Bites

chiang mai

I took an electric tuk tuk down south the Chiang Mai. It was a hot and dusty ride. I felt wet with sweat and humidity and grimy from my travels. I made it to a hotel that I picked from the Lonely Planet listing and got settled in.

It was a basic room. Ceiling fan. Bed. Some old furniture. Mould. Dead insects on the sills. Cool floor. I could hear the murmurings of people down the hall and traffic on the street below. I was very tired. I had slept very little while at the temple and eaten little too. The heat was tiring and I was alone again in a new place.

I showered and went to a Buddhist vegan restaurant in town to have some authentic Thai food. It was delicious and by the time I got back to my room I was ready for sleep. I put on my sleep attire. Short stretchy shorts and a t-shirt. I sat on my bed. I saw a bug on the edge of the mattress and flicked it off. I lay my head on the cool pillow and listened to the sound of the overhead fan in the dark.

I slowly opened my eyes. The room was already getting warm and the fan still whirred overhead. I tried to focus my eyes on the spinning blades. I listened for outside sounds. I wondered what time it was. I reached for my travel alarm clock. I’d slept in. It was almost 8am. I sat up and felt a little odd, like something was out of place but I couldn’t quite grasp what it was. I showered. I let the cold water wake me up and then, I stood before the bathroom mirror and stared at my reflection. I noticed a redness around my right eye. I looked more closely and saw that there was a line of red marks that ran from my forehead down over my eye lid and under my eye. I looked at my neck and found some red marks there too. I dried myself and dressed. I started the feel a painful tingle on my face and neck and realized that the marks were some sort of bite. I then started to feel it on my arms and between my fingers spreading across the back of my hands. Then my legs. Behind my knees mostly. I sat on the bed and it struck me. A memory of a bug that I casually flicked off the bed before falling asleep.

I quickly packed. I went downstairs for coffee and asked for ice for the bites. I told them I thought there may have been bugs in my bed. The day was warming up and the bites started to swell. They were very visible now. Other backpackers were staring at my face and my hands.

The bed bugs had feasted on me all night and I was too tired to wake. They bit me in the exposed parts of my body that were most sensitive – around my eyes, neck, between my fingers, the under part of my forearms and behind my knees. They were getting red and inflamed and itchy and sore like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. One traveler gave me antihistamine tablets. I took some. I headed upstairs to get my backpack and as I approached my room I saw them drag my mattress down the hallway speaking in agitated tones in Thai.

I went into town. I carried my pack on my back and felt the sweat trickle down my sides as I clambered through the city in search of the bus station. I brought a ticket to Bangkok but it wasn’t leaving till late in the day. My bites were now welts that were itching and throbbing.  They were forming into raised areas of flesh that were so swollen you couldn’t tell where one bite started and another ended. I found a coffee shop. I drank iced water. I asked for ice for my hands and I waited. I sat for hours and waited.

Finally, I went to the station and boarded the bus. It was air conditioned thank God and I sat in an aisle seat. The people around me stared. Some asked if I was OK. I couldn’t rest my arms on my legs or the arm rest because of the pain and swelling. I took more antihistamine and rode the bus all night in considerable discomfort. Without being able to really rest my arms it was impossible to sleep.

I arrived at around 6am. I was utterly exhausted. I was trembling and unsteady on my legs. I loaded my pack on my back and carried my guitar and headed down toward Ko San Road. I went to the first hotel that had air conditioning. I knew this was vital for my recovery. Check out time at 10 am so I had to wait for three hours till they could tell me if they had a room. I didn’t have the energy to go to any other place. I was barely managing to keep it together.

After a while a tall, lanky man approached me. He wore a crumpled, cotton collared shirt with a faint floral design. He was slightly disheveled in a traveled kind of way and he wore wire rimmed glasses. He had shoulder length hair that was limp with oil and moisture and wore a straw, rimmed hat. He was American. He asked me if I was alright. I said I really didn’t think I was. He asked if he could help. I said I needed a room with air conditioning. He turned and walked out of the lobby. In a while he came back. He walked me to another hotel nearby. He took me right up to the lobby desk and then wished me the best and left.

I checked in and entered this quiet room. No windows. Cold air. Cold shower. I went out and purchased more antihistamines. Then, for four nights I slept on the mattress with the cool air circulating around me. I took the pills at regular intervals and showered in cool water every couple of hours. I lay with the sore swollen skin not touching anything, flat on my back with my arms turned slightly. Eyes closed. Fingers apart. I listened to the hotel sounds and I felt alone. I went out twice a day to eat at the restaurant at the base of the building. A man from Uganda tried to talk me into traveling with him. I told him I was recovering. He didn’t seem to notice.

After five days in that quiet, cold room alone I checked out. I strapped on my pack and guitar and headed for the bus station.

September 17, 2015

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