Looking back through my pictures from the last few years, I found a few fun photos of vagabonding injuries that I’ve accumulated while traveling.
Some of this grizzly collection were mere annoyances, while others nearly changed — or finished — my life. Either way, given some of the situations that I put myself into, I’ve been incredibly lucky!
Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of all my bangups — and I’m glad: some I would prefer to forget. The scars are cool, though.
So just for fun, here are some mighty fine examples of bodily harm. I apologize in advance for the pics of my manly feet, but that’s the body part that most often gets hurt while traveling.
This is an infection enjoyed in Egypt after cutting myself diving the Thistlgorm, a WWII wreck sitting on the bottom of the Red Sea. There’s nothing like squeezing mustard-colored puss out of your finger like a gigantic pimple! I bought a bottle of strong vodka in Cairo and dipped my finger into it at night. My efforts to heal myself were for naught.
Eventually, I had to see a doctor when I got home, and I actually ended up with nerve damage — my whole finger tip is still numb!
One Egyptian infection deserves another: Here’s a nice little marine bacteria that I picked up from the reef. It was small, but I lost the use of my left hand for a while! Three different courses of antibiotics barely cleared this pesky little thing up. I guess there are some serious nasties in the Red Sea.
Foot injuries are extremely common while backpacking. Mine are permanently scarred up unfortunately.
I got my money’s worth out of my tetanus vaccination by stepping on a rusty nail protruding from a bamboo bridge in Pai, Thailand.
The mother of all blisters developed during the 10-kilometer runs up stairs during my Shaolin kung fu training in China.
A rather nice guy threw a bottle at me from a speeding motorcycle while I was standing on a street in Bangkok. The glass shrapnel made these gashes that took nearly a month to heal. Bangkok is one dirty environment!
Holy s*@! — can this ankle get any more swollen!? And sadly, I don’t even remember how I did this one.
This is what I get for falling asleep without securing my mozzie net in Koh Lanta, Thailand. I think I lost a pint of blood in one night. As always, the bites festered and scarred in the humid, island environment.
My foot tangled with a coral reef while diving on Koh Tao in Thailand. In case you didn’t notice, the reef won!
One of my worst injuries ever: I cut myself on the reef in Indonesia. Some kind of grumpy little marine bacteria literally began to eat a hole in my foot despite my best efforts! The wound turned septic, and I fled to Singapore with a high fever to get treatment. Even antibiotics couldn’t kill this thing, so I hobbled around for months. When I had the wound treated in the U.S., they told me that there were actual coral cells growing in my foot. Yummy.
They also swabbed the wound and sent samples to the Center for Disease Control’s Exotic Pathology Laboratory to ensure that I had not brought something unknown into the U.S. from abroad — no joke.
I damaged my shoulder and knee while trying some of the acrobatic moves at the Shaolin Temple school in China. They still pop and grind today. Since my medical options were very limited, I had another student do acupuncture treatments on the injuries. They helped tremendously.
A bigger wave than I could handle took me down while surfing in Sri Lanka. I caught my thumb on the sandy bottom and bent it completely backward. My most useful of phalanges was flopping around with a damaged socket. It’s damn near impossible to accomplish anything when the thumb on your dominant hand is out of commission.
I later treated this injury myself by wrapping to immobilize it. So far, it’s healed fairly well and I have full range of motion [knock on wood]. Never went to see a doctor.
On Koh Lanta island in Thailand, I had a toothpick-sized bamboo splinter snap off in the bottom of my foot. My Austrian neighbors were kind enough to do surgery for me, albeit slightly medieval. Yes, a cigarette lighter and electrical tape are part of the surgical tools.
Oh…and she didn’t have any medical training — she was a photographer. Gasp.
I was kayaking in Malaysian Borneo along the border of Kalimantan, in 2013 when I turned my boat over. The rapids themselves were a joke, but the rock I banged my knee on certainly wasn’t. I opened the wet skin deep enough to actually see my kneecap. Now confirmed: kneecaps aren’t pretty sights.
Lucky for me, our guide was a calm-and-collective badass and got me patched up enough that I could get out. And unlike most jungle injuries, it never even got infected! Today, I have some deep ache inside of the knee — perhaps a small crack?
And saving one of the best for last…my favorite! A skydiving mishap left me in a mess. My chute opened too quickly instead of dragging behind to slow us down as expected. We went from 120 MPH to 30 MPH, which was about as enjoyable as being in a train wreck.
The harness caused a major hernia, which is about fun as having a drunken gorilla juggle your testicles. After ignoring the pain for months, I broke down and went in for surgery. They sewed a piece of gortex material inside of me to hold my guts together. Bionic enhancements are sexy, I know. I scored one month immobilized in bed to recover and a nice scar to go with my story…isn’t that what it’s all about?
You can see the calcium from cracks in the hip thanks to other injuries (rock climbing fall). The spine curvature will supposedly cause me some serious trouble one day. My back is usually in pain.
My back re-injury happened just one month before I was supposed to fly to Bangkok. My ticket was nonrefundable. I couldn’t even stand, walk, or sit; the thought of getting onto a 23-hour flight seemed laughable.
Through copious amounts of prayer, chiropractic treatments, juicing anti-inflammatories, yoga, and help from friends, I made my flight!
Other Enduring Injuries
There have been many more injuries over the years for which I don’t have photographs.
- Fractured bone in my right foot — that keeps re-cracking for the past seven years — thanks to my teacher slamming me during kung fu training in China.
- A lower back with a mind of its own. A little slip climbing in 2005 didn’t do my lower vertebrae any favors. Six months of three-times-a-week chiropractor and physical therapy visits fixed me up. Mostly.
- A corneal abrasion on my left eye — thanks to a small pebble while caving — left my eye weak. That really makes for some fun photos when people use flash. It did, however, give me a legitimate excuse to wear a black pirate’s patch for eight weeks.
December 2013 Update: I’m literally typing this now with a mostly broken left ring finger jammed on a rough boat ride in Boracay, the Philippines.
May 2015 Update: I got a parasite in Laos! Apparently, a nasty one. Went to the emergency room in Thailand. After x-rays and lab work, I left with a bundle of strong pills that nuked the suckers. It was fun being able to eat as much as I wanted for a while though.
July 2015 Update: I cracked a rib while running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. It hurt for months!
February 2016 Update: I broke my toe! All those years of kung fu coordination training paid off: I clumsily kicked a door frame and the subsequent snap! was actually heard by family in the next room. Little did I know, it would still be hurting (and crooked) as I type this in September. It re-broke itself while I was trekking in Nepal. Corrective surgery to come, no doubt.
October 2017 Update: I stepped on my first sea urchin while swimming in Nusa Lembongan, an island near Bali. I’ve got a nice little black barb in the ball of my foot that will probably be there for a long time to come.
[This Space Reserved]
I can guarantee that there will be many more vagabonding travel injuries before I’m done.