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Two Dragons welcome the sunrise with an improvised dance atop the Andes. Photo by Ryan Gasper.

Additional Packing Notes

Hola Dragoncitos.

We write today to give you some tips to help you pack for our Andes & Amazon trip.  We know that packing for an adventure like this is daunting, but don’t worry too much.  Just breathe and relax, after all it is just stuff.  This Yak is a collection of the best advice we have to give you.

This is a supplement to the extensive packing list available in your Course Preparation Manual (CPM), which has been refined over the years by many Dragons students and instructors who have traversed the Andes and Amazon, so please carefully read through that list.  We’ve highlighted some things here that we think are important and also some things that might have been unclear the first time around. Many of these are suggestions, not requirements, so use your own judgement about what’s right for you.

Above all else: pack less. Please pack less. We are about to do three months of traveling through deserts, mountains, and rainforests at elevations from 200 to 17,000 feet. If you bring too much stuff, it will get in the way of our group’s ability to travel well. We’ll be bogged down with gear, unable to do fun things like getting into rickshaws or canoes.

We have a request for you: try your best to fit everything you’re bringing into the one big backpack you’ll bring. We know that a day pack is on the packing list and it’s really tempting to fill that one up too. It’s a trap! Don’t do it! Your day pack should be more like a small spaceship that’s parked in the mothership at most times. It can be deployed during travel days and other times, but it should all fit into one package.

One of the best things you can pack is empty space. When we’re moving a lot and packing every morning, it’s much easier to pack a bag that’s not completely full. 

You’ll want to buy some things in-country for sure. Here is some information about what is available in country:

Things not readily available in Peru and Bolivia: Technical gear: Waterproof-breathables, quick dry, light-weight gear is not readily available in-country.

Common items you can buy in Bolivia that are just the same as in the USA: Feminine hygiene products (both pads & applicator-less tampons), clothing (American clothing, Bolivian clothing, Peruvian clothing, souvenir clothing), cotton socks, sneakers, flip-flops, t-shirts, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, Tupperware, notebooks, paper, reading books in English or Spanish, pens, pencils, and water bottles.

No matter how many times we tell students this, at the end of every Dragons program, most students tell us they wish they had packed less.

We want to reinforce a couple of the points on the CPM packing list:

Bring WARM LAYERS and a ZERO-DEGREE SLEEPING BAG (or a 15-degree bag and liner). It can get cold while trekking at altitude. While we will be traveling through a variety of contexts and climates, be sure to bring lots of warm layers for those cold nights of travel around La Paz. In Cochabamba it will be warm during the day (likely in the 70s-80s) and cool down in the evenings.  We will also spend up to two weeks in a semi-tropical climate, where you’ll want light layers that can also protect from insects.

For WATER PURIFICATION we recommend STERIPENS, as they are effective and work in a variety of environments. No tap water we encounter in Bolivia or Peru will be considered potable. This means that we will have to purify water in both backcountry and urban settings.  For more on water purification, look at the packing list.

Please start breaking in your BOOTS now. Put on your hiking boots and go hike a mountain, walk up and down your stairs, hike up a 20-story building and down again. A few times. This is not something you want to have to do our first trek.

A GOOD HEADLAMP. This is probably one of the most-used items on the course.  AAA batteries are available in-country, but are generally of lower quality. Please bring two sets of back-up batteries for anything battery-powered that you wish to function the entire trip.

GOOD QUALITY RAIN GEAR (jacket and pants) is essential.  Keep in mind that there is a high possibility that you may be trekking through high mountain passes in the rain, and through the cloud forest in the mud, so at the very least will need a good quality poncho.

An UMBRELLA. We have the potential to have some very wet treks. An sturdy, light weight umbrella will help keep you dry as your backpack wears off the waterproof laminate on the shoulders of your rain jackets (it happens). While not essential, an umbrella is nice to have.

At least one pair SYNTHETIC UNDERWEAR. Nice for washing on the go and quick drying. It’s good to mix it up with some underwear made from natural materials and some from synthetic materials for our treks.

