It’s that time again. Time for another inspiring solo female travel story. For those who don’t know, Women Who Wander is a travel series I have on my blog where other bloggers can share their stories of Solo Female Travel. It’s something I personally have not done enough of but reading all these incredible stories inspires me to no end! This week, Olivia is sharing an unfortunate experience from her first solo trip to The Galapagos Islands which turned out fairly positive in the end.
Olivia Rutt is a travel writer and photographer. She operates My Wandering Voyage, a travel website helping travel dreamers become travel doers while working full-time. She shares her favourite photos, travel stories and tips. Olivia hails from rural Ontario, Canada where she works as a journalist between travels.
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“The doctor said, ‘This is going to hurt a lot,’” my translator Eduardo told me, as I lay shivering on the examining table in an Ecuadorean hospital. The doctor’s assistants moved in to hold me down. I covered my mouth with my free hand and prepared for the worst. How in the hell did I get here? This was supposed to be my dream trip, one that took my two years to save up for, but here I was in the hospital.
Where it All Began
Twenty-four hours earlier, I was hiking through a cloud to get to the rim of Sierra Negra, the largest volcano on Isabela Island in the Galapagos. Standing there, on the edge of the sweeping vista, listening to the stillness, I dismissed any doubts or well-meant 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.
My trip through the Ecuadorean islands of the Galapagos was my dream vacation. I had heard about the islands in my second year of university when I read the Beak of the Finch in a scientific theory class. The Galapagos Islands is an alluring place filled with opposites. The sandy beaches quickly turn to volcanic rock, lush rain forests into desert-like cacti forests, populated towns to the rural wilderness. Standing on the rim, I took it all in. This place, so unusual and different than my home country of Canada, was everything I wanted.
Travelling on your own can be tricky, especially if it’s your first time. Galapagos was my “first” in many ways. It was my first trip to the Southern Hemisphere, first to South America, first alone. I did everything right; I bought medical insurance, I photocopied all my documents, I gave my addresses to family. After heading back down the volcano, I jumped into a van to take us back to Puerto Villamil, the port town on Isabela Island. The group I was with was 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.
“I’m going to teach you how to dance,” our guide Wiliam said – and grinning.
Wiliam was from the Cotopaxi province of Ecuador and was filled with positive energy. 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, grateful for the veterinarian and pharmacist that was also on my tour who assisted me.
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. Afraid of the healthcare, afraid of the cost, but mostly, I was scared because I was by myself.
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. She told me “for heaven’s sake, just go to the hospital!
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, even with insurance.
He first talked me into seeing a “foreign” doctor who had a private practice on the other side of town. “He’s from the UK, he knows his stuff, our hospital can get busy,” said Eduardo. The two of us hopped in a taxi and drove to his office, which was closed. Eduardo then directed the driver to another place which was also closed. He sighed as said we would head to the hospital.
Not as Bad as Expected
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. 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. As a result, 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.
Finally, If you are a solo female traveller, or just have an interest or opinion about it and would like to write for Women Who Wander, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Can’t wait to share your stories
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