It has been nine weeks since Lex and I vacated our apartment in Brooklyn, loaded up our backpacks, and departed for Santiago, Chile. Throughout the duration of our trip, we have encountered many different situations but throughout them all, there have been a few items we simply could not have done without. Together, we present to you our list of Most Valuable Items (MVI’s). They are not ranked in order of importance. MVI status is the most elite designation a possession may achieve, therefore, one item cannot be more or less of an MVI than another. So, without further delay, let us view the official Andes Not The Mint dot com list of MVI’s.
Stinkbag: Although we hesitate to call ourselves backpackers, the truth is that we are two people with large backpacks and, save for the odd churango, nothing else. As previously documented in the Stuffmaggedon post, space is limited and one must pack wisely. An indispensable component of any traveler’s backpack is a non-permeable, odor-proof stinkbag. I could elaborate further, but I think the name Stinkbag says it all. Don’t you?
Swiss Army Knife: Companion to nearly every situation. Can opener? Check. Bottle opener? Check. Sharp knife? If you’re in a hotel room with nothing but some veggies and the plastic bag they came in, there is no other way to make yourself an excellent Salad In A Bag.
Ciproflaxin: While there are many things wrong with the American medical system, at least you know what you are getting when you pay out the roof for your medicine. Chile and Argentina both have reliable farmacias, but here in Bolivia it is essential to BYOA. Indeed, because we Brought Our Own Antibiotics, not only was I able to kick a wee eye infection, we also helped our friend Iratxe recover from the ravages of a wayward cup of carrot juice. When the four of us met up with our Canadian friends, Tony and Natalie, Tony was riding the Cipro after three days between bed and bathroom. If you spend any amount of time in Bolivia, you’re bound to pick up something or another from somewhere. Do yourself a favor and don’t buy your meds from a random woman who walks out from the back of the pharmacy with pills of unknown origin and age.
Aeropress: Earlier this week, I picked up the first bag of quality coffee I’ve encountered over the duration of our journey. In fact, since entering Argentina it has been hard to find non-instant coffee that isn’t premixed with sugar. Even with the dodgy coffee I’ve been purchasing, the Aeropress remains an absolute must have MVI. If something happens to me and I don’t make it back home, I will say now that I wish to be buried with my Aeropress. We are talking serious MVI, people.
Headlamp: In addition to the obvious utility of a headlamp while camping, it has been essential for sharing dingy rooms illuminated by one lone, very bright light bulb.
Natural Soap: We picked up a bar at the market in El Bolson and are now left literally high, dry, and itchy without it. Between Nuevo Laredo in Mexico and Punta Arenas in Chile, I am convinced every commercially-produced personal hygiene or cleaning product contains roughly 700% more fragrance than is needed. What happens when you mix industrial-strength chemicals with two wandering New Yorkers of Ashkenazi stock? Perhaps this is TMI, but let’s just say natural soap is a definite MVI for sensitive skin.
Battery-Powered Alarm Clock: We picked this sucker up in Canada and continue to use it each and every day. Plus, here in Bolivia where Americans are not always very popular, we can always flash the clock and say we’re Canadian, eh?
Charles Schwab: While I am loathe to promote any sort of corporate giant, I will share a bit of helpful information we found while researching our banking options prior to our departure. As many of you know, many of the evil banking operations in the U.S. (that shall remain nameless) charge exorbitant fees for withdrawing money abroad. You might as well write a $500 + check out and mail it to them before you go. But! If you’ll excuse the name-dropping, Charles Schwab does no such thing. In fact, they refund your fees at the end of each month with this account. Sure, you’re still blowing through your savings like it’s going out of style (cough. sputter.), but at least you can rest easy knowing that you’re not throwing away $5 every time you go to the ATM.
Charles Swab: Ahhhhhh, where would we be without our beloved Charles (as in face schwa . . . er . . . swab. Get it?) After an especially brutal hike; a million-hour, non-air-conditioned, no-bathroom bus ride; a super greasy meal; or whatever other type of craazy situation you might find yourself in, “Charles”—your friendly neighborhood face astringent—is the perfect band-aid for your boo-boo. In other words, it’s the easiest and quickest way to feel clean and refreshed without actually being so.
Deet: I know, I know. It burns holes in your skin. It’s the equivalent of taking a bath in Agent Orange. Why not swallow a bottle of bleach instead? But if you’ve ever gotten bitten by one of those tiny, nasty suckers in South America, resulting in gigantic welts on your extremities (and elsewhere, mind you) that itch like you’ve just moved in with a family of especially ravenous fleas, you’ll be super glad that you brought the deet along to prevent it from ever EVER happening again. Never mind Skin So Soft. Those malarial skeeters will laugh in your face.
Tampons: Hush up, you squeamish dudes out there. This one’s important. As I’m sure y’all are aware, there is no flushing of toilet paper in South America. Heretofore, unlike in the States where hygiene products reign supreme, there are only a few “feminine products” to choose from in the Southern Hemisphere, mainly those that can’t be flushed. Therefore, unless you don’t mind wearing the equivalent of a diaper for a week out of every month, I strongly suggest bringing your own stash of tampons. And no . . . you can’t flush these either. But at least you’re not 2 again.
Grapefruit Seed Extract: As Mark mentioned in his Cipro blip, you might encounter a few risky situations when attempting to eat something delicious while traveling to countries where food regulations or sanitary conditions are different than what you’re used to. Here in Bolivia, even the veggies can be suspect. Instead of being a stick-in-the-mud and too afraid to try anything, go our way . . . the GSE way! Before each meal, just squeeze a few (10-12) drops into a small amount of water, stir, hold your nose (bitter!), quickly swallow, and voila! You’re good to go. Crossing your fingers might help as well.
Ear plugs: Cacophonous snoring coming from the seat behind you on the bus. Wailing kids pulling an unsquelchable tantrum on the bus. Super-loud, extremely grating music or the third time you’ve seen Unstoppable played at top volume . . . on the bus. All of these situations can be made delightfully better with the help of two tiny squishy items. They also come in handy when the person you’re sleeping with had a few two many the night before and is snoring up the wazoo. Oh wait . . . that was me!
And now for the list of MVI-WWB, but didn’t. A couple things we Wish We Brought, but didn’t:
Magic Towels: So, my old friend David Terry told me before I left that the one thing I should most definitely bring with me, possibly more important than extra pairs of underwear, is this miraculous kind of towel. Extra-light to carry. Extremely fast-drying. Indispensable. Did I listen to him? No. Was I sorry? Yes. Don’t be like us. Splurge a little and buy yourself one of these towels. Your non-wet ass is worth it.
Camping Gear: Nearly every Patagonia travel blog suggests you bring your own gear. For some strange reason, we ignored this common piece of advice. The camping gear in South America generally costs more and is of lesser quality than that which is sold in the States. I’m still not prepared to talk about Cold Mush or its unfortunate cousin Cold Slurry, but I will say that I wish we brought a little camping stove with us. Couple that with our own tent, as we are about to ship home from Bolivia an overpriced, not-so-hot “Lippi” brand tent we purchased in Puerto Varas. Also, our thirty-something knees have formally requested a pair of retractable hiking poles. Considering the time we spent in and around a certain mountain range, they would have come in handy!