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Photo by Ryan Kost, Andes & Amazon Semester.

Staying healthy on course

We’d like to take a little time to talk to you all about your health. We’ve all heard horror stories of friends going abroad and getting sick. We don’t want to scare you, but the truth of the matter is that it is easier to get sick while traveling than while at home. There is some good news though! With a few simple routines you can dramatically reduce your chances of getting sick, or if you do get sick, lessen the intensity of it. A lot of these seem like common sense and are things you have likely been told since elementary school. With that being said, while we often can get away with not doing these things at home, while traveling, it’s different. You’re being exposed to new germs, different (often inferior) sanitary regulations and long intense days of travel that physically/emotionally stress the body/mind. Things that Peruvians/Bolivians have built up an immunity to over a lifetime will have a very different impact on you. You can build up a partial immunity but not in just 3 months. So it’s best to play it safe and embrace these age old practices:

  1. Sanitation: Wash your hands with soap regularly and don’t share drinks/food. Its as simple as that. We’ve seen entire groups get a cold or stomach bug and lots of the time that could have been prevented through basic hygiene. Keep your fingernails short and clean. If you get a cut, clean it thoroughly with soap and antibiotic cream (we have some in our medkit).
  2. Hydration: Get into a routine of always having your water bottle with you. Each person’s body requires different amounts of water but while on course plan to take in 2x the amount of fluids you normally consume, even more while on treks. Being at altitude sucks the water out of your body, often without you even realizing.
  3. Eat healthy: Food provides us comfort and Dragons courses are designed to push you outside of our comfort zones. Often students will use fast food, candy and soda as comfortable reminders of home. A sugary candy bar can help give you that little push you need on hour 7 of a trek. Or sharing a piece of cake from a local bakery with your homestay siblings after a game of soccer can be a fun reward but with all things in life it’s all about moderation. Craving something sweet, reach for some fruit. Many raw fruits and vegetables in Bolivia and Peru can make you sick if not prepared properly but it’s easy to properly wash and prepare them. We’ll teach you how!

Medkit:  As you pack, be aware that we have a comprehensive med bag, including: Ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin (for pain, fever, inflammation), Pepto-Bismol and Imodium (for gastrointestinal [GI] issues), nasal decongestant, cold medicine and much more. There is no need for you to bring your own stash of these medicines. If you do decide to, please note that the instructors will hold onto them throughout the duration of the trip.

For any daily/regular prescription medicines, please remember to bring the prescription AND enough of the medication to last for the entire duration of your time away from home. Also, please try to bring the medication in its original bottle and have the directions, side effects, contraindications, and other relevant information.

Altitude Related Health: You’ll be landing in Cusco which is at 11,200 feet (3,400m). We’ll head straight from the airport to Urubamba which is around 1,700ft (518m) lower. This drop in elevation will help dramatically but you will likely still feel some symptoms of altitude sickness until you acclimatize. For a few days you may have a headache, shortness of breath, reduced appetite and some trouble sleeping. These are all very common and will improve with time. The best thing to do is to drink lots of water and take it easy the first couple of days.

Menstrual Hygiene

If you are someone who may menstruate on course, please note that basic sanitary pads and tampons are widely available at local shops and pharmacies.  If you are attached to a specific brand/type, you may want to bring a supply to last the duration of the course. In addition, there are options that can reduce and eliminate waste. The Diva Cup and the Mooncup are great options, as are reusable sanitary pads. Past students have found that using Diva and Mooncups are easy to manage in South America, and are a great way to help feel more in control of our personal health and hygiene, and reduce the waste we are leaving behind.  A possible downside is that sometimes while trekking, it may be a little challenging to find clean or boiling water to sanitize the cups. However, there will be certain times, like during rural home-stays or on trek, when disposing of menstrual waste can also be challenging and may require carrying used pads or tampons for up to a week, so bringing reusable items may be logistically easier as well.

Thinx is also a really great company that makes underwear with sewn in sanitary pads. They are comfortable and easy to clean.

Two other great things to bring along are some extra zip-lock plastic bags, as there are times we may have to carry out menstruation waste, and an extra bandanna to help keep clean.

We hope the tips in this Yak are a great start for you and have you engaged in your own well-being.  You can refer to the Andes & Amazon Course Preparation Manual for more about your health. Paola has offered her email ([email protected]) for additional questions related to menstrual hygiene if that is more comfortable than emailing questions to the Dragons office or another instructor.  And as always, if there are any questions, please feel free to ask here on the Yak board!

*Please note that we’ll have a more extensive health and safety briefing during our orientation in Urubamba.

Here’s to your health,

Your Instructor Team