Chameleon Chapter 5 - The Sickness...
I almost made it.
I almost made it through a month of traveling in Asia without getting sick.
I wasn’t even taking any pepto or anything. And I tried not to get overconfident, but Indian and Nepali food just appeared to be agreeable with my constitution. And then, the last full day in Nepal, after a four hour bus ride that turned into eight hours sitting in traffic. After being surround by the hot, dry, breezeless air on a microbus, sitting in a seat with the springs poking through into my sweaty back and legs. After the little girl that was sitting in front of me puked all over the stairs on her way out of the bus. And after Sara and I ate Thai food at a reckless pace and then had packaged ice cream cones from a stand outside the house we were staying in – I finally got sick. But I’m going to start this story much earlier than that. Disclaimer: Llet it be known that the title of this story (and the fact that I got sick) is in no way a reflection of my incredibly positive experience in Nepal. You should definitely visit. It is a beautiful country with a kind, resilient and welcoming culture. Unfortunately, already weak infrastructure development was severely impacted by the earthquake, so the drives outside of Kathmandu can be quiet intense. It’s clear that much still needs to be done to make improvements – but truly the long drives are totally worth it!
We on the bus that day traveling back from our trek that started and ended in Pokhara. We decided last minute to stop back in Bandipur to try for a second attempt to see the sunrise. We had stopped in the same hilltop town on the way to Pokhara, but it had been too cloudy to get a good look at sunrise, which we had heard was exceptional. This time, the sky was clear when we woke up, but we came close to missing the sunrise anyway because we were locked into the guest house overnight and it took a bit to find a way out. This was not the first time this happened to me on my trip, but more on that later.
This particular trip from Bandipur back to Kathmandu was surprisingly tough for me and Sara, though we had been taking these buses all over Nepal – including up mountains in vehicles so overcrowded that people were hanging out of the doorway, while we went around hairpin turns and up steep inclines, the bus leaning precariously around each bend. We felt prepared, but when the four hour ride (to only go 148 km – yes that is how bad the roads are) turned into an eight hour ride, our enthusiasm was sapped. We spent a lot of time sitting, inhaling exhaust from the vehicles around us, sticking to each other and to the seats. Plus, I was doing the thing that I always do on road trips: dehydrating myself so I didn’t pee my pants. Adding to our woes was the lack of food options although it felt too hot to really eat. Despite all of this, we managed to maintain relatively good spirits (Sara and I tend to do even better together when the going gets slightly rough) until the little girl threw up at my feet ten minutes before our stop. It almost started a chain reaction of puking. People started to heave around us silently, their shoulders moving in quick bursts, their faces desperate, panicked. After the puke was “cleaned up” with some water and a broom by the driver’s assistant, the dust of the mega-city enveloped my senses and for the first time during my trip I thought I was going to cry. Luckily, I was able to hold it together and we made it intact with both of our bags back back to Rubina’s airbnbn. We had stayed with Rubina when we first arrived to Kathmandu two weeks earlier and it felt like coming home. However, their super nice apartment that we had stayed in the first time was booked, so we stayed at their other location which was about a block away. It was still nice, but didn’t quite have a comforts of home.
We’ll never know exactly what did us in – our theories include the water from the cooler, the Thai food, the ice cream after that, or perhaps maybe the momos (but I refuse to think badly about momos). Whatever it was, it hit me first. I had a fitful night sleep, which was exacerbated by the tiny dog whose territory appeared to be directly in front of our building, right below our window. That little mangy, sandy-colored mutt barked in one consistent, steady, yet desperate tone for the entire night. He appeared to be barking at silent demon intruders – as no other dog or sound could be heard nearby. He kept barking the entire next day, pausing only briefly to nap during the only time we left the house the next day to try and eat some food. We saw him curled up in a tight ball outside our front gate, but he was barking again by the time we got back and he hadn’t stopped by the time we left for our flight. When we did see him, Sara and I couldn’t believe how small he was. That dog’s bark will haunt me in my nightmares – it sounded like the noise my body wanted to make – desperately crying out to be saved from the stomach bug. That little thing was really going through it and in turn, so were we.
We made it through those 24 hours without going insane, although I’m not sure how much longer I could have lasted. Our flight to Kuala Lumpur wasn’t until 9pm and by the time we were about to leave for the airport, Sara had finally succumbed to the sickness as well. What a pair we made at the airport in Kathmandu – sticking as close to the bathroom as possible, tentatively trying to keep down ritz crackers and water. What lay in front of us was 30+ hours of flights on separate budget airlines where food and water would only be provided for a fee. Flight itinerary was: KTM – Kuala Lumpur, KL – Melbourne, MEL to Christchurch, six hours in Christchurch and then Christchurch to Dunedin.
We managed to stay in good spirits and supportive of each other the entire time, despite additional obstacles, including – last minute realization of the need for a visa for our stopover in Australia, spending the only Malaysian currency we had on 10 mins each of a chair massage before getting on an eight hour flight where they charge for water (we still agree that the massage was worth it), sitting for those eight hours of an almost completely waterless flight in the area of the plane that we coined the “Chucky Cheese” section because literally ALL of the 30 kids on the plane were surrounding us and yelling for the entire time, dealing with no checked bag allowance to get to NZ which we had to sort out in Melbourne at three am, and almost getting fined $400 each in NZ for failing to declare our hiking sneakers due to lack of sleep and habit – FYI: don’t fuck around with Kiwis and the risk of outside contaminants.
Arriving to the Christchurch airport felt like landing on another planet as less-complete versions of ourselves. We could drink the tap water and there were more food options which was helpful because any type of noodle or curry was off the table for the foreseeable future. We still felt terrible, so much so that we each took a cipro, in a last ditch effort to just clean everything out and start from scratch. We didn’t even leave the airport as we had originally planned. There was a fog over the city, so we justified it as the perfect excuse to stay put. It was easier to be closer to the bathroom anyway. We were so out of it that it was almost time for our final flight to take off before we realized that we hadn’t gone back through security to get on this next plane. Cut to two rule-following American women bumbling around the airport looking for a security line that didn’t exist. After confusing several NZ Airline employees by frantically asking where the security line was, turns out that New Zealand is so safe that there is no security line for domestic flights…
We just got our tickets checked by a very kind lady and headed straight for the 30-person plane. We were incredulous. It felt like stepping back in time. We got to walk outside and up the stairs of the tiny plane, like I love to do. The only negative part this particular part of the trip was that I spent the entire 45 minute flight desperately worried I was going to poop in my pants or have to cause a scene trying to make it to the tiny bathroom. Luckily, we arrived in Dunedin and met Sara’s Aunt Deb without incident, both tentatively feeling a bit better. When we got to Aunt Deb’s house, we took hot showers and washed our clothes, which felt like being reborn. I actually cried tears of happiness and relief in the shower. We had our appetites back by the next morning – it had been about three full days without food. I was left feeling fortunate that the end of my stomach bug coincided landing in the most beautiful place on earth.