One plastic leak-proof TUPPERWARE CONTAINER WITH A SEALING LID. It should be able to ride around in your backpack all morning without leaking. Screw-top Nalgene bowls are a great option. Box-shaped ones that seal are available in Bolivia as well. While on the trail, we often pack lunches in our Tupperware. In cities, we use them for take-away food. They should be big enough to hold an entire portion of your meal.

Camping CUTLERY. This can be as simple as a spoon from home.

NATURAL TOILETRIES help decrease our ecological footprint. Check your local grocery or health food store. Dr. Bronner’s is great and multi-purpose. LUSH (www.lush.com) has a great selection of solid shampoos that you can buy in a tin. They are small, all natural, will last you the whole trip, and best of all, they don’t spill! (You can also re-stock generic toiletries in-country.)

Two or three EXTRA GALLON SIZED ZIPLOCK BAGS are always nice. Use them to waterproof journals, notebooks, books, etc. They can be found in cities, though not in most small towns.

Please bring a pair of JEANS, or something you would feel comfortable wearing in the city. In fact you should know that we will be going back and forth through La Paz and Cochabamba several times. We might (though not always) have a chance to to leave extra things in storage before major treks or course “shifts.” We will be spending several weeks in our longer homestay in Cochabamba, so some “not camping” clothes are nice. At least bring some clothes you can sit in as you wash your trekking clothes.

Some RUNNING SHOES, sneakers or COMFORTABLE CITY SHOES. Most students will bring a total of 3 pairs of shoes (the other two being boots and sandals).

EARPLUGS as there will be all sorts of new noises (think roosters).

A bit more information on GIFTS. You may want something for individuals who make your course special, such as ISP mentors and homestay families. We have a longer homestay near Cochabamba and a few more rural homestays of 3-5 days each. There is no expectation that you bring gifts, so simplicity is best for this! Some of the nicest gifts will be the ones you don’t bring from home: locally developing photos of your host family, leaving behind a sweet thank-you note. If you do want to bring something from home, think about a couple of small, meaningful gifts, not made of plastic. You don’t want to give somebody a cheap, made-in-China item. Some ideas are: postcards or pictures from home with a message on the back, games that you enjoy, small tokens of where you’re from (local crafts, a local treat, etc.), local sports team wear, etc.

A few small PHOTOS of people and places important to you. To be culturally appropriate, be sure to print photos as opposed to uploading them on an electronic device.  These can be great tools for opening up conversations with locals that you live with or interact with.

LIGHTWEIGHT LONG-SLEEVED SHIRT to keep you cool in the lowlands in the Amazon, and to keep away the bugs and hot sun. This could double as a trekking shirt if it’s synthetic, or a dressy shirt if it’s not.

THINGS TO NOT BRING. At All. Really.

Water filters.

Books are preferred to Kindles.  But if you want to bring a Kindle or other eReader, please be aware that they are at risk for damage or theft, and please make use of them in a culturally sensitive manner.

A mosquito net. If they are needed they will be provided.

Please leave cell phones (iPhones included) at home.  We are not responsible for the loss or damage of phones brought on course (which we will collect and keep in a group bag, which is tossed around during transportation and sometimes left unwatched in places, for the duration of the course).

We will address this topic at length soon, but please be prepared to disconnect from your phone for our three months together. You will have intermittent access to internet and be able to make some phone calls home during the program. There will be plenty of ways to stay in contact with home, and the Yak page will be our main source of communication as a group to concerned loved ones following our journeys.

Inappropriate clothing (leggings as pants, clothing that is skin tight, low-necked, more than a few inches above the knee, blazoned with inappropriate words, excessively torn, etc.) should be left at home to be enjoyed after our trip. Students with clothing deemed culturally inappropriate will be asked to change by their instructors. We hope to travel as respectfully as possible through lands that aren’t ours, and this sometimes means leaving some of our personal preferences at home.

Anything you don’t want ruined or lost.

Buena suerte!

Los instructores