I was going to write ‘Feeling Ill and Travelling: Never the Twain Shall Meet’ in that headline. Then I realised I didn’t think I’d ever said that out loud before, and I didn’t actually know what it meant, precisely. Good old Urban Dictionary cleared that one up for me, and made me laugh. It’s been too long.
There’s no better way to ruin an amazing few weeks on travelling than to feel ill. You’re away from home, probably in another language zone, and if you’re a solo traveller, no one even cares.
I’ve been feeling rough for six days now. My eyes feel strained and if I look to the left or the right it hurts, my brain hurts, my scalp is sensitive to the touch, my teeth hurt, my hands and feet are bloated and most worryingly, I can’t eat. I’ve gone through pretty much every illness that I know as a possibility, granted I only know about 10 but I’ve convinced myself at various points that it could be anything from malaria, to brain cancer to Dengue Fever and I’m feeling a bit over it to be honest.
I want to get back to those carefree Mexico days of sun and fun.
It was when we were traversing the treacherous roads into the Semuc Champey area – one of the most beautiful places in Guatemala – that I decided this just wasn’t fun anymore. One wrong move and we’d be flipped over the edge like a dive master from a boat. The supposed beautiful scenery was marred by the torrential rainstorm and the realisation that my life was in our driver’s hands (who’d been going for ten hours, though with two breaks). As he swerved round the puddles and jerked inwards to let the traffic pass I leaned into the woman next to me. For some reason this made me feel safer, pushing my weight to the side of safety. Obviously didn’t help the woman at all though, she’d hated me since my first wriggle nine hours and 55 minutes ago.
[This is what I was going to see. I’m pretty sure with all the rain it wouldn’t have looked like this anyway…]
Travel is a great way to find out what you like and what you don’t, and I’ve come to the conclusion that long distances and cliff drops are not for me. Especially in a rainstorm. Especially when I’m ill. Especially when whatever illness I had, had also caused my humour and patience to disappear too.
Finally we stopped. I thought I was there. I thought I’d made it to Semuc Champey. Then they told me I needed to wait an hour for my ride as ‘he’s just left’, and then it would be another 30-minute journey on top. I cried. I was ill, on top of everything else, my back was twisted after contorting into my dirty seat for ten hours and I hadn’t showered since yesterday. All seemingly first world problems, ones I felt ashamed of as we passed the locals trudging through the sheets of rain on the mountain, but at that moment in time all I wanted was a hot shower, comfy bed and to catch up on my work on Wi-Fi.
I finally arrived at my hostel to find my bunkbed ‘room’ had no walls, just a roof.
‘The view in the morning is incredible’.
– So super enthusiastic Gap-Yah-Henry told me.
Heard of windows?
The only Wi-Fi is up a hill (in the pissing rain) and barely works.
‘We can try and reset it for you, but you really don’t need Wi-Fi here’.
– More words of wisdom for our Henry.
Yeah I do, dickhead.
And, my favourite,
“There’s no hot water here”.
Of course, what did I expect. It’s the jungle.
I won’t go into it but Gap-Yah-Henry’s over excited check in methods pretty much made me want to jump head first in the river and not stop swimming till I could get back to Mexico, taco in hand.
Instead, I went for the safe alternative…
At 8pm, 15 minutes after I arrived, I got in my bed wearing as many clothes as possible listening to the thundering rain on the metal roof and the sound of my fellow hostel dwellers having their ‘family style’ dinner downstairs. I wasn’t even hungry.
Sleep welcomed me in. Despite the cigarette smoke and excited chatter coming up from the bar downstairs, I slept soundly till 4am. Seems walls and warmth are overrated. It was then I had to find the toilet – an approximate three-minute walk away, outside in the jungle, in the rain – and get back again. To celebrate my achievement I stole the blanket off the vacant next bed to get me back to sleepy warmth.
I checked to see if my brain still hurt, if my eyes felt stretched and if my gums were still inflamed. Hat trick.
Thankfully I fell under again, quickly, although continued to wake every hour, kind of excited to see this famous view Gap-Yah-Henry had warned me about.
At 7am I saw it. My strained eyes laboured all the more to take it in.
(photo from searchingtheabyss.com, honestly don’t know what happened to mine!)
And that, my friends, was the highlight of the day. All downhill from there. I wanted to phone my parents, my friend, generally just to moan, but of course I couldn’t because the Wi-Fi was shit. The man on the front desk was mean to me about not speaking Spanish and in my pathetic state of mind he made me cry. It was chucking it down with rain and I was convinced I had dengue fever, brain cancer, bone cancer or a mix of the three. Would I have to go home?
After climbing the hill for the second time feeling weak I finally got the Wi-Fi to work. A five-minute Google and I decided I had a mix of a wisdom tooth coming through that was causing my whole head to hurt and some sort of a viral infection that was sapping my energy. Then the screen went blank and my phone ran out of battery. I sat and cried again, and got drenched. There was one thing for it – no, not a deliciously hot shower and some nice food – back to bed.
My life – in this supposedly stunning Semuc Champey surrounds (imagine a lot more rain than you see on these borrowed pics) – continued the same way for the next 24 hours. I’d missed the only bus out of there at 7am so it was sleep, read, drink, toilet, force some food, feel dreadful, sleep, repeat cycle until I could escape at the first opportunity.
There was another boy in the wall-less dorm who spent the whole day in bed too. Seeing the top of his head, scruffy blonde hair and occasional American chat to his friend, made me feel better. He’s wasting the day ill too.
Whenever I went downstairs I felt them eye balling me, distrustful as to why I’d made this 12-hour trek from Antigua to lie in bed all day. As much as I tried to break said cycle I just felt too weak and too ill and the only time I didn’t feel terrible was lying down in bed.
I read two whole books. Crying at any marginally sad bits. This was not like me.
(Photo from guatabelizeit.com, Imagine a few more clouds.)
Ill and pissed off I didn’t even try to get to know anyone. I’d already decided I hated everyone there anyway and couldn’t get away from the sound of them all having fun downstairs. Despite falling asleep three times during the day I still managed a midnight proper sleep, as soon as they’d stopped singing Bohemian Rhapsody and drumming out the beat on empty water canisters that is. I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of here.
I’m skipping Tikal. Climbing up ancient ruins is right up there with gauging my eyes out on the things I want to do list right now.
I figured if I go to Rio Dulce I’ll be close to Belize and I can just get a boat and see a doctor there. They speak English you see, just like me.
In Rio Dulce
So here I am in a little bungalow on the river. It took 8 hours to get here and I just got the first accommodation that came to me. The water is too high and so no boats are travelling right now. You’ll be pleased to know that after my mammoth sleeping session in Semuc Champey I awoke feeling 50% better. Now I’m left with toothache – not severe, but not fun to eat, drink or talk either – and my feet and hands are painfully bloated. I can deal with this. I’ve located a dentist in Belize City and have an appointment for Monday. The next available. It’s been almost a week of feeling crap now and having some pretty dark thoughts and feelings but I hope that by Tuesday I’ll be ready to enjoy myself again.
Thanks for reading my moan. Even just writing it has made me feel about 10% better. Just 40% to go.