How a Sanitary Pad Saved Me in the Atacama Desert

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What kind of idiot cycles into the driest desert in the world without a first-aid kit? Me, obviously.


Photo © Milly Brady,

Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Chile: Read the latest travel alerts to find out how COVID-19 restrictions may affect you.

My husband, Mark, and I had just turned our bikes around after riding 10mi (16km) from our hostel, in the town of San Pedro de Atacama, to the final stop in Valle de la Luna. We were walking beside our bikes pushing them up a hill while enjoying far northern Chile’s arid desert landscapes – just quietly, wishing we’d packed more water.

Happily riding through the desert. Photo credit: Milly Brady

Suddenly, the shoe lace on my right hiking boot got caught up on the lace hook of my left shoe, sending me crashing down onto my hands and knees, my bike falling beside me.

I slowly tried to stand, wincing in pain, and looked down to see my left hand sliced open, and my knees bloodied, with gravel sitting inside the cuts.

Mark quickly looked through our backpacks, trying to find band-aids or tissues to wipe the wounds. I didn’t want to pour our (limited) supply of water over my cuts, so was hoping he’d find my antiseptic wipes. Of course, I left them in my backpack at the hostel – 10mi away.

With no tissues available, zero chance of any passing cars, and no travelers around to help, I was feeling hopelessly helpless.

Alas, all was not lost. I remembered the secret pocket in my backpack, the one where I kept the most obscure items, including a panty liner. I snatched my bag off the ground, ripped open the zipper, and held the pink packaged panty liner in the sun.

This liner helped remove the excess mess from my hand, and, stuck to the handlebars, protected my open wound from the foam handles.

Stopping to catch our breath. Photo credit: Milly Brady

Moral of the story: think outside the box if you get stuck in the desert without a first-aid kit.

I’ve always been clumsy. I never leave the house – let alone the country – without at least four band-aids. To top it off, I’m a hopeless bike rider.

To this day, I still wonder why I didn’t pack any first-aid items in my bag that sunny day, but thank goodness I always have at least one sanitary item in my bag – whether or not it’s that time of the month.

What backpacking blunders have you made while traveling and how did you "Macgyver" your way out of the situation? Let us know in the comments below.

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