So I’m paddling along in a canoe in the Amazon rainforest, with every sense so keenly – almost obsessively – attuned to signs of piranhas, electric eels, tarantulas, pit vipers and other local hazards that I neglect to get my hand out of the way when our boat smacks up against another, and I break a finger.
“What do we do?” I gasp when I can speak again.
“Whatever you want,” says our guide. “We can take the motorboat to the nearest town, but that’s two days away and they don’t have much in the way of medical facilities. Or I can take you to the local shaman.” I’d met the shaman when I bought a blowgun from him; I wasn’t convinced he was the man for the job. “Or I’ve heard there’s a tree around here that has sap that hardens into a hard shell when it dries; we could try that.” Obviously that would make the best story, but still...
And then Rich says, “I have something in my first aid kit that might help...”
Boy, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that one. When we travel to offbeat destinations, Rich carries a vast and mysterious first aid kit that seems capable of treating anything from peevish tummies to snakebite. In the Amazon, he provided a toothache remedy to a village child, distributed moleskin patches and Itch Eraser to suffering friends, and fashioned an excellent splint for my finger out of the plastic casing that had held one of his syringes. (Yes, syringes. Luckily we’ve never needed to get an emergency injection in a village clinic that has run out of clean needles, but we’ve heard stories of people who have, and we usually carry a few with us on our more outlandish adventures, just in case.)
Yesterday, Rich granted me a rare glimpse into the inner sanctum of his medical kit, currently being restocked for this summer’s train trip through Central and Eastern Europe.
Here's what Rich is carrying these days:
Antibiotics: Cipro, Gold Bond ointment
Heat & bugs: Electrol Plus (to balance electrolytes), After Bite: The Itch Eraser, insect repellant
GI woes: DigestivAid (herbal), Citrucel, Ex-lax, Imodium, Promethegan (anti-nausea suppository)
Pain, fever, colds: thermometer, echinacea, paracetamol, Advil, Advil Congestion Relief
Cuts, wounds, blisters: Band-Aids, Nick Relief, Compeed protective strips, butterfly closures, Omnistrips, gauze, tape
Sleep aids: Quietude (homeopathic), Melatonin
Hangovers: Drink Ease (homeopathic)
Dental care: Poli-Grip (to secure any loose crowns)
Allergies: Cetirizina Cinfa, Benadryl
Emergency injections: syringes, biohazard bag to dispose of used syringes, alcohol swabs, latex gloves
Tools: tweezers with magnifying glass, eyeglass repair kit
What Rich is leaving out this time: snakebite kit, dental kit, ace bandage, moleskin (Compeed strips offer vastly superior protection from blisters) and the first aid booklet (since we now have an app for that).
Some of these supplies have been around the world with us more than once. In fact, rummaging in the depths of the bag we unearthed some Tylenol that expired in 2006, Electrol Plus that lost its punch in 2007, and latex gloves that just might date back to that Amazon trip in 1993. Rich will keep updating and tweaking his collection until the eve of our departure. And I know that somewhere along the way, in Zurich or Liptovský Mikuláš or Подгорица, or maybe all three, Rich will be saying to me, “I have something in my first aid kit that might help...”
This post was written in response to questions I've been asked about packing for long and varied trips. Unlike some of my better-organized and more practical blogger friends, I haven't obtained any free or discounted gear or supplies in return for promoting anything on this blog. I'm just letting you know what products and services Rich and I consider to be the most useful for our kind of travel. If you have any suggestions for things RIch should add to his first aid kit, we'd love to hear from you!
Sleeping with the Bushmasters
I knew a jungle lodge in the Peruvian Amazon was not going to be a Four Seasons, or even a Motel 6. But I had no idea that a few days after we arrived, the guide leading our little group would announce that we were to leave the lodge’s comparative comforts (mattress, mosquito netting, wooden floor) to go camping deeper in the jungle. By nightfall I found myself 18 miles upriver by canoe, alone except for my husband, Rich, four other tourists, three guides, a cook, about 9 billion mosquitoes, a few hundred fire ants, some caimen (crocodiles), spiders, birds, flying fish, sloths, monkeys and – rumor had it – a handful of bushmasters, the incredibly aggressive, poisonous 14-foot snakes that are attracted to light and heat.
Being well beyond radio range, we had no idea a huge storm front was moving in the night of our campout. As darkness fell, we were huddled in our leaky tent, water dripping on our heads and pooling on the floor, wondering if we could get any more miserable. Then our guide said, “Don’t go out of the tent tonight. But if you do, there’s a machete by the door. Use it.” Immediately I pictured myself standing outside in the torrential downpour, machete in one hand, flashlight in the other, trousers down around my ankles, fending of a ravenous bushmaster. Our guide added helpfully, “If you just have to take a leak, we have plastic bags.” Rich turned to me and said, “And we paid money for this?”
What's your worst travel story? Let me know in the comments section below.
I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
As we journey through the pandemic together, my blog provides a regular supply of survival tips, comfort food recipes, and the wry humor we all need to lighten our hearts on dark days.
I think of my blog as an ongoing conversation, so please join in and leave comments at the end of my posts.
Sign up below to get updates when I publish anything new.