… Prepared by Kevin Casey (visitor to Brisbane TMA members clinic)
One of the very best things about exploring the least known and most pristine rivers on the planet is that I experience the earth in its most natural state. What I do as the Remote River Man is certainly unique – I venture into extremely remote places, normally alone for a month or more, usually with only what can be carried on my back, or in a kayak or pack raft. I have filmed bears in Canada, been leech-bait in Borneo, trekked and paddled the most isolated parts of the Kimberley, got lost (on purpose) in an Argentinean swamp and shared meals with African pygmies. I plan these journeys, conduct them, film the adventures with lightweight video gear, and edit it all when I get home. I have no script, no film crew and no support team. The trips are expensive, so I can’t afford to get sick or have a careless accident while I’m enjoying myself out in the middle of nowhere. It’s not unusual for me to go a whole month in the wild without seeing another human, or be 400 kilometres away from the nearest one.
So how do I go medically with these far-flung journeys? So far pretty well, in over a quarter century of remote river exploration. I did get malaria once in New Guinea, and have had a few stomach complaints in various countries, and suffered the odd blister, cut or bruise, but the dangers of wild places are grossly exaggerated. I like to say (only half joking) that the most dangerous part of my remote river explorations is the car trip to and from the airport.
The real dangers in wilderness are the mundane ones – a sharp branch at eye level, loose rock on downhill slopes, a bad infection, drinking bad water or eating contaminated food, pushing too hard in the heat, etc. The insects make life interesting, too.
When it comes to food, I’ve eaten all sorts – donkey stew, lizard, wood grubs, roasted grasshoppers, raw queen fish (30 seconds after it came out of the ocean), stewed antelope, termite soup and a range of plant foods, from waterlily seed damper and hibiscus buds to palm heart and boab nut pulp. A lot of natural foods are actually more nutritious than the more adulterated stuff you buy in the shop. Generally the rivers I explore have no human habitation upstream which is always a help, but there are still plenty of microbes just waiting patiently for the ill prepared.
Insects are never to be taken lightly. I soak all my clothes in a permethrin solution before I go away, and carry a good repellent. 25-30% DEET is more than enough, unless you want to chemically burn holes in your nylon tarp, or melt the plastic case of your camera or sunnies. I like the Repel roll-on myself. I always sleep in either a mozzie-proof tent or in my trusty netted Clark Jungle Hammock. If I’m headed for a tropical country where I suspect bedbugs, fleas or other surprises might be joining me in my hotel bed, I’ll carry a very lightweight one-man Bug Bivy (Outdoor Research makes a nice one) and actually set that up right on top of the hotel bed, so nothing can get at me during the night. You can’t always assume a third-world hotel is going to provide a mozzie net, or if it does, that it won’t be full of well-hidden holes.
A comprehensive first aid kit is a must, and it’s always a struggle to balance keeping it lightweight and ‘covering all the bases’.