When I told friends and family I was going to Thailand in the prior months they asked “why Thailand?” I could go anywhere and I chose there. Most cringed…”you be careful over there”. Just about the only thing they knew about Thailand was that there was a demographic of transgender people (lady-boys) and that its a dangerous place for a reason that they couldn’t articulate to me other than its not the United States. Some of my favorite actual responses have been, “have you seen that show Locked Up Abroad?” “You’re staying in hostels, haven’t you seen that horror movieHostel?” (this was the most common response) and “Thailand??…. You know they have a lot of Muslims over there”(Thailand is about 93% Buddhist and between 4-5% Islam, although im not that I’m really sure what this has to do with anything. I stayed in a hostel next to a mosque on the southern island of Koh Lanta and received nothing but smiling faces and amazing food) So in the words of Hunter S Thompson “we shall let the reader answer this question for himself: who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?” …I had to go find out for myself.
If it seems like I’m mocking my friends and family’s responses it’s because I defiantly am. Honestly though I had all these same worries amongst many more before I ever did any traveling, so I can’t blame them for thinking the way they do. You can only perceive from what you’ve experienced and unfortunately for most that’s through what they’ve seen in movies and in the media. So I took off this past month to Thailand. A two hour drive to buffalo, an hour flight to NYC, 13 and a half hour flight to Beijing, China, and five more hours to Bangkok, Thailand. Totaling to over 24 hours of transit. I’d be lying if I said the thought of the travel time didn’t completely scare the shit out of me, in all honest it was the main reason I was hesitant to buy the ticket…but despite that feeling I did it anyways. Actually FOR that reason I forced myself to do it. It was completely outside of my comfort zone. That’s what I was searching for, something uncomfortable. But why? Why spend my hard earned money on something that scared me? Why spend my money on something that all my friends and family told me not to do? I don’t even know the language! I could have taken that cash and went down to Hilton Head, South Carolina and sat beach side for a week drinking mojitos.
…Fast forward….I learned fairly quickly that if you get sick in SE Asia you can have your assumptions of what caused it but you’ll never be able to completely narrow it down. I shaved my neck with a razor that I was washing off in the tap water (tap water in Thailand is not safe to drink, not even the locals drink it) then I went scuba diving the next day, not to mention it is in the 90s and 100% percent humidity so you are permanently sweaty. Which one of these caused a bacterium infection to grow across my neck I will never know for sure. My last night in Thailand was the worst night of sleep I had gotten the entire trip. My neck was raw and stinging, I just was not feeling right. The next morning I knew something was terribly wrong. I felt feverish, achy, and weak. I went to piss and but there wasn’t much of a result. I was supposed to check out of my hostel by 11 but I was too sick to get out of bed. I finally checked out at 1pm and just lay in the hostel lobby, which is partially outside with no air conditioning. All I could think was just keep drinking water and Gatorade. My flight wasn’t until 1am I had no idea what to do. I drank fluids until my stomach was so full I couldn’t drink anymore…still no relief. I decided to take a taxi to the airport at six in the afternoon because at least the airport had AC, food, and Wi-Fi. The taxi took 45 minutes to drive about 10 miles to the airport because. Well. It’s Bangkok. And I started getting nauseous. You know. That sort of nauseous where you start talking out loud to yourself, Jesus, Buddha, your dead grandpa or anyone that might be listening. The taxi driver must have thought I was crazy. THIS was my worst fear, getting sick away from home completely by myself. I dragged myself into the airport and walk into a 7/11 after 10 minutes of looking for anything to help me feel better I talk to the cashier and she tells me there is a pharmacy literally next door to the 7/11 were standing in. The pharmacist gives me three electrolyte packets for dehydration and Dramamine. I wasn’t even thinking or worried about the infection on my neck at the moment. I was so exhausted I just sprawled out on the cold tile floor near the entrance of the pharmacy and drank the nasty vitamin tasting electrolyte packet. It was difficult to think straight. By this time it was 7:30pm, I still had six hours till my departure. I was ok with that considering I wanted to feel better by the time the plane took off.
