Three weeks before we started our current trip through parts of South America, I injured my right knee while trying to dispose of a life’s accumulation of garbage, work, and assorted knick-knacks. I was attempting to rid myself of excess baggage, so I donated, sold, recycled, or threw out roughly 70% of my belongings. Like in some twisted Greek myth I messed up my knee while sorting through my materialistic mess. That’s a great life-lesson. Get rid of your hoard before it gets rid of you.
Scans and doctors purported that I had simply twisted muscles and tendons. With no rips, tears, or breaks I felt fortunate and set to work on speed healing. In the three weeks before our flight I recovered and hoped the problem would not reunite with me in South America. In retrospect, I should have consulted with the physical therapist and massage therapist who practice in my general doctor’s office. The PT and MT would have taught me stretches and strength exercises to head off or heal my fledgling injury. Oh well.
Dealing with pain while traveling
Just ten days into our two year trip, my knee pain resurfaced. At first I hid this fact from my wife and blogging partner, Melissa. But after two long hikes outside of Otavalo and a steep downward descent in Baños de Santa Agua, my leg was burning with pain. I finally admitted to Melissa that my right knee issue had deteriorated.
Dealing with my pain while we were traveling was a physical and psychological nuisance. We met wandering nomads just returned from half week treks through Huaraz, already planning to do the rigorous hike up to the ruins at Kuelap Fortress. Meanwhile I could hardly handle a steep incline without risking further agony.
Not wanting to aggravate my problem, I figured it would be best to find a place to rest and rehabilitate my injured knee. I did feel like I was holding Melissa back from more adventurous pursuits on our journey. But I figured it would be better than denying the severity of my discomfort and pushing myself too hard. In that case I might convert a temporary injury into a chronic issue.
Deceiving my wife at my own peril and settling in Ecuador
Considering that we’ve been married nearly six years, and dated for seven prior, I’m slightly ashamed that I was masking my pain from my wife. But we’d been planning this two year trip/profession change for ages and it was only our second month in. Like a high-school athlete I tried to tough it out and work through the hurt. But that doesn’t float when your body is pushing 34. So we decided to stay for a month and set up roots in Baños de Santa Agua,
We’d take a break from the rigors of nonstop travel, catch up on travel writing, and exchange services for rent at Mayra’s Spanish School and Apartments. From the genesis of our planning we had agreed that we needed long term stays like this, just to stay prolific as writers and deal with media storage. Rehabilitating my knee would be an added bonus for the first extended residency on our wind around the world.
Why we moved to Baños and finding an apartment overseas
Since my knee pain flared up with intensity we decided to find a relaxed town so I could recuperate. Melissa and I had the luxury of time, because we are on an indefinite trip with no set itinerary. My goal was to find a place to stay where we wouldn’t have to pay but could instead trade services for an apartment.
We chose Baños for many reasons. Although mountain peaks loom in every direction, the town itself is flat and was easy on my knee. Baños is a spa town with mineral rich waters flowing in every direction. The air is clean and besides teaching local children, I found time to volunteer with a local organization.
Using the Internet is the most effective way to find apartments while traveling. Websites like Airbnb and Tripadvisor are good places to begin a search. Information offices or clubhouses like the South American Explorers may provide listings of potential rentals. If communicating online is a problem in another language, you can use translation websites like Google Translate.
We were already in an ideal town to heal when we began our apartment search so we skipped the internet and hit the calles (streets) looking for real estate. At the time we were lodging comfortably just outside of town at La Casa Verde. The owners Rebecca and Doug delivered tips that led to our future lodging. Flyers in supermarkets and restaurants provided useful leads as well. Expats in bars and restaurants like the Stray Dog and Casa Hood offered sound advice. In the end we had three intriguing options to choose from.
We found a suitable apartment and set to work on our website. I began to rest my knee. Here are some other steps that helped my eventual recovery.
|Step 1- rest||We took it easy and worked in our apartment in Baños|
|Step 2- acupuncture||I visited Xu Jing’s House of Health for six sessions of acupuncture. It was my first experience with acupuncture and it helped my knee.|
|Step 3- medical tourism||I had several sessions at a rehabilitation center called Fuvirese. The therapist used an ultrasound, heat, and had me push my knee with intense exercises.|
|Step 4- hot springs/baths||Baños is renowned for therapeutic baths. We went to Luna Runtun and spent a day soaking my knee in baths of different temperatures.|
|Step 5- advice from travelers||Leaving Ecuador and heading into Peru, I met a Belgian traveler named Hans. He is a physiotherapist who gave me several treatments, taught me exercises, and motivated me to treat the problem.|
|Step 6- made it back to my NY doctor||Returning home for a short visit, I was able to see my doctor. She had me see the physical therapist, and massage therapist from her office. This is what I should have done before I left in the first place.|