The Devil is in the Details: Shopping and Packing for Four Weeks in Nicaragua: Part II

Aside from the items reviewed in a previous post: a new wheeled carry-on, a new purse and two kinds of wallets, discussed here, there were other products I purchased or brought from home that I found very helpful while I was in Nicaragua. For those contemplating travel for the first time in a while, maybe to check out retirement locations, or others heading to Central America, maybe this will help you organize your thinking and plan your packing a little better. If you can add other suggestions, please feel free to do so in the comments below this post. Following are the most notable items I packed.

An invaluable purchase was my Therm-a-Rest Lumbar Pillow.

Therm-a-Rest Lumbar Pillow

Therm-a-Rest Lumbar Pillow

I discovered that much of the furniture in Nicaragua is comprised of wooden rocking chairs, wooden straight-back dining chairs, and occasional wicker, bamboo or rattan chairs. Almost none of these chairs typically have seat cushions, and even fewer have back cushions. After a while I began choosing where I would work on my blog posts based on 1) the availability of WiFi, and 2) the type and comfort level of available seating. I didn’t take the cushion with me every day, but it helped to make those chairs where I was staying more comfortable and eased my back while eating a meal, doing Spanish homework, sitting and reading or chatting with my hosts. The cushion had another function: for the bed in one of the homes I stayed in I was provided with one small, almost flat pillow. Putting the partially inflated Thermarest cushion underneath the pillow, compensated for the lack of thickness and provided a more, well, pillowy, pillow! A bonus is that I could roll most of the air out of it to pack it, and it was close to weightless.

Small table fan

Small table fan

A wise additional item I packed was a little four-inch table fan (the blades are four inches across, the fan is about 6”). Being unused to heat with high humidity, this was invaluable on numerous occasions—in a poorly ventilated bathroom, while doing Spanish home-work at the dining table, or just eating a meal anywhere in a home where there wasn’t a fan aimed in my direction. Even though it was a little awkward to pack I don’t regret taking it and will do so again. They could be purchased at Target and WalMart for about $6.99 in the last couple of years but I can’t find them at that price online now—maybe because it’s September.

Another useful accessory that turned out to do double duty was my Platypus SoftBottle.

Platypus SoftBottle

Platypus SoftBottle

I took it in order to have a weightless, rolled-flat water bottle to fill after passing through security at the airport. In a country where people in the city drink only bottled water, I also filled it with that water to use for brushing my teeth, in order to minimize my contact with city water. I don’t know if the city water was actually not all that bad, if my precautions paid off, or if I just got lucky, but during those four weeks in Nicaragua I did not get sick.

The homes in which I stayed (and apparently most homes in the city–I can’t speak for the countryside) had one of those large water jugs similar to those that are delivered to homes here, but without the cooler element, the water is typically lukewarm. I took a Camelbak Groove Insulated Bottle and kept this in the refrigerator of the home where I stayed so that I could drink cold water. Since the water was already bottled, I could probably have left this filter bottle at home and used some other container to keep water refrigerated. I discovered that even an insulated plastic water bottle is minimally effective at keeping water cold and am grateful for my Camelbak Eddy Stainless Insulated Bottle, in which ice cubes will last all day! I suspect I will take this one with me next time.

Camelbak Eddy Stainless Steel Water Bottle

Camelbak Eddy Stainless Steel Water Bottle

At the last minute I threw into my suitcase a pack of facial wipes, and am extremely glad that I did, since on two or three occasions there was no water when I needed to wash my face or hands, or take a shower. They stayed lovely and moist and were a fairly decent replacement for water when I needed to feel clean—I wouldn’t dream of traveling without them now.

My ebags packing cubes were very helpful in organizing outfits, underwear, daily medication and supplements, charging cables, and emergency supplies/meds. They resulted in faster and more efficient packing and repacking. I took a set of three different-sized cubes, and two of the slim ones.

Ebags Packing Cubes--three sizes

Ebags Packing Cubes–three sizes

Slim Packing Cubes 3pc Set

Slim Packing Cubes 3pc Set

I also used Ziploc Spacebags to pack gifts of towels for my home-stay families, since it would have been impossible to take them without squishing them down as much as possible to leave room for my clothes in the suitcase.

Three weeks before my trip, it was announced in Nicaragua that there were outbreaks of dengue fever, swine flu and leptospirosis, accompanied by photos of men fog-bombing homes with some nasty-looking stuff (and without wearing even a face-mask or protective clothing).  I suspect the remedy may be almost as toxic as the illness itself! So in addition to my worries about mosquito bites (since when they see me, they announce to all their fellows that they have found lunch!), I now had to worry about three potentially scary sicknesses, at least one of which people in Nicaragua whom I know have suffered. I’ve been assured that I’m unlikely to be in any of the areas where these illnesses have been found this year, but nevertheless, I worried!  That said, this started a flurry of research about whether I needed more things to protect me—at least from mosquitoes, and the purchase of a few extra supplies of possibly effective repellants. I avoided anything containing high percentages of DEET because I’m not convinced that this is a safe way to protect myself.

