest you have to pay unless you pay off your entire balance at the end of the payment period. The poor banks have to do something to recoop the billions they lost on poor wagers on Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs), Credit Default Swaps (CDSes) and the like. So, screw you (I mean us, of course).
In sum, the best thing to do is to draw money from accounts you have with money in them (Checking or Savings). In a pinch, you can e-mail family or friends and have them deposit money into your account - you can then get it from an ATM and repay your family/friends later. There is a fee for using an ATM to get money from your bank account but the fee is reasonable. If you plan ahead, you can get the money you need week by week and minimize the number of times you have to use ATMs. c/s Dr. T

Another thing, plan to give away any medicines you have when you leave. Bring a box or two of pens and small toys to give to desperately poor people. Many children have never had a manufacured toy or a pencil of their own to write with. We do not have time to organize a formal project to bring supplies for the poor, but on an individual basis, we can do these small things that will make a huge difference to poor people. We are headed to a very poor country and especially in rural areas, we will encounter people who have almost nothing. Marbles, balls, jacks, etc. really inexpensive toys can brighten the life of a child who has never had a toy. Dr. T