It starts in Cebu in the Philippines. I’m flying to Manila and then on to Bangkok. Outside the door at the airport, I chug the last of my bottled water knowing that security will steal it and the next thing I know, I’m vomiting in the shrubs. That’s when I realize that it’s going to be a long journey. In the end it’ll be much much longer than I imagine.
I’ve caught a bug. It’s not food poisoning as I haven’t eaten in eight hours or more — that usually kicks in more quickly.
I’m sweaty and pale and the stewardess keeps checking in to see if I’m okay, bless her heart. By the last leg –Manila to Bangkok– I’m wiped. I can barely stand. And I know I need to get on the plane while I’m in one piece or they may refuse to let me continue on.
It’s taking forever to board and my guts are in a knot. I approach the business lane and say “I’ve got food poisoning and I just need to get some cool air and sit down”. The guy manning the counter takes one look at me and nods.
Two young women are behind me and I hear one of them offer up a catty “He doesn’t look that sick to me.” The other says “Mmmmm hmmm”.
I stagger to my seat.
Karma can take time, even lifetimes according to some. But it can also act with an instant ferocity at times. And that’s what happens here because both of these women end up in the seat right in front of me and are treated to the sound of me vomiting for the next three hours.
Every ten minutes.
I learned there and then that there is no way to puke quietly. It just can’t be done.
The woman next to me (to whom I suggest might want to find another seat) is a passive-agressive type, puts on her headphones and ignores me. As we’re landing and I’ve finally emptied everything, she shows me an acupressure technique that reduces nausea by squeezing points on my hand. When I just stare at her she says “I probably should have mentioned that earlier”.
“Yeah. Yeah. Thanks for the help.”
I walk back and forth looking for a faucet or a place to buy water. There is none. I can buy $200 perfume or a duty-free bottle of high-end whisky but I can’t find water. I ask a couple of young women at a shop and they tell me that I have to go through Immigration before I can get water.
Which is kind of the whole point: I’m wiped and dehydrated and I don’t think I can last another couple of hours. “I’ve got food poisoning and I can’t deal with that line without water”. They speak to their manager and she storms off while they both retreat into a room and come back out with small water bottles that are maybe a third full. “You can have ours.”
I nearly fall to my knees, bowled over by their kindness. And then there’s a crashing sound as their manager backs her way through double glass doors. She turns and in her hands are two paper cones of cold water — she’s gone to the employee lounge. I cry and I’m not ashamed to admit it. It’s hard being so vulnerable so far from home.
Wherever that is.
The line moves faster than I feared and soon I’m searching for my checked luggage. I’m pale, weak and sweating bullets, dragging my day bag behind me. If I’d had the energy to shout “BRAINS!” I’d have cleared the place in a minute.
I pay double for a taxi because I just don’t have the strength to search out a fair deal. I get sick in the van, puking into a bag I stole from the plane, so the driver definitely earns his baht. He delivers me to a hotel in the Siam area of Bangkok where I’ve stayed several times. I ask the young receptionist if they have a room available.
“Do you have a reservation?”
“Then we don’t have a room available”.
At first I think it’s a translation issue or she’s just stupid: if I had a reservation I wouldn’t be asking if they had a room available. I’m sweaty and broken. Cashed. Then she sniffs and chuckles at her little joke and I do something I’ve never done: I look her in the eye and say “go fuck yourself”.
As I leave she’s still wearing her “Oh face”.
I end up at an over-priced place nearby and bribe the cook into picking up some antibiotics for me. The manager says “there’s a pharmacy just 6-7 blocks away” but it took me three minutes to descend one flight of stairs. I’m a wreck. Spun.
I load up on the meds, taking a dose a nurse friend had once recommended and soon discover that I’m allergic to them. I start to hallucinate and call a friend. “Go to the doctor” she says. I can hardly get out of bed.
Red floating cobwebs are starting to crawl up my legs. My backpack is morphing into an alien (more on that later) and I try to capture it on video. I send the clip to another friend and he replies back “Dude, you’re tripping balls — go to the doctor.”
There’s a concert about a block away and it’s really LOUD. I can hear pounding on doors down the hall — an Englishman hasn’t figured out that the music is coming from outside. He thinks one of us is carrying a stack of Marshall amps — perfect backpacker gear, of course. He raps on my door angrily, and is wholly unprepared for the wave of riptard glossolalia that I unleash on him. The imaginary crimson cobwebs are up to my knees now and I give him a full serving of word salad.
He retreats, wide-eyed and scared, heading off to bother someone else.
And that’s my last coherent memory. I don’t know it yet but I’m about to lose three days of my life. I’m going down. I’m going black.
That’s when the nightmares start.
They roll in like a dark and rising tide.