Insect Repellants and Salves

Insect Repellants and Salves

Ultimately, one of my slim packing cubes contained a selection of emergency products: Benadryl, Immodium, a baggie of different-sized band-aids, and no less than five different insect repellants and three products designed to be applied on any bites. I even tried a repellant-impregnated cotton scarf, but it was too hot to be practical. I should probably have packed Ibuprofen, but I take it so rarely I forgot that it might come in handy. I did take homeopathic arnica, and this was useful after my dental work. Next time my “medical kit” will also include a tube of Traumeel for any bumps and bruises.

Despite all these products, and I tried them all, I did get quite a few mosquito bites, mostly on my lower legs and ankles, with a couple on my upper arms, although a few of the little buggers managed to get me through my clothes, or maybe in the bathroom, and feasted on my hip, my lower back, etc. In future I guess I will have to choose between using much higher concentrations of DEET or Picaridin (supposed to be as effective as DEET but less toxic) and getting bitten, and hoping that as I acclimate and eat more of a local diet I will become less tasty to them. I also took Vitamin B daily as this is supposed to reduced one’s attractiveness to mosquitos but all it seemed to do is make my sweat smell nasty! This is not a good thing in a location with high humidity resulting in a lot of perspiration. I observed that I would walk around dripping with sweat and notice that most other people, including some gringo friends, were not showing so much as a bead! Hopefully that is testament to the adjustment to the climate that can take place over time.

Eventually my choice of insect repellents was dictated by the smell of the product and I tended to use those that didn’t smell as horrible to me as some of the others. Most frequently I used Cutter Advanced Insect Repellent.

The most effective product for soothing mosquito bites was the Redmond Clay Facial Mud in a tube, which seemed to be able to quell most itching with repeated applications over about 24 hours. I purchased both powdered clay, which arrived in a jar too big to take for my trip, and which you dilute with water to make a paste to apply as needed, and a ready-mixed facial product. The facial product, already moistened clay, was the most portable and it literally went everywhere with me so I could soothe an itch whenever the urge to scratch arose. At one point I even tried, on the suggestion of an MD studying medical Spanish in Granada, hydrocortisone cream, which can be purchased in Nicaragua over the counter at a pharmacy without a prescription. However, I didn’t find it to be superior to the clay, and being a more greasy substance, it didn’t have the more immediate effects of the clay on soothing the itching.

Things I could have left behind:

RainRap: This is a stylish, lightweight hooded cape that folds into a small pouch and weighs very little. I found a travel umbrella was adequate for rain, and that the Rain Rap might have felt too hot to wear even when it rained. It’s a good purchase for traveling and infinitely more attractive than the usual nasty, shapeless rain ponchos, and it may be very handy to keep in the car here in Southern California, but I didn’t use it when I got rained on in Nicaragua.  

All but one sweater: Short-sleeved shrugs to match sleeveless tops. I really only needed just one sweater, to wear when I got cold on the plane.

Long pants: One pair of linen cropped/ankle pants was adequate for the days I was flying and they weren’t worn any other time-they would have been too hot for me.

Bathing suit cover-up: I took one that doubles as a regular dress and looks cute. But it was polyester, which is not a body-friendly fabric in high humidity. Next time I will take a loose lightweight cotton pull-on dress that serves the same purpose. Lesson learned.

Some charging cables: I actually needed only three: one micro-USB-to-USB charger cable, the power cable for my netbook, and the charger cable for my electric toothbrush. Everything else I took was duplication. When I returned, something I’d ordered before leaving and that didn’t arrive in time for the trip turned out to be a handy and very short, flexible and portable connector for the external battery/charger/flashlight and whichever device I want to charge with it. I will take it and keep it in my purse along with the charger/battery next time I travel.

Sunscreen! Turned out that during rainy season, with somewhat overcast skies at least part of most days, entire mornings in Spanish class, and no lying around all day on a beach or at a pool, I didn’t actually need it, although I walked at least a mile every day between 1 and 2 p.m. I was also using a facial moisturizer with an SPF of 15. But I would take it again anyway—I wouldn’t count on not needing it at another time of year, or while engaging in different activities. I should add that since I live in Southern California, I would have had a little bit of base tan already by the end of July, and so would be less likely to burn with what daily sun exposure I had. Someone with less sun exposure prior to arriving in Nicaragua might have more need of sunscreen at the same time of year.

4 Responses to The Devil is in the Details: Shopping and Packing for Four Weeks in Nicaragua: Part II

  1. Linda Luna says:

    Baking soda mixed with a bit of water works great for bites.Also Catnip oil has been found to work better than DEET,not sure how the kitties would react to that though!
    Im off to Nica Oct 8th for 6 weeks to take Spanish classes at Mariposa Eco resort near Masaya and check out Granada as I am looking to find a new home.I live in WLA but originally from England so I am glad I found your blog for tips.

    • bipolaroid says:

      Wow, six weeks sounds awesome! I hope you have a great time in Nica. Perhaps we should get together when you get back to exchange notes and talk about moving to Nica. I’m originally from England, too, (via Canada) and if you mean West L.A. I’m about 45 minutes away from you. I think the baking soda idea works about the same way as the clay, but I’ll have to try it, and maybe pick up some catnip oil if I’m not going to be around around any kitties next time!

      • Linda Luna says:

        Yes Im in WLA but am renting out my house so I can go explore Latin America,I will be coming back to LA for Thanksgiving and I think I am going to go check out Panama after.But who knows I also want to check out Ecuador. I think I read you are out near Valencia? My daughter is at Cal Arts!

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