The recent Machu Picchu rescues succeeded admirably, but in most emergencies there won’t be a helicopter ready to whisk you to safety. Whether at home or abroad, you have to be prepared to rely on your feet.
Be prepared to walk to the nearest gas station, through a pitch-black subway tunnel, or down the fire escape. Through waist-deep monsoon rain in Trivandrum, out of New Orleans, or across the Brooklyn Bridge on the most horrific day of your life.
No matter where you are, at any moment there’s the chance of becoming a refugee. We have to be careful not to let the Machu Picchu incident fuel the false notion that survival scenarios only pop up deep in the Andes, or on a poor Caribbean island, or when the ground gives out high in the Himalayas. The more time you spend on Earth, period, the greater your chances of finding yourself in a tight spot.
When disaster happens at home, at least you have a reserve of local knowledge to draw on. You know what’s over the horizon, how to speak the language, and a million other mini-advantages. But while traveling, confusion can rapidly take over. It’s your duty to maintain an understanding of where you are while on the road. Just in case circumstances demand you decide between walking, pronto, or staying put.
Know where you are — it sounds superficial. It’s not. It’s easy to hop on a train knowing only the name of your destination. To fall asleep on a bus and wake up in strange surroundings. What lies within a one, ten, fifty, hundred mile radius? Where does that river go? What’s on the other side of those mountains? How tall are they? What’s up the coastline? And in the other direction? Who lives where? What kind of weather might develop overnight?
There are many sources of survival skills that trump a blog post (preferably hands-on training), so I’ll avoid any specific tips. However, the most important thing, more than any individual skill, is shifting your mind into survival mode. This is what will keep your feet going.
It’s what 17 year-old Juliane Köpcke did when she walked 11 days through the Amazon with one sandal after a plane crash. It’s what sustained Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and three other Spaniards for eight years as they bungled their way from Florida to Mexico City, the only survivors of a soured 1528 expedition. Two weeks ago, it’s what Cole Gainer did when he left Machu Picchu at 4 a.m. and walked 27 painful miles to Ollantaytambo. And it’s what would have been required of the other 3,900 locals and foreigners if not for the helicopters.
How do you prepare for the unexpected while traveling?
Photo by h.koppdelaney via Flickr.