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Bring one pair of comfortable walking shoes as well as a pair of sandals or Tevas. Before you leave home, break in your new shoes so you're not uncomfortable on the road.

Traveling in Developing Countries, by Pamela Lanier

Travel Tips

Travel in developing countries provides incredible benefits to adventurous families, while at the same time offering considerable challenges. Families get to experience how other people live in cultures and circumstances very different from their own, and to experience wildlife and geographical wonders first-hand. We have found our children to be wonderful goodwill ambassadors who have opened countries' doors as we've traveled the less developed regions of this planet.

Our first long trip out of country as a family was a real adventure, taking up the challenge of traversing the Pan American Highway from San Francisco to Tierra del Fuego when my husband was doing site research on sabbatical from his engineering firm. Our daughter Mary, then our only child, turned three on the trip, and from the minute we crossed border into Mexico, she was the center of attention wherever we went. She was soon convinced that her name was "Que Linda" (Spanish for "How pretty"), because that's all she heard. Teenage girls seemed to materialize out of nowhere to fawn over her whenever we got out of the van. Invitations for our family to join theirs for dinner were often forthcoming.

Mary quietly slept, played with the dolls and other toys, and colored as we drove, springing into vivid life the moment we stopped. Of course, her presence on the trip determined that we visit every zoo, playground and natural attraction along the road. Around about El Salvador--which has a series of glorious state parks--we began teaching her to swim. By the end of the nine-month trip, she was swimming very well, and just two years later won kiddie division regional champion.

We opted to ship the van from Panama to Guayaquil, Ecuador rather than attempt the Darien Gap through Colombia, an impossible path through the jungle, pit vipers and all. We took an inexpensive boat--with accommodations to match!--out to the Galapagos Islands. What a sight! Mary was fascinated by the exotic animals, many of whom allowed her to approach them. From Guayaquil, our trip was all uphill, as in the Andes Mountains. Since gasoline was only 25 cents a gallon in Ecuador, we explored the country thoroughly, settling for a time in Cuenca, a charming historical town noted for its beauty and handicrafts. There we quickly made friends with many families, again through Mary, both Ecuadorians and Europeans living there, and proceeded to have a wonderful time, staying until Christmas. Mary found it hard to eat roast guinea pig, which is one of the national dishes, but otherwise did fine. The altitude in Peru and Bolivia posed quite a challenge for me, but Mary adapted readily. She loved the llamas, as well as the old-fashioned trains and boats which we used as transport, having put our van in storage for a month in Lima. Because the roads are so bad, extreme temperatures...

A highlight of our trip was Mary's third birthday party in Cuzco, to which we invited all the children of the hotel's staff, and all the tourist children we met for a giddy afternoon of balloons, pin-the-tail-on-the-llama and chocolate cake, specially ordered from the only European-style bakery in town. Heading south from Lima, we stopped at every archeological site along our route, using the "South American Handbook" as our indispensible guide. Mary was fascinated by the adobe ruins near Nazca along the coast of Peru and northern Chile, which seem to be built for people not much bigger than her.

We had our one and only vehicular breakdown in Chile. A local mechanic from the nearby town of Chilan came upon us stalled by the side of the road, and offered to tow us to town. He proceeded to take us home to meet his wife and ten children, all of whom decided our stay for the next three days while parts were obtained would be the focal point for a fiesta, bringing together family and friends from around the area. We were almost sorry to see the van fixed and get back on the road! Back up over the lower end of the Andes, we made a brief stop in Barriloche and camped for the night at the hot springs there. Mary was entranced with the woods, and the small trees with cinnamon-colored bark that peeled off in sheets.

In a rest area a few hours west of Buenos Aires, we encountered two Argentinean families, both of whom urged us to look them up in the capital. We proceeded to do so, and spent three weeks in the city enjoying our new friends. Mary by now was speaking very good children's Spanish, and had a ball with all of the kids.

We headed south for a stop at Peninsula Valdez at Patagonia, sight of the world's largest population of sea lions. And what a sight and smell they were! Mary was beside herself with excitement. We met a family picnicking from a nearby aluminum mining town, who invited us back for dinner, giving us a unique insight into the life of a working family in that part of the world.

We wound up our trip after an excursion down through the wild, desolate and beautiful terrain of Tierra Del Fuego and retraced our steps to wind up our trip back with our friends in Buenos Aires for a few more days of play, fado music, and Argentinean churrasco (mixed grill). Mary grew up considerably on this trip, and became quite a self-assured young lady, tiny though she was. She developed a gregariousness which is with her still, as is her love for travel and meeting new people. Having those nine months together as a family was an unforgettable experience for us all. Although the trip was overwhelmingly positive, several difficulties arose along the road--as they often do when traveling, especially through emerging countries.

We were all in fine health on this trip, having had numerous shots priority to our departure (including gamma globulin for hepatitis). Mary did develop a 105 degree fever one night in Mexico and was raving. We never did figure out what it was, but we gave her children's pain reliever to reduce her temperature, and sponged her with cold water all night. The next day she was weak, but the fever was gone, and the day after that she was back to normal.

In Guatemala, Mary and I both picked up pinworms, which are most unpleasant, itchy creatures, but a dose of Vermox cleared them right up. We had occasional mild bouts of diarrhea, and although we carried a prescription diarrhea medicine prescribed by our doctor (Lomotil), we never used it, preferring milder cures. The best thing for mild diarrhea is a bland diet and time. I'm a true believer in crackers and cola, toast, potatoes and white rice. Avoid dairy products. A three-ounce package of flavored jello dissolved in a cup of water tastes good to sweet-toothed kids, and acts as a binder. For medication, start with Pepto Bismol, which is milder than the commonly prescribed diarrhea medicine Lomotil. Be sure to discuss diarrhea medicines with your doctor before you go.

Sunburn was a recurring threat, which we fought with hats and sunscreen, and limited time outside during the heat of the day--there is a reason for those afternoon siestas! Mary got locked in the bathroom aboard the Lake Titicaca steamer (vintage 1905), and the only way to get her out was to dismantle the bathroom stall. That was probably the scariest incident of the entire trip, and one we still talk about almost 20 years later! We did take--and were glad of it--a complete medical kit, and had a thorough conference with our doctor prior to departure. Another issue that came up with Mary was cleanliness in bathrooms. She was potty trained just before we set out on the trip and did very well in our van. The rub came when we were out in restaurants or public places. If the toilet wasn't too bad, I would hold her up over the seat, or put paper on the seat as appropriate. (We've taught all of our children to touch as little as possible in bathrooms while traveling, which definitely includes airplanes!) If the bathroom was just too dreadful, I would take her back to the van, or I admit, find a convenient and discreet bush. Washing hands after using the bathroom is essential, and many restaurants in other parts of the world have a sink in the restaurant where you can wash your hands before eating. I also carried a small soap dish and a few paper towels or Kleenex in my bag.

FOOD

Street food is always a temptation, and one that I believe in giving into, with a few caveats.

1. All fruit must be peeled.
2. The stand and its owner must have a general appearance of cleanliness.
3. No milk products.
4. All hot foods must be freshly prepared in front of me, not previously prepared and left to sit.
5. Plates and silverware must be clean and dry.
6. No shellfish.
7. No raw fish, including ceviche.

WATER

Water is one of the main sources of infection. We make it a habit to drink only bottled water that comes to us with a sealed cap. We drink only name-brand soft drinks, sterilized milk that comes in the long-life containers, and hot beverages which we know have been boiled. We do not drink fruit drinks, fresh milk, or water in open containers. We carry water purification tablets which we use faithfully when in doubt. Ice cubes are definitely a no-no.

SAFETY

Our van was broken into in Peru, during a political rally when the streets were full of police. The thieves got most of our clothes, our camera, and our travelers checks. To add insult to injury, my bag was stolen while we surveyed the broken window and tried to figure out what we'd lost! Someone started kicking the back tire, and my husband got out to see what was going on. While I stuck my head out the window to try to get a glimpse of the action, an arm snaked through and grabbed the bag, which had all of our cash in it. (Fortunately, not a lot of money). This double whammy left us with only our passports and the numbers of our travelers checks (which we had put in two separate places, along with the address of the local American Express office, to which we retired immediately. The kindly manager took us home to his beach house for the weekend where his family made up in hospitality for the depredations of their country men, on Monday our new travelers checks were issued, and our new American Express cards were awaiting us at our next big city stop. That incident, and a minor pick-pocketing at the Cuzco train station, were our only run-ins with thieves.

ACCOMMODATIONS

Many of our trips on several continents have been overland in campers, obviating the problem of clean accommodations as camping-oriented trips do. However, as you get into more out-of-the-way places, you may find your family forced to stay in accommodations that simply don't meet your standard of cleanliness. What to do? First, of course, search out the best hotel you can possibly afford. If that isn't suitable, go to the town hall, or American Express office, or friendly cafe, and inquire about bed and breakfast or guesthouse accommodations. Most families who are sophisticated enough to offer this type of accommodation also have very high standards of cleanliness. But if you're really stuck in a fleabag with no alternative, there are a few things you can do to improve the experience. Check around the room to make sure there's nothing potentially harmful or dangerous to the kids, checking in drawers and under beds. Find the cleaning person, tip her generously, and have her clean the bathroom and mop the floor using a disinfectant solution, under your supervision. If she has no disinfectant solution, you can go to the nearest store or pharmacy and buy some. Bleach will work just fine. Have the cleaning person put three sets of sheets on the bottom of your bed. Don't use their pillow, use your own, if you're traveling with one, or wrap clothing in a T-shirt and use that. Have the cleaning person bring you fresh towels.

TRANSPORTATION

Book the best class tickets you can afford in developing countries. Bear in mind that first class may not necessarily mean luxurious (on Mexican trains, book first class "especial"). Traveling in developing areas has provided us with experiences which simply can't be matched anywhere else. We've often found that we had to slow our speed of travel to accommodate a less-developed infrastructure, and as soon as we did slow down, we started enjoying the trip a lot more. Most importantly, after taking reasonable precautions, don't allow yourself to become preoccupied with the hazards of travel--let go of worry, and enjoy the adventure!

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