I lay on the examining table at the hospital in the Galapagos Islands. The doctor said something in Spanish. His face gave nothing away. My translator Eduardo leaned in. “The doctor said ‘This is going to hurt a lot.’” The doctor’s assistants moved in to hold me down. I covered my mouth with my free hand and prepared for the worst.
Twenty-four hours earlier I had hiked through a cloud to get to the rim of Sierra Negra, the largest volcano on Isabela Island in the Galapagos. Standing there, on the rim of the sweeping vista listening to the stillness dismissed any doubts or well-meaning warnings I’d heard from friends and family before I left. The questions raised a small nagging fear that I would somehow fail at being alone, at travelling and at going to my dream destination of the Galapagos Islands.
After heading back down the volcano, I jumped into a van to take us back to Puerto Villamil, the port town on Isabela Island. Our group were let off at the beach, and we walked up to Caleta Iguana, a beach bar.
There were logs arranged in seating areas on the soft sand, and a square dance floor was set up beside the fire pit. We watched as the sun went down over the Pacific. This wasn’t our last night on the islands, but we were celebrating as if it were.
There she goes
“I’m going to teach you how to dance,” our guide Wiliam said – and grinning. As the music blared, he spun and twisted each of us to the rhythm. Behind us, some teenagers were bouncing on a tightrope that was strung 2 or 3 feet above the sandy beach. They were making it look easy (and fun), and our group just had to try it. The rope walk wasn’t as easy as it looked. One of our group members made it two steps before jumping off; another made it three. My turn. One step, two steps, three, four, five and down I went.
I fell hard, smacking my wrist on the tightrope and falling onto the sand below. I grabbed my wrist and whispered a profanity. At this point in my life, I had never broken a bone and had no idea how it would feel. I was sure I had just overextended it, so I snuck back to the hotel to wrap it in a tensor bandage and put ice on it.
Now alone, I smacked myself for being so stupid. I was in a foreign country, in a very remote location, and had no knowledge of the health care system. I was adamant that I would treat my injury, whatever it was, once I landed back in Canada three days later. I was afraid of the healthcare, afraid of the cost, but mostly, I was afraid because I was by myself.
Going to the Galapagos hospital
After brushing off the concerns of the other travellers, we took a two-hour boat ride back to Santa Cruz. Soon the tensor bandage was getting tighter as my arm started to swell and I knew I couldn’t wait. I skipped the next outing and sat in the hotel lobby to Facetime my mother.
“What do I do?” I pleaded, showing her my injured wrist.
“You need to go to the hospital,” she insisted, adding that it looked broken.
Gathering courage, I asked the hotel’s front desk how to get to the nearest hospital. The small woman glanced at my hand and told me it looked painful. The hospital was only a five-minute walk from here.
“But, their English is no good,” she said. “I must get someone to translate for you.”
About 20 minutes later, the tour coordinator showed up. Eduardo was young, maybe late twenties, and had a big smile on his face. He made small talk to “keep my mind occupied,” he said. Eduardo tried to calm my fear about the cost of treatment. I had no idea how much money I was about to fork over.
Eduardo and I arrived at the Hospital Republica del Ecuador, a small two-storey building that I had not noticed before, even though I had passed it many times. Inside the white 70s-style building, a security guard sat in the front lobby. Eduardo conversed in Spanish with him, and I immediately saw the doctor, a steely-eyed man who worked quickly. I waited in the sparse emergency room for the results of my x-ray. Bad news, said the doctor. My arm was broken in two places and needed to be reset.
As I lay on the exam table, the paper scratching my legs, I tensed as the doctor, and hospital staff pulled my arm out in an attempt to reset it. A stretching and burning sensation emanated from my wrist, but it wasn’t that bad after all.
After 20 minutes I was cold and wet from the plaster cast now encasing my arm from my fingers to above my elbow, I stepped out of the air-conditioned hospital into the warm equatorial sun. A smile creased on my mouth, and I looked up at Eduardo, he smiled too.
“It’s just a broken arm,” I told him.
The fear of travelling in the Galapagos and Ecuador by myself relaxed. I may have been travelling solo, but I wasn’t alone. I walked with Eduardo to the pharmacy across the street from the small hospital and shelled out $20US for my sling and ibuprofen.
Q: Has anything crazy happened to you while travelling? Let me know below!