Be the crutch you want to have in the world – tales of gratitude from an injured backpacker

The weekend before Christmas! Almost four months have passed since I left home and yet, my British roots stay strong as I just can’t get into the spirit without being cold, wet and grumpy. Brazil beach heat has thrown my winter radar way out of whack. Having said that, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s the season for giving and thinking of others. Unsurprisingly, with my leg in a splint, I’ve had much more time to reflect and think of all the amazing people who have helped me hobble through the last month.

I therefore wanted to use this post to jump ahead to present time and thank all these mentioned legends that made my journey all the more possible from the day of the fateful sprain.

So best to start at the beginning..

It was a bright, hot day in Otavalo market, Ecuador. The bells were ringing, the women calling out their buckets of fruit for sale and children running across cobbled lanes as shoppers bustled around, lost in their own worlds of Panama hats. Carefree, I walked alongside the market with them, marveling at the bright and colorful items for sale, face to the sky, soaking up the sun, catching a glimpse of the mountainous backdrop when suddenly… a roaring lion jumped out! Startled I stepped off the pavement, fell on the outside of my ankle, heard it crack, collapsed to the floor and my sunglasses went flying. No seriously. Flying. And I almost wish the lion part was true. 🦁

From the moment a local offered me a hand-up from the floor, the kindness hasn’t stopped. I sadly hobbled back to the hostel and elevated my leg, gazing morosely at my swelling ankle, it seemed to be growing as quickly as those small unfurling flower flannels you put in boiling water. How on earth was I going to make a border crossing tomorrow!?

One relief was that I wouldn’t be traveling alone – I was so glad to have Cole who had been itching for an excuse to go to the gym. The lucky guy now had two very large backpacks to haul a few kilometres across countries for me and a person to piggyback up stairs … who needs pull-up bars!

The physical act of crossing the border was almost comical. Having been unable to source a crutch in 24 hours, I had to instead find the strength to get myself over the invisible line…Walking as if I was one of those difficult children not wanting to go to Granny’s for lunch, I painfully took one step at a time down the narrow strip, surrounded by men helpfully suggesting ‘taxi?’ to me. I was meters away from the holy grail of Colombia border control. Come on! What about carrying me?

Border control and bus station complete, we arrived at our hostel, feeling like complete flashpackers for having spent a few pesos on a taxi or two. Drenched from shuffling through the rain, I hopefully asked the receptionist if he knew where I could buy crutches. Taking in my sorry sight, he informed me he actually had a friend with spare ones – I would get some sort of mobility in the morning! I could have hugged him.

The next day, bandaged up and more distracted by the armpit crutch pinching my side, I felt as good as new and entirely indebted to the wonderful girl and her foresight to have spare crutches.

That weekend we ended up spending eight hours in hospital. It had almost been a week since the accident and my ankle was so swollen, I was convinced it had to be broken. It was a clammy, full and exhausted waiting room but as more and more injured people on stretchers were carried in, the room’s patience seemed to refresh, so great was our sympathy and feeling for those suffering more than us. Always happy for an opportunity to practice my Spanish, each second of the wait was made to count as I debated religion into the early evening with a woman twice my age. She had broken her arm drunk-dancing…I’m so glad some things never change.

X-ray in hand and medication prescribed I felt a lot better but realised a tough decision was to be made. I had a flight to Peru in two days. Could I honestly survive there alone for two weeks, all whilst resisting the temptation to hike? No. Seconds needed to count but in an entirely different way. I needed every one to get me better!

As luck would have it, my cousin Laura lives in Brazil. The day I was to fly to Peru, her and her husband were driving to the Brazilian coast for the weekend. Laura was prepared to have me two weeks earlier than planned. For a full month in total! All in the name of relaxation and healing…I am so glad and thankful to her and Marcelo for agreeing to put up with me. In the end, a very easy decision!

But rewind, first I needed to get from Colombia to Brazil.

Receiving wheelchair assistance in Cali airport was an honest godsend. I had quickly learned that crutches didn’t go well with carrying luggage.. or texting.. or scratching your face.. or crowds. Befriending another gringo in the airport queue, he took my bag, managed to bump me onto his earlier flight, kept me company and bought me a bottle of water, asking only that I promise to pass on the act of kindness – he did not need to ask twice! Equally, all the assistants who wheeled me around were amazing, considerate and patient – nothing was too much trouble. One of the more memorable moments perhaps being wheeled to/from the bathroom by a male assistant. Talk about door to door!

Upon arrival in Brazil and now with a splint, life was much easier. On reflection it is perhaps the sad truth that visible disabilities are what get you the most help and sympathy. Paradoxically, I’ve been much stronger and confident with a splint but have drawn much more attention to the help I need for my sprain. Doors have been opened, umbrellas held, bags carried, places ahead in the queue offered (I didn’t accept) and electronic wheelchairs presented. My determination means I want to try and do it myself but actually all of these offerings were exactly what I needed to get by in every day life. My splint just made it obvious. The difference in attention really drove home that just because we can’t see it, doesn’t mean that people aren’t struggling. It’s rallied me to continue ‘passing on the kindness’ and to do my best to be the support and metaphorical crutch to those around me where I can.

Although slow and painful, it’s really been no bad thing to be reminded of how easy it is to take life for granted and how important it is to stop and take it all in. Each time I’ve struggled, I try to remember how lucky I am to have what I do and how grateful I am to the people who noticed I needed help…

Happy Christmas everyone, be kind, be generous, be loving and try to look around from time to time to see what smiles you can pass on…it seems there are opportunities everywhere! 🎄🤶🎅

#esc

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