The Great Escape

Rediscovering life in Palawan Philippines

Be Prepared: Dangers in a Tropical Paradise

‘The Chef’ picked up a large Ziplock bag and held it up for me to see. I almost gasped with laughter. It was bulging at the seams with gauze, tape, bandages, and assorted first aid essentials. In all the years I’ve travelled I never needed a first aid kit so I kind of thought it was over-the-top. I don’t think so anymore.

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Dangers lurk in the water and on land in a tropical paradise.

Now as we get ready to make the move to Coron I’m reminded of the dangers that lurk in ‘paradise.’ Just last month in August a 24-year-old tourist died of speculated anaphylactic shock from stepping on a stonefish or sea urchin and also last month the town of Busuanga declared an outbreak of dengue fever (carried by mosquitoes). At least 90 people were admitted to the Coron District Hospital and one person died.

As beautiful as Palawan is it’s also fraught with dangers. There’s a big controversy now that the town of Coron is not ready to deal with medical emergencies. The tourist who died from stepping on a sea creature was apparently never warned by anyone, including the boatmen, not to step on the corals. They didn’t know what to do when he was in distress. The tourist’s boyfriend was the only one to attempt CPR. One can only speculate what the outcome would have been if the they had a first aid kit with an epi-pin.

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There are other critters besides mosquitoes that like to bite. Antihistamines are a good addition to your first-aid kit.

On our second trip to Coron we stayed at a semi-remote cottage at the edge of the rainforest. ‘The Chef’ was bitten around the ankles by little black flies. His ankles swelled up, turned red, black and blue and became painful. He limped when he walked. It took 10 days and 20 antihistamines before it returned to somewhat normal. During that time the owner of the cottage thought we should have it checked out at the hospital which was a little concerning after she told us the hospital has the reputation that you ‘only go there to die!’

Nasty blistering rash from walking through grass.

I got a nasty blistering rash from walking through grass.

It started as a little itch on my leg. Over the course of 48 hours the itch had turned into a nasty, oozing, blistering rash. It didn’t hurt but it sure didn’t look pretty. I applied a topical antibiotic and ‘the Chef’ wrapped it with gauze to keep it clean. I drastically wanted to know what it was so I resorted to searching the internet to try and find out what it could be (I know that’s not a good thing). I was hesitant to go have it checked out as I knew the poor reputation of medical care here in Coron. The last thing I wanted was to be prescribed something I knew nothing about from someone who might not know what they’re doing.

As it turns out I must have brushed against what they call ‘burning grass’ when we went on an excursion to check out a property. A local told me to clean the rash, then pour hot, hot water over it a couple of times a day. It worked but it took a long four weeks for it to fully heal. During that time I joined a handful of other tourists in town whose appendages were also wrapped in gauze from various mishaps.

Tropical heat and sun should not be taken lightly. Make sure you stay hydtrated.

Tropical heat and sun should not be taken lightly. Make sure you don’t get over heated and stay well hydrated. We visited during the hottest part of the year and the three of us went through 1 jug (25 litres) of water almost every day in addition to all the beverages we consumed while we were out exploring.

Renting a motorbike can be perilous especially if you’ve never ridden one. Our friend King, received cuts and bruises when he crashed his motorbike over the side of an embankment trying to maneuver over a dilapidated wooden bridge. He was very lucky. In hindsight we probably shouldn’t have attempted that particular trip and at the least would have insisted he wear a helmet. King as we found out is quite accident prone. During one of our property searches he stepped on a rusty nail while walking through the jungle and had to dig out a little piece left behind in his foot when he took out the nail.

Probably the most common health risks in the tropics relate to the heat and sun. Sunburn, heat stroke/sun stroke, heat rash, and dehydration can sneak up on you if you’re not paying attention. We’ve experienced all of these so now we know what to look out for.

Be Prepared

We sometimes take for granted that there will always be medical help when we need it. You should be prepared.

  • Always be aware of your surroundings.
  • Educate yourself on the dangers in that environment.
  • Don’t assume medical help will always be close by or even adequate.
  • Make sure your basic vaccines (such as tetanus) are up to date.

DIY First Aid Kit List

What you put in your first aid kit will depend on risk factors like how long will you be travelling, what kind of activities you will be doing, etc. We usually stay a minimum of three weeks and are quite active. We like to swim, snorkel, motorbike and explore off-the-beaten path places. Here’s our first-kit supplies (we’ve used everything). We’ll probably add an antifungal cream and an Epi-pin.

    1. Analgesics (eg. Tylenol, ASA, codeine, ibuprofen, Tylenol #3)
    2. Assorted bandages and gauze
    3. Topical Antibiotic (in Canada we have Polysporin)
    4. Antihistamine (such as Benadryl)
    5. Adhesive tape
    6. Scissors
    7. Tweezers
    8. Anti-septic wipes
    9. Eye patch
    10. Safety pins
    11. Antidiarrheal (such as Imodium)
    12. Antinauseant/motion sickness (such as Gravol)
    13. Mosquito repellent (the local OFF is very effective)
    14. Sunscreen

Would you rather buy a first aid kit? Day Tripper puts together an excellent one that’s compact, lightweight and easy to tuck away in a travel pack or suitcase. Adventure Medical Kits Day Tripper

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17 thoughts on “Be Prepared: Dangers in a Tropical Paradise

  1. Leo Garcia on said:

    Wow.. That’s a nasty rash. I also better wear my keens from now on and not barefoot when walking on beach or snorkeling and hope not to step on something.

    • Hi Leo, Yes that was a nasty rash and nothing that I want again! Keens or reef shoes are a great idea as well as wearing a rashguard to prevent stings from critters in the water. If you just follow some simple things rules like never stand or touch the corals you will be fine. Don’t worry too much. Just be aware.

  2. Great idea…. as most people are on vacati0n they don’t always think of the ‘worst’. I have been hurt a few times and always carry a little medical kit. Hubby is allergic to bees and when in Cuba he was stung. The locals were shocked since they never saw ‘bees’ before! A fast acting and very kind taxi driver quickly drove us to the clinic and waited for us to return us to the resort.

  3. Great tips! I wrote a piece a while back called travel fails and boy this is right up my alley!

  4. That’s a nasty looking rash… careful out there.. there is always danger everywhere.

  5. Sounds like a perilous time. Good suggestions and maybe everyone should drink out of a cup instead of directly out of the bottle so you don’t share other medical issues. 🙂

    • It’s part of our learning curve. That’s a good idea about drinking from a cup. Tummy troubles are very common so it’s also good to practice safe water habits. Nothing is worse than being on vacation and having to cancel an activity because of travellers’ diarrhea.

  6. OMG that looks so sore! It’s hard to be prepared for things you don’t know to be prepared for, hey? I hope it heals soon. Take care 😊

    • Not to worry. We’ve recovered from all our ‘mishaps.’ You’re right when you say it’s hard to prepare for something you don’t know. One local asked me increduously as to why I would walk through fields without long pants. I never thought about it but I know better now. There’s much more to learn and our experience has made us we’re much more cognizant of our new environment.

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