We did it! 9 countries, over 14,000 miles traveled, with our big backpacks, and 2 guitars, and most of the time, a huge (and sometimes spilling) bag of food. Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. Hundreds of buses, a few boats, some hitch-hiking and a lot of walking...We did it, and more importantly, we made it home in one piece, without being robbed or having fallen ill. We drank the water in most places, right from the tap, unless someone stated it was not safe. We also did most of our hiking in our very versatile Converse hi-tops, which have now seen better days. I think one of the best memories of wearing those things, was our 4:30 AM hike up to Machu Picchu, where we passed maybe 30 people in the rain, who all had hiking poles and fancy footwear, and I'm sure they were all saying "fu*%$#ng Americans!"
Looking back at our trip now, there's so much to reflect on, obviously. A few things I'd like to point out to any and all future travelers from wherever: Don't listen to anyone who hasn't traveled, regarding your plans...They don't, and will not understand! Also, use your head...Most things we experienced were common sense. Have a small first aid kit, of course, but don't go into a trip feeling afraid that in some "third world" country, you're going to get really sick...because you probably will.
Some frustrating things regarding trip planning for us were the travel doctor's advice, and of course, the bill! It really depends on where you're planning to go on a trip, but in most cases, you can get any shots that you need there...And do your research regarding what kind of shots you need to travel, because in most cases you don't need anything! Here are a few examples of how much BS I've gotten from the medical field regarding travel.
In 2007, I was about to visit Costa Rica for the first time...My grandmother was worried about me getting my proper shots updated, and took me to a travel doctor in my town. I needed a tetanus shot, which was normal, as it had been several years since my last. I was also given a hep-b booster shot, which was also pretty normal. Then, the doctor told me that since I was heading into the Tropics, that I needed to watch a video on Malaria, and also to purchase and start taking Chloroquine, which is a quinine based medication that treats and prevents Malaria (in some parts of the world). I began taking it a week before leaving on my trip, and spent the first three weeks with some really bad headaches from that stuff. Finally, my friend Terry who I was staying with, asked me what the bottle was that was sitting on his counter, and I explained it was for Malaria...He laughed, and told me there hasn't been any Malaria in Costa Rica for about 30 years. Then, I found out that Chloroquine is not effective against Malaria in the Americas. It only works for some strain that's found in Africa! I had been tricked, and more importantly, that particular travel doctor was an idiot, and didn't know his facts.
Fast forwarding several years later to this particular trip, and our preparation for it, I did need to get some booster shots. The tetanus and the two hep boosters were something I felt I should receive prior to traveling all over Latin America...I went to another travel doctor in my town, who not only tried to talk me into getting anti Malaria pills, but also tried to give me Chloroquine, which I assured her, DOESN'T even work there! Then, she gave me a Yellow Fever vaccination, which I had heard about, and was told it was needed to get into Bolivia, where apparently it is rampant. That little pin prick was a whopping $150! Anyways, we both got our shots, including Yellow Fever, which the travel doctor gave us each an updated vaccine card to travel with. Now, here is the funny part...When we got to the border of Bolivia, we had to pay a reciprocity fee that we were well aware of for US citizens...We paid it in cash, and while getting stamped into the country, I had my vaccination card in my hand waiting for them to ask for it...They never did. And, not only did they not ask for proof of Yellow Fever vaccination, during our entire month in Bolivia, we never saw ONE mosquito, because we were never below 3,500 meters in altitude! I was pissed. That one hundred fifty dollars was a huge scam, and a waste, if you ask me...We also found out that you can get the Yellow Fever vaccine for about $15 in Peru, or Bolivia. To summarize, Bolivia does not need you to have proof of a Yellow Fever Vaccine, and it's completely up to you to get it if you want to.
Like I said, do your research before traveling, because you can save yourself some money, and hassle, if you know what you'll need. As for public safety in places that are dangerous, whether fact or fiction, keep a look out. Always keep your valuable items hidden, such as passports and wallets. Always check your pockets, and don't keep anything in there that could be easily snatched. This goes for any city in the world! It's not just Latin America where you can get mugged, it's anywhere. We were extremely lucky on our trip, and the only thing that was stolen, so to speak, was Danica's camera, after way too many shots of Aguardiente in Ecuador. She left it sitting on the bar, which was obviously our own fault. I was some what paranoid in especially the bigger cities, and always looked around, and always felt my pockets. Use your brain, but don't get discouraged from traveling because you think it's dangerous. Everything is dangerous...Using your cell phone, or crossing the street! I had so many people tell me things like, "you're going to Colombia?" Or, "you're crazy!" Maybe we are crazy, but this trip needed to happen, and I never would have known the true beauty and kindness of these places without seeing them for myself.