At 10:30pm the airline opened up to check into our flight. Just about every 10 minutes I went from feeling ok to sick again. I made conversation with the guy in front of me just when I thought I had it bad he told me his story. He was from Canada, he’d been stuck in SE Asia for a month longer than planned because one night in Laos while he was sleeping in a hut, someone used a bamboo stick with a hook on the end to reach through his window and steal his bag. Well the bag had his passport in it. It took a month for the Canadian embassy to get him a new passport before he could come home. The women behind me joined in the conversation. Her name was Magali she was French-Canadian, originally from Quebec. She was visiting Thailand to rock climb. She looked at me and said, “You don’t look so great, are you alright?” I was caught off guard with relief when she asked me this. I told her how I got severely dehydrated and showed her my neck. By this point my jaw and throat started to swell and I had a stinging feeling in my tongue when I swallowed. She insisted we sit next to each other on the flight to Beijing. She gave me tea tree oil for my neck and really helped me. I passed out the whole flight, which meant while I was sleeping I wasn’t drinking fluids for five hours. When I stood up from my seat following our landing in Beijing I was so dizzy I had to sit down before I made it off the gate to customs. She stayed with me until I was able to get up again. The act of random kindness I find when I’m absolutely in need never fails. Magali gives me hope. Helps me restore confidence that humanity at its very core has the right intentions. At the very core of human nature and its spirit people really do want to help each other; the world isn’t as evil and dangerous of a place as media and our thinking minds make it out to be.
Remember from my last blog about Costa Rica and coincidences? When you follow your conscious things happen that may be signs it happened for a reason? Magali and I got to discussing where we’ve both traveled and she tells me she’s also been to Costa Rica. That she had a wedding in Santa Teresa. Santa Teresa is where I met Marguax and filmed the interview that changed my life and inspired me to do this blog and apply for the TEDx talk. Santa Teresa isn’t exactly at the top of every travel list for Costa Rica either. It’s a small hidden surfer town that I only heard about through word of mouth from backpackers. These ‘coincidences’ relieve me and bring me comfort more than surprise anymore and remind me that they are far more than just ‘coincidences’. It’s as if I am now always patiently waiting for the next sign to reassure me what I’m doing is aligned with myself.
Magali and I said our goodbyes as we parted ways. The longest leg, a 13-½ hour flight to NYC. I tried not to think about the time. I tried to just focus on the now. I was so exhausted but I couldn’t fall asleep because every time I moved my head my neck would be in excruciating pain. Maybe it was a good thing the pain kept me awake because I needed to concentrate on drinking as much fluids as I could. I sat there… Shitty sub-titled movies to chose from, no wifi, no one who spoke English to make conversation with, just me, my thoughts, and the pain. Just 10 hours left, just 5 hours left, just 3 hours left and its over. This is only temporary. Pain is always temporary no matter how permanent it feels.
We finally land it New York City’s JFK Airport, only to find out my flight to buffalo is canceled due to weather. I feel like such a zombie I don’t even react. At this point I was just relieved that US customs let me through with the zombie looking fungus that was growing on my swollen neck. I walked straight to the food court to find something to eat. I was starving but every time I swallowed my tongue felt like a bee was stinging it. At two in the afternoon I get word that they found me a flight to Buffalo, NY at 11pm. While on the phone describing to someone my current condition, all of a sudden an older man comes right into my personal space and starts staring at me through his thick glasses. “Can I help you?” “No but I can help you, I’m a doctor.” This doctor was waiting for his flight home when he overheard my conversation on the phone. He examined me and told me it was definitely a bacteria infection and that if I did not get a flight out of New York by tonight I needed to go immediately to a doctor here in the city.
My one-hour flight to Buffalo boarded at 11pm but sat stagnated on the tar mat until 1am. By the time we landed, picked up my backpack from baggage, and drove the hour and a half back to Erie, Pennsylvania it was 5am. In total it took me 46 hours to get home. I drove straight to my parents and they took me to the hospital a few hours later. The doctor comes in and greets me by saying “Spain… Italy…Florida…you could literally go anywhere in the world and you chose Thailand.” I politely chuckle, more from the realization of his own fears I felt as he made that comment. He was so intrigued by my neck fungus he called his other colleagues into the room to get some entertainment out of it. I felt pretty special I tell you what. He prescribed an oral anti-biotic, a cream, a shot of anti-biotics in my ass, and topped off with a liter of IV fluids for dehydration. He said, “its going to hurt Dora the Explorer” as he left the room and a nurse walked in with the ass needle. I lay on the doctor’s table belly down with my pants around my knees in udder defeat. Later as the young nurse was putting the IV in my arm she said, “You stayed in hostels? Are you sure Thailand is safe?” “Its really not what you think” I replied with a wince as the needle went under my